The world's largest solar powered ship, known as PlanetSolar's MS Turanor, faces the risk of pirate attacks as it leaves the Persian Gulf and travels toward the Red Sea. (Photo: planetsolar.org)
The world's largest solar powered ship is about to embark on the most dangerous leg of its round-the-globe trip as it faces the threat of pirate attacks after leaving the Persian Gulf.
The ship, known as PlanetSolar's MS Turanor, has just completed its stopover in Abu Dhabi where it took part as a guest of honour at the World Future Energy Summit (WFES).
The ship is now preparing to cross the Gulf of Aden before moving onto the Red Sea - both of which are considered the most dangerous waters in the world for piracy.
The ship is under the supervision of head of security for PlanetSolar and former Swiss Army chief Christophe Keckeis.
"The next few weeks are going to be gruelling for the whole PlanetSolar team," an official statement said.
Keckeis' main mission is to deter any pirate attacks in the seas and along the Arabian Peninsula.
"We will not take any risk with the security of this crew achieving the first world tour using solar energy," he said.
"We will do everything to protect this vessel that is sailing under the Swiss flag."
Keckeis stresses that, with its normal speed of 4 to 6 knots, the MS Turanor travels at a slow speed, making the ship an easy target for pirates.
"It cannot be integrated within the stream of other ships and tankers that are sailing the secured corridors at more than 18 knots," he explained.
Founder and expedition leader of PlanetSolar, Raphael Domjan, said the crew we were well aware of the piracy risks prior to the ship's departure more than 16 months ago.
Domjan said the threat of pirate attacks was "a legitimate risk" and every year it becomes more dangerous to travel through unsafe waters.
He said the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea were among the "most dangerous zones" to sail through but noted that the crew were well prepared and aware of the risk before embarking on the journey.
"We've been actively preparing to travel through the Red Sea for months because the danger is very real. In the past few weeks, the most optimistic numbers are reporting around 200 hostages; some even mention 290 people being held captive in pirates' rear bases," Domjan said.
Non-government and non-profit sea patrol organisation, IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) has indicated that a high number of Somali pirates are renowned for attacking vessels that pass through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
The organisation warns that pirates in this region "fire automatic weapons and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) at merchant vessels in an attempt to board and hijack them".
The crew expect the dangerous part of their navigation to last for a few weeks, depending on weather conditions.
Their preparation can be broken down into several phases which include thoroughly spotting the area, an in-depth knowledge of the risks and inspecting the ship's security system as well as the emergency procedures which are frequently drilled.
The ship began her journey from Monaco in September 2010 and embarked on a round-the-world trip where the crew have attempted to chase the sun in order to capture as much available solar power as possible to navigate her at an average speed of 7.5 knots. The ship has already sailed more than 49,000 kilometres solely on solar power, completing approximately 4/5ths of its global journey.
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