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Pirate Attacks

 Suzanne on Peregrine asked that we sent you this report. Pirate Attack Reported to Yemen Officials

On 8 March 2005, two sailing yachts, Mahdi & Gandalf, were moving SW 30 miles off the coast of Yemen proceeding to the port of Aden from Salalah, Oman.

 The Crew of Mahdi.. not to be trifled with


At about 0900 two outboard powered boats, about 25 feet long with 3 men
in each one, passed off our stern moving south at about 25 knots. An
hour or two later they returned, one coming quite close and looking us
over carefully. The second boat passed our bows but quite a ways away.
These boats were obviously not engaged in a normal activity such as
fishing, etc. At that time we were south of Al Mukalla, Yemen. The
area around Al Mukalla is well documented as being a piracy problem area
and we started watching carefully for anything out of the ordinary.

Our position was 13 degrees 28 North 48 degrees 07 East.

At about 1600 we observed two different boats approaching us head on
from the SW. These boats were 25-30 feet long, had higher freeboard and
diesel powered. They were coming very fast directly at us. There were 4
men in each boat. The boats separated at about 200 yards, one boat
ahead of the other, coming down Mahdi's port side and firing into the
cockpit. The other boat was firing an automatic weapon at both Gandalf
and Mahdi from ahead, more at Gandalf. These guys were shooting
directly at the cockpits, and obviously intended to kill us. The first
boat swung around behind Mahdi's stern to come up and board us. At that
point I, Rod Nowlin aboard Mahdi and armed with a 12 gage shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot, started shooting into their boat. I forced them to
keep their heads down so that they could not shoot at us. I am not sure
I hit anyone at that point although I could see the driver of the boat
crouched down behind a steering console. After firing 3 shots at them
their engine started to smoke and I swung around to shoot at the boat
ahead. At that point, I saw Jay Barry on Gandalf ram that boat
amidships almost cutting it in two and turning it almost completely
over. I turned back around to shoot again at the boat behind Mahdi and
that is when they turned away from Mahdi and were heading toward the
stern of Gandalf. Gandalf was beside us, about 100 feet away. The bow
of the pirate's boat came right up against Gandalf's stern and two men
stood up on the bow to board Gandalf. That was a serious and probably
fateful error on their part. I shot both of them. That boat then
veered away and I shot the driver, although I am not sure of the outcome
because they were farther away and I did not knock him down like the
other two.

Mahdi and Gandalf kept going at full speed to put as much distance
between the pirates and us as possible. As soon as we were out of rifle
range we looked back and both boats were drifting and appeared to be

If Jay on Gandalf had not had the presence of mind to veer over into one
boat and ram it, the outcome of this attack would have been totally
different. All they needed to do was stand off a ways and shoot us to
pieces with automatic weapons. We were extremely lucky. We broadcast
Mayday calls on all VHF and HF radio frequencies, including two HF
emergency frequencies supplied by the US Coast Guard a few days before.
The Coalition Forces in the area were supposed to be monitoring these
frequencies. There was no response except from a commercial ship in the
area on VHF 16 who approached and observed the disabled pirates for a
bit, then sailed along side of us for 2-4 hours until dark to make sure
we would be all right.

The pirates were well organized and well armed. There were at least 4
boats involved. They had set up a picket line out from the Yemen coast
probably at least for 50-75 miles, so if you transited the area during
the day they wouldn't miss you. The two boats that attacked us appeared
to have come from the south.

There has been speculation in the past that this ongoing piracy problem
off the Yemen coast was being carried out by Somali pirates. Given the
number, type of boats involved, and the direction the spotter boats came
from, this does not appear to be correct in this case. This problem is
getting worse and the pirate attacks are getting deadly. One could only
expect that the Yemen Government will take more direct action. At the
very least, allow yachts to group in Salalah, Oman and at some point on
the NW Yemen coast to request an escort along the Yemen coast.

