ABU DHABI – Volvo Ocean Race organisers put the future of the event on the line yesterday, sending the five boats off on an armed transport ship to traverse waters made too dangerous to sail by pirate activity.
Nanjing Night Net

The five competitors were loaded on to the ship – itself a precarious operation – and have begun the six-day trip from an undisclosed Indian Ocean location.

They should be able to restart the race next week from Sharjah, and complete a leg that started on December 11 in Cape Town with a day-long sprint into Abu Dhabi.

Race chief executive Knut Frostad said the decision was incredibly difficult but the safety of the teams “was our top priority”.

“I’m relieved to be able to say that all the boats have now been safely loaded and that the ship has left port,” Mr Frostad said.

The measures taken by the race are unprecedented in the sport, and a reflection of just how risky the piracy situation has become.

The five 15-tonne yachts with their 31-metre masts in place took an entire day to load.

A total of three more loading-unloading operations will have to be carried out when they arrive in Sharjah and when the program is reversed for leg three from Abu Dhabi to Sanya in China.

The ship will not only have armed guards on board but will have armour protection.

Sitting much higher in the water than a racing yacht it should be less vulnerable than six individual Volvo boats in the same zone.

The value of the yachts is estimated at up to $100 million but for race organisers the stakes are far higher.

If the boats were to be taken by pirates, a race with a turnover of hundreds of millions of dollars, visiting 10 cities around the world over eight months and featuring the elite of offshore sailing could not continue at all.

Telefonica clinched a nail-biting victory in the first stage of leg two, beating Camper by less than two minutes after 15 days’ racing from Cape Town.

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