The Perils of Piracy - SailNet Community
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The Perils of Piracy

I've been coming to this website, for about six months now. I thinks its the best on the Internet for sailing information. If I may be so forward as to ask for a specific topic, please understand I have become a fanatic on sailing. I was wondering if piracy in the Caribbean is still a problem today? If so, what do families on cruises do about their protection?

Mark Matthews responds:
Glad you like the website and thanks for the question. Piracy is almost as old as sailing itself. Thousands of pleasure boats ply Caribbean waters every season, and thankfully, the reports of piracy are few and far between. There have been some serious recent incidences, however.

In the past year, a cruiser was found murdered on his boat in the Rio Dulce, a Dutch boy was shot and paralyzed after an attack on a tiny reef off the Nicaraguan coast, and a cruising boat was attacked and shot at off Columbia, seriously injuring the skipper, just to name a few incidents of piracy that made the headlines.

Of course it's well documented that one of the main thoroughfares for drug traffic into the US comes through the Caribbean, so cruisers and drug couriers are plying the same waters, although thankfully drug runners usually prefer faster means of transporting their cargo. Not that this means you couldn't find yourself in a situation, although I'd say the chances of being struck by lightning are probably greater than finding yourself attacked by pirates. Of course as I say that I knock on wood against both.

It's been my experience that most boats without running lights on them approaching sailboats at night turn out to be fishermen in small vessels, often out for days, that are just coming to check out the strange sight of someone else plowing along through their fishing grounds. Some may ask for water, gasoline, or cigarettes, and others may ask for money. And yes, a few may go further.

Other areas of the world are more renowned for piracy. Several container ships have been commandeered in the Straits of Malaysia and the Red Sea seems to be living up to its nasty reputation this year as well, with several close calls for cruising boats. Nonetheless, thousands of cruising boats make their way from island to island in the Caribbean, and indeed all over the world, with no problems every year, leading safe lives, making friends with locals and other travelers along the way. Most of the problems cruisers encounter take the form of stolen dinghies, outboards, binoculars, or other things left in the cockpit that can be easily swiped.

My best advice is to travel in groups with other boats. As far as defending yourself with a firearm goes, the average person stands a much better chance of landing themselves in serious trouble with local customs and police agents. Countries outside the US are far less tolerant of guns than we are. Shooting at attackers might thwart them, or might make them extremely volatile and capable of doing almost anything. In the end, the things we own aren't worth the life we have.

The International Chamber of Commerce runs a website that can offer weekly updates regarding incidents of piracy. Have a look at that site here: I'd also encourage you to check out a couple of articles on the site: Guns and Cruising by Sue and Larry or Guns on Board by Tom Wood. 

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