Swift Intervention (Excerpts)

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

THE NEAPOLITAN

 

November 2002.

 

Longitude 3°21’15 North

Latitude 54°09’20 East

 

The sea journey had been long. They hadn’t made any stops on the way since they last stopped at the port of Mumbai to pick up cotton made products which were going to Kilindini Harbour in the Kenyan port city of Nairobi. It’s been two days and the ship had been on a cruising speed of five knots. All the crew had been on longer journeys before this, but as always everyone looked forward to getting their feet back on solid ground again which didn’t roll.

They were entering the western part of the Indian Ocean which is off the coast of Eastern Africa. An area of the ocean which had become dangerous for all types of ships. These waters are ruled by modern day pirates which sailed from the Somali coasts to hijack ships.

There’s very little countries could do because even though Somalia was a lawless failed state, no country wanted to get involved or commit resources to watch the coastal waters to keep the pirates away.

Every country had been wary since the United States’ failed incursion into the country in the early 1990s to intervene in their internal crises which led to the death of several United States military service men. The Film, Black Hawk Down was inspired by the true events of that incursion. Since then, every nation state had avoided Somalia like the plague.

Countries warned their nationals and ships to avoid the Somali coasts because they do not want to have to send men into the country to attempt a rescue. Hence, ship captains were wary of the Somali coastal waters and the surrounding areas.

The more ships were taken and ransom in millions of dollars paid to pirates to free each ship by their owners, the more Somalis ventured into piracy; and the more ships stayed away from Somalia’s coastal waters.

Every ship avoided the area because shipping companies didn’t want to go through the difficult negotiations involved when their ships are hijacked and held hostage. Shipping companies also didn’t want to pay the millions they are made to pay, including the problem of having their ships lie idle when they should be working. It was all bad for business, and no shipping company wanted that.

George Bucking, the Captain of the Neapolitan was tired because he had been up for six hours straight attending to problems on the ship. Yes, six hours wasn’t much, because years ago he would have been on his feet for six hours moving through the ship without having to sit down for a moment, but not anymore. Those days were long gone.

He would be fifty-five in three months’ time, and he was considering retiring soon. The only reason he hadn’t decided on the specific time yet was because he was afraid of retirement. He had spent his entire adult life on ships.

The most frightening aspect of retirement for him is he had nothing to go back to. No wife, no children. The only woman he had ever loved left him for another man decades ago while he was away on a ship, working. Since then, all he’d had were women in different cities who warmed his beds when he sailed by. He had their numbers and called them when he’s still days away. He paid them very well for their services.

Overtime, he grew disillusioned with the practice and discontinued it. He couldn’t say why he stopped seeing the women years ago. It was maybe because he wanted something more than just sex, or he was thinking of his own mortality. Which one it was, he could not tell.

After charting out a course which took them some fifty kilometres outside the coasts of Somalia, he made his way to his room after he had handed over command of the ship to his first officer, Ian Kingsley. He had not spent up to an hour in his room, when he received a troubling call from The Bridge.

“Sir, we are being chased by pirates,” Ian Kingsley blurted in a panic stricken voice.

“What!” Caught off guard by the suddenness of it all he could only exclaim.

“Sir, are you there? Hello.”

“I’ll be right there,” he said and ended the call.

Pirates? He wondered as he put back on his clothes. Where could they have come from, fifty kilometres off the coast of Somalia? He hurried to The Bridge as fast as his legs could carry him. He collected the binoculars from his first officer who led him outside The Bridge and pointed them out to him on their starboard flank which was in the direction of the Somali coast. They were less than a kilometre away from the ship.

There were three speedboats which were coming at them fast, faster than the super large Neapolitan which measured 1,200 feet (0.37 km) long and 500 feet (0.15 km) wide was moving.

“Increase our power production and increase our speed to the maximum,” he said without taking his eyes from the binoculars.”

He could hear his first officer speaking to the men in the engine room and then proceeding to increase their speed. But he wasn’t listening. His eyes were on the men on the three boats who were armed with Kalashnikov AK47 rifles and rocket launchers.

The Kalashnikov rifles could do damage to the hull of the Neapolitan, but they are nothing compared to the sort of damage the rocket launchers could do if the pirates got to within the range where they could fire it at the Neapolitan.

If they got within range, then the Neapolitan would be in big trouble. The pirates could decide to open fire on the ship if they refused to stop. They had to try to throw them off, or they wouldn’t be able to escape. They had to maintain a healthy distance between them and the pirates.

“Change our direction and head back out towards the Indian Ocean,” he barked.

Even after his order had been carried out, it took the ship some ten minutes for a combination of the rudders for steering the ship, the thrusters which are laterally mounted propellers and azimuth pods for the Neapolitan to make a change of direction. By this time, the pirates were less than half a kilometre away. They were getting close to the range where they could fire their rocket launchers at the ship, and that worried Captain Bucking.

“Full speed ahead,” he added as he watched the three radar blips of the three speedboats which were hot on their tail. “Mobilize the water pumps all around the ship, and get the men who aren’t involved with helping us escape the pirates prepared to use them to keep the pirates away in case they manage to get close enough to board us.”

He stepped out of The Bridge again to look behind at the three speedboats which had gotten closer. His plan was to take them far out into the ocean which would force them to give up and turn back. But they didn’t look like they were ready to give up. The sound of gunfire reached him. He looked through his binoculars. He could see they were firing at the ship.

