Number of yacht rallies visiting Oman drops due to piracy threat

Only 55 yachts passed through the Arabian Sea last year

Muscat - 

Piracy around Omani waters and the region has forced cancellation or rerouting of several international yacht races, say rally organisers.

This has resulted in the sultanate's ports losing business as the number of yacht arrivals has seen a dramatic decline in the past three years.

At its peak the trade saw more than 200 yachts make trips every year either eastwards or westwards past Oman to their respective destinations.

Rally organisers say the figure dropped by around 75 per cent in 2010, and reduced further this year with just a handful willing to take the chance. Planned rallies and cruises for 2012, which would likely dock at Oman's ports are also being cancelled.

“I expect only a few yachts heading for Salalah this season. I decided not to organise a rally to Yemen, Oman and India, and next year to do a rally from Turkey to Eritrea and back.

"Due to the very dangerous situation in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden this is a no-go area for yachts. Yachts have to sail round South Africa or ship their yachts as cargo to Europe,” said Lo Brust, organiser of the Vasco da Gama Rally.

Rene Tiemessen, leader of the Thailand to Turkey rally told Muscat Daily that they are counting on international navies to maintain security for yachts. “Normally around 200 yachts used to pass (Oman and Yemen) every year.

"The number has gone down to 150 and 100 in the past few years. Last year, only 55 yachts passed through the Arabian Sea. This year only a handful of yachts have tried to pass through this route,” said Tiemessen.

Earlier this year, the SV Quest, a member of the Blue Water Rally, was hijacked en route to Salalah, resulting in the deaths of four US nationals crewing it and the rally’s closure.

The firm has since ceased trading, although former officials said that had any further rallies been held, the waters of the Arabian Sea would have been avoided.

“We would not have sailed through the Arabian Sea or Gulf of Aden because of piracy. We had planned a rally from Europe to Maldives and ship the yachts to avoid the danger, but couldn't go ahead due to prohibitive cost,” said Richard Bolt, former director at Blue Water Rallies Limited.

Peter Ford, CEO, Port of Salalah, confirmed that there has seen a noticeable reduction in the number of yachts berthing up for maintenance and resupply because of the risks of pirate attacks while at sea.

The EU Navfor maritime security missions to the region said that the presence of warships from the EU, NATO and Combined Maritime Forces has 'significantly reduced' the number of pirate attacks.

“This area is the same size as Western Europe and there are only between 12 and 18 warships in the area, with far higher priority tasking than protection of yachts and their crews, so if attacked, the chance of release is remote,” said an EU Navfor spokesperson.

The International Sailing Federation states on its website that following the escalation of pirate attacks yachtsmen are advised to avoid the high risk areas of the region.

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