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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Caribbean Pirate Attack and the Hero Dog

'Kankuntu, hero dog was left for dead, but survived' .
Two British cruising sailors have told how they were attacked and robbed by armed pirates as they sailed about two miles off the coast of Venezuela heading from the Venezuelan island of Margarita to Trinidad, on a round-the-world adventure.

Peter Lee, 61, rammed his pursuers in a bid to knock them off their boat as it came alongside his 41ft yacht but the pirates managed to scramble on board after firing several shots at him.

The couple's dog then furiously attacked the men, biting and snapping at them, until one of them shot and stabbed the animal between the shoulder blades, leaving him for dead.

Mr Lee and his wife Betty, 57, who are originally from Stockport, were two years into their adventure aboard their £65,000 yacht, Raven Eye, when they encountered the pirates last Saturday evening.

Margarita - couple were sailing east towards Trinidad - .. .
Mr Lee said they were sailing through choppy waters about two miles off the coast of Venezuela when he saw a battered, unmarked fishing boat speeding towards them.

As they approached, one of the five men aboard fired a shot at him but he still decided to ram them and try to get away.

It was only after a second shot whistled past his head that he realised he would not be able to outrun their speedy vessel.

Recalling the terrifying ordeal, Mr Lee said yesterday: 'I wasn't going to give up just like that. I steered my boat into them broadside on and knocked their leader off his feet as he was about to jump on board.

'He fell back into the boat but then he got up and took a proper stance and took his pistol out and held it with both hands and shot at me.'

As they braced themselves for the worst, five men, mostly in their late 20s, boarded the yacht.

Their leader, a man in his 50s, ordered Mr Lee to be tied up. 'I was bound by my hands and feet, face down on the deck, with a hand on my shoulder and a gun to the back of my head and then three of them went down below and held a pistol to my wife's face, which was very, very upsetting for her,' he said.

It proved too much for the couple's two-year-old hunting dog, called Kankuntu, which they had picked up in Gambia not long into their voyage.

Kankuntu launched himself at the pirates until one of the men raised his pistol and fired. 'The dog had a real good go but they shot him and they stabbed him between the shoulder blades,' said Mr Lee. 'He's a very brave dog. He only weighs about 50lb but he thinks he's a lion.'

Badly injured, Kankuntu managed to drag himself under a table and the pirates turned their attention back to Mrs Lee, demanding money.

But the couple had little cash on board, less than UKP150 in the pockets of their clothes, so the pirates tried to tug off Mrs Lee's wedding ring.

Because the ring had never left her finger in 35 years of marriage, it would not budge. As blood poured from her torn finger, the men abandonedthe attempt and looked for anything else of value.

Back on deck, Mr Lee listened as they tore the boat apart, grabbing equipment worth about £3,000.

'I was wondering how long it was going to go on,' he said. 'I thought that as long as I lay down and didn't do anything stupid then hopefully they would leave when they had what they wanted. It seemed it was only a few seconds later and they were gone.'

Mrs Lee, still in a state of shock, was convinced that the pirates had thrown her husband overboard but was soon reassured.

’We’ll go on’ says British Skipper - .. .
Mr Lee said: 'I hobbled back to the cockpit and sat on the steps leading down below and said, 'Come on, old girl, get yourself together now and get me untied'.

'So she quickly untied me and then it was, 'Come on, put the jolly kettle on and let's have some tea and get back up and running again.'

'This is what you have to do. I'm just an ordinary working man but I'm British as well.'

The couple, who have three children - Simon, 34, Christian, 32, and Katie, 29 - own a property business in Manchester, although Mr Lee retired five years ago, which was when they bought Raven Eye.

The couple, who began their voyage in March 2006, had set out from the island of Margarita off the coast of Venezuela the day before the attack and were travelling about two miles offshore when the pirates struck.

'They were obviously lying in wait for us,' Mr Lee said. 'One of them was dressed in military uniform hoping that would make us stop but we didn't fall for that one.'

He had noticed that their traditional 24ft long Venezuelan fishing boat had no markings and was in poor condition, unlike the well-cared-for boats used by the local fishermen. 'It was obvious they were pirates.'

After the raiders left, the couple found they had taken most of their communication equipment and even their compass. But they had been unable to remove the GPS navigation system, allowing the Lees to set sail for Trinidad, their original destination.

Mr Lee said that although his wife was still very upset about the episode, they were not going to be deterred and would continue their voyage. He said he had patched up the dog's stab wound and removed the bullet, which had lodged near its back legs.

'It was not that hard. The bullet almost came out on its own,' he said. 'The vet has now been around and the dog is almost back on its feet.'

When they arrived in Trinidad the day after the attack, Mr Lee reported the incident to the British High Commission there. The British Embassy in Venezuela has also been informed.

Reports from Trinidad suggest that another British boat was attacked four days earlier in the same area, possibly by the same pirates.

The Foreign Office said piracy is a problem in the area and urges sailors to steer clear.

Mr Lee is now contemplating buying a shotgun to defend his yacht. In the meantime, he and his wife are trying to put the experience behind them.

'We're having a few drops of rum with our evening meal and we fall straight asleep,' he said. 'But as soon as we wake up we are wide awake and the first thought is the attack.

'We just put the kettle on, though, and try to get on with the day.'

The Daily Mail (by Jonathan Petre, Daily Mail 10:06 PM Tue 15 Jul 2008 GMT )

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