Thailand: Armed robberies on sailing boats leave cruisers shaken

Davinci catamaran - foiled attack by robbers
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Recent armed attacks against yachties by thieves in popular Chalong Bay in Phuket, Thailand, is the first violence that the local cruising community can remember here towards yachts in a very long time. A French yachtsman suffered severe knife wounds during an attack aboard his boat last week, and in another incident shots were fired when thieves were surprised during an attempted burglary on a vacant boat.

It is tragic for cruising sailors when once safe anchoring spots become dangerous and one can only hope that this is an isolated case. Witnesses reported at least two shots fired in the dark on Chalong Bay last week as a gang of thieves gave chase to a Phuket boat captain who outfoxed the criminals until the police arrived in force.

Capt Bruce Issell was the hero of the incident. He was warned by a silent alarm at about 11:30pm that intruders had boarded the Davinci, catamaran.

He raced to Chalong Pier, boarded the Davinci's dinghy and headed for another vessel, a Sunseeker 50, to investigate what had triggered the alarm.

Once aboard the Sunseeker, he motored to the Davinci catamaran with spotlights ablaze at full strength. 'The thieves found themselves well and truly lit up, but could see only one person aboard the Sunseeker,' a witness told Chris Husted, News Manager with the www.phuketgazette.net!Phuket_Gazette.

Seeing only one boat approaching them, the thieves attacked the Sunseeker and attempted to board the luxury yacht and capture Capt Issell and his one young Thai crewman. A chase ensued throughout the moored yachts and commercial craft in the bay for some 20 minutes, with the Sunseeker ducking and weaving to hold off the raiders.

'There were at least two bright flashes as the thieves fired shots at the Sunseeker. You could see the flashes from the shore,' the witness told the www.phuketgazette.net!Gazette.

Police reinforcements quickly arrived in dinghies, changing the balance of power. The thieves soon surrendered and were escorted to the floating marina under construction in the bay. 'They were questioned and handcuffed, and the stolen items were inspected,' the witness told the www.phuketgazette.net!Gazette. 'For all their efforts, the thieves had managed to steal only some children’s foam paddle boards, a set of binoculars, some flashlights and other odds and ends,' the witness confirmed.

Scuffles broke out as the officers placed the gang of about four men under arrest. The men were then transported to Chalong Police Station in the back of a police pickup truck.

The bright yellow dinghy the thieves had used in the thwarted raid was also seized as evidence.

The catamaran was taken from its mooring to the marina for further police inspection.

'I could not be less than 100% impressed with all concerned – Bruce Issell and his crewman – and the very professional Chalong Police,' said the witness, who asked not to be identified publicly.

Chalong Bay - normally a peaceful haven for sailing boats
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Niwat Duangmanee and Theeraphol Malasan, both 21, were later charged with using knives to commit armed robbery, using a vehicle to evade police and receiving stolen property after a cat-and-mouse chase through Chalong Bay marina that ended with police firing into the air and apprehending the men

It is hoped that the men arrested were the same raiders who have terrorized the Baan Nit area off Cape Panwa in the previous week. A Frenchman whose yacht was anchored in that area was startled by raiders late one night. A scuffle broke out on board and the Frenchman suffered at least seven knife lacerations during the attack, including a cut to his head. Fearing for his safety, the Frenchman did not return to sleep on his yacht that night. It may have proved a prudent move as the thieves returned the same evening and made off with what was reported as a substantial bounty of yachting 'removables'.

The yacht has now sailed away, no doubt with no intention to return.