Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Piracy Alive and Well in Middle East

Haven't most of us daydreamed of leaving it all behind and sailing around the world? I know I have -- and I've met plenty of people who have done it. But as you give it serious thought, consider the harrowing tale of two couples' encounter with a gang of pirates off the coast of Yemen:


The problem of piracy in the Gulf of Aden is well-known to sailors. Traveling together is one of the measures taken to discourage attacks.

''When you do this, you basically have to run the gantlet, so you hook up with boats that go your speed," Barry said.

He said the pirates, cruising on outboard speedboats, began tracking the two American yachts soon after they left Oman's port city of Salalah. In late afternoon, two boats, each with four gunmen aboard, closed in on the Americans.

''They were hiding in the sun and suddenly they started shooting," said Barry, who is tall and sports a mustache. ''They didn't give any warning or try to negotiate. I think it was clear they just wanted to kill us."

Barry said the men in the lead speedboat were spraying gunfire from Kalashnikovs, automatic rifles common in the Middle East. Bullets were hitting the cockpits of both yachts, smashing into Gandalf's mast, but, miraculously, failing to pierce the metal hull.

Barry recalled that Nowlin, on the other American sailboat, pulled a 12-gauge shotgun from below deck and fired three shots at one of the pirate boats. Smoke began rising from the engine.

Nowlin wrote later in his report: ''I am not sure I hit anyone at that point although I could see the driver of the boat crouched down behind a steering console."

On the Gandalf, Martini ducked below deck and was trying to reach nearby ships by radio. She remembered seeing Barry squat near the steering wheel and cover his head. ''Then he said, 'Hang on, Carol, I'm going to ram them,' and I heard a big boom," she said, pointing to the front of the yacht. Barry had crashed into the pirate boat's midsection, almost severing the vessel and, according to Nowlin's report, ''turning it almost completely over."

One pirate boat was disabled but the other pulled closer to the Gandalf, and Barry watched two gunmen lunge forward to board his yacht. ''They were so close to us as they fired, that casings from their bullets were landing in our boat," Martini said.

Nowlin, watching the men from the deck of his yacht, fired several more rounds, knocking both pirates back toward their boat and hitting the person at the helm, Nowlin described on the website. He wrote: ''If Jay on Gandalf had not had the presence of mind to veer over into one boat and ram it, the outcome of this attack would have been totally different. All they needed to do was stand off a ways and shoot us to pieces with automatic weapons."

None of the pirates' bullets hit any of the Americans, and both yachts were intact. Nowlin and Barry turned and sped away, sailing for another 20 hours before reaching the Yemeni port of Aden. Nowlin said in his report that their distress calls alerted a nearby commercial ship, which came to the scene and escorted them for a few hours to make sure they were safe.

The full story of the Gandalf and Mahdi can be read in the two reports filed at by Rodney Nowlin, USN Ret., skipper of the Mahdi.

For the benefit and delight of Bruce and Jay G, and the rest of the gunbloggers, I excerpt this particularly relevant gem:

"The bow of the pirate’s boat came right up against Gandalf’s stern and two men stood up on the bow to board Gandalf. That was a serious and probably fateful error on their part. I shot both of them. That boat then veered away and I shot the driver, although I am not sure of the outcome because they were farther away and I did not knock him down like the other two."

Bruce and Jay, I'll let you take it from there.

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