Trinidad-Grenada Passage Security Suggestions
by Melodye Pompa
In view of the recent robbery and assault of a yacht enroute from Trinidad to Grenada (see “Robbery of Yacht Between Trinidad and Grenada Spurs International Security Measures” by James Pascall in last month’s Compass), and the various reports of similar incidents in the same area and in Venezuelan waters over the past several years, there are some very specific precautions which cruisers can take to avoid or minimize attempts against them. Full details of the incident as well as plans from the coast guards of Grenada and Trinidad & Tobago, as well as from those nations’ marine trades groups, MAYAG and YSATT, to minimize future incidents can be found at www.grenadabroadcast.com/content/view/7005/45/.
The Trinidad & Tobago Coast Guard advises that pirogues are active from the south coast of Grenada and moving out to the north and east of Tobago to move marijuana to Toco, at the northeast corner of Trinidad. The pirogues are active around the gas-drilling rigs as these are used as landmarks for boats without navigation equipment. However, the pirogues range all over the area, from the north coast of Venezuela to Tobago and to the south coast of Grenada.
Efforts to interdict drugs are underway in this area and cruisers should be aware of the potential for running into smugglers and/or authorities who may mistake their innocent activities for something criminal. The area off the northeast coast of Trinidad is patrolled for fisheries protection and drug interdiction activities. These patrol vessels are often unmarked and the crew may not be in uniform, so it is difficult for the cruiser to determine their intentions.
Please bear in mind that there has been only one incident reported on the Trinidad/Grenada route, although there have been four additional reports of attempts (unsuccessful) in the past two years. In view of the large numbers of yachts that make this passage each year, the chances of a piracy attempt are very small. Nevertheless, those who do sail this route should take every possible precaution.
There are two gas-drilling platforms in the area: Hibiscus at 11°08.8N and 61°39.0W, and Poinsettia at 11°13.9N and 61°31.4W. Both monitor VHF 16 and have, in the past, relayed calls to the Trinidad & Tobago Coast Guard.
The following tips are taken from notes from cruisers and from the precautions page on the Caribbean Safety and Security Net website, www.safetyandsecuritynet.com, Note that in some cases, the suggestions contradict each other: each skipper should make individual choices.
• Think about a response plan before it is needed, with the emphasis on scaring away intruders (and this is certainly appropriate for yachts at anchor as well as those underway). This is the most important preparation a cruiser can make. Think about evasive maneuvers, first aid kit for possible injuries, response to fire aboard (e.g. gas cans hit by gunfire), where is the crew to shelter, can / should any further resistance to boarding be made (flare guns, sprays, etc.), how to initiate a distress call, use of lights and flares, and communication with other vessels and/or law enforcement authorities.
• Consider traveling in a group, maintaining VHF or SSB contact on a regular schedule throughout the trip. Use a VHF channel other than 16 for group check-ins, but monitor both that channel and channel 16.
• Since all the reports of boardings and attempted boardings have occurred during the day, travel at night. Some have suggested that you travel with no lights; however, that has its own inherent dangers. Your radar is of little use to detect these pirogues as they are usually wooden boats and will not show up on radar.
• Sail as far east of the rhumb line as possible, away from the locations of the previous reports, although that route means there are fewer other vessels to come to your aid if you need help.
• Don’t discuss your departure plans (time and destination) with strangers on shore. Don’t describe your yacht to strangers: current location, name, number of people on board, whether or not you are armed.
• The Trinidad & Tobago Coast Guard is suggesting that all vessels leaving from Trinidad file a float plan by phone with them: hull description, flag, crew, destination, estimated time of departure and estimated time of arrival. It is not clear what the follow-up will be. If you do file a float plan, be sure to notify the Coast Guard of your safe arrival.
• Separate and hide valuables in multiple unpredictable areas on board, including passports and boat papers. Hide a copy of passports and boat papers in a different spot. If possible, hide a spare GPS and handheld VHF radio. Maintain a list of serial numbers of all equipment, keep it up to date when you add new equipment, and hide a copy of that list.
• Make two copies of the contents of all wallets: credit cards (both sides), licenses, etc. Send one copy to a contact and home and hide one copy along with the copy of the passports. Be sure to have telephone numbers for the credit card companies to report a loss from abroad.
• Check the Caribbean Safety and Security Net website regularly, both for additional security tips as well as reports of piracy or attempted piracy against other yachts, and learn lessons from how others have handled a piracy situation.
• If your yacht is approached by a suspicious vessel, immediately activate DSC on your VHF and begin transmitting on VHF 16 and SSB 2182 that you feel you are in danger. Call out your yacht name and your location repeatedly until you get a response. If you are traveling in a group, one of those yachts will hear you, and if you are traveling alone, it is possible that another vessel in the area will hear you and come to assist. If you have DSC activated, that signal will extend a great distance.
Always remember, neither your yacht nor your possessions are worth serious injuries or worse. But you must consider that anyone willing to randomly fire at your vessel may not leave you unharmed if they are allowed to board. You must consider how and whether, and be prepared, to provide resistance to boarders as you determine to be appropriate.
The Caribbean Safety and Security Net welcomes additional suggestions: e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or use the “contact us” page at www.safetyandsecuritynet.com
Editor’s note: See also Mike Hatch’s letter in this month’s Readers’ Forum, page 38.
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