Attacked by Pirates
Just as the decision to carry arms rests with the boat's captain, so also does the decision to enter areas known for piracy. The skipper assumes the risks. But does that mean it's the job of the world's navies to escort private pleasure craft sailing in danger zones? Nowlin, the retired U.S. Navy man, clearly believes that it should be, at least in the Gulf of Aden. He and other cruisers have urged the cruising community to put pressure on their respective countries to provide protection.
Again, not all concur. "Escorting private boaters is not a primary mission of the U.S. Navy. However, the Navy has a longstanding tradition of responding to mariners in distress and will continue to do so," said Commander Jeffrey Breslau, a spokesman for the Navy's 5th Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain. He added that the mission of combined coalition naval forces operating in the area is "to deny international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons, or other material." In addition, it involves protecting "critical infrastructure nodes, engaging with regional allies, and providing assistance to mariners in distress."
Nowlin points out that unescorted cruising sailboats represent ideal soft targets for terrorists, either for outright slaughter or for hostage-taking. "The situation in the Gulf of Aden has all the potential for a catastrophe waiting to happen," he argues. "The next thing you know, you're going to have a bunch of yachties killed or taken hostage, and then you'll see the standard government hand-wringing about how unfortunate it is and saying we don't deal with terrorists [to free hostages]."
Repeated attempts to contact Yemeni officials at the embassy in Washington, D.C., to discuss piracy in the Gulf received no response. But according to Commander Breslau, "The combined maritime forces, including the U.S. Coast Guard, have provided assistance to Yemeni maritime forces to help enhance their capabilities and will continue to do so whenever requested by the government of Yemen."
The crews of Mahdi and Gandalf, though, said they arrived in Yemen and reported the attack, but officials there told them that their sphere of control didn't extend much beyond the port of Aden.