The organizers of the Volvo Ocean Race around the world are continually monitoring the movements of the fleet of eight boats from its headquarters in southern England. Somewhere along the route, there is always a chance the yachts may fall prey to pirates.
So what should the crew do if they find themselves eye to eye with pirates off the coast of Malaysia? Then it is "all hands on deck." The official instructions from the organization are to make the crew look as strong as possible to act as a deterrent.
Strength in Numbers
And if the sight of eleven trained men gathered together in the gangway does not work, the crew of the Delta Lloyd has another tactic: They will offer the pirates waterproof and transparent "gift packages" containing cigarettes, a shiny new camera and dollar bills.
The Volvo Ocean Race started in Alicante, Spain in October 2008 and ends in St. Petersburg, Russia, in June 2009. In between, the crews will sail over 37,000 nautical miles via Cape Town, Singapore, Qingdao, around Cape Horn to Rio de Janeiro, Boston, Galway and Stockholm.
The fleet has already survived pirate hotspot Somalia. Ocean Race director Knut Frostad says the yachtsmen received advice from piracy experts before embarking on the stage between Cape Town and the Indian city of Cochin. "We are aware of the risks and do as much as possible to avoid them," he says. Weapons are not an option. "They only invite violence."
Advisors estimate the chance that the boats will be attacked by pirates at around one percent. However this year, the risks are greater than before because the route has been changed. Africa and Asia were avoided during the nine previous installments of the Ocean Race. But Asia has become too interesting economically for the sponsors to ignore, among them telecom firms Ericsson and Telefonica, sports clothing manufacturer Puma and the Chinese sponsors of the Green Dragon.
This means that the boats must brave the busy Strait of Malacca -- one of the world's most piracy-prone waterways. The strait is a narrow, 800-kilometer channel between Malaysia and the South China Sea.
New Zealander Tony Mutter of the boat Ericsson 4 does not take the threat all that seriously. "Why would the pirates want some bloody sailing boat when they can have an entire tanker? They can have my wet sailing clothes if they really want them."
Peter van Niekerk of the Delta Lloyd team, which is flying under the Dutch flag, also thinks there is little chance the pirates would prey on yachts. "I'm not going to worry about it," he says. At the anti-piracy course in Cape Town he learned that the crew should more or less let the pirates do as they like. "Don't try to be heroes by fighting back."
Back in Britain, the organization keeps an eye on the fleet's progress. Positions are sent to the British authorities which deal with piracy every three hours. The crews are also informed which warships are in the neighborhood, in case they need them.
Delta Lloyd director Tom Touber says there is always the possibility the boats will encounter pirates. "The biggest danger is that the pirates get frustrated because there is nothing to steal. There is no money on board, only expensive maritime equipment which they cannot use. That is why we have the gift packages."
He also thinks the risks are small, but says there is a "100 percent" chance that the yachtsmen will run into some sort of trouble, especially in the Strait of Malacca which is full of fishing boats. "There are always people who come to ask for water or fuel," he says. "The problem is, how can you tell them from real pirates? Sailing in those waters is a nightmare."