Piracy Passage Precautions – Central America

Piracy Passage Precautions – Central America

Within this region, 2 different types of piracy events have occurred.
Piracy by a large “fishing” boat, or by one or more small pirogues.

Central America – Piracy by a large “fishing” vessel

Perhaps the most dangerous piracy attempts are by large steel “fishing” vessels (50-70 ft.). Based on CSSN data these are less common, but the presence of automatic weapons and the size/weight of the pirate’s ship usually far outweighs your own capabilities.

Your best chance against this type of risk or threat is to have a solid plan in place with your crew and then to avoid/evade/communicate/cooperate as a principle strategy to achieve a best possible outcome.

What you can do

Prepare your piracy plan:

  • Establish roles and responsibilities for each crew member. Do not rely on the captain to initiate radio calls, assign a designated operator for emergencies. Select an emergency gathering place for the crew, preferably visible from the helm.
  • Preprogram your HF for distress frequencies. As of July 2017, the distress voice frequencies are 4125, 6215, 8291, or 12290 kHz.
  • Plan to first give up wallets/purses, and leave reasonable amounts of cash in them. If you have an old driver’s license or credit card, this is a good time to substitute them for your real ones.
  • Prepare and hide sacrificial stash(s). Leave some of them easily, but not too easily, accessible to raise authenticity, with some better hidden. For the sacrificial stash(s) –
  • Inexpensive (imitation) high-end watches, cheap jewelry, (in a nice case) old (perhaps nonworking) cell phones or laptops, perhaps a single smartphone, low-value foreign currency.
  • For the permanent secret stash(s) – satellite capable communicator, backup EPIRB/PLB, GPS, VHF and spare binoculars. Confirm all are in good working order and that batteries are fully charged before departure. Conceal these items well.
  • Before you go, and while underway – get the latest and most current info from CSSN. Subscribe to Alerts! , review the Piracy infographic, and check-in daily to the “KPK” HF net (8104 kHz @ 1215 UTC) for any new reports.
  • File a detailed float/communications plan. The Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) sponsored shore/HF radio-based station “KPK” can assist, here is a link to a detailed float plan form that is utilized by “KPK” and others. Additionally, “KPK” and CSSN recommend that you define an HF radio schedule, “KPK” can provide assistance and specific recommendations when you file your float plan.

Select your route with care:

  • Avoid known problem areas, understanding that pirate vessels may be using radar to find/track you. Choose your route carefully. Consider the lunar cycle in your passage planning, moonless nights can be your friend. Some choose to travel “dark” without any visible lights, this poses its own set of risks.
  • Maintain a good watch – the ability to detect possible pirates as early as possible and before they approach closely may give you a chance to evade or outrun them. Use all the tools you have. Know how to use your radar tracking feature. AIS (receive) will allow you to identify possible “friendlies” in advance if there any are nearby. Maintain a rigorous visual watch (full 360-degree scan, maximum 20-minute cycle).

If you feel you are being followed:

  • Alter course in an unusual or unpredictable way and monitor the suspect vessels course changes.
  • Establish VHF radio contact with any AIS or radar identified vessels nearby, then agree and switch to HF if possible, understanding that the pirates may be monitoring these transmissions as well. Detail your concern and your vessels particulars.
  • Activate DSC and satellite trackers (Delorme etc.), if closely approached.
  • Take a picture of the possible pirate vessel, even if it is long range. Advise any confederates that you have done so. If the pirates are listening they may reconsider. Remove your cameras media or transfer the photos to a digital stick and protect it in a well concealed but predetermined location.
  • Go to MAYDAY mode if you believe you will be rammed or boarded. Use VHF and HF, having preprogrammed the USCG distress frequencies and any satellite communications you have. Assign this responsibility to a crew member who is already well familiar with their operation. Consider activating your EPIRB.
  • The threat of serious violence and major damage by ramming is significant in these types of piracy events.

If the worst happens:

  • Do not resist the pirates. Assemble your crew in an area where they can keep watch over each other. Cooperate, make it easy for them to take what they want (which will encourage and speed their departure). Give up your wallets and the sacrificial stash(s). Expect for your radios to be taken/disabled.
  • Attempt to limit the numbers of pirates who get below (may not be possible).
  • After they have left, assess and treat any injuries or damage to the boat. Retrieve your well concealed permanent backup stash. Re-establish contact with anyone you were able to reach beforehand, if possible. At the first possible opportunity, make a voice report to “KPK”, (8104 kHz @ 1215 UTC), which will alert others underway of the current risk, and will enable taking advantage of their land-based capability to summon resources to your location if needed and available, and to establish your safety with your family/contacts. Then, make a full report on arrival, to authorities, your consulate and CSSN.

