INTERNATIONAL SAILING FEDERATION
Danger of Piracy – Guidelines for yachts considering a
passage through the Gulf of Aden, Yemeni and Somali waters
including the NW Indian Ocean north of 15o south and west of
These notes are published in co-operation with the MSCHOA (Maritime
Security Centre – Horn of Africa) set up by EU NAVFOR ATALANTA. The
notes are for guidance only and a final decision on whether to enter the Gulf
of Aden or any waters where pirates operate and how to conduct a vessel in
those waters remains entirely the responsibility of the master of each vessel.
1 The danger of piracy and consequent loss of life and property in the
GoA (Gulf of Aden), Yemeni and the Somali waters (up to 600 miles
offshore), is high. Yachts are strongly recommended to avoid the area.
See also advice from the UK FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) at
http://www.fco.gov.uk/. Piracy has also occurred in the adjoining areas of the
Indian Ocean north of 15o south and west of 60o east.
2 The MSCHOA liaises with anti-piracy patrols being conducted by warships
from several nations in the area and UKMTO Dubai principally for the
protection of merchant vessels. The patrols operate mainly in the Gulf of
Aden and the Somali Basin but may operate anywhere within the area and will
provide surveillance and support as far as possible to yachts however no
guarantee whatever can be offered as to the safe transit of any yacht through
3 A yacht which, despite the risks described decides to make a passage
should advise her plans with as much notice as possible* to the UKMTO
Dubai and MSCHOA and provide the information set out in the attached Yacht
Passage Advice Form, preferably by email but alternatively by telephone:-
• UKMTO (UK Maritime Trade Organization) (RN) Dubai firstname.lastname@example.org
+971 50 552 3215 fax +971 4 306 5710; Telex (51) 210473 (24 hour
• MSCHOA email@example.com +44 (0)1923 958547, 39, 35. Fax
+44 (0) 1923 958520 (24 hour watch).
US-flagged vessels may wish to contact MARLO (Maritime Liaison Office)
(USN) Bahrain firstname.lastname@example.org +973 3940 1395 (24 hour watch)
3.1 In emergency any of the above numbers (or a warship on VHF 16 or
VHF 8 when in range) will respond on a 24 hour basis.
April 09 v 4.3 Page 2 of 6
*Yachts are urged to register at least two weeks before entering a high risk area.
Yachts coming south through the Red Sea should report well before reaching Bab al
Mandeb and should register before reaching Safaga/Jeddah.
3.2 When a yacht registers its movements, MSCHOA will email to her piracy
alerts until she is clear of the area (+72hrs). MSCHOA will pass details of
yachts to patrolling warships.
3.3 During her passage a yacht should monitor VHF 16 and VHF 8 and report
by the means and at the intervals advised by the MSCHOA, or by a patrolling
4 Merchant ships transiting the GoA are being advised to use an
Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor (IRTC) in order for warship patrols
to be effective. MSCHOA advises yachts to remain close to or within the
IRTC as follows:
4.1 The IRTC has two lanes, each 5NM wide and a separation zone between
them 2NM wide. To all intents and purposes it operates as a Traffic
Separation Scheme (TSS) although formally it does not have that status. The
co-ordinates of the IRTC lanes are:
Westbound lane, northern boundary: 12 00N 45 00E 14 30N 53 00E
southern boundary: 11 55N 45 00E 14 25N 53 00E
Eastbound lane, northern boundary: 11 53N 45 00E 14 23N 53 00E
southern boundary: 11 48N 45 00E 14 18N 5300E
The course eastbound is 072°T and westbound 252°T.
4.2 A yacht which has registered her intention to transit the GoA is invited to
sail EITHER in the 2-mile-wide buffer zone between the two lanes OR close to
the outer limit of the appropriate lane. These options give the best chance of
a yacht’s transmission on VHF16 or VHF 8 being received by a patrolling
warship, or being relayed by a merchant vessel. However VHF contact is not
4.3 A yacht coming from for example Aden eastbound or Salalah westbound
may join the IRTC some way from its start point. The area of the IRTC
between 47E and 49E is considered the most dangerous and a yacht should
ensure she has joined well before the ”high risk area” to enjoy the maximum
possible protection. The yacht should plan to conduct as much of this part of
the passage as possible at night. In the interests of navigation safety, on
joining the IRTC mid way along its length a yacht should act as if joining a
Traffic Separation Scheme.
April 09 v 4.3 Page 3 of 6
5 It has long been common practice for yachts intending to transit the GoA to
form small informal convoys in either Djibouti, Aden or Salalah. It is
emphasized that this is a decision for individual skippers but the military forces
support this concept. If the convoy approach is to be followed it is suggested
that there is a limit of no more than five vessels in any one convoy. This is
because vessels will need to keep close to one another if they are to offer any
protection through numbers, and close station-keeping for the duration of the
voyage through the GoA may prove a strain particularly if short-handed.
