Thursday, March 5, 2009

From the Front

Below I have pasted an email received from my brother who is currently sailing aboard an American flagged vessel and recently transited the Gulf of Aden. I should mention here as a disclaimer that our mother was a merchant mariner, married a merchant mariner and now has two sons in the merchant marine so I do believe that she won't be too surprised about the dangers her children face when going to sea in this day and age.

Man we've been going back and forth in the Red Sea for 3 extra days now waiting for our turn to go through the Suez Canal. I'm writing this on the 3rd day and we should be going through tomorrow. The gulf of Aden was pretty gnarly every night, there were a few attempted boardings.

The day after the Straights of Hormuz at about 1500 when I was asleep (I would have loved to have been on watch when this happened) AB Willie, a toothless Vietnam vet who is hilarious, spotted two real small boats about a mile out dead ahead. They then split up and went down either side about a hundred yards out. Each boat had twin outboards and 5 guys wearing camouflage and head wraps with one guy standing on the bow holding the painter, you know, using it to stand up.Obviously not fishermen since we were about 40 miles off shore in broad daylight. I guess they started to come up close and then they noticed the fifty calibers mounted on the bridge wings and they took off real fast.

Being that we are so small a ship we were prime targets it would have been relatively easy for them to get over the side. Not to mention the fact we have like 10 or 11 Black Hawk helicopters and containers filled with grenades, missiles and bullets for the poor bastards in Georgia
(In the Caucasus that is, not in the lower 48). We would have probably been in real trouble if we didn’t have this EST (embarked security team) on board. They are a team of 12 kids, all real young, except two of the head guys who are like 30. I mean kids my age all walking around with M16’s and pistols all the time.

Like I said we have a fifty’s on the bridge wing and one on the stern. When were going through the gulf of Aden they also had two guys on the bow with 60’s so we are f****n strapped for sure. Every night after that until we got to the red sea there were reports of ships getting harassed buy these pirates. One night there was what turned out to be a fishing fleet of 12 small boats. It was pretty freaky seeing all these little contacts popping up just about dead ahead. Everybody was like "Holy f*****n shit, thank god for these kids".

If the pirates rolled out like that we would all be dead for sure. The two ships about 12 or 13 miles in front of us just about turned around when they first saw them. So needless to say the pirate threat ain't no joke down here even with all these coalition warships set up all over the place.

Tomorrow we are finally going to transit up to the Mediterranean where we will drop these Navy kids off in Souda bay. Then to Georgia then back to the states. (I cant wait to get to the U.S.. I'll get to swing some 20 million dollar helicopters around,Hehehe! 4 tons ain't nothing, its gonna be great!!

My brother is fortunate in this instance. His vessel is most likely under contract to the Department of Defense and therefore has a U.S.N. Embarked Security Team aboard which is undoubtedly armed to the gills. During my last transit through the Gulf of Aden the most force protection we had on board were four contract security guards with pepper spray and flashlights.

The company had previously ordered all the collapsing batons thrown over because they were too much of an "Offensive weapon" and we were only trained for "Defense". That was a year ago. Now I believe the same company is putting security guards on board but allowing them to come armed, which consequently means more $. If this is true I couldn't be happier.

Ships at sea need to be defended and given the amount of traffic in these waters and the legitimacy given to the pirate's business by companies paying the bribes and not doing much else the coalition vessels have a daunting task. Companies need to arm the vessels by providing professionally trained ex-military personnel on board. The crew has enough to do, learning to fire a 7.62mm SAW is a bit much.

In my opinion the embarked security team is the best solution, LRADs and fire hoses aside, until the IMO, NATO and the U.N., with or without the help of the Somali Transitional Government, decide on a final means of putting the pirates out of business. Afghanistan and Iraq are not the only front lines of the war on terrorism.

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