A journey to the Middle East, sailing through pirate infested waters.

by Ollie

Dubai, 26 november 2013

When we left the Suez Canal behind us, sailing was smooth again. We were sailing close to shore and the mountains on our starboard side were blocking the wind blowing in from the Sahara for us.

Our next stop was Safaga on the Egyptian Red Sea coast. We weren’t going into port but stayed outside on the anchorage. Here we were joined by a detachment of Dutch marines. These lads would accompany us for the rest of the voyage and would be our main deterrent to scare off Somali pirates.
While we were on the anchorage we installed a double layer of razor wire around the ship and bolted steel plates in front of the windows of the bridge leaving just a narrow slit through which we could still have bit of a view of the outside world.
On the fore- and aft ship we installed steel ‘foxholes’ which the marines could man with their guns in case we would encounter pirates.
Our little tug had been converted into a little sailing fortress.

While in the Red Sea we received news from our office in Rotterdam that the destination of this voyage had been changed to Dubai.

Sailing in the Red Sea was not as smooth as we’d hoped it would be. Temperatures were balmy and the sun shining but the wind and swell had picked up again.
A lot of anti-seasickness pills were being consumed, not just by our cook, but also by the marines we had on board.

Although the northern half of the Red Sea isn’t a very high-risk area, we were already maintaining a sharper lookout than normal and at the expense of getting absolutely soaked, the marines were doing their anti-piracy drills. The bit where they had to be on deck during the drill was quickly dropped, wouldn’t want those weapons to go rusting.

At night all the lights, except the navigational lights, were switched off to improve our night vision. The marines also brought some nifty gadgets like night vision goggles and thermal imagers, looking through these yokes turned night into day.

When we reached the narrow strait called Bap al Mandep, at the southern end of the Red Sea, things started getting interesting. This is where you enter the Arabian Sea and where the pirate’s playground starts.
Every now and again we would see small boats that were most likely fishermen, but could have been pirates. Who knows?
Too be fair, only one time did we see a boat that really acted suspiciously. It came rushing towards us at 30 knots and then kept trailing us at a few miles distance for over an hour. One of the marines told me that this boat was most likely a pirate scout on the lookout for suitable prey.
I guess when they saw our little convoy (Cronus never ventured further from Artemis than half a mile) bristling with guns they thought better of it and took off again.

Weather-wise November is an interesting time in the Arabian Sea. It is the start of the northeast monsoon. And in November seawater temperatures reach 27ยบ Celsius in the Arabian Sea, which is one of the main conditions for tropical cyclones to form. Fortunately we didn’t come across any of them.

Without any further incidents we reached Muscat in Oman. I think the marines were slightly disappointed they didn’t see any action. I didn’t share their sentiment though.
Muscat was the next stop on the voyage; here Artemis and Cronus parted ways. Artemis had another project waiting for them in Mumbai. Unfortunately another tugboat is going to assist them in Mumbai, so we had to go to Dubai where Cronus is going to be put on mothballs until there is some work to do again.

From Muscat it was another day and a half sailing to Dubai. Via the coast of Iran and Strait of Hormuz we entered the Persian Gulf. While sailing along the coast of Iran we were very careful not to show we had marines on board, they probably wouldn’t take very kindly to it over there.
Not much chance of Skyping the ayatollahs about our presence anyway, they love to sensor that decadent and evil western invention called the Internet. Not much signal there.

When we arrived at Dubai we were told to drop anchor and wait for permission to enter the port. We dropped our anchor a few miles off Palm Island and sat staring at Dubai’s impressive skyline for a week. Meanwhile we were getting battered by the Shamal. Shamal is Arabic for ‘north’. It’s a local and very strong northerly wind, so strong in fact that our anchor started dragging and one of the marines started looking as green as his uniform again because the sea was being whipped up a good height. Fortunately it only lasted for a day.

Today we received permission to enter the port at last. With a bit of luck I will be on a plane home in a few days.


  1. haha die stoere mariniers zeeziek ,maar wel goed dat ze aan boord waren anders waren er misschien wel problemen gekomen .mooie foto,s behoorlijk wat prikkeldraad gebruikt zie ik

    1. I was happy to have them with us, and very happy to be home again.
      Ik was blij om die gasten aan boord te hebben, en ben heel blij om nu weer te thuis te zijn