The Volvo Ocean Race's anti-piracy plan will see the fleet transported by armed heavy lift ship from an undisclosed Safe Haven Port in the Indian Ocean and resume racing from a set-down point along the Sharjah coastline in the northern Emirates, within a day's sailing of the Leg 2 finish in Abu Dhabi.
The Race announced in August that the route for Legs 2 and 3 would be re-drawn because of the increased threat of piracy in the Indian Ocean. With the fleet set to depart Cape Town for the start of Leg 2 on Sunday, Race Director Jack Lloyd has made parts of the plan public for the first time.
The six boats will leave Cape Town as scheduled on Sunday, December 11 and continue to be tracked as normal until they reach a point in the Indian Ocean. From there, details about the boats' location will be switched off to the public as they sail on to a Safe Haven Port. At that port, the boats will be loaded on to a ship protected by armed guards and featuring other security measures and transported to the northern Emirates. The sailors will not travel on the ship.
Once unloaded, Race Management will decide where exactly to re-start the race for a short competitive sprint into Abu Dhabi, which is hosting the event from December 31 to January 14.
The scoring system has been modified, so that 80 percent of the points of Leg 2 are based on the race between Cape Town and Safe Haven 1 and 20 percent for the short sprint into Abu Dhabi. For Leg 3, the operation will be reversed, with a short sprint from Abu Dhabi at the start of the leg. The boats will go back on a ship and be transported again to a Safe Haven Port. From there, they will sail on as normal to the Leg 3 finish in Sanya, China.
Race Director Jack Lloyd said: "It is unfortunate that we have to take these measures but we have followed professional advice every step of the way. It is still very much a race around the world and we believe we have found a fair points system that will help make it an exciting sprint into Abu Dhabi.
"The teams all understand the situation and have given us their full support."
Lloyd and Knut Frostad, the CEO of the race, have worked closely with Dryad Maritime Intelligence plus government agencies including European Union Naval Force Somalia (EUNAVFOR), UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) and the Maritime Security Centre, Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) as well as the sport's governing body, the International Sailing Federation (ISAF).
Frostad said safety had always been the highest priority in getting the teams through the areas worst affected by piracy.
"Piracy is a threat to the entire race and the measures we are taking are designed to keep the sailors, the shore crew and the boats as safe as possible, while preserving the competitive nature of the race," Frostad said.
"This solution means we still have the exciting race finish into Abu Dhabi as always planned, while steering clear of the most dangerous waters off the Eastern African corridor."
Piracy is a well-organised and highly lucrative business and it has expanded into a vast area off the coast of Somalia. According to figures from Dryad Maritime Intelligence,1,181 seafarers were kidnapped by pirates in 2010.
Dryad's Graeme Gibbon Brooks said pirate operations in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean had been significantly restricted.
"This factor as well as very careful planning has reduced the probability of an encounter to as low as reasonably possible," he said. "But while the probability is small, the impact of an attack when it happens is extremely high."
Like Abu Dhabi, Sanya is hosting the race for the first time. The Chinese tourist city in Hainan Province will open its Race Village from February 4-19.
What are the measures being taken for Legs 2 and 3? To minimise the threat of piracy, the Volvo Ocean Race has introduced strict security measures. The first is an exclusion zone that will keep the boats from sailing into dangerous waters. The second measure will see the boats sail to an undisclosed Safe Haven Port and be loaded on to a ship that will transport them to the northern Emirates, following the safest possible route. From there, the boats will sail on to Abu Dhabi in a short sprint. For Leg 3, the procedure will be reversed. The boats will sprint out from Abu Dhabi and be loaded onto a ship heading to a Safe Haven Port. From there, the boats will sail as normal to the Leg 3 finish in Sanya, China.
Will the tracker still display information about the boats? Full information will only be made public up to a certain point. Once the boats have reached that point, the tracker will only show Distance to Leader information. That way, the public will still know the running order of the boats but not their exact locations. The procedure will be similar for Leg 3.
Why is the race going to Abu Dhabi? The Volvo Ocean Race is a global event and that obviously includes the Middle East. There are multiple risks involved with sailing around the world and that includes piracy. In all of these risks we have done our best to minimise any unnecessary dangers and in this case we have followed the best possible professional advice from the leading experts globally in this field. Abu Dhabi is not the problem -- the piracy issue affects the other side of the Indian Ocean.
How does the scoring work? The total number of points to be awarded is the same, but with 20 percent of the points on Leg 2 and 3 allocated to the short sprint in and out of Abu Dhabi.
Can we be certain the ship transporting the boats is safe? We are taking advice at every step to ensure we minimise risk. The ship transporting the boats will have armed guards on board, as well as armour protection, and will receive advice and situation updates from our security advisers.
How do pirates typically act in the region where the race will pass by? Although a well-organised and lucrative business, piracy is still a crime of ‘opportunity', according to Dryad. Pirates typically sail from the beaches of Somalia as a Pirate Action Group in previously hijacked dhows or commercial vessels known as Mother Ships and usually with a number of skiffs which are used to make the final approach carrying teams of pirates and their weapons at speed towards the target vessel. Naval forces have been able to patrol the waters of the Gulf of Aden with some success, but due to the vast nature of the Indian Ocean it is very difficult to patrol effectively particularly as pirates have extended their reach and now have the ability to operate up to 700nm from the Somalia Coast in areas such as the Indian Coast and Arabian Sea.
What do the pirates typically do then? Once they have attacked a vessel the pirates will usually board the vessel, hijack the crew and take the vessel back to the Somali anchorages while they await responses to their requests for ransom. Ransoms have been increasing and they are known to have reached in excess of $10 million (US). The most recent released vessels endured hijackings lasting an average of 213 days.