“Wide-eyed and Pensive”: Into the Pirate’s Sea, Day 2
The pirates currently haunting the coast of Somalia are painted in the media as “rag-tag,” modern day Robin Hood’s armed with RPGs. Which is in part true. But they are not operating out here on the ocean completely alone. The “Globe and Mail” has a great interview with one of the onshore leaders.
“When Gilbert and Sullivan composed their melodies about the pirate king, it was doubtful they had a Somali like Garaad in mind. Yet this former fisherman, the man behind many of the recent hijackings in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, is as close as it comes to pirate royalty in the modern world. In an interview on the breezy patio of a Somali hotel, he explains how he exerts direct control over 13 groups of pirates with a total of 800 hijackers, operating in bases stretching from Bosasso to Kismaayo, near the Kenyan border. Each group has a ‘sub-lieutenant’ who reports directly to Garaad, and none of them make a move without his authorization.
“An armchair CEO, Garaad is curiously uninterested in the fruits of his operation. ‘I don’t know the names of any of the ships my men capture, and I don’t care,” he says, “The only thing I care about is sending more pirates into the sea.’ ”
Which is something weighing heavily on the minds of those aboard the passenger ship (sans passengers) as it moves north along the Somali coastline.
DAY 2 – A very strange day. People are too quiet or too loud, on edge, some wide-eyed. Almost everyone seems anxious and pensive. I find my own thoughts and mood drifting throughout the day. Which is highlighted by yet more meetings, more drills, regarding both pirates and fires.
At one we are told that if we are taken hostage to remain passive, neither help nor hinder. Do not have sympathy for your captors, we are told by the Special Forces crew that came on board in Tanzania. Why not be sympathetic, I wonder to myself? A question I mean to ask when this is all over. I think I can guess, but I would like to hear what they have to say, what lessons have been learned.
If there is a fire, we need to assemble somewhere on the higher decks, in either the Lounge or the Dining Room, with our life jackets. The Dining Room would be easier because the Lounge is completely locked down, but that of course depends on where the fire is, which we all intuitively understand.
Tonight we organize to show a movie for the eighty-plus people on board (“Slumdog Millionaire”). At 2030 the Lounge is unlocked and we follow a single route through the ship. Lots of people come and spirits are brightened a bit.
At night the security team makes sure the ship is as dark as possible. Lights are disconnected, portholes covered. There are always three of them on duty at any one time, each joined by one of the Filipino crew. They are constantly watching the horizon. We need to spot the pirates from as far away as possible in order to turn the ship away from them and make them chase us. The idea is to maximize the time it takes for them to get aboard, giving our (hopeful) rescuers the most time we can to reach our ship before the pirates catch up and attempt to board it. Hopefully someone with big guns will be nearby, but I do not think so. The warships are most likely hundreds of miles off the coast of Somalia, near the shipping channel, near the route recommended for safe passage through the Gulf of Aden.
I now remember to carry a small flashlight at night so I can go outside and smoke without falling down a ladder. Outside in the dark one of the security crew, who I cannot make out in the blackness, says to me, “Four days and we are safe.” It’s neither a question nor a statement, more of a hope I guess. I smoke two cigarettes, look at the stars, so many in the dark, and prefer to stay silent. – Dennis Cornejo