Captain Jon Beadon reassures owners and yacht managers that transiting your superyacht though a High Risk Area (HRA) need not be a fearful prospect with the right security detail and planning, as he recounts his transit with Moonen's 35m motoryacht Beluga.
The care taken in every facet of living aboard a superyacht is likely to be a complete anathema to the average security operative, who finds himself in quarters often far more luxurious than he is used to; having to be careful what shoes he wears, how he handles his mug of coffee and where he places his firearm.
I was asked to accompany M/Y Beluga from Egypt to the Maldives, as I had captained the vessel for four months while preparing it for the new owner, and because I had some insight and experience in finding the right security team to protect the vessel while transiting the High Risk Area (HRA) of the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.
I suggested using GRAIL, a South African-based security company that has completed some 60 transits, as well as some other very important attributes that are often lacking in security companies; all personnel are chosen for very high levels of intelligence, extreme discretion, an ability to ‘blend’ into the crew, with the adaptability and expertise to protect the yacht, crew, owner and family in any situation.
The GRAIL team and I joined Beluga in Sharm el Sheik while the vessel was fuelling, and the team immediately did a ‘walk through’, ascertaining that they had gleaned the correct information from the photos and plans that had been requested. From all the information gathered, they put together a ‘security review’, which then led them to their presentation to the crew. The quiet and obvious professionalism of the team certainly infused the young crew with confidence.
An example of a warship. iStock.
An interesting point was the lack of a suitable citadel where the crew could be immune from the threat of violence from pirates that had boarded. The GRAIL team, after careful scrutiny, decided that the crew cabins up forward and on the waterline were the safest place for the crew to ‘hunker down’ in case of attack.
GRAIL completed all relevant communications work with MSCHOA (Maritime Security Centre) and UKMTO (United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations), and continued to communicate with them right through to the Maldives. We made good time down to the rendezvous point for the collection of weapons from the floating armoury Sea Lion – GRAIL had arranged this collection as the easiest and most hassle-free way of arming the ship for a limited period, and the tender from Sea Lion delivered the two large watertight boxes without any problems.
The voyage continued down the Red Sea, passing an American aircraft carrier with its attendant protection that was straddled across the traffic separation zone north of the Hanish Islands. During this period the GRAIL team ran through their own drills that they had adapted specifically for Beluga. The ‘choke point’ of Bab el Mandeb was next, with the added problem of the ongoing war in Yemen.
The weather situation was of interest now, as there was a tropical storm passing through the Gulf of Aden and the seas from the south were growing. Beluga’s speed was reduced to make life more comfortable as we neared Bab el Mandeb, where there was the usual build up of traffic as the Red Sea tapers. The difference of speed between an average motoryacht (normally 10 to 12 knots) and a modern cargo vessel (15 to 20 knots) means that in narrow straits such as Bab el Mandeb, the sheer number of fast moving ships is inclined to push the slower yacht out to the edges of the traffic separation zone, and therefore into the coastal waters of either Eritrea or Yemen.
The GRAIL team took care of all communication with foreign warships, as they are very ‘au fait’ with the questions and answers required, which takes a good deal of responsibility off the yacht’s crew.
One night Beluga was called by a vessel claiming to be a coalition warship, but which we believed to be a Saudi warship. The warship requested information on Beluga’s flag, destination and whether there were arms on board. During this period there were numerous small dhows crossing from the Eritrean side towards Yemen, most of which were suspected of carrying arms and munitions for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, hence the interest on the part of the Saudi navy. The GRAIL team took care of all communication with foreign warships, as they are very ‘au fait’ with the questions and answers required, which takes a good deal of responsibility off the yacht’s crew.
On the advice of GRAIL, Djibouti had been discarded as a possible refuelling stop for various reasons, and we had decided on Salalah in Oman instead; the authorities there were excellent, as were the ship’s agents, Inchcape, so bunkers were taken and a trip to the supermarket was completed before sailing.
During the last part of the voyage, to the Maldives, lights of a small vessel were sighted. The lights were suddenly extinguished when the vessel was at a four-mile range; the vessel was then called on VHF, the security team stood to, and the crew were informed. The lights were switched on again soon after the VHF call, and the vessel continued on its way. It was supposed that the vessel had seen Beluga’s lights, and had extinguished its own in order to remain invisible to a possible pirate mother-ship.
Beluga arrived off Male a few days later. The local agents, Real Seahawks Maldives, had taken the weapons and ammunition off the vessel within an hour of us anchoring. The captain and owner were both very impressed with the professionalism and behaviour of the GRAIL team. Their attention to detail and their understanding of superyacht working practice ensured that the whole experience was smooth and trauma-free.