Attack against yacht off Yemen highlights need for continued maritime security


Armed men attacked and attempted to board the sailing yacht Lakota off the coast of Yemen on 19 May but the vessel has been reported safe. Nevertheless, the incident highlights the continued potential danger from pirates and militants in the region.

The European Union Naval Force’s (EU Navfor’s) Operation Atalanta said the sailing trimaran Lakota was sailing south-east of the Yemeni port of Hodeidah in the southern Red Sea close to the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb Straight when three boats, with five person on-board with civilian clothes, reportedly approached the Hong-Kong-flagged vessel, firing around 20 warning shots and displaying Rocket-propelled grenade launchers and assault rifles.

One of the assailants managed to board the vessel. Atalanta quickly shared the information regarding the incident, through its information platform Mercury, with the relevant maritime actors in the area, especially with its long-standing partner United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO).

Using evasive measures, the sailing vessel managed to escape and the crew is safe, the EU Navfor said. Quickly after the initial report, and after assessing which unit was in the best possible position to move towards the sailing boat, Atalanta’s flagship, ITS Bergamini, patrolling off Djibouti, was ordered to get closer to the Lakota. Her helicopter was dispatched to locate the sailing boat and provide any first assistance needed by the crew.

The crew of the Lakota provided Atalanta’s boarding team a video of the attack. “This video will be analysed by Atalanta and the conclusions will be shared with our partners involved in providing Maritime Security in the region,” the EU Navfor said.

“The reaction to this incident highlights the utmost relevance of Atalanta’s information system as well as the efficiency of the procedures to exchange information with EU Navfor’s partners engaged into upholding Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea,” the EU Navfor stated, adding that during its 14 years of existence, Operation Atalanta and its partners in the area managed to build a widespread network and set up efficient procedures in order to ensure the safety of sea lines of communications to guarantee the safe flow of navigation notably against the risk of piracy and to fight against illegal trafficking.

The Lakota is a famous sailing vessel and between 1993 and 2000, under the command of skipper Steve Fossett, it broke 12 records. It was sold earlier this year, apparently to French yachtsman Philippe Poupon, who wanted to sail it around the world. The vessel is normally operated by a crew of up to five people. It is currently registered in Hong Kong.

“Whilst details regarding the specific nature of the incident remain unclear, it is unlikely that the vessel was targeted as a result of an established and persistent piracy threat,” wrote Dryad Global while noting that vessels should be avoiding the area due to the extended war risk emanating from the conflict in Yemen.