Day 13: Indian Ocean
ABOARD OCEANIA’S NAUTICA — Pirates? Yesterday, we held our first, and hopefully our last, piracy drill. Passing to the west of India’s southern tip, we have entered the high-risk area for piracy. Capt. Bencina takes the matter seriously — and perhaps personally. He was Nautica’s skipper back in November 2008 when the vessel was attacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.
A couple of days before the drill, the Captain lectured passengers on the subject. He said that 30-40 years ago piracy was a huge problem in the Straits of Malacca with scores of tankers and freighters hijacked for ransom. It was only brought under control by the cooperation of all the region’s countries and their navies. He said that today piracy in the region is nearly eliminated.
More recently the center of the scourge has shifted west to the vicinity of the Horn of Africa, where heavy maritime traffic has been harassed by Somali pirates. Of the 352 pirate attacks reported worldwide in 2011, 56 percent were by Somalis. With 90 percent of world trade moving by sea, piracy can also be highly rewarding. He said that the risks are mostly born by the men in the small boats; most of the reward is reaped by people on land who organize the enterprise but take few risks.
The good news is that piracy in the region peaked in 2008 and has been declining since. “Only” 26 attacks were reported last year with seven so far in 2013. Once again this has been achieved through a coordinated response by naval forces of concerned nations.
In addition to increased and coordinated patrols, a transit corridor 492 nautical miles long and 12 nautical miles wide has been established through the highest risk area in the Gulf of Aden. Vessels in the corridor are monitored and in regular radio contact with the naval patrols. We’ll be off the ship by then in Dubai, but many passengers will be continuing on the next leg.
Capt. Bencina explained that Nautica would not be convoying through this area because speed was her best defense and she was a fast ship. Convoys move at the speed of the slowest ship. Nautica’ s other defenses include the eight meters from the surface of the sea to the main deck, coupled with high pressure water nozzles to ward off anyone attempting to climb aboard. Then there is the “secret weapon,” LRAD or Long Range Audio Defense, a very loud, high frequency noise generator that can injure the ears of someone in its sights and causes great pain.
At this point the captain explained that in the event of a threat, passengers will need to move immediately to the center of the ship, away from windows and open decks. This will minimize passengers’ exposure and reduce risk of injury in the event Nautica makes abrupt maneuvers. He said we would hold a drill to be sure everyone understood what to do.
In 2008, Nautica effectively out-ran the small pirate boats — they never got closer than 300 meters. The captain was astonished to learn after the fact that many passengers failed to heed directions. When he asked later if anyone happened to capture an image of the pirates, he was inundated with photos!
Perhaps that experience led to the drill held yesterday, in which passenger performance apparently improved substantially — we got the “all clear” in about 10 minutes, after staff reported on compliance.
We really hope we don’t see pirates, but still, that chase sounded pretty thrilling.