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Friday, January 06, 2012

Pirates of the Malacca Straits

Indiblogger Contest by KFC
Indiblogger Contest by KFC

This is a real incident from my own life and what could be more fierier than a 45 minutes ordeal as a hostage in the hands of Sea Pirates. The day was 22nd June, 2003 and I was keeping navigational watch as a 2nd Officer on the bridge.

To help people understand what these terms mean:

 -Bridge is the uppermost deck of a ship that houses navigational equipment, multiple controls, communication devices etc., needed to navigate the ship at sea.
- Navigational Watch is like ‘driving’ the ship in the sea and taking her from one destination to another.
- 2nd Officer is an officer who holds certificate of competency to keep independent watches on the bridge and executes other duties like ship communication , route planning , cargo watches etc.

Inside view of the Ship
Inside the Ship

My Ship M.V. Rishikesh (M V stands for Motor Vessel) had loaded coal from Australia and was bound for India. During the passage we had to cross Malacca Strait which is a narrow waterway that extends nearly six hundred nautical miles from the Andaman Sea to the South China Sea, between Malaysia and Indonesia. The strait provides a vital shipping lane for vessels sailing from Europe and the Middle East to East Asia, as well as smaller vessels on local voyages. This place is notoriously famous for different types of piracy which include robbery of vessels at sea, the hijacking of vessels, and kidnap-for-ransom attacks.

Navigating in Malacca Strait
Malacca Strait
The robbery of a vessel by pirates usually takes place while the ship is under way, often at night, and most often between one and six o’clock in the morning. The pirates board the vessel using grappling hooks and then take any cash and valuables from the ship’s safe and crew, including high-tech navigation equipment or whatever else they can seize quickly. The attack is carried out by five to ten pirates and the whole incident gets over within an hour.

Pirates in a rubber boat
Pirates in a rubber boat

Around 2 AM in the morning, I was plotting ship’s position in the chart room and suddenly the bridge door opened. At this hour of the night I was not expecting any visitors but what I see here!!  My God!! One by one ten armed pirates (all masked) enter the bridge and take me on the gun point. My hands are tied at the back and personal belongings like watch, finger rings and gold chain are taken by them.

Taken as a Hostage by Pirates
Taken as a Hostage by Pirates

The Pirates ask me not to shout, raise alarms or do anything that might threaten them. I am told that any such action from me will yield only one end; and that is cold blooded ‘Murder’. It dawned on me a bit late that I was a ‘Hostage’ and I had no control over my life beyond this point. I requested the Pirates to allow me to change the ship's course in order to avoid collision with another vessel, and they agreed to it. Once i felt safe about the heading i put the helm to auto pilot.

Nothing can get fierier than this, not even the chicken that is put on the grill!!

The Pirates instruct me to call the Captain on the intercom, and ask him to open his room. With a trembling voice I narrated the entire incident to the Master and the demand of the pirates. A gun is on my temple and a knife at my neck to prevent me from running or taking any evasive action. Trust you me, although my life was in grave danger it was my mind that refused to accept a death like this. I was shaken to the core but my mind kept on telling me to remain calm and find out a way to be alive.

Ten minutes passed but there was no response from the Captain and this is when the Pirates started getting jittery and furious. I am then dragged from the Bridge to the deck below, where the Captain’s room is situated.The Pirates are getting restless and put in crowbars, long screw drivers to break open the door. Suddenly one of them flashes a thick knife and makes a movement to poke me in the stomach. I manage to just escape in the very last minute. This is when I perceive a serious threat to my own life and urge the Captain to open the door or else i will be killed. 

I am too frightened to speak but gather lots of courage and regain my composure to bail myself out of the situation. It was a moment where i was battling for my life and the  only assets i had was my mind and a tongue to speak, not even my free hands to fight..I plead, I shout, I scream and kick the door with all might to show to the Pirates that I am helping their cause.They realize my efforts and decide not to harm me. This is when the Captain opens his cabin and invites heavy bashing. We both are kicked and made to sit in a corner of the room and witness the loot. The Pirates break open the Cash Vault; take away all electronic gadgets and other personal belongings of the Master. They even get access to the bond store located on the same deck and plunder liquor bottles and cigarette packs.

Hostage Drama on a Indian Ship
Hostage Drama

This once in a life time horror continues for a good 30-40 minutes and then the sea robbers decide to run away. I guess the entire effort yielded them goods that had a value of 30-40 thousand dollars. Now as they make a retreat we both are again dragged on the stairs (going down) like a sack of potato bag. This is to use us as a cover for their escape. We both are made to stand on the main deck  and the pirates start getting down in their rubber boat. We are at gun point and the decision about our lives is still unclear. I closed my eyes and pray to the almighty to get me out of this sticky situation. My heart is pounding heavily and I am gasping for breath. I keep my eyes closed and tremble with deep fear.  

I expected a shot in my head or a dagger poked inside me but nothing happens. After few minutes I open my eyes and there is no one except the captain and me. We both see the rubber boat moving farther from our ship and the pirates sailing away. We untie each other and check if anybody of us received serious injuries. Apart from few blows and bruises we were safe. The crew is all up by this time and they come running to help us.

After 5 days we reached India and this is when I decided to quit shipping as a career. I sailed on one more ship after this incident and then finally gave up my career. It has been 9 years but even today the memory of the Piracy attack sends down a chill in my spine. I owe my second life to the almighty , my composed mind, sensible actions and off course the Captain.

(*** Images are taken from Google and used solely for depiction of the event)



DS said...

Surely sent a chill down my spine! Must have been quite a harrowing memory for you.
All the Best :)

Viveksheel said...

Thanks DS for finding time to read my post. As i wrote it has been nearly 9 years but the very thought of the incident makes me uneasy.