Advice for British nationals on staying safe when travelling by sea
Piracy and armed robbery at sea
If you’re travelling in your own yacht or boat you should be aware that piracy and armed robbery at sea remains a risk, particularly in the following areas:
- the Indian Ocean, particularly off the coast of the Horn of Africa/Gulf of Aden
- Gulf of Guinea in west Africa, including in ports across that region
- some parts of south east Asia, particularly the Malacca Straits and Singapore Straits, and the Sulu and Celebes Seas
Visit the travel advice page for the particular country you’re going to, or sailing near to, and take a note of useful contact details like the nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate and the local emergency services. You should also follow the anti-piracy guidelines (see below) when travelling through areas of piracy-related activity. Further information and maritime piracy reports are available on the following websites:
- International Maritime Bureau
- Royal Yachting Association - Boating abroad
- Oceans Beyond Piracy
East Africa and Indian Ocean
The threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden remains significant. Sailing vessels are particularly vulnerable to attack due to their low speed and low freeboard. Reports of armed robbery, indiscriminate shooting and attacks on local fishing dhows in the area also continue. The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that: “all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the High Risk Area (HRA) or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom”.
All mariners who still decide to sail through the High Risk Area in the Gulf of Aden/Indian Ocean should consider their need to travel and consider alternatives eg transporting the vessel by yacht carrier. Those who still choose to sail through the area should follow best management practice and check with the Maritime Security Centre (Horn of Africa) at www.mschoa.org for up to date advice and guidance on passage round the Horn of Africa by emailing email@example.com with the subject line ‘Yacht Vessel Movement’.
You should also report regularly to the UKMTO; Telephone: +971 505 523 215, giving your location, course and speed, and plan your route carefully to avoid putting yourself in unnecessary danger.
Piracy and armed robbery at sea remains a threat off the western coast of Africa, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea. Most attacks in the region take place off the coast of Nigeria’s Niger Delta region although there have also been attacks off the coasts of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Togo. The proportion of these incidents occurring further than 50 nautical miles from shore increased in 2016, with a few occurring around 110 nautical miles from the coast. Petty theft in ports and at anchorages across the region is also common. Kidnap of seafarers for ransom is the favoured approach for pirate/armed robbery groups operating off Nigeria. Many attacks end up with crew members injured or killed.
Mariners transiting in or around this area should register with Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade (MDAT-GOG), operated by the French Navy and the Royal Navy, for warnings and information on attacks in the Gulf of Guinea region. All vessels entering MDAT-GOG’s Voluntary Reporting Area (VRA) are encouraged to report to it by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: +33(0)2 98 22 88 88.
South east Asia
Piracy and armed robbery in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore region generally involve the theft of personal property in ports and anchorages and sometimes the hijacking of ships for the purpose of cargo theft.
Commercial shipping companies have been advised to adopt a heightened vigilance when navigating the Sulu and Celebes Seas. Most maritime incidents occur in the Sulu Sea in the area between Mindanao, the Sulu archipelago, Palawan and Sabah (Malaysia). The Regional Co-operation Agreement on Combatting Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) advises all ships to re-route from the area where possible.
If you’re transiting this area you should refer to Regional Co-operation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC)’s website for updates on incidents and trends.
- be vigilant – be wary of any small craft that appears to be going at the same speed as your own on a parallel or following course
- identify a secure area on the yacht which attackers would have difficulty penetrating and retreat to this if attacked
- hide a VHF transceiver somewhere on board – radios are often destroyed by pirates to prevent early alarms being raised
- sound the alarm or fire a flare if attackers approach
- if the attackers board your vessel, complying with their demands is usually the safest course of action
- if an attack occurs use the following format for a distress message:
- vessel’s name and call ‘Mayday’ ‘piracy attack’
- vessel’s position (and time and position of UTC)
- nature of the event.
If you’re attacked, report the incident to the nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate, the relevant naval authorities and reporting centre, the relevant law enforcement authorities and the IMB Piracy Reporting Office in Kuala Lumpur.
It’s not advisable to carry firearms. If you do, the skipper must make sure they’re allowed by the flag state and host country. Penalties for the use of firearms can be severe in some countries.
- the UKMTO in Dubai is the main point of contact for liaison with military forces in the region; email email@example.com to join their voluntary reporting scheme, Telephone: +971 505 523 215
- Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) is staffed 24/7 by military and merchant navy personnel from various countries and co-ordinates with military maritime forces in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean; it’s the commercial/civilian link with the EU Naval Force Somalia; Telephone: +44 1923 958545, fax: +44 1923 958 520, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- the NATO Shipping Centre (NSC) is the commercial/civilian link with the NATO maritime force; Telephone: +44 1923 956 574, Fax: +44 1923 956 575, email email@example.com
- the Maritime Liaison Office (MARLO), US Navy Bahrain, is a secondary point of contact after UKMTO and MSCHOA, but is staffed 24/7; Telephone: +973 3940 1395, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade (MDAT-GOG), operated by the French Navy and the Royal Navy, asks all vessels passing through the Voluntary Reporting Area (VRA) in the Gulf of Guinea to report in regularly, and will provide updates in return. Email email@example.com or call +33(0)2 98 22 88 88
- Regional Co-operation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC) Telephone +65 6376 3063
- IMB Piracy Reporting Centre, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or telephone +60 3 2031 0014.
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