Saturday, April 24, 2010

At Sea: The Pirates


It's time to get rid of all those images of Erroll Flynn and Johnny Depp aboard sailing vessels. The pirates we are watching out for today as we head to the Gulf of Aden are the nasty, motorized kidnappers who are working off the coast of Somalia.

From the earliest days of booking this cruise, I asked LK why she chose a trip that would take us up Pirate Alley. Her reply was that there wasn't much to worry about. It looks as if she's right, but that is in no small part due to the extraordinary precautions the ship and her owners are taking,

Starting last night and for at least the next three, we are blacking out the ship so no one scouting for prey can see us in the night. The interior of the ship is as bright as ever, with heavy curtains pulled. But the upper decks are eerie - with lights off and only some reflective light on the floorboards to let people avoid stubbing their toes. And of course our balconies are off limits until we've cleared the high-risk area.

The area isn't really all that high risk anymore. For one thing, numerous nations have brought naval vessels into the area to patrol for the pirates. Secondly, on the theory that there is safety in numbers, all the ships going from the Indian Ocean up to the Mediterranean are coordinating with one another and forming convoys based on their speed.

Frankly, a cruise ship makes for a lousy target for the pirates, who typically come alongside a target in small boats posing as fishing boats. They then must climb ladders to board. Their first challenge is that we are moving at 18 knots, which makes it very difficult to pull alongside and maintain any sort of stability. Second, to board our ship, you would have to climb to Deck 5, which is higher than most of their ladders can reach. Third, if they do try it, our crew are manning high-pressure hoses on Deck 5, which will make it even that more difficult.

And just in case that isn't enough, the Azamara owners have hired a gunboat to travel the waters as our private escort. They're being a bit reticent about this, but I believe it is a bunch of mercenaries who have formed a company to help protect ships from pirates. I am pretty sure they would be full of tough mothers who would like nothing better than a chance to knock a pirate boat out of the water.

So as exciting as it may seem, only the most nervous among us are fretting about this. But overly cautious, as always, the captain is having a Safe Harbor drill in two minutes. That will show us all where to go so we can't get hit should bullets start flying. I'm guessing that will make a few more people concerned, but the realists aboard realize that - even if some scoundrels are lurking out there as we pass through - there are slower, lower ships with less security and fewer people to fight them.

We're feeling quite secure.

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