It’s time to end Indian Ocean “Adventures”

With news that seven Danish sailors, including three children aged 12 to 16, had been captured by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean on Thursday, February, 24, it’s time to reevaluate the legacy of four Americans shot to death by pirates in those same waters off eastern Africa just two days before the Danes issued their distress call.

In the obituaries of the four Americans killed aboard their sailing boat in the Indian Ocean this week each was praised for being “adventurous,” “great sailors,” having a “zest for life” and “passion for the high seas.” They were not “thrill seekers” and “knew the risks involved and accepted them.”

While not wanting to intrude on the mourning of their friends and relatives, having spent time in the Indian Ocean at the height of pirate season two years ago, watching cargo boats and tourist boats being wrapped in broken glass and razor wire and armed to the teeth with mercenary gun crews, all I could wonder when I first read the account of the “Quest” and its crew being taken hostage was … What were they thinking?Apparently headed for Djibouti, the four sailors knowingly sailed alone – rather than in a pack or “rally” of private yachts, which they had previously joined – into the most dangerous waters on the planet. Two hundred and seventy five miles off the coast of Oman they were caught and boarded by a mother ship carrying 17 pirates. Despite the arrival of a U.S. Navy ship, within 24 hours the four were shot dead.

With monsoon season over, the Indian Ocean is calm again, making this prime time for piracy. The four sailors aboard the “Quest” could not have missed the news that ships are being hijacked in that part of the ocean on a weekly basis. There are currently more than 800 hostages still being held, most crewmen of freighters and oil tankers. Private yachts are increasingly being attacked; a British couple was recently released after one year in captivity and a $1 million ransom paid, raised by friends back home.

Private boaters have been warned repeatedly by the world’s navies to stick to designated shipping lanes and to travel in groups. At any given time there are 30 warships patrolling the northern Indian Ocean – from the European Union, the United States, China, Japan, Russia, India and other nations – and still the pirates are thriving. Sponsored by mafia-like gangs onshore, the mother ships and attack boats are manned by the equivalent of street gangs: Impoverished young men with little hope, armed with increasingly sophisticated electronics, boats and weaponry.

Catching them and putting them on trial, whether in Nairobi or New York City, doesn’t seem to be slowing them down.

Which brings me back to why did these four think they could skirt danger when so many before had failed?

I am the first to encourage “an adventurous life.” But good adventuring includes knowing your limits and possessing some kind of personal radar to help recognize the boundaries between adventure seeking and foolhardiness. That the “Quest” was heavily loaded with tons of Bibles, which the retired couple who owned and sailed the ship had been distributing at stops around the world during the past six years, was not enough to save them from an “adventure” gone very, very bad.

One of the four passengers was quoted as saying, “If anything happens to us on these travels, just know that we died living our dream.”

Really? That’s your dream? To sail into the most dangerous waters on the planet, be kidnapped by a gang of thug pirates and shot to the death in the galley of your sailboat? In retrospect, of course, the dream sounds far more like a nightmare.

[flickr image via Gui Seiz]