Far From Normal,Close to Shore:Into the Pirate’s Sea,Day 3
DAY 3 — It almost seems like a normal repositioning day, which the ship does several times a year, moving from port to port without passengers. But this is our third day moving up the coast of Somalia so nothing is normal. Still, there’s lots of work being done all around the ship and even a BBQ lunch on the sun deck under armed guard!
The day is warm, the sea flat and most importantly, empty of other boats, which helps the mood. One change that’s hard to get used to is that it’s hard to find anyone on board. Usually if I was looking for someone I would just call on our handheld radio system, but we’re not allowed to use them during this passage. Too easy for someone off the ship to listen in, we’re told, alerting them that we’re in the area, making it easy for someone to get a position fix on the transmitting radio. On the Bridge they are monitoring the marine bands, but just listening, never answering. At one of the drills we are still having daily the Chief Officer said, “We will be monitoring channels 16 and 77. If we hear you on the radio, we will tell you to shut up!” The result is that it is strangely silent in the dive locker where I work. Usually I would have the handheld radio on so that I can keep up with what’s going on around the ship; now I do not, so I play my music a little louder to feel less alone.
We have chosen to run close to the Somali coastline so are making good time since we didn’t have to go very far out to sea. The Coalition forces recommend following a route that would have taken us hundreds of miles east of Somalia. But the day before we left Dar es Salaam the Captain showed me a map detailing recent pirate attacks, complete with graphics showing all the attacks and captures during the past year. He pointed out that there had been no attacks near the coast. Which was true, the map was clean and white near the coastline. Every day ships are being attacked and taken on the “recommended” route, which is continuously being pushed further offshore. And still the pirates are out there, waiting and desperate. Mother ships take small skiffs hundreds of mile out to sea and then cut them loose, telling the pirates in them, “The only way you get home is on what you capture.”
The Hotel Manager shows me a You Tube clip showing a pirate attack on a freighter. Someone has a camera on the high bridge at the back of the ship, which picks up a skiff — a hard-bottom inflatable — near the bow. In a minute it is up against the ship and secured by grappling hooks thrown over the rail. In less than three minutes a pirate is on board running towards the bridge, quickly joined by another who has climbed on from the other side of the bow, from another skiff. He’s also running. Just a few minutes more and the ship is taken, the film clip ends. What happened to that ship? I don’t know and to be honest I don’t care. But now, throughout the day, that scene replays in my head over and over. I also see a picture of the pirate captured by the Navy Seals and think, “So this is what a pirate looks like! He has really white teeth, just like everyone else in the movies, magazines and TV!”
I’m told that the pirates often attack from both port and starboard in order confuse the Captain, to limit effective evasive actions. And the pirate skiffs are out there, two hundred miles or more offshore, just waiting for some way to go home, to win the lottery. But we’re not going out there! The Captain feels we have a better chance by being bold.
We watch another movie after dinner (“Marley and Me”) and people gather afterwards to talk or play card games. There’s lots of joking and in a surreal way things almost seem … normal. – Dennis Cornejo