SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Fears of Indian Ocean piracy have forced the Volvo Ocean Race to draw up a secret route for the second and third legs of the 2011-12 round-the-world challenge, organisers told Reuters on Thursday.
Plans to sail through an East African corridor in the Indian Ocean on Leg Two from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi, and again on Leg Three from Abu Dhabi to Sanya in China, have been scrapped after advice from marine safety experts and the sport’s governing body.
Instead, competing boats will race from Cape Town to an undisclosed ‘safe haven’ port, be transported closer to Abu Dhabi, and then complete the leg from there.
The process will be reversed for the third leg before the race continues on to Sanya, the fourth of 10 host ports in a race that will not finish until July 2012.
“This has been an incredibly difficult decision,” said race chief executive Knut Frostad. “We have consulted leading naval and commercial intelligence experts and their advice could not have been clearer: ‘Do not risk it’.
“The solution we have found means our boats will still be racing into Abu Dhabi and competing in the in-port race there. Abu Dhabi is a very important part of our plans, a real highlight being the race’s first-ever stopover in the Middle East, and we will now have a really exciting sprint finish to the emirate over the New Year period as well.”
Piracy is a well-organised and highly lucrative business and has expanded into a vast area off the coast of Somalia, with Somali pirates currenty holding a number of vessels to ransom .
According to U.S. think-tank One Earth Foundation, the average ransom per ship in 2005 was $150,000. By 2010, it had jumped to an average of $5.4 million per ship, with large cargo vessels and oil tankers a popular prey for the seafaring gunmen.
In 2010 a record 1,181 seafarers were kidnapped by pirates, according to figures supplied by marine safety experts Dryad Maritime Intelligence. Studies estimate the cost to the global economy from Somali piracy is about $7-12 billion a year.
Frostad emphasised that the race would still be a round-the-world challenge.
“We continue to be the only continuous sporting event to visit five continents over nine months of gruelling sailing,” he said.
Race director Jack Lloyd, also a senior International Sailing Federation (ISAF) official and respected Olympic and America’s Cup umpire, described the change as a “bump in the road which has to be negotiated, albeit a very expensive bump” rather than a race-changing suspension in the action.
ISAF’s position is that sailing in waters badly affected by piracy is too risky.
“The measures taken ... are very much in line with the advice that the International Sailing Federation has been giving for some time.” said ISAF Secretary General Jerome Pels.
“The ISAF strongly urges all yacht skippers intent on sailing anywhere in the area to seek an alternative, which the Volvo Ocean Race is now providing.”
The race, with six teams declared so far, is to set off from Alicante to Cape Town in November, and will finish in July 2012 in Galway, Ireland.