Royal Navy turns down request to protect yacht flotilla in pirate-infested waters

Thu Feb 10 2011, 14:35 PM

The Navy said it doesn't have the resources. A spokesman for the flotilla says "something bad is going to happen"

The Royal Navy has turned down a request by a Dutch couple who asked for a warship escort for a yacht flotilla across pirate zones of the Indian Ocean.

Rene and Edith Tiemessen told the Daily Express they have the right to protection as they make their way home from Thailand in their 60ft yacht, Alondra. The Tiemessens, who are traveling with their two-year-old daughter, had previously sailed with Paul and Rachel Chandler, who were kidnapped by Somali pirates in 2009.

The Tiemessens said that they have organised a convoy of about 30 yachts from Thailand to Turkey, and asked the Royal Navy for protection for about a four-day stretch of that journey. Rene Tiemessen told that there are at least 200 to 250 other cruising sailors on 100 yachts that are seeking the same sort of protection given to commercial vessels. The sailors say they are "stranded", waiting for a safe time to cross.

“We have been begging for help for months (from the EU anti-piracy taskforce), because we knew we would have to make this journey to get home, which is the same for all the other sailors stranded here,” he told the website. “We are not simply cruising around irresponsibly. We are caught on the wrong side of an ever-changing and expanding problem. But now they have told us there is nothing they can do. It’s like asking for help from the police, and being told you are not eligible.”

The Royal Navy heads the EU anti-piracy taskforce, which includes 27 vessels from Spain, Germany, Italy and France patrolling an area larger than Europe. “This is a totally unrealistic request. The naval vessels of Operation Atlanta have to prioritise their duties, and protecting merchant vessels leave them with little scope for protecting unnecessary sailing,” was the response from the Ministry of Defense.

The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) recommends against sailing this route, as do many governments. Despite that, dozens of sailors choose to make the journey each year.

“Something bad is going to happen,” Tiemessen said. “The families on these boats are starting to panic and go off in different directions. With the dramatic increase in pirate activity in the Indian Ocean I cannot believe that all 100 yachts can get through unscathed.”

The families of a South African couple captured by Somali pirates in October recently held a press conference to plead for their release. Debbi Calitz and Bruno Pelizzari were sailing off the coast of Kenya when their yacht was hijacked on October 26.

The families, who received a call asking for a US$10m ransom, spoke directly to the kidnappers. “We are asking you to please let them go. They are just ordinary Africans like yourselves with similar problems, we are not rich," Dale van der Merwe, Calitz's brother, told Buanews. Van der Merwe called the ransom a “ridiculous amount” of money. “We just don’t have it,” he said.

The family said that they did not know if the couple is still alive.

South Africa's foreign ministry spokesperson Clayson Monyela told the Mail & Guardian that the pirates had not contacted any government official. "The pirates are contacting the families," he told the paper. "The government is not involved in any negotiations with them. Our policy is that we don't pay ransoms."

The UK government has a similar policy. The Chandlers were last year released after 388 days in captivity following the reported payment of a £625,000 ransom. The money was raised through family and private sources.