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Yachts shun pirate waters after string of hijacks

By Katharine Houreld

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 3 2011 10:10 a.m. MST

"The attacks had spread north to the Omani coast. They had basically blocked off the route we were taking," he said, adding that many in the yachting community don't take pirates seriously enough.

"The feeling is that it is a big wide ocean and no one can touch you," Sandys-Winsch said. "That's not true,"

Rene Tiemessem, who is organizing a rally from Thailand to Turkey, said the people on his convoy through the Indian Ocean live on their yachts and don't have the spare cash for guards or shipping.

He's asked for an escort from the international warships fighting piracy off East Africa. But the only vessels who get those are the ones delivering food aid to war-ravaged Somalia, whose lawless shores are dotted with pirate camps. Navies say they are too thinly stretched already to start escorting everyone.

"There's no alternative for us" than to sail this route, he said. "People feel abandoned."

With many yachtsmen abandoning the region altogether, industries dependent on the routes are being devastated.

At Kilifi Boatyard in Kenya, Peter Bateman has laid off half his permanent staff. Ten years ago, they'd see more than a dozen yachts come in needing repairs, paint and other work. This year, not one. Out of 20 yachts considering coming here from the Chagos islands in the Indian Ocean this year, he said, 17 had turned around and gone back to Asia and three had gone around South Africa.

The tiny island nation of the Seychelles, a favorite with yachters, has seen tourism revenue drop by 15 percent, while fisheries, shipping and fuel sales to boats are all down by 30 percent or more, its Foreign Ministry said.

Blue Water Rallies, which organized the sailing rally attended by the four Americans before they peeled off and were captured and executed as American warships trailed the seized yacht, has canceled its next rally because of the poor economic climate and fears over pirate attacks, said Blue Water director Richard Bolt, who knew the four Americans.

As the hotels, restaurants and businesses among the yachters' sun-drenched route scan the empty waves expectantly, Rodriguez and his family are back in chilly, overcast England. Abandoning their dream journey was an awful decision, he said, and he was full of regret.

But with every day that passes, and every new attack, he sees that there are many things worse than regret.

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