THE DANGERS OF PIRACY
Warning: for 'unspoilt' read 'unpoliced'
READ any dive travel brochure and you will see the words "exotic location" or "unspoilt paradise". Papua New Guinea, the southern Red Sea, the Andamans, Borneo and the Solomons may be top dive locations, but they are also piracy black spots. And if you think piracy is a thing of the past, think again.
Piracy is getting bigger and bloodier. Governments turn a blind eye, and the experts fail to agree a solution. Meanwhile, ever more seafarers are getting butchered.
1997 witnessed 262 attacks on ships, says the International Maritime Bureau 17 per cent more than in the previous year. The degree of violence also rocketed. Fifty-one seafarers died, nearly double the year before. This year's death toll is 26 and rising.
It is not just commercial vessels at risk. Earlier this year the Australian yacht Little Swan was attacked in PNG. When the master stopped to buy vegetables from a canoe, nine youths leapt aboard armed with axes and knives. They stabbed the master and took cash.
Last year a British yacht was hijacked in Malaysia; a Spanish yacht robbed in the Solomons; an Australian vessel strafed off the Zubayr islands of Yemen, escaping only after the skipper threw Molotov cocktails the list goes on.
The most notorious waters are those of the Philippines, illustrated by the saga of the Virgin Pearl, which until recently was thought to have sunk returning from her maiden voyage to Indonesia.
Early in August the owner was contacted by a "pirates' emissary" claiming that the 22 remaining victims were alive and well, and being held captive. US $24,000 were demanded for their safe return.
Two failed rescue attempts later, their fate is undecided. Their location: the Malaysian island of Sabah, not far from that most famous diving location, Sipadan.
Appeared in DIVER - October 1998