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Encountering pirates changes you

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M/Y Linda Lou, a 60m Lurssen, needed to depart West Palm Beach to travel to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. As Capt. Michael Schueler prepared for the trip halfway around the world, he realized his plans would include razor wire, firearms and a safe room.

Schueler addressed about 70 people at a seminar titled “Yachts versus Somalia pirates” at Bluewater Books and Charts on Tuesday to share what he learned through training and an encounter with pirates during the 45-day trip.

“The first time through, it changes you,” said Schueler, a captain with 27 years in industry. He chose a security team mostly for peace of mind.

“For me, in the end, this is my family on the boat,” he said of his crew. “You’ve got to take care of these people. … I could see my crew, I could see how nervous they were.

“No one signed on who knew they would have to defend their boat against an AK-47,” he said. “I have to be able to give the correct answers if something happens, to the insurance companies and to the families.”

So he hired security specialist Brad Robinson of Millennium Group of West Palm Beach for the passage through the waters around the Republic of Somalia.

“The first thing I did was call the insurance company; we were heading to a war risk area,” Schueler said. “You have to follow the insurance company’s rules and pay the war risk premium.”

Captains should also check with their flag state’s rules. He researched on two Web sites that he described as imperative for the latest news on the pirate zones of the Red Sea, Suez Canal and Gulf of Aden: European Union Naval Force Somalia – Operation Atalanta at www.eunavfor.eu, and The Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa at www.mschoa.org.

“We picked up our security detail in Malta,” Schueler said. “That way we had time to train with them.”

Next they proceeded through to the Suez Canal, where they trained and retrained. Schueler hired Robinson and his partner as armed security onboard during the passage.

“Obviously, our first goal is to protect, next is to prepare the crew,” Robinson said. “We have briefs, drills and exercises. We do piracy drills for the repetition, to increase motor memory in the crew.”

A coalition of military forces from around the world patrols the area and has created an internationally recognized transit corridor with an eastbound and a westbound lane.

“You get a rendezvous point and you must be at the lat/long at your time,” Schueler said. “Then groups of boats leave together.”

Boats of similar speeds will travel together, with the fastest boats leaving last, so that the boats basically move in a convoy. The military is around the entire area for the transit, he said, and it’s best to keep the other boats within sight.

“They’re herding us like cattle, which is very smart,” he said.

Even with that support, not everyone is covered all the time. And once the pirates are aboard, the coalition will not open fire.

So Linda Lou used deterrents such as razor wire on the swim deck, fire hoses tied ready, an LRAD (long-range acoustical device) as well as simple psychological deterrents such as flare guns.

“They’re no match for an AK-47 but, used early on, it makes them realize you are ready,” Schueler said.

If things got really bad, the crew of Linda Lou had created a safe room that the bad guys could not penetrate.

“That changed everything for me,” Schueler said.

They designated the watertight area between the bulkheads in the A/C corridor. They had control of the engines and steering, a Fleet 77 for communications and a VHF. And they could disable the wiring so pirates couldn’t open the doors.

“We did our drill over and over until we could do them blindfolded,” he said.

At one point, the crew had to use their training and implement the four-part security plan they had trained with.

Phase one: Heightened security.

The crew stayed alert and vigilant throughout the potentially dangerous areas.

“There are no boat projects on a trip like this,” Schueler said. “If the chef is not cooking, he has binoculars, too.”

Phase two: Potential hostiles.

When the crew spotted the mother ship and some dhows several miles off, crew began to man their stations and head to the safe room.

Phase three: Considered to be hostile.

When the skiffs began to approach, Schueler made a radio call to the military to apprise them. The crew began to shut down all systems on the bridge, which would delay pirates if they did make it aboard. Crew manned their stations in preparation to deploy non-lethal measures, including the fire hoses and flares.

The military was launching a helicopter, which was about six minutes out.

Phase four: Attack imminent

A British Royal Navy helicopter arrived and the skiffs turned away. The attack was deterred.

“We spotted them way in advance,” Schueler said. “I believe that’s why we were safe.”

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About Dorie Cox

Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton.

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