Rodney J. Nowlin, USN Retired March 11, 2005
S/V Mahdi
Jay Barry
S/V Gandalf


April 21, 2005
Abu Tig Marina
El Gouna, Egypt

Addendum to Official Report of Attack on the Sailing Yachts Gandalf &

The attack on Gandalf and Mahdi, which occurred on 8 March 2005 in the
Gulf of Aden was perpetrated by pirates (?) or terrorists (?). They did not act
like normal pirates (how do normal pirates act?). They were certainly
trying to kill us from the outset. There is a very real possibility
that it was an attempted hostage situation, especially if advance
information was sent from Salalah, Oman that 4 US boats had departed for
Aden, Yemen. The 2 slower boats were 20-30 miles behind us at the time
of the attack. The real motivation for the attack will probably never
be known. You would like to think that it is possible to transit the
area at night, but the area of reported attacks is too large. You make
your decisions based on circumstances at the time and live with them.
We have had a lot of feedback concerning the attack from various
sources. Most of it supportive, but also some from armchair pundits
uttering stupid and ignorant comments and questions. "Walk in our
shoes"! The whole episode was very traumatic and we will not respond to
any of those. Read the attached report.
We have been in contact with Commander Webber, USN at 5th Fleet
Headquarters in Bahrain concerning the attack. He seems to think that a
commitment to provide an escort for yachts grouping in Salalah, Oman and
requesting an escort is possible, but there will have to be some
pressure applied from higher sources ("political"?) or it probably won't
happen. Let's not attempt to put all of the pressure on the US Navy.
There are yachts from numerous nations affected. The international
yachting community has the capability of applying some pressure to their
governments to follow up on this (please do so).

As far as we can determine that at the time of the attack the US Navy
and the British Navy were patrolling the Arabian Sea and points north.
The German, French and possibly Italians were in the Gulf of Aden. One
of the yachts with us was stopped in the Arabian Sea, SE of Oman by the
US Coast Guard for a "safety inspection". They asked the Coast Guard
for emergency HF radio frequencies that the coalition forces would be
monitoring and were supplied with two frequencies. We tried calling on
these frequencies over the next several days. It turned out that they
were fictitious, and no one was listening. One was actually a broadcast
station. All of us tried contacting coalition vessels by VHF radio to
clarify the frequencies but no one would ever respond.

At the time of the attack we broadcast Mayday calls on all known VHF and
HF radio frequencies. The only response was from a commercial vessel
(see report). This vessel sent out reports via satellite. The next
morning a German warship was close by and we were able to report the
incident to them. This was 12 hours after the attack and they hadn't
heard anything about it. When we arrived in Aden we gave the Yemen
Officials the report and had a long talk with the Yemeni Coast Guard
commanders. They are just getting organized and do not presently have
the capability to actually patrol the Yemen coast. They stated that a
lot of the Yemen coastal areas are tribal and the central government
doesn't have any control at all. They also warned us to be careful of
retaliation by the families of the bad guys. We then contacted the
authorities in Djibouti to voice our concerns about retaliation and
requested that they keep an eye on us between Aden and the entrance to
the Red Sea. They assured us that they would inform the naval
authorities so that they could provide assistance. We did manage to
contact a French warship outside of Aden when we left there. They had
no information about our request for assistance and if you can believe
this, didn't even know about the attack 8 days before in their patrol
area! They did consent to watch over us until we made the entrance to
the Red Sea, where we stayed on the west side going north. No sense in
tempting fate twice.

Gandalf was struck by bullets about 14 times. Mahdi was struck 3 times.
Fortunately none penetrated the hulls and no one on either boat was
wounded. Thank goodness for steel boats!

Emergency HF radio frequencies, like 2182 MHz, no longer exist in most
of the world. No one is listening. Any request for immediate
assistance will probably come from a commercial vessel in the vicinity,
but commercial vessels are not capable of effectively dealing with
attacks of this type. At the most they might scare the attackers off.
These attacks happen so quickly that unless you had an actual escort in
the immediate vicinity getting help quickly will not happen. The
"Coalition Forces" out here are a myth. It appears that there is no
central authority i.e. no one in charge. The right hand does not know
what the left one is doing and most certainly there is no communication
between them.
You are on your own out here and you had better be prepared to stand on
your own two feet.

S/Y Mahdi
Rod Nowlin, USN Retired
Rebecca Nowlin
Jamee Nowlin
>From Clinton, WA USA