Cape Town - Volvo Ocean Race boats will be loaded onto a ship and protected by armed guards when they pass through the pirate-filled waters off the East African coast, organisers said on Thursday.
The yachts, worth millions of dollars, will be picked up by a heavy lift ship in an undisclosed "safe haven port" in the Indian Ocean during the second leg, which starts on Sunday in Cape Town.
Unveiling their "anti-piracy plan," race officials said the yachts will be transported to a second starting point near Sharjah for the leg's final run to Abu Dhabi so crews are not exposed to the dangerous channel off Somalia.
The transport ship will be manned by armed guards and feature "other security measures", according to the organisers. Race crew members will not travel on the ship.
"We have done everything in our power, taking the advice of the leading experts in the world in marine protection, to minimise the risk to our boats," race chief executive Knut Frostad said.
"We are still a round-the-world race, we still navigate the globe, but we are simply avoiding part of the ocean which we are advised is unsafe for our boats."
The Volvo Ocean Race announced in August it would move the second and third legs of this year's event because of the high threat of piracy off East Africa and in the Arabian Sea.
The yachts can cost more than $10 million each to design and build, making them an attractive target for pirates.
The International Maritime Bureau recorded 409 piracy attacks in 2011, 230 of them off the coast of Somalia. The bureau says Somali pirates currently hold 10 vessels and 172 hostages.
The six Volvo Ocean Race boats will leave Cape Town this weekend as planned and tracked as normal until they reach a point in the Indian Ocean when their location will be switched off to the public. They will then make their way to the secret safe haven to be loaded onto the ship.
Race organisers will decide where the leg will be restarted off the coast of the United Arab Emirates for the short sprint to Abu Dhabi.
"It is unfortunate that we have to take these measures," race director Jack Lloyd said. "The teams all understand the situation and have given us their full support."
The scoring system will also be modified for the leg.
The Volvo Ocean Race has already had its share of drama with three of the six-strong fleet failing to reach Cape Town from Alicante, Spain, where the event started on November 5.
Abu Dhabi and Puma both lost their masts while Team Sanya of China's hull had a hole in it. All three were shipped to Cape Town and are being repaired in time for Saturday's point-scoring race in the port.
Spain's Team Telefonica won the first leg and leads the event on 31 points, ahead of Camper (Spain/New Zealand) on 29 and French entry Groupama on 22.