Caribbean Sea - Security Report January 2019

Posted: 29th January 2019 | Written by: Wayne Britton

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Between 1 January - 31 December 2018, the Securewest International Global Response Centre recorded a total of 104 incidents in the Caribbean Sea, a slight increase compared to 97 events for the same period in 2017. At least 51 events involved yachts (48 in 2017), in particular in the Lesser Antilles.

This report provides an assessment of the potential threat from piracy and maritime crime for yachts operating in the Caribbean Sea, including risk mitigation and recommendations.

Last year, there was a slight increase of events involving yachts near San Blas Islands, Panama as well as Cartagena, Columbia. While information sharing and reporting has improved in the maritime industry in recent years, many incidents still go unreported.

Most events involving yachts are armed robberies; out of the 51 incidents last year, 42 were robberies (see Figure 1). The robbers usually target moored or anchored yachts and attack mostly at night. Often two to five men armed with guns and knives board with the aim of stealing easily carried items (typically electronic equipment and cash) with the least amount of confrontation.

SW Caribbean Jan 2019 fig 1

Figure 1: Type of incident involving yachts in 2018

There are also reports of dinghies being stolen and/or the outboard motor being removed. The thieves’ willingness to engage in a conflict once detected is minimal; e.g. intruders usually make a quick escape once they are spotted. However, there have been exceptions to this pattern; on occasion, crew members have been attacked, beaten and/or tied up. 

There are a few incidents involving yachts off Honduras between January and May 2018. Further details can be found in Figure 3. The incidents are similar to the events the Caribbean Safety & Security Net (CSSN) reports about pirates operating in Central America using large fishing-type vessels.

SW Caribbean Jan 2019 fig 2
Figure 2: Incidents history between 01 January – 31 December 2018

SW Type of incident

Incident Examples:

From Securewest International Global Information System

21 December 2018 - Robbery

A dinghy and outboard were stolen from an unlocked, occupied yacht moored in approximate position 18 19 26 N, 064 57 14 W (exact position unknown) in St Thomas Elephant Bay, US Virgin Islands. The incident was reported to the USCG and DPNR.

21 December 2018 - Robbery

A yacht was robbed in approximate position 17 07 08 N, 061 51 07 W (exact position unknown) in St. John's, Antigua and Barbuda. While the owners were ashore, thieves boarded the vessel by breaking the lock with a winch handle found in the cockpit. They ransacked the interior and stole several hidden items, including an iPhone, iPod, cash, a credit card and a gold necklace.

13 May 2018 - Suspicious approach

At 22:45 LT, an underway yacht noticed a suspicious vessel in position 15 45 00 N, 081 32 00 W, approximately 145nm north of Isla de Providencia, Colombia. At 23:15 LT the suspicious vessel was within a few hundred meters of the yacht, displaying only running lights. Captain assumed it was law enforcement and turned on its lights and made several calls on VHF 16 that were not answered. The suspicious vessel continued to track on an intercept course and increased speed in clear pursuit.

The yacht captain believed the pursuing vessel to be a large boat, approximately 70-feet in length, like a fishing trawler type vessel. The yacht was sailing on full sail and added engine to further increase speed and was able to outpace the suspicious vessel, which after 20 minutes gave up the pursuit.

18 April 2018 - Suspicious approach

An underway yacht was approached by a suspicious boat with 12 persons onboard in approximate position 15 31 01 N, 081 19 14 W (exact position unknown), about 140nm NE of Puerto Lempira, Honduras. Just before daybreak, two yachts departed Isla Providencia, Colombia for the Cayman Islands. They were clear of the Gordo Banks region by about 30 miles. Feeling they were out of the piracy danger zone one of the boats raised full sail and began to pull away just before sunrise.

At 09:00 LT the second yacht with a family of five onboard, sighted a fishing boat of about 10 meters overloaded with approximately 12 men onboard on an intersecting course. The suspect fishing boat was able to pull parallel and close to 50 meters, and the occupants displayed a nervous and aggressive attitude. They were not friendly fishermen wanting to trade. No weapons were visible.

The yacht had put on all remaining sail and then attempted to add the engine, but it failed. Changing course to the SE put the pirate vessel at a disadvantage to the increasing wind and seas and the yacht was able to increase the distance separating the two vessels. Eventually, the fishing boat fell back, and the yacht turned northward. 

18 January 2018 - Approach

At 17:00 LT, an underway sailing yacht was approached around position 16 36 42 N, 082 17 16 W, about 117nm NE of Puerto Lempira, Honduras. A small fishing boat approached the vessel in the vicinity the Gordo Banks. The yacht immediately altered course 90 degrees and the FV followed. Two other small fishing boats were spotted around 2nm of the yacht. The crew intercepted a VHF communication in Spanish regarding stealing a dingy, there were no other vessels in the vicinity.

The crew alerted a MV located approximately 15nm away, and one of the small fishing crafts false responded, attempting to impersonate the merchant vessel. A private VHF DSC call was made to the MV. Radar indicated that the small boats were unable to close the gap to the yacht due to difficult sea and wind conditions and had fallen out of range.

The yacht continued the journey without lights or AIS transmit at night. The next day a discussion in Spanish was overheard on VHF, which stated to “keep a lookout for a white sailboat that got away last night”. The yacht continued to Providencia without further incidents.

Risk Mitigations and Recommendations:

Crew members of yachts are advised to remain vigilant and consider maintaining an anti-piracy / robbery watch while visiting ports in the Caribbean. Also, secure all hatches, doors, and keep valuable items stowed away and out of sight. We highly suggest locking the yacht when leaving for shore visits as well as at night.

Since thieves often target dinghies and outboards; both should always be padlocked, chained and raised out of the water at night. Furthermore, a successful deterrent has been the installation of an alarm or even a portable system to cover key entry points. Early detection and response to potential robbers will most likely deter them from boarding.

In addition to remaining vigilant, we recommend conducting periodic security drills with the crew. Further security measures for use while at anchor or moored, can be found on the Caribbean Safety & Security Net (CSSN) website. Additional information on preparing your piracy plan can also be found on their website.

If you are in danger or there is a threat present, please activate your DSC on your VHF and start transmitting on channel 16. Incidents should be reported to the local authorities and to the CSSN. CSSN’s “primary mission is the collection and dissemination of accurate information about crimes against yachts in the Caribbean”.




This analysis is a service of Securewest International’s Intelligence Section. Reports are updated as needed and provided to clients when requested.

Securewest International Global Response Centre (GRC)
Phone: +44 (0) 2038 726 911

Wayne Britton, Head of Business Development
Office: +44 (0)1548 856001  

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Approach: An incident where weapons are trained on the vessel or pirate paraphernalia such as weapons, ladders, are observed and the intention to conduct an attack is clear.

Attack: An incident where weapons are discharged by pirates or pirate paraphernalia such as ladder, grappling hook, make contact with the vessel.

Boarding: Unauthorized boarding of a vessel by persons not part of its complement without successfully taking control of the vessel.

General Security Warning: Incidents which do not fit in the other categories, stowaways, illegal fishing activities, drugs seized, maritime advisories or events involving naval ships.

Hijacking: Unauthorized seizure and retention of a vessel by persons not part of its complement.

Kidnapping: Unauthorized forcible removal of persons belonging to the vessel from it.

Robbery: Theft from a vessel or from persons aboard the vessel.

Suspicious Approach: All other unexplained activity in close proximity by an unknown vessel.

**Image Source: Securewest International Risk Management Platform

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