Is U.S. Navy responsible for protecting sailors?

I read the correspondence piece by Mr. Briant of the yacht Bambola (Pirate attack in the Gulf of Aden Issue 131, July/Aug. 2003) with particular interest. My husband and I, along with our two sons, made the same transit of the Gulf of Aden shortly after Bambola. In fact, radio and email reports of the pirate attack, which we received just before we left Oman for the Gulf of Aden, added to my already considerable fear of the very real possibility of our yacht being attacked as well. I can’t fully comprehend the terror and feelings of violation that the crew of Bambola experienced, but I believe I can empathize more than most, having stood watch under the exact same circumstances, minus the actual pirates. My sympathy is with Mr. and Ms. Briant as well as Mr. Busch. I am thankful no one was physically hurt, and I wish them well in the future.

I do feel compelled to respond to the charges that the United States is somehow responsible for the actions of criminals who are citizens of Yemen or another Middle Eastern or African country. What, exactly, does Mr. Briant think the U.S. Navy should have done differently? To my knowledge, America has no authority over pirates in Yemeni waters. Frankly, I’m surprised that the United States took the risk and went to the expense of sending not one, but two ships on Mr. Briant’s behalf and, one week later, an Orion aircraft and a frigate in aid of others. That sounds to me like the U.S. Navy went well beyond the call of duty, especially as Mr. Briant is a British subject.

Mr. Briant failed to mention that, scant weeks earlier, a reported 100 yachts were escorted through the “danger” area by the U.S. Navy. There was nothing to prohibit Mr. Briant from joining them.

We, and the dozens of fellow circumnavigators we know who went through the Gulf of Aden this year, stayed 100 miles off the coast of Yemen until the Gulf narrowed to the point that this was impossible. At that point, we split the difference between the coasts of Yemen and Somalia. We also transited the known pirate areas at night and in groups. This is simply prudent seamanship, recommended by, among others, the British publishers Imray, Laurie, Norie & Wilson and available at no cost on their website, Thankfully, we and every other yacht sailing through the Gulf of Aden this year made it to the Red Sea without being robbed, excepting Bambola. Judging from the coordinates given in his letter, Mr. Briant chose to come within 30 miles of the Yemeni coast, known to be a dangerous tactic.

We knew that there was risk involved when we made the decision to sail through the Gulf of Aden. We did our best to avoid an attack, and possibly, that’s what got us through without incident. It is just as possible that we were simply lucky. We cannot know how we would have reacted in the same situation in which Mr. Briant found himself. However, I would like to believe that I would not have blamed the British Navy had my U.S.-flagged sailboat been robbed by Yemeni or Somalian pirates in Yemeni waters.

Far from expecting thanks to America for the good that our country does provide, I only ask that the United States not be unjustly accused. Let’s put the blame where it belongs — on the pirates themselves.

Lona Gray and her family, who began voyaging from Florida in 1997, live aboard their Nautical 56, Immanuel, and are currently in the Aegean Sea.

By Ocean Navigator