“Captain!” the first officer shouted.

He turned and walked back into The Bridge to see the first officer speaking on the phone. “The men say they can’t get out to where the pumps are because the pirates are shooting at them,” he told Captain Bucking with fear in his eyes.

Captain Bucking could hear the sound of his heart beating within his chest. He knew all his officers in The Bridge could sense his fears too as they all looked at him. They were searching for reassurances, but he couldn’t give them any. He walked to their radar system to see the three speedboats looking like three wolves on the tail of an elk. There was now less than a quarter of a kilometre separating the Neapolitan from the closest speedboat.

Everyone on The Bridge could now hear the sound of the gunshots being fired by the pirates. When are they going to give up? Captain Bucking wondered. They were now almost fifty-five kilometres from the shores of Somalia.

“Get headquarters on the line,” he said to one of the ship’s officers. He meant the shipping company which owned the ship. “And you tell the men close to the pumps to keep trying,” he told the first officer.

“Captain! I have headquarters on the line,” the officer said after twenty seconds.

“Maintain course,” he said as he took the phone with his eyes going to the radar. “This is Captain Bucking of the Neapolitan. We were en route to deliver our containers at Kilindini Harbour in Mombasa, Kenya when we ran into pirates some fifty kilometres off the coast of Somalia. They’re chasing us right now, trying to board us. I fear we may not be able to escape them. We’re currently,” he looked up and his first officer mouthed ‘fifty-five and a half kilometres’, “fifty-five and a half kilometres off the coast of Somalia. Latitude 54°09’20 East and Longitude 3°21’15 North,” he said with his first officer again helping him out. “The pirates are less than a quarter of a mile behind us right now. Any help whatsoever the company can render at this point will be greatly appreciated. Thanks,” he said and ended the call.

He dropped the phone and looked up at his men. Fear was written all over their faces. He wanted to keep a brave face, but he knew he was doing a terrible job. “How far away are they now?” he asked.

“Less than a hundred metres away now, sir” the man in front of the radar said.

“I was expecting them to give up long before now,” one of the officers said.

“They’re never going to give up now, not when they’ve come this far,” another said.

“Let’s hope they’re unable to get on board,” the first officer said.

They’ve all lost their shit, Captain Bucking thought as he watched his men. If The Neapolitan was a smaller ship he would have been able to move it around to make it difficult for the pirates to board it. But it’s a thousand two hundred feet long and five hundred feet wide ship which takes almost twenty seconds to respond to the smallest of commands that has to do with movements and direction.

If the pirates catch up with the Neapolitan, what would matter is if they would be able to climb up to the sides of a ship its size whose deck is some sixty feet high. He had no doubt they had ways of doing that.

Captain Bucking went outside The Bridge to see what the situation of things was like. He was astounded to see two of the speedboats on the side of the ship where he was looking from. They were by the side of the ship less than fifty metres away from the hull of the Neapolitan and were closing the gap fast.

“They’re right next to us and are closing the gap to us,” someone said.

“I can see them,” he replied. “Turn us forty degrees to the right.”

“But the third boat is there,” someone said.

“It doesn’t matter. Just move us forty degrees to the right,” he replied. “We’re out of options.”

The command was carried out and yet the ship took more than thirty seconds before any physical change began to occur, inches at a time. The boats were now very close to the Neapolitan. Before Captain Bucking’s eyes, they closed the gap to the ship, moved to where one of the anchors was hanging and tied their boat to it.

“Turn the ship back forty degrees to the left,” he ordered.

“But sir…”

“Just do it,” he shouted.

“Yes sir.”

He was hoping the ship would crush the boat and the pirates. To his amazement, one of the pirates who appeared to be a teenager with his rifle hung across his shoulders was climbing up the ship’s black hull. He couldn’t see how from his position.

When he looked through the binoculars, he saw the boy had something attached to his hands with which he was using to get up the ship’s side. They looked like some sort of magnetized pads.

The boy was already up the deck of the ship when the ship started moving to the left. He ran up the deck. Captain Bucking knew where he was headed. One of the crew tried to stop him, but gunfire from one of the men down on the second boat which was still some thirty metres away made him run for protection. The boy reached his destination without meeting any challenge.

The men down on the boat were screaming at the boy. They seem to be afraid the ship was going to crush them. Acting with purpose like someone who knew what he was doing, the boy untied an emergency ladder made of ropes and threw it over board for the other pirates down on the water.

The pirates struggled amongst themselves as they all went for the ladder at the same time. They were all in a hurry to escape from the doomed boat. They all managed to grab parts of the ladder and began to climb up it. Moments after the last pirate left the boat, the ship crushed the boat.

“They’re onboard. Tell the men in the engine room to lock themselves up within,” he told one of his officers. “Tell the other men to find somewhere safe to hide or lock themselves in too,” he continued as he proceeded to lock the door of The Bridge himself.

He had no idea what he was doing. He was acting on impulse. There was no way that would be able to stop the pirates from getting into The Bridge. But he did it all the same. Less than five minutes later, the door shuddered when someone from the other side tried to open it. A second later, three shots shattered the lock and four pirates burst into The Bridge armed with AK47 rifles.

Every one of the ship’s crew on The Bridge knew it was over.

They have been taken.