by Mark Jensen
Mark Jensen and Nicolle Jean have been cruising the world on their much loved Beneteau 393 sailing yacht, Sea Life. Here Mark tells his story of an incident that occurred in the Gulf of Aden, just near the Straits of Bab el Mandeb, the entry to the Red Sea:
Sea Life sailing with the convoy
The panicked voice of a ships captain isn’t often heard on the VHF and just outside the Red Sea in the Gulf of Aden it wavered again: 'ANY Coalition warship this is Mrs’k C. I have a skiff attempting to board on my port side. Position 24…' Again the position was garbled.
Even a ships captain makes the mistake of not giving the Lat and Lon slowly and clearly. 'Say again Position' I ask but without response. That I can hear him at all means we’re close as our VHF aerial was Deep Sixed in a storm.
Twelve hours ago we left our convoy outside Aden and we were alone heading into the narrow entrance of the Red Sea on direct passage to Egypt. Its after sunset and before dark, the most dangerous time for pirate attacks and just precious minutes till we are safely enveloped in the night.
My Fiancé, Nicolle and I are scanning the 3 ships in sight. One appears stopped, another we see the name on the side, but that’s not Mrs’k its Maersek. It’s a gigantic, brand new container ship completely devoid of containers except for 10 grey ones up front. Its so high out of the water the bow waves is shooting vertically 20 meters high. The stern is actually setting lower like a speedboat.
Sea Life Convoy in the Gulf of Aden
It is 500 meters to port of us and heading North too, the letters Maeresk so huge they drum into our brains: Mr’sk is Maeresk?
Any Coalition warship this is Maeresk C the skiff is coming under our stern!' This captain is almost pleading now. His emotion palpable over the radio.
Well if it’s the ship right next to us and the skiff was to its port side and now at its stern I should be able to see it. Lifting the binoculars I take one glance at the stern now just ahead of us and there is an ant at the foot of a goliath. But so clearly, distinctly, visible under the sheets of water pumped from the container ships fire hoses that I can see the 6 men standing in the skiff looking at the ship. Not looking at us. With no sails up we're harder to see.
'Action Stations' I scream as I spin the wheel for a reciprocal course slamming the throttle to its stops, seeing 3,300 rpm for the first time. Nicolle shoots below and locks the hatches starting her well rehearsed and practiced routine as I prepare my bag of ‘goodies’.
Sea Life at anchor
We might be unarmed but Sea Life is definitely not undefended! The Yanmar is throwing its full 56 horses directly into the 25kt wind and chop and giving our Beneteau 393 more than 7 knots. VHF: '…Meresk… stopped…' Unreadable, then transmission stopped.
Nicolle’s job below is communications and her satellite call to UKMTO has the same format as a radio Mayday. Her information is the first received, clearly and quickly given and then the Coalition swings into action. Minutes later they ring back after calling the ship captain who says the attack stopped – not the ship stopped - and the skiff headed towards the Yemini coast.
It would have gone straight passed us if we hadn’t reacted and turned back the other way. They sighted no guns or boarding ladders but the skiff had definitely been harassing them. The ship had increased speed to 25 knots(!!) but the skiff was doing 26, the Captain said. The guns could have been under the fishing nets. The Captain thinks it was a people smuggling skiff because of its speed.
Sea Life crew
The incident didn’t even rate a pin in the Live Piracy Report. These incidents must be much more frequent that I’d previously thought. Now under the cover of darkness we turned back on course and headed into the safety of the Red Sea and the comfort of 30 knots tail wind.
We didn’t celebrate our arrival in the safety of the Red Sea as planned. My mouth felt like it swirled with dust. We had looked in the Devils eyes. But we couldn’t laugh.