|05DJIBOUTI290||2005-03-22 12:17:00||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY||Embassy Djibouti|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
1. (U) Action requested paragraph 7.
2. (U) ConOff followed up on the report of an attack on two
American sailboats in the Gulf of Aden on March 8 (see ref)
offering victims' assistance. Between 15 March and 21 March,
she received multiple emails from each of the sailboats
involved. They indicated that they intended to continue their
journey North through the Red Sea, without stopping in Djibouti.
One of the AmCit victims also sent the following clarification
of events. This individual also concluded in a later message
that he believed there was the possibility the attack against
the boats was an attempt to take a group of Americans hostage.
The text of the initial account follows:
Attached is a copy of the official report we gave to the Yemeni
officials. We are safe and sound in Aden and plan to continue
our cruise up the Red Sea. We are a private sailing yacht with
3 people on board, all Americans. We have had some damage to our
vessel but nothing else.
On 8 March 2005, two sailing yachts, Mahdi & Gandalf, were moving
SW 30 miles off the coast of Yemen proceeding to the port of Aden
from Salalah, Oman.
At about 0900 two outboard powered boats, about 25 feet long with
3 men in each one, passed off our stern moving south at about 25
knots. An hour or two later they returned, one coming quite close
and looking us over carefully. The second boat passed our bows but
quite a ways away. These boats were obviously not engaged in a
normal activity such as fishing, etc. At that time we were south
of Al Mukalla, Yemen. The area around Al Mukalla is well documented
as being a piracy problem area and we started watching carefully
for anything out of the ordinary. The position of the attack was
13 degrees 28 N, 48 degrees 07 E. At about 1600 we observed two
different boats approaching us head on from the SW. These boats
were 25-30 feet long, had higher freeboard and diesel powered.
They were coming very fast directly at us. There were 4 men in each
boat. The boats separated at about 200 yards, one boat ahead of the
other, coming down Mahdi's port side and firing into the cockpit.
The other boat was firing an automatic weapon at both Gandalf and
Mahdi from ahead, more at Gandalf. These guys were shooting directly
at the cockpits, and obviously intended to kill us. The first boat
swung around behind Mahdi's stern to come up and board us. At that
point I, Rod Nowlin aboard Mahdi and armed with a 12 gage shotgun
loaded with 00 buckshot, started shooting into their boat. I forced
them to keep their heads down so that they could not shoot at us. I
am not sure I hit anyone at that point although I could see the driver
of the boat crouched down behind a steering console. After firing 3
shots at them their engine started to smoke and I swung around to
shoot at the boat ahead. At that point, I saw Jay Barry on Gandalf
ram that boat amidships almost cutting it in two and turning it
almost completely over. I turned back around to shoot again at the
boat behind Mahdi and that is when they turned away from Mahdi and
were heading toward the stern of Gandalf. Gandalf was beside us,
about 100 feet away. The bow of the pirate's boat came right up
against Gandalf's stern and two men stood up on the bow to board
Gandalf. That was a serious and probably fateful error on their
part. I shot both of them. That boat then veered away and I shot
the driver, although I am not sure of the outcome because they
were farther away and I did not knock him down like the other two.
Mahdi and Gandalf kept going at full speed to put as much distance
between the pirates and us as possible. As soon as we were out of
rifle range we looked back and both boats were drifting and appeared
to be disabled.
If Jay on Gandalf had not had the presence of mind to veer over
into one boat and ram it, the outcome of this attack would have been
totally different. All they needed to do was stand off a ways and
shoot us to pieces with automatic weapons. We were extremely lucky.
We broadcast Mayday calls on all VHF and HF radio frequencies,
including two HF emergency frequencies supplied by the US Coast Guard
a few days before. The Coalition Forces in the area were supposed to
be monitoring these frequencies. There was no response except from
a commercial ship in the area on VHF 16 who approached and observed
the disabled pirates for a bit, then sailed along side of us for
2-4 hours until dark to make sure we would be all right.
The pirates were well organized and well armed. There were at least
4 boats involved. They had set up a picket line out from the Yemen
coast probably at least for 50-75 miles, so if you transited the area
during the day they wouldn't miss you. The two boats that attacked
us appeared to have come from the south.
There has been speculation in the past that this ongoing piracy
problem off the Yemen coast was being carried out by Somali pirates.
Given the number, type of boats involved, and the direction the spotter
boats came from, this does not appear to be correct in this case.
This problem is getting worse and the pirate attacks are getting
One could only expect that the Yemen Government will take more direct
action. At the very least, allow yachts to group in Salalah, Oman
and at some point on the NW Yemen coast to request an escort along the
3. (U) This account has also been posted on the Web at:
http://www.noonsite.com/Members/doina/R2005-0 3-14-1. Although signed
by one of the AmCit victims, it is not clear who posted the account.
4. (U) In an additional email, another of the victims indicated that
they believed the same attackers may have attempted another approach
later. How much later is unclear from the email, possibly several days
later. They cannot confirm the same individuals or boats were
involved, because it was dark out. Twenty miles offshore, a power
boat with no running lights approached the stern of one of the boats,
but pulled away after the AmCits made contact via VHF with a merchant
ship who then contacted the Coalition Fleet. The sailboats were then
radioed by a French coalition ship who stayed in contact with them unti
they reached the Straights of Bab el Mandeb.
5. (SBU) As of 18 March the sailboats were reportedly anchored at
13degrees 52N/41 degrees 56E in Eritrea.
6. (U) A separate email our interlocutor indicated that the group had
been in contact with the Fifth fleet "in preparation for 50-100 yachts
to make this passage from Salalah Oman through 'Pirate Alley' in the
Gulf of Aden into the Red Sea to Massawa, Eritrea." This is the first
time AmEmbassy Djibouti received word of the plans of private American
boats to pass through the area.
7. (U) Post recommends a travel warning be issued for the Gulf of Aden
and the Red Sea, specifying the danger of hostile attacks and criminal
activity in unpatrolled international waters.