A new scourge for yachts on high seas

Pirates pose a new threat to owners of private yachts.

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Private yacht owners are facing a new threat to their cruises on the high seas: pirates.

With attacks and attempted kidnappings and vessel seizures by Somali pirates increasing across the Indian Ocean, large shipping companies and leisure boat owners are turning to armed security teams to protect their vessels and crews in dangerous areas.

"It's becoming a huge risk," said Alan Linnitt, the manager of the yachts division of the marine consultancy Henderson International. "We are now recommending that yacht owners join a protected convoy or employ specialised security firms."

While most owners do not actually ride their yachts when they are being transferred between the luxury marinas of the Emirates, the Seychelles or Lebanon, their crews have to steer through areas where pirates have been known to attack.

Given that yachts can cost up to hundreds of millions of dollars, owners have a huge incentive to protect their assets.

Hiring a small security team costs as much as US$25,000 (Dh91,823) for a 10-day trip, a significant new expense on top of repairs, insurance and fuel. But the larger issue is having guns on board.

Last year, the captain of a yacht owned by a Russian businessman was detained by authorities in Dubai when the vessel berthed at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel because weapons carried by a security team from the UK company Veritas Internationalhad not been properly registered, according to four people involved in the incident.

"That happened due to inexperience of the captain, mismanagement by the yacht management company and mistakes by the security company," said Richard Skinner, the Dubai director at the security company Orchid Group. "The logistics of operating properly within the industry are not to be underestimated."

Last year and this year, there has been a "fairly significant drop-off of yachts coming from the Mediterranean to the Middle East", Mr Skinner said, citing the growing risk of piracy.

Armed security is not the only means to fend off attackers. In fact, security companies say that using weapons is the final option. Many captains now use a set of tactics including increasing speed to more than 20 knots and zigzagging, and firing acoustic guns to stun and disorient attackers.

Captain Ray Goosen, who manages the yachts of the Abu Dhabi family company Darwish Bin Ahmed & Sons, said while pleasure boats were faster than some large ships, they had a low freeboard- the height between the waterline and the deck - and were made of less resilient material.

"If they shoot a bullet or [rocket-propelled grenade], it's going to be a problem," Capt Goosen said. "Yachts are made of composite materials. They don't have steel hulls like the tankers."

His employer has a new yacht that will spend the winters in Abu Dhabi and the summers in Beirut, meaning Capt Goosen will have to travel in waters patrolled by pirates.

But he does not plan to have armed security with the vessel. Instead, he is planning to protect the yacht by using precision navigation equipment, intelligence from piracy watchers and old-fashioned seafaring skills.

"We'll try to travel as much as possible by night," Capt Goosen said. "These pirates are armed and they have the same equipment as we do. You have to take precautions."

Guns and piracy, b4