Before we left Seattle, a friend with a strong South African accent asked if we were worried about the parrots. “But they’re just little birds”, James replied. The “parrot threat”, as we’ve come to call it, is something we’re often asked about and definitely is a concern for us. It’s not had any impact on our travels so far though, until our current Indian Ocean crossing.
A few years back the Somalia area and the entrance routes to the Suez were at risk. Recently, the world’s navies have been pounding the pirates in that area and, as a consequence, they have spread out and no longer are just operating off Somalia. There have been reports of sightings as far south as the Seychelles and as far east as the Maldives. That’s kind of unfortunate because they are really beautiful destinations. But the world is a big place, and our decision is to stay away from areas of risk.
Australia Customs in Dampier asked us if we had any pirate protection devices on board (another way to ask about weapons on board, which would be a big problem in most countries we visit). Our reply was that our pirate protection device is “distance”—we just don’t go where pirates are reported to operate. We would really love to go through the Suez and cruise the Persian Gulf around Dubai, but it’s not going to happen.
We’ve also been asked whether we’re concerned about broadcasting our position on our web site, in case pirates might use that information to locate us. In order for pirates to use it, they would need to be working the area, be online, and be sufficiently interested to go looking for the web site. They mostly target commercial ships with high value cargo, since they can ransom them off for an easy $10m. Whereas taking a small boat hostage might get money or might not. However, there have been several incidents of small boats being taken. Four Americans lost their lives in 2011 when pirates boarded their 58-foot sailboat Quest off the coast of Oman.
The bigger risk is broadcasting our position via AIS. The pirates do know to look for that since the ships they primarily target broadcast AIS and the pirates do have access to AIS receivers.
Our decision is to keep broadcasting AIS data on the argument that we are operating in waters far from those with reported pirate activity and, in these waters, large commercial traffic and collision risk exceeds the risk of pirate activity. We leave AIS on because we believe it’s safer on than off. We generally don’t think the web site adds measurable risk after AIS.
Generally, the best defense against pirates is distance. The reason we are way south and travelling 3,005 nm is to stay as far as reasonable from pirate activity. The good news is that there are a huge number of wonderful places in the world and none of us are going to live long enough to see them all so we don’t worry about the places we can’t see. We wish we could see the Suez but, on the other hand, what a trip so far.