High-risk Areas of Yacht Piracy
In order to identify areas of particular danger for independent cruisers, you should discriminate between merchant marine piracy and yacht piracy. The two issues don’t always overlap geographically. In this article, I try to highlight where sailors of private vessels should be cautious.
If you cruise in developing countries, it is essential to keep in mind that you chose a very “extreme” way of visiting a place. Cruising independently often takes you to areas very remote, to which no “normal” tourist would ever go. You could meet people who take advantage of a cruiser stopping by, stealing things from your boat, mugging you or attacking you in other ways. Many piracy incidents are little more than “average” criminal activities committed by residents of coastal areas.
Beyond that, there are gangs of criminals who specifically target yachts and private vessels – and those who do the same with merchant marine. The latter ones are clearly the nastiest kind of pirates. They often work with high efficiency and use modern technology. Most assaults occur in coastal areas or whilst your boat is anchored.
This is when you should be most cautious. Check with local authorities, whether a particular area is safe to stay at. Check if there are wide-spread drug or alcohol issues. Check if there have been any pirate incidents in the past. Don’t anchor by yourself with no other boats around. The following information for different regions is meant to be a general guideline.
Piracy in Europe, the Mediterranean and Black Sea
Generally, yacht piracy does not occur in European countries. There are occasional exceptions: Albania’s ports don’t offer the same degree of safety than those of neighbouring countries. The coast of Africa and Islands along it could are high-risk areas, too. However, none of the regions mentioned have reported problems with professional pirates.
Assaults on independent sailors occur out of opportunities and they are normally committed by “general” criminals. This also applies to Eastern European countries and the Black Sea, where piracy in the strict sense of the word is not known. Corruption and high crime-rates in ports, however, make the region a rather risky one.
Piracy in the Caribbean and Latin America
Much more a hot-spot of yacht piracy than the Mediterranean, there are several countries and regions in Latin America that are potentially dangerous for sailors. Brazil is notorious and especially the Amazon River area should be considered to be rather hostile. The degree of danger varies a lot, and it is essential to stay in touch with other cruisers and local authorities to identify areas that need to be avoided.
The situation in Venezuela is even worse, with assaults happening frequently. Corruption and little support from the authorities make this one of the most dangerous countries in the World. Drug-traffic, poverty and a high level of general crime mean, that you should rather stick with the main routes of cruising.
The wide-spread poverty and high crime rates of Central America make countries like Nicaragua and Honduras particularly dangerous. The two countries have not agreed on an official boarder yet, therefore, military or police boats are not very common sights in the area.
Guatemala has high crime rates, too. Especially the “hurricane hole” of the Rio Dulce, a popular shelter during the hurricane season, can be very dangerous.
Ecuador and Columbia are generally not very safe. However, the number of pirate attacks and assaults on cruisers varies from year to year and regions of particular danger often “float”. It is essential to check current reports of local authorities and to stay in touch with other cruisers.
Piracy in Asia and Southeast Asia
Generally, piracy in this area is a big problem. The good news is that it targets mostly merchant marine. Criminal organisations with Islamist background sometimes target foreign yachts, muggings and assaults in ports are common even in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia or the Philippines.
Papua New Guinea is considered to be safer. Ports and coastal regions can be dangerous, though, due to widespread poverty and alcohol problems.
Piracy in Africa, Indian Ocean and Middle East
Most countries of Western Africa are considered to be unsafe. This applies mostly to the coastal areas, ports and cities. Many countries are engaged in bloody civil wars and have high crime rates. Cruising in Western Africa is anything but common and should be avoided. If you do cruise there, keep in touch with other cruisers, check with local authorities and try to stay with other vessels.
Apart from Southeast Asia, the area around Somalia can be considered to be the worst in the World with respect to pirates. Kidnappings and attacks occur even far off the coast. The civil war has slipped out of international news, but is still a burning issue in the region itself. It also means that pirates are often using heavy fire arms such as machine guns. Stay away from Somalia!
Similar things apply to most other countries North of Kenya and East of India. Stay away from the coast, keep in touch with other cruisers to learn about current dangers and avoid sailing by yourself.
Read a general introduction to "Modern Yacht Piracy"