Dockwise wants to arm against pirates

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Dockwise Ltd., the parent company of Dockwise Yacht Transport, has threatened to abandon its Netherlands flag unless the Dutch government authorizes Dutch-flagged ships to carry armed security contractors to protect crews from pirates when they transit the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.

Dockwise Ltd.’s yacht transport division, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, doesn’t operate any of its semisubmersible yacht carriers in the Indian Ocean or Gulf of Aden, but it has organized transport services this year for yachts participating in an around-the-world cruising rally so they could transit those waters safely, says Dockwise yacht spokeswoman Catalina Bujor. She says Dockwise’s heavy-lift division, which carries drilling rigs, offshore platforms and other heavy equipment, requested the change because its ships must transit the region.

“As an oil and gas service provider, our vessels, which as a consequence of their specific nature have been labeled by experts to be very vulnerable to pirate attacks, have to enter pirate-infested waters most months of the year,” says Dockwise Ltd. CEO André Goedée in a June 8 statement. “At this point we are not allowed to protect our employees adequately against pirates, while other nations do allow for added security measures.”

The heavy-lift semisubmersibles are particularly vulnerable to pirates because of the slow speeds they run, their low freeboard around the well deck and blind spots.

While Dockwise’s yacht carriers don’t need armed security on the trans-Atlantic and Caribbean routes they now run, the ships could carry guards if needed. “We would do whatever it takes to make sure the boats are safe,” Bujor says.

In April, Dockwise Yacht Transport arranged carriage from Salalah, Oman, to Marmaris, Turkey, on a Sevenstar Yacht Transport ship for 20 cruising yachts in the Blue Water Rally, Bujor says. The two-year rally left Gibraltar in October 2009 and was scheduled to wind up in Crete at the end of April. On Feb. 22, pirates seized one of the rally yachts, the 58-foot Quest, off Oman and killed Scott and Jean Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., and friends Phyllis Macay and Robert Riggle of Seattle after they broke off from the group in Mumbai, India. Most of the rest of the fleet gathered in Oman to finish the rally on a freighter.

Organizer Blue Water Rallies Ltd. of Isle of Wight, U.K., which had managed eight around-the-world rallies for 14 years, announced in March that it was closing the business because of the “current economic downturn and a dramatic rise in piracy in the Indian Ocean.”

World Cruising Club, of Cowes, U.K., another major organizer of around-the-world rallies, routes its events to begin and end in St. Lucia, avoiding the Red Sea, northern Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. It reports that interest in world cruising remains strong, with 30 boats already registered for the world rally scheduled to start in January 2012.

Richard Bolt, a director of Blue Water Rallies, says the company’s owners considered closing even before the Quest tragedy for financial reasons — a precipitous drop-off in business in recessionary times. Still, the soaring number of incidents of Somali piracy in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden also was a factor. “Piracy is a deterrent to cruising, no doubt about it,” he says. “But is it the end of world cruising? No.” He attributes World Cruising Club’s continued success to routing their cruisers far away from Somali waters.

Nonetheless, he predicts piracy will continue to spread — and make cruising more difficult — until governments work together on a policy for eradicating it.

Dockwise operates four semisubmersible yacht carriers. For now, the company is serving the U.S. East Coast, the Caribbean, Mediterranean and northern Europe.

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue.

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