6 Carriage of arms is not advised. There is a serious risk of escalation of the
levels of violence.
7 AIS, Communications, Radar, EPIRBs etc.
Current advice to ships (which are required to carry AIS class A) is to have it
transmitting limited information whilst transiting the Gulf of Aden, restricted to
ship’s identity, position, course, speed, navigational status and safety related
information. Most AIS class B transponders (commonly carried by yachts) can
only transmit limited information and are not configurable by the user. Current
naval advice to yachts is to leave it switched on in the Gulf of Aden so that the
warships know where they are.
In the Somali Basin or further afield where there are far fewer warships
operating an AIS transponder should be switched off unless the yacht is either
aware of military forces in their vicinity, or is under attack.
Use of AIS should be verified when possible through contact with MSCHOA
for the latest advice.
A 406 EPIRB or PLB will quickly draw attention to you but remember these
are emergency devices intended specifically for saving life. An SART will
show a signal on any nearby marine radar which may include that of pirates.
It is legitimate to call “mayday” if under attack (VHF or HF DSC, VHF 16 or 8,
Sat-C or any other means). For an early warning call discreet use of a satellite
phone to one of the numbers in para 3 above may be the best option. When
in transit a radar transceiver should be used in the normal way. A radar target
enhancer (RTE) provides an apparently large echo and should be switched off
unless there is danger of collision. The possibility of an HF communications
facility for yachts in the region is under discussion.
April 09 v 4.3 Page 4 of 6
8 Preparations. Ensure that all systems (in particular the engine) are in good
shape, radios and satphones are working properly, that you have plenty of
fuel and the ship’s batteries are in good shape. Be prepared to motor or
motor-sail at your maximum speed for the entire transit of the IRTC. Carry
additional supplies (particularly water purification, medical supplies and
vitamin supplements) in the event that you are unfortunate enough to be
9 Pirates operate from very small craft, which limits their operation to
moderate weather conditions. While no statistics exist, it is likely to be difficult
to operate these small craft in sea states 3 and above though operation in
higher sea states cannot be ruled out. Pirates are less likely to launch attacks
in the dark and merchant ships try to pass through the area between 47E and
49E in the IRTC during the hours of darkness for this reason. Even during
the day, the pirate’s visual horizon is less than five miles; he will see a
merchantman long before he sees a yacht.
10.1 In a typical pirate attack small high speed (up to 25knot) open boats
deploy from a mother ship, often a pirated fishing vessel or dhow. Commonly
two or more of these small high speed open boats are used in attacks, often
approaching from either quarter of the intended target. Be aware that
perfectly legitimate tuna fishermen often employ similar tactics when chasing
fish. It can be very hard to differentiate between a genuine fisherman and a
prospective pirate; in general, the crew of a fishing boat will have ‘all eyes’
trained on the elusive target; in a pirate boat, the ‘gunmen’ may remain
11 Despite the odds being uneven, it is worth making a risk assessment in
advance of a transit and making sure everyone has thought through and
agreed how they will respond. Guidance on what to do in the event of an
attack is available at para 13. Mental preparation is essential. Continuous
vigilance and an early call to the authorities if in doubt, is recommended as
the arrival of military units (by sea or air) or a VHF call to a warship (even if
you cannot see a warship) may cause an impending attack to be called off. If
you can delay the pirates from boarding by even 15 minutes, it may give the
warships time to react. The time between first sighting a pirate and the
commencement of an attack could be as little as 5 minutes. When making a
routine call on VHF, do not give your posn in Lat and Long, unless you are
absolutely certain that the warship is close enough to be able to assist you, or
you are making a May Day call. The risk is that in reporting what turns out to
be a false alarm, you could alert other skiffs of your position and excite their
interest in you.
April 09 v 4.3 Page 5 of 6
12 Under Attack. A vessel is recommended to:
make a mayday call
report immediately to UKMTO Dubai. If possible, the call to UKMTO Dubai
should be followed by a call to MSCHOA, and MARLO Bahrain (who focus on
13 Pirates on Board
Try to remain calm
Stay together as far as it is practicable to do so
Offer no resistance
Cooperate with the pirates
Do Not Use firearms, even if available – the risk of escalation is significant.
Do Not use flash photography, which may be mistaken for muzzle flashes by
the pirates or by any military force sent to assist
Do Not use flares or other pyrotechnics as weapons against pirates.
In the event that military personnel take action on board the vessel, unless
otherwise directed all crew members should keep low to the deck, cover their
head with both hands (always ensuring that both hands are empty and
visible). Be prepared to answer questions on identity and status as military
personnel will need to differentiate quickly between crew and pirates.
14 Follow-up Reports should be sent to MSCHOA who will advise on
INTERNATIONAL SAILING FEDERATION