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Volvo Ocean Race Steers Clear of Pirates

Getting from South Africa to Abu Dhabi proved no easy task for the sailors tasked with getting around the piracy no-go zone. DHL to the rescue.

© Todd, Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012


The coast of Somalia is a virtual ‘no go’ zone for sailors in the Indian Ocean because of the ever present risk of piracy. This well-organized and highly lucrative business continues to grow with a record 1,181 seafarers kidnapped by pirates in 2010. According to the International Chamber of Commerce Maritime Bureau a total of 450 hostages were taken off the coast of Somalia in 2011. Ten vessels are currently being held by Somali pirates as well as 172 hostages.

The organizational team behind the Volvo Ocean Race were well aware of the danger. But how best to contend with it?

One solution? Originally, in the second leg of the race from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi, the boats were to sail through an East African corridor in the Indian Ocean and again in the third leg from Abu Dhabi to Sanya in China. But after consultations with leading naval and commercial intelligence experts, the message could not have been clearer: ‘Don’t risk it.’
The Volvo Ocean Race organizers decided to split legs two and three of the race into two parts. But how does one bypass a country that has a 3,300 kilometer shoreline and ‘no-go’ zone stretching 1,000 nautical miles out to sea? DHL had the solution.

© Todd, Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012

Finding a safe haven

The new course took the boats from Cape Town to an undisclosed ‘safe haven’ port on Africa’s East coast. From there DHL organized the transportation of all the boats by cargo ship to a point off the Sharjah coastline in the United Arab Emirates. The final sprint stage of leg two was a 98 nautical mile dash to Abu Dhabi that provided an exciting neck and neck finish.

Reinier Vens, DHL's Volvo Ocean Race Logistics Project Manager, coordinated the loading and offloading of the boats in leg two. “It was a delicate operation because these racing boats are extremely fragile. But it’s all gone very smoothly.” The yachts had to be lifted with a crane one by one straight from the water onto special cradles onboard a cargo ship chartered by DHL, then offloaded back into the water off the coast of Sharjah. The entire process will be repeated following a sprint start at the beginning of leg three.

© Todd, Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012