Pirates a threat to Volvo Ocean

Fewer icebergs but more pirates will keep hazard levels as high as ever as the eight-boat Volvo Ocean Race fleet leaves Alicante on Saturday for its first 10,460km ocean leg of a round-the-world race that covers 59,545km and ends over eight months later in St Petersburg.

A new course – traditionally the fleet was sent barrelling through the icy wastes of the southern ocean to blessed relief in Auckland, and then sent back for a second dose rounding Cape Horn – now takes in India, Singapore and China, hence the threat of attack from pirates.

The course from Cape Town up to Kochi in south-west India will keep the boats as much as possible away from the east coast of Africa, especially Somalia. The amount worth stealing on a Volvo racing yacht is small, but 11 top racing yachtsmen could make a juicy hostage target.

The Indian Ocean has further perils of its own and the superfast 70-foot racing yachts are themselves a threat to the myriad of small fishing boats as they thread their way through the Straits of Malacca. A specialist security company will be on call 24 hours a day and there will be a hotline from every boat to various naval authorities along the route.

And the course still takes in Cape Horn on the longest leg ever programmed 19,795km – as they leave the freezing winter of the Olympic sailing city of Qingdao and head for Rio de Janeiro. The leg to Qingdao from Singapore could be a real people as well as boat breaker.

An event which started life as the Whitbread adventure in 1973 is now fully professional and twice as tough. The boats race flat out for 24 hours a day with a crew of 10 – augmented, for the first time, by a specialist media communications man.

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