Pirates of the Caribbean: hopped-up teenage punks

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Gary “Kip” Hansen and his wife, Arden, were relaxing before bed in the saloon of their Solaris 42 catamaran, at anchor on the south coast of the Dominican Republic, when pirates burst through the open hatch.

Gary “Kip” Hansen and his wife, Arden, were relaxing before bed in the saloon of their Solaris 42 catamaran, at anchor on the south coast of the Dominican Republic, when pirates burst through the open hatch. “Their faces were covered, and they were waving machetes saying, ‘Don’t look at my face,’ ” says Hansen, 56, of Saugerties, N.Y. “They proceeded to tie up my wife and gag her with duct tape.”

On the night of the Sept. 18, 2006, attack, the boat was anchored 50 yards from the upscale Santo Domingo Yacht Club in Boca Chica, a popular resort town about 30 miles from the capital.

The pirates had paddled up to Golden Dawn in a yola, the traditional open workboat of the Caribbean nation. Hansen describes his attackers as being in their late teens and appearing wild-eyed — a look he assumes was drug-induced. “Hopped up on drugs — drugs and fear,” he says.

The teens ransacked the boat, tossing the couple’s belongings on the cabin sole. Hansen says the leader demanded he turn over his pistols, wrongly assuming that because the boat was U.S.-flagged there would be handguns aboard. “They put a machete to my throat and marched me around the boat, demanding money and pistols,” he says.

Hansen says he told the leader he would give them anything they wanted if they would just stop their rampage. “There was a real danger they would hurt us accidentally because they were acting so erratically,” he says.

In the end, the intruders took about $500 in cash, two notebook computers, jewelry, a watch, a digital camera and other small items, along with the boat’s “shark control” shotgun. Because of the difficulty concealing it, however, the robbers discarded the shotgun on shore, where it was later found. Hansen was tied, gagged and thrown in the boat’s head.

Diario Libre, a Dominican newspaper, called the attack piracy and suggested it had been one of a series of robberies in the harbor. The press rarely criticizes the Dominican military, so it was unusual when the article blamed the bold attack on the navy’s failure to patrol the harbor.

Embarrassed, top naval officers responded defensively in the press. One admiral denied the navy was doing nothing to patrol the harbor, though he admitted the patrols had to be conducted along the shore for lack of suitable patrol vessels in the area. Then a second admiral pointed out that the Hansens had chosen to anchor out “to avoid paying dock fees,” rather than bring Golden Dawn alongside at the yacht club.

Hansen, who spoke to Soundings, says he and his wife are Mormon missionaries working in the Dominican Republic from their boat, and couldn’t afford the yacht club’s dockage rates, which are comparable to those of a high-end marina in the United States.

Ultimately, the navy dispatched investigators from an elite military intelligence unit to investigate. One of the teens was arrested, and when the other attackers learned of his capture, they fled to the mountains, Hansen says. The teen’s family collected much of the loot to return to the Hansens, but everything electronic had been ruined by salt water. The money wasn’t recovered.

The band had been led by the oldest, who had been deported to his home country from the United States. Planeloads of such deportees land at Santo Domingo airport regularly, and Dominicans blame their nation’s rising crime rate on these returnees from the United States, some of whom had served terms in U.S. prisons.

When the U.S. ambassador was asked to comment on the Golden Dawn attack and the recent murder of an American businessman in another area of the country, the embassy issued a statement that said, in part: “Though the latest cases have been very lamentable, we understand that indications do not exist that suggest that there has been an increase in violent acts, specifically against American citizens resident in the Dominican Republic.”

Despite the attack, Hansen says cruisers who take normal precautions can safely enjoy their time in Dominican waters. At the behest of the family of the arrested teen, the Hansens formally pardoned their attacker, whom they believed was the least culpable of the gang.

The others, Hansen says, remain “exiles in their own country,” afraid to return to their hometown — and perhaps justifiably so. The Dominican Republic is a country in which violent criminals sometimes receive justice summarily, from the barrel of a policeman’s gun. The U.S. Department of State in 2005 reported that Dominican security forces were involved in many killings that were “unlawful, unwarranted, or involved excessive use of force.”

Freelance writer Peter Swanson, 51, has done two extended cruises of the Caribbean aboard his ketch-rigged Morgan Out Island 41, and lived in the Dominican Republic for two years.