“Rounding the Horn of Africa”: Into the Pirate’s Sea, Day 5
DAY 5 — Our closest point yet to the Somali coast, just eighteen miles. When we send our position to the military coalition forces this morning we quickly receive a phone call … they are surprised we are so close. It was a surprising, bold plan – we are less than an hour offshore — which appears to be working.
At first light we spy two large fishing boats (mother ships?); skiffs zip around one of them. They also see us and it won’t take much effort for them to plot our course and speed after just a few minutes of radar observation. Maybe they are just fisherman, but I don’t think a small ship like ours racing up the coast will go unreported for long.
After breakfast I walk onto the Bridge from outside and immediately realize there are a lot of people staring in the same direction with binoculars and spotting scopes. I assume there are skiffs on the horizon and look out quickly, listening into the conversations, studying faces, looking for fear. Then words become information. Yes, they are coming … but it’s a pod of short-finned pilot whales swimming straight at the ship. Their nonchalance and simple curiosity brings emotional relief and a sense of normality … this is what we usually do, explore and encounter the interesting. People do it for the enjoyment, yet sometimes they say “for the experience.” I am thinking now that it’s nice when you get to choose your experiences.
As I enter the ship, down the stairs from the Bridge, two stewardesses are in the hallway. They ask what’s going on and I can sense they are scared. When I tell them it’s pilot whales coming towards the ship one says, “Oh! We are safe?” Yes, just whales, I assure her. Her friend giggles, nervously, a long-held breath expelled.
I stay busy through the morning and listen in to the radio, which is full of chatter, though not in English or any language I recognize. There are more boats about. We divert course to avoid two fishing ships in our path. Everyone on the Bridge looks tired.
Below decks two crew men ask what the “Dee Dee” is. “What?” I’m not sure what they’re asking me until they explain that’s the new code for “news.” I explain about the whales; one nods, the other shakes his head.
In fact there is news, which I don’t share: Four ships were attacked last night, one taken. We have now turned the Horn of Africa and are moving into the thick of things.
I just miss what I’m told is a beautiful sunset. It’s difficult to know what time of day it is with all the windows blacked out. Into the evening there is still lots of radio chatter, from fisherman and warships, maybe even pirates. Though there is still an uncomfortably high chance of attack in this area we do not feel so alone and the mood is lighter. More smiles, more folks looking around at the darkening sky. In the near-distance we can hear a helicopter. The ship is traveling almost due west now and if we can make it for 24 more hours, I’m told it will be time to celebrate, but not quite yet …. – Dennis Cornejo