Hijacked Danish sailing family knew of piracy risk
Tuesday, March 01, 2022 8:33 AM

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(Source: Associated Press/AP Online)By JAN M. OLSEN

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - A Danish family whose sailboat was seized by pirates in the Indian Ocean wrote on a travel blog that they were in daily contact with anti-piracy forces and had prepared a "piracy plan" in case of an attack.

The family - a couple with three teenage children, aged 12 to 16 - and two adult crew members, also Danes, were captured Thursday by pirates after sending a distress signal, Denmark's government said.

Most hostages captured in the pirate-infested waters off East Africa are professional sailors. Pirates rarely capture families and children, but a 3-year-old boy was aboard a French yacht captured in 2009. His father was killed in the rescue operation by French navy commandos. Two pirates were killed and four French citizens were freed, including the child.

Blog postings chronicling the Danes' round-the-world journey showed they entered the area well aware that an American yacht had been hijacked by pirates just days before but comforted by the presence of counter-piracy forces.

"Of course, we talked quite a lot about it but this is far over thousands of kilometers (miles) away and the Arabian Sea that we sail in is the size of Europe," the family said a Feb. 20 posting on ING jordenrundt.info. ING is the name of their boat.

Two days later, that standoff ended with four Americans being killed by their Somali captors.

It's unclear if the Danish family knew about the deaths of the Americans. Their last posting on Feb. 23 - a day before the hijacking - only said their journey was uneventful and "we have NOT been boarded by pirates."

The blog identified the family as Jan Quist Johansen, his wife Birgit Marie Johansen, their sons Rune and Hjalte and their daughter Naja. They are from Kalundborg, 75 miles (120 kilometers) west of Copenhagen.

The chairman of the Kalundborg yacht club, Ole Meridin Petersen, confirmed their names to The Associated Press. He called them "experienced sailors" and said they were planning to enter the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez canal from the Red Sea.

That route would take the family through the Gulf of Aden, one of the most dangerous waterways in the world in terms of piracy.

"They expected to be home in August," Meridin Petersen told the AP.

Somali pirates have extended their range east and south after increased naval patrols in the Gulf of Aden. They hold more than 660 hostages and some 30 vessels. If a ship's owner is unable to pay the multimillion dollar ransoms the pirates demand, they may keep it and use the boat to stalk other vessels until they run out of supplies or break down.

In the blog, family members wrote they felt reassured as they saw overflights by counter-piracy patrol planes and had daily contact with naval authorities.

"It is reassuring that they look after us," a Feb. 20 blog post said.

A day earlier, the family blogged they had drawn up "a piracy plan for who does what if we are attacked." They were also sending daily position and status updates to the British Royal Navy's UK Maritime Trade Operations, which acts as a liaison for ships traveling through waters threatened by pirates.

The Johansens had been reporting the position of their yacht daily via e-mail since Feb. 17, said Wing Cmdr. Paddy O'Kennedy, a spokesman for the European Union's anti-piracy force.

Denmark's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday advised citizens against traveling in sailboats in the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the northwestern Indian Ocean. Ministry officials said they confirmed the Danish boat was seized by pirates and were doing "everything in our power" to help the Danes.

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Associated Press reporter Katherine Houreld in Nairobi contributed to this report.

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