Pirates and Convoys

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Convoys and Pirates
The MF Convoy, Salalah to Aden.18-23 Feb 2010


I was asked by Yachting Monthly to write an update of the piracy situation in the Indian Ocean which appeared in the May 2013 edition In preparing the aricle I sought the views of EUNAVFOR, ISAF, RYA, IMB, and the maritime intelligence services. The editor of YM kindly allowed the cruisers website www.noonsite.com to reproduce the article since many of those interested are in SE Asia where a copy of Yachting Monthly might be dificult to obtain (that said YM is now available in digital form).

The article can be found at:
http://www.noonsite.com/General/Piracy/is-the-indian-ocean-safe-for-yachts .

This page provides links to the various notes and articles that I have had published. They are, in the main, associated with the piracy problem in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

In 2010 I organised and led a convoy, the M(id) F(ebruary) Convoy from Salalah to Aden. At that time the pirates were mainly operating in that area and attacking ships in the Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor (IRTC). The convoy was made up of 27 yachts and 17 nationalities with boat sizes from 32ft to 70ft. To ensure that all went smoothly I put together the strategy and plans we would use. I knew there was another convoy following us 2 weeks later so I gave them my notes which they used. I then submitted the "notes on organising a convoy" to the noonsite website, http://www.noonsite.com/ which is used extensively by long distance cruisers. It can be found at:


Thereafter, Yachting Monthly, and a US and Australian magazine published articles I had written about the convoy.

Shortly after the notes were published Colin Freeman, the foreign correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, contacted me and subsequently wrote a column which covered the problems yachtsmen have when trying to transit the pirate infested area of the Indian Ocean:


As a result of Colin's article, which was copied wholesale and published on other websites, there were a also a number of comments made on the internet discussing the piracy problem vis a vis yachts. I have provided a link to just one of them. If you to need to find more then google "Tom Sampson pirates" or "Tom Sampson convoys"


One of the yachts in the convoy was skippered by Fatty Goodlander who writes a regular column for an American magazine, Cruising World. His interpretation sensationalized the event which sadly was picked up by a number of other web editors.


I received a significant number of emails asking for more details about the convoy planning and also about the associated costs and other problems yachts might encounter in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. I therefore submitted another piece to noonsite which addressed these specific areas and named it "Pirates, Costs and Baksheesh"


Yachts transiting from SE Asia to the Mediterranean generally do so between January and April and it was no different in 2011. However, it soon became apparent that the modus operandi of the pirates had changed dramatically. They were now using "mother ships" extensively which allowed them to range far and wide over the high seas. They had become more organized and were operating in packs and were also carrying out more attacks late in the season in the Red Sea.  Then disaster struck when not only was the s/y Quest captured and her crew of 4 killed but the s/y Ing was also caught and the 7 crew including 3 children were taken hostage. Then a South African yacht, s/y Choisil, was captured heading south after leaving Dar Es Salaam. The skipper managed to escape but his 2 crew were taken hostage and are now somewhere in Somalia. ( they were eventually reeleased in 2012) 

There was no safe area for yachts to go. Many turned back from the Maldives and India and returned to Thailand. Others arranged to have their yachts transported by ship to Marmaris in Turkey. Some, of course, continued and made it safely to the Med. Of those, some took a more Westerly route from the Maldives, closer to the ever dangerous area around Socatra Island. Others followed the coast of India and Pakistan to cross the Gulf of Arabia and then onto Salalah.  There were almost certainly significantly less than 100 yachts that made the transit in 2011. 3 yachts had been hi jacked and a fourth, although hijacked, had a security team nearby which rescued them and at the end of the season a fifth yacht was captured, the skipper killed and his wife taken hostage (the yacht, Tribal Cat, was abandoned). So 5 yachts captured in one season; which, at the very best gave odds of 20:1.

Colin Freeman contacted me again after the Quest disaster and subsequently reflected my changed attitude to the use of convoys.


Other websites picked up on the Daily Telegraph article so I have included one of the many clones.


I received a lot of emails thereafter from yachties concerned about their options. I had become convinced that convoys to deter and avoid the pirates were possibly more dangerous than sailing alone. The pirates were already prepared to abandon yachts and take the crew hostage. What a coup it would for them to take the crews of a convoy, perhaps 20 or more, all of whom could attract a ransom of more than $1million each. (as at 27th October 2011 the 2 crew of the Choisil were still in captivity and a ransom of $4million was being demanded). Because so many had read of the 2010 convoys and the reasoning behind them I submitted notes to noonsite expressing my concern about the use of convoys and the dangers of making the Indian Ocean transit.
Note: The 2 crew of the Choisil were released in  the summer of 2012.


A convoy was organized for the 2011 transit by a Rene Teimessen, he called it the TTT Rally (Thailand to Turkey) His website said at the end of December 2010 that the meeting of the 30 yachts who had signed up for the convoy was so successful that he was already planning another for 2012. In the event, only a handful of those signed up sailed with him to the Med. The rest jumped ship after losing all confidence in his abilities to get them safely through the pirate area. Many took the ship transport option, others returned to Thailand and few made it through independently.  Mr Tiemessen's yacht, Alondra, broke down twice and had to be towed to Cochin on the second occasion for repairs. He had no HF radio and couldn't communicate with any of the yachts who were using an HF capable email. Few of them, of course had a satellite phone which is all Alondra had apart from VHF which is only good for about 20nms yacht to yacht at sea.

Mr Teimessen had charged $250 a yacht for the rally but refused to refund any of it to any of the yachts. He had said that any residual funds would be donated to charity but to date has refused to say how  much and to which charity the spare funds were donated.

I then discovered that he was planning another TTT rally for 2012 (as promised!) This time however, he would not be leading them on Alondra. Instead he intends to fly out to Thailand and brief the yacht skippers on the best route and strategy to reach Salalah. During their passage of the most dangerous of all waters in the world he will be sitting comfortably on his yacht somewhere in the Mediterranean, able to offer words of comfort only to those with a Satellite phone or by email (which is hardly a dynamic way of communicating). He will then join one of the yachts in the convoy and lead it to Masawa in Eritrea where he will then leave the convoy. For this he intends to charge $495 a yacht (non refundable of course and no mention made of donations to be given to a charity). 

I was asked more than once to help put a stop to this immoral commercial endeavour which preys on the fears and concerns of yachtsmen caught in a dilemma on how to get to Europe from SE Asia.  I therefore submitted an article for noonsite and Sail-World which has been very well received judging by the number of emails I have subsequently received.



Lo Broost who has for years organized the Vasco da Garma rally to and from India to the Mediterranean agrees with my opinion. He has, as a result, cancelled any future rallies through the Indian Ocean and Lower Red Sea.

Rene Tiemessen eventually recognised the folly of his intentions and did not proceed with his plans to "remotely" organise a convoy.

Piracy in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea is with us for years to come. The pirates are, year on year, becoming more organized, more bold and more viscous. They have mastered the sophisticated electronic navigational aids and routinely search the internet for useful information. They have a well managed and disciplined organization to back them up. Commercial ships are also becoming better prepared with more of them creating "safe rooms" from which to take refuge thus allowing the armed forces to board and capture. Security teams are now routinely employed and to date no ship has been hijacked that has had a security team on board. As these two opposing forces continue to develop their strategies, one to capture the other to evade, it is the yacht and its crew which will likely be the focus of the pirates attention. The success of the strategies employed by commercial ships is now apparent. As at the 6 Novemever 2012 there were only 9 ships held captive and 154 hostages which is vast improvemnt on the 700 or so hostages held in 12012. Recently the pirates have kidnapped tourists in Kenya close to the border with Somalia, proving that they will go to great lengths to capture a single victim for ransom. Yachts are an easy target and more of them together, i.e. a convoy, are also a very attractive one. 
Thankfully, to my knowledge no yachts made the transit in 2012 although a number did have their yachts shipped to the Mediterranean  

I firmly believe that the situation is now too dangerous for yachts to transit the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. To do so in a convoy is potentially even  more dangerous.