To avoid pirates, race yachts travel on armed ship

Commercial photo - In this photograph supplied by Volvo Ocean Race, Team Telefonica, skippered by Iker Martinez from Spain, finish first in to the safe haven port on stage 1 of leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 from Cape Town, South Africa, to Abu Dhabi, UAE, on Monday, Dec. 26, 2011.  The finish line was set at an undisclosed location to protect the six boat fleet from pirate activity.(Paul Todd/Volvo Ocean Race photo via AP Images) EDITORIAL USE ONLY
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Commercial photo - In this photograph supplied by Volvo Ocean Race, Team Telefonica, skippered by Iker Martinez from Spain, finish first in to the safe haven port on stage 1 of leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 from Cape Town, South Africa, to Abu Dhabi, UAE, on Monday, Dec. 26, 2011. The finish line was set at an undisclosed location to protect the six boat fleet from pirate activity.(Paul Todd/Volvo Ocean Race photo via AP Images) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — To avoid pirates, five multimillion-dollar yachts involved in the Volvo Ocean Race were transported on an armed ship Wednesday through the Indian Ocean.

The decision to load and ship the boats — because the area was deemed too dangerous to sail — is unprecedented in the sport, organizers said.

The 15-ton yachts with 31-meter masts still in place were hoisted and placed in custom-built cradles on board the ship at an undisclosed "safe haven" port in the Indian Ocean.

"Boats are built to go in the water, not the air, so this operation scared me," said Iker Martinez, the Spanish skipper of leading boat Telefonica. "A lot can go wrong very quickly when you're hauling these super-fragile boats around."

The custom-designed yachts cost around $10 million each to build.

The latest measure is part of a multifaceted plan that includes the introduction of a large exclusion zone to keep the boats from sailing through dangerous waters near Somalia's coast, and a so-called "stealth zone" to keep the identity of the stop-off port secret.

Loading the yachts and transporting them to Sharjah in the northern Emirates is the biggest and most expensive step in the plan, with a cost of around $1 million to organizers.

The teams are expected to arrive at the location within six days and complete the leg with a short sprint into Abu Dhabi in the first week of January.

Spain's Telefonica leads the race by seven points ahead of Camper, edging its chief rivals in the first stage of Leg 2. France's Groupama was third.

The 39,000-nautical mile race around the world is expected to finish in July in Galway, Ireland.