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Pirate Attack

Aloha All,

This is the official report of the pirate attack on S/V MAHDI AND S/V GANDALF which occurred about 1700 hours on March 8, 2005 at 13 28 North 48 07 East. Both are US flagged vessels and citizens. Please pass this information to others in hopes that cruisers behind us will receive more protection and will not have to endure such a horrific experience. We are very thankful that they are safe in Aden, Yemen and will continue up through the Red Sea soon.

With Peace and Aloha,
Ellen, David, Jason and Eric
March 16, 2005
Sailing North to Suakin, Sudan, Red Sea

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.

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.

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