Central America – Piracy by pirogue

Piracy by pirogue is more common, but with less risk of violence and significant damage to your vessel. Based on CSSN data, these are far more common and can vary from a single pirogue with 6 or more pirates, or more often a small fleet of multiple pirogues (3-6, carrying 20-30+ pirates) each usually armed with a handgun, machete, or a knife. They overwhelm you in their numbers, usually during the daytime.

Sometimes there is a non-threatening first approach in a “friendly” manner to assess your crew and capability. Consider having a crew member take pictures during any apparently “friendly” approach, but then immediately afterward copy/conceal the images. “Friendly” approaches can be followed by a larger invasion with additional reinforcements that are able to overrun and then plunder your boat.

What you can do

Prepare your piracy plan:

  • Establish roles and responsibilities for each crew member. Assign a gathering place.
  • Plan to first give up wallets/purses, and leave reasonable amounts of cash in them. If you have an old driver’s license or credit card, this is a good time to substitute them for your real ones.
  • Prepare and hide sacrificial stash(s). Leave some of them easily, but not too easily, accessible to raise authenticity, with some better hidden. For the sacrificial stash(s) –
  • Inexpensive (imitation) high-end watches, cheap jewelry, (in a nice case) old (perhaps nonworking) cell phones or laptops, perhaps a single smartphone, low-value foreign currency.
  • For the permanent secret stash(s) – satellite capable communicator, backup EPIRB/PLB, GPS, VHF and spare binoculars. Confirm all are in good working order and that batteries are fully charged before departure. Conceal these items well.
  • File a detailed float/communications plan. The SSCA sponsored shore/radio based station “KPK” can assist, here is a link to a detailed float plan form that is utilized by “KPK” and others. Additionally, “KPK” and CSSN highly recommend that you define an HF radio schedule. “KPK” can provide assistance and specific recommendations when you file your float plan.
  • Preprogram your HF for distress frequencies. As of July 2017, the distress voice frequencies are 4125, 6215, 8291, or 12290 kHz.
  • Before you go, and while underway – get the latest and most current info from CSSN. Subscribe to Alerts! , review the Piracy infographic, and check-in daily to the “KPK” HF net (8104 kHz @ 1215 UTC) for any new reports.

Choose your route with care:

  • Avoid the known problem areas, pass well off the rhumb line (20 miles or more if possible). At 15 miles most sailboats sails will not be visible from a pirogue, at 10 miles your hull and the lower half of your sails are below the horizon, at 5 miles and NO sails a sailboat is not easily sighted. Consider motoring during the day in high-risk areas. Consider running “dark” at night (which has its own risks), with AIS receiver on (no Tx) to be aware of any legitimate governmental or commercial vessels nearby. Consider the lunar cycle in your passage planning, moonless nights can be your friend.
  • Monitor all traffic closely, and continuously (use AIS, radar, visual scanning with no more than 20-minute intervals). If you have identified nearby “friendlies” and you are being followed/approached by multiple pirogues, consider activating DSC and establish radio contact on VHF 16, then agree and switch to HF if possible, understanding that the pirogue pirates may be monitoring these frequencies and your transmissions as well.

If the worst happens and they get aboard:

  • Maintain seaway and control of your vessel, do not allow pirates to stop you, take control of the helm or guide you toward a deliberate grounding.
  • Do not resist. Cooperate willingly, assume a generally submissive posture and determine the leadership structure of the pirates if you can and then negotiate, but allow their leader to appear to be in control.
  • Attempt to limit the numbers of pirates who get below (may not be possible).
  • Keep visual contact with your crew as much as possible, especially women and children. The pirates will likely be focused on the male crew members. Surrender your wallets and one or two of your sacrificial stashes. Once they believe they have “got all the goods” they will usually be anxious to depart.

Bottom line

  • Stay informed and up to date about activity in your planned passage area.
  • Make and agree on a plan with the entire crew.
  • Execute the plan!
  • If it all goes bad, stay calm, stick to the plan and as soon as possible make a report to “KPK”, authorities, your consulate and CSSN.
  • Review the current Piracy in Central AmericaZOOM-TAP interactive infographic.
  • As always, CSSN welcomes your feedback and suggestions for improving our (FREE!) services, email us at safetyandsecuritynet@gmail.com or use the Contact Us link on any CSSN webpage.
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