Locals weigh in on dangers of pirate-filled seas

Opinions about worldly seafaring arise after two former Newport residents were allegedly killed by pirates Tuesday.

February 22, 2011|By Mike Reicher,

Newport Beach sailors could only imagine the horror.

The four Americans allegedly shot dead by pirates off the coast of Oman on Tuesday morning were like any other "yachties" — couples, friends and families who sail the world's oceans in search of adventure.

Some local sailors say the slayings may prompt long-distance seafarers to reconsider dangerous areas, while others say it'll be hard to keep people from taking risks.


One local circumnavigator actually had to fend off pirates in the Gulf of Aden recently. Michael Lawler and his girlfriend Barbara Burdick were sailing their 47-foot yacht Traveler from Salalah, Oman — where the doomed S/V Quest was heading — into the Red Sea when three pirates aboard a small fishing boat approached them, armed with an AK-47 assault rifle.

Lawler, a Newport Beach attorney specializing in estate planning, and Burdick, of Manhattan Beach, outsmarted the pirates. They continued to sail in the rough seas and pretended like they didn't understand the pirates' orders to stop.

"Not all pirates are the same," Lawler said, adding that they were probably "beginner pirates."

Lawler and his girlfriend, like the sailors on the Quest, had planned to sail either in a convoy or "buddy boat" with another cruiser, but their schedule didn't allow for it.

He speculated that Jean and Scott Adam, the former Newport Beach residents and slain Southern California couple who owned and sailed the Quest, had to make repairs — that's why their sailing vessel dropped out of the Blue Water Rally, an organized long-distance voyage with other boats that can cost thousands of dollars to join.

"When it's that big of an investment," he said, "it's got to be some big reason why you're going to drop out."

Lawler, who will be giving a public presentation of his voyage at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club on Wednesday ($13 admission), said he studied stories of pirates, and after much thought he decided to take his chances through the Gulf of Aden. Rounding the Cape of Good Hope off Africa's southern tip has its own dangers — namely weather — but it also means missing cruising in the spectacular Mediterranean.

"You have to look at the risks and the rewards," he said.

One sailor who avoided the Gulf was Ernie Minney, owner of Minney's Yacht Surplus on Newport Boulevard.

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