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Round the world racers to go on pirate alert

  • Story Highlights
  • The Volvo Ocean Race fleet is heading to Cochin through the Indian Ocean
  • The fleet will be briefed on pirate threats as they pass by the danger area
  • Pirate attacks have been occurring regularly in the Arabian Sea this year
  • Race organizers have changed the course to avoid the most dangerous areas
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By Mike Steere
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Eight yachts competing in the Volvo Ocean Race round-the-world event will be kept closely briefed on piracy threats and monitored by warships as they approach the troubled waters of the Arabian Sea.

Into stormy waters: the Volvo fleet are threatened by more than just heavy seas on the second leg to Cochin, India.

Currently on the second leg of the race, between Cape Town, South Africa, and Cochin, India, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet is attempting to avoid the worst of the pirate danger zone, heading south east of the Arabian Sea area where pirates seized a Saudi-owned crude tanker and 25 crew members on Monday.

The U.S. Navy confirmed that the vessel, Sirius Star, had been stormed by pirates and the crew held hostage.

Piracy in the Gulf of Aden region, particularly in the waters off Somalia, has soared this year with the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reporting more than 60 incidents in the first nine months of the year.

A Volvo Ocean Race spokesman told CNN that the course had been changed to help dodge the piracy threat.

"If it went straight to Cochin they would get a lot closer to the danger area," he said.

Race organizers added a scoring way point below Mauritius, and an exclusion zone above the country to keep the fleet east and away from Somalia, he said.

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The crews were about a week away from getting close to the danger zone, and it was expected they would get no closer than about 600 miles from where attacks had been reported, the spokesman said.

They would be briefed on any potential dangers when they drew closer to the northern Indian Ocean, he added.

Before the leg began, teams were also briefed on the pirate threat by Graeme Gibbon Brooks of maritime intelligence service Dryad Maritime.

"There are places you are going to which could prove problematic. There are a places where a piracy threat exists and there are also challenges of avoiding other boats. The purpose of this briefing is advice on how to avoid a situation and what to do if you can't," he told the crews.

Ken Read, skipper of one of the race's main contenders, PUMA Ocean Racing, said before the second leg started: "It's a step into the unknown for all of us.

"The ocean arena we usually race in will now be the real world. We need to prepare right so we know what to do to avoid problems."

The position of the all the competing boats is also being monitored closely, the spokesman said.

The UK Maritime Trade Organization (UKMTO), based in Dubai, would be monitoring the positions of the boats and feed them into a database passed out to warships to assess.

If the crews make it through the second leg unscathed they then face another dangerous jaunt through the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca, and the waters between west Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra on leg three.

Telefonica Blue led the eight teams on Monday as the boats headed east, away from the African continent.

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