Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Caribbean Pirate Survivors

Last week, we joined an impromptu dinner with a bunch of fellow cruisiers at a local Chinese restaurant here in Sint Maarten. I sat next to Bob from S/V Explorer who was the subject of a pirate attack a few months ago here in the Caribbean. The initial report from is below but the first-hand account from Bob was a lot more detailed and scary for those of us who travel on slow vessels in dangerous waters.
First person report by Skipper Robert (Bob) Jackson of SY Explorer.
We are a couple Bob (74) the captain, an American, and Hella my mate (71) who is German.  We sail a 44 foot Norseman and are currently based in Trinidad.  We completed a 15 year circumnavigation in 2010.
I sailed to Puerto La Cruz from Trinidad about 20 years ago so I knew the route.   Hella and I had discussed specific responses to an armed attack.
A few days ago the vessel “Joana” and ourselves on the boat “Explorer” cleared out of Trinidad bound for Puerto la Cruz, where I intended to go to get my chain galvanized there being no facility for that service in Trinidad.  Diane and Wade on “Joana” were making the same trip and were looking for one or more boats to “Buddy Boat” with as we are all aware of the danger in the region we would be transiting.
We met the captain Wade of “Joana” at least two times before we departed to discuss the route, the precautions and the details of the buddy boating plan.  The details were as follows: we were to sail beam to beam approximately 100 yards apart and it was the obligation of the faster boat to adjust their speed to match that of the slower boat.   I specifically brought up that subject at the time of our meetings, explaining it in detail to the captain of “Joana” and he agreed.  He added to this discussion the fact that if one boat was being attacked the other could ram the pirogue and deter the attack.  We agreed to monitor channels VHF 16 and 71 continuously.
We spent the night in Scotland Bay in Trinidad and left at 7.30 am the next day.  Wade led the way out of the bay but being a bigger boat and faster, gradually pulled ahead of us by a distance of approximately 2 miles.  Since it was so early in the trip we had not yet communicated with “Joana” by VHF.  We were occupied in getting control of our boats in a very sloppy sea created by strong currents.  Prior to leaving Trinidad we had agreed on a specific route and waypoints, and we hadn’t even reached the first waypoint when we were attacked.  We followed the route as discussed with “Joana” at the meetings.
We were about 10 miles west of the tip of the Paria peninsula and 5 miles offshore at 10.30am in the morning when we were approached by a pirogue with a 75 horse power motor with five men on board.   They were on us in seconds with drawn revolvers, with one man remaining with their boat.  I was below at the time doing navigation work and had no time at all to arrange for the deterrents that we carry for such an event.  We had hardly cleared the safety of Trinidad waters when the incident occurred.  We were not expecting anything to happen so soon.
At the time of the attack “Joana” was completely out of sight.  At no time during the attack did I hear anything on the radio from “Joana”.   Our radio was working well but we could not transmit because the pirates had hacked off the microphones to both the VHF and the SSB.  When they did start calling me on the VHF I heard them loud and clear, but that was 15 minutes after the attack and we were already heading back to Trinidad.  The implication from the report that “Joana” put on Noonsite was that there was something wrong with our radio.  That is not true, our radio was working perfectly before the microphones were hacked off.
I started up the companion way and found myself looking down the barrel of a revolver.  I was dragged the rest of the way up by one of the pirates, roughed up, and had my hands tied with a piece of rope which the pirate had cut off my control lines to my mainsheet traveller.  I was pushed down on the aft deck.  I watched Hella sitting in the cockpit being pistol whipped by one of the pirates which opened up a gash in her forehead and within seconds she was covered with blood.  I attempted to get up to go to her but was pistol whipped myself, opening up a large piece of skin on the back of my head and was covered with blood as well.  At that point the pirate took the tail end of the rope my hands were tied with and lashed me to the cleat on the aft deck so I couldn’t move.
Another pirate was trying to remove the gold wedding rings from Hella’s finger.  Hella is a German widow.  It is a German custom that if your husband dies you wear his ring as well as your own.  As his ring was larger it was worn over Hella’s band.  As Hella has gotten older her fingers have swollen and the removal of the rings was nearly impossible.  The pirate brutally pulled and twisted the rings causing great pain.  He then reached over and removed my dive knife which I keep strapped to the binnacle for emergency cutting of foul lines and was preparing to slice off Hella’s finger to remove the rings.  Fortunately, the rings finally came off and Hella kept her finger.
The rest of the pirates at that time were ransacking the boat, stealing money, cameras, binoculars, power tools, cell phones, laptop computer etc., but were convinced that we had more money hidden somewhere than what they found in our wallets.  I was unlashed from the stern cleat and pushed down below where I sat on the navigation seat.  Sign language (these were Venezuelan nationals who spoke no English) was used to indicate that they wanted more money - the one word of English they knew.  A gun barrel was placed to my head, the gun was cocked and the pirate pointed to Hella in the cockpit and drew a finger across his throat.
At that point one of the pirates stood at the companionway and fired three shots into the interior of the boat.  The bullets lodged in the drawers under the chart table where I was sitting.  Both Hella and I were convinced that they were going to kill us before the left.  However, one of the pirates looked up and saw a coastal freighter heading eastbound that was about to pass about a mile away from us.  Hella stood up and raised her hands to show that she was tied up and was clubbed down for her effort with the butt of a pistol.   I don’t think the coastal freighter saw what was happening, however the presence of the freighter nearby frightened the pirates and they left as fast as they had come.  That ship probably saved our lives.  All told the attack lasted about half an hour.    I don’t know where the pirates went after they left.
We returned to Trinidad and stopped at the Coast Guard station.  We were treated for our wounds and wrote a report about the attack.    We were treated very well by the Coast Guard who were sympathetic and helpful.  They wanted to take us to the hospital but we refused.
I would never do that trip again and would advise anyone else not to do this either.   We are thankful to be alive.  These pirates were ruthless.”
Bob related that as the pirates were boarding his boat his Hella was at the helm and he was down below getting his pump shotgun. As he came up the companion-way with the gun he was met by a pirate with a .38 pistol pointed at him. The pirate took the shotgun, pointed it at Bob and pulled the trigger. Fortunately, (understatement of the year) Bob had not yet chambered a round and the gun did not go off.  It is very sad that beautiful Venezuela is such a dangerous place to travel these days.
We have also met five other cruisers who all had been approached by pirates in the Red Sea near Somalia and Eritrea. Most had the same reflection as Bob and Hella - they were very very lucky and blessed that wasn't  their day to die but none of them have stopped cruising.  However, no one has plans to return to the Red Sea or the Venezuelan coast.

1 comment:

Kate Jacquemin said...

Wow. Sad and crazy. After seeing recent news on what is going on in Venezuela a good idea to avoid.

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