Cruising sailors take note: Volvo Ocean Race will avoid pirate zone

UK, Solent. 14th August 2011. Team Sanya skippered by Mike Sanderson from New Zealand and Groupama Sailing Team skippered by Franck Cammas from France at the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race. - - Volvo Ocean Race - Rolex Fastent Race
Gung-ho cruising sailors embarked on trans-ocean or circumnavigations should take note of the decision of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012 to redraw the second and third leg of the round-world race to avoid waters frequented by Somali pirates.

The race, which starts in Alicante in October is a 39,000 nautical sea marathon.. The legs involved are the leg from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi and the leg from Abu Dhabi to Sanya in China, both of which pass through the western section of the Indian Ocean.

After taking advice from marine safety experts Dryad Maritime Intelligence and the sport's governing body, the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), race organisers decided that, in spite of the speed of the participants, much faster than most cruising boats, sticking to the original route would put crews at too much risk. Instead the boats will race from Cape Town to an undisclosed ‘safe haven’ port, be transported closer to Abu Dhabi, and then complete the leg from there.

The process will be reversed for the third leg before the race continues on to Sanya, the fourth of 10 host ports in a race that will not finish until July 2012. 'This has been an incredibly difficult decision,' said Volvo Ocean Race Chief Executive Knut Frostad. 'We have consulted leading naval and commercial intelligence experts and their advice could not have been clearer: ‘Do not risk it.’ The solution we have found means our boats will still be racing into Abu Dhabi and competing in the in-port race there.'

He continued, 'Abu Dhabi is a very important part of our plans, a real highlight being the race's first-ever stopover in the Middle East, and we will now have a really exciting sprint finish to the emirate over the New Year period as well.' Frostad emphasised that the race would still be a round-the-world challenge. 'We continue to be the only continuous sporting event to visit five continents over nine months of gruelling sailing,' he said.

Piracy is a well-organised and highly lucrative business and it has expanded into a vast area off the coast of Somalia. In 2010 a record 1,181 seafarers were kidnapped by pirates, according to figures supplied by Dryad. The most recent vessels released endured hijackings lasting an average of 213 days and it has been estimated that last year 150 million dollars was paid to pirate gangs in ransoms for ships, cargoes and crews.

There are currently nine cruising sailors in captivity in the wilds of Somalia, seven Danes including three teenaged children, and two South Africans. Additionally during last season four American cruising sailors were shot dead by pirates.