Piracy: 'I don't even tell my company what route I'm taking'
By Daniel Howden Africa correspondent
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
Amid the late night, dockside scrum of reporters in Mombasa awaiting the return earlier this month of the now famous US container ship the Maersk Alabama, was one man who wasn't there to file a story.
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A sea captain himself he had come down to the heavily guarded berth 12 in the hope of getting some tips from the American sailors on what to do if your ship is attacked by Somali pirates.
He was due to set sail soon afterwards in a similar container ship. He was understandably nervous. "My crew are shit scared, they don't want to go," he said. "They're saying they're going to go on strike."
Chain smoking cigarettes but refusing a drink as he was sailing soon, the captain spoke of the incredible strain that crews and captains come under when an ordinary cargo voyage can end up with your being held hostage for up to a year off the coast of a failed state.
There are at least 17 hijacked vessels being held in the coastal waters off Somalia and some 300 sailors being kept hostage.
In this atmosphere of fear, he is far from convinced that everything is being done to prevent piracy. "If I can find my house on Google Earth why can't they find the pirates?" he asked.
In return for anonymity he was happy to offer a tour of