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Criminal law: Piracy fears force round-the-world yacht race to follow secret route

A huge event in the yachting calendar, the Volvo Ocean Race takes place every three years. It lasts nine months and spans five continents. It's a gruelling and dangerous test of endurance but this year, an added element of danger has meant that it is changing its planned course.

Fears of piracy in waters near Abu Dhabi have forced the race's organisers to change their route and keep the new course secret.

In recent years, Somali pirates have been capturing and ransoming ships and people in an ever-expanding area off the coast of Somalia.

While the targets of piracy are usually cargo vessels and oil tankers, the International Sailing Federation "urges all yacht skippers intent on sailing anywhere in the area to seek an alternative".

Organisers of the Volvo Ocean Race have conceded to the advice and have changed the leg of the race that runs between Cape Town and Abu Dhabi, and Abu Dhabi and Sanya, China.

Race executive Knut Frostad said: "This has been an incredibly difficult decision. We have consulted leading naval and commercial intelligence experts and their advice could not have been clearer: 'Do not risk it'."

The pirates' well-organised and extremely lucrative business has grown at an astonishing rate in recent years. In 2005, the average ransom for a ship was around £100,000, but by 2010 it had grown to £3.2 million.

According to marine safety experts, some 1,181 people were kidnapped by pirates during 2010. One famous case involved the kidnapping of British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler who were kidnapped from their yacht in October 2009. They were held to ransom and finally released in November 2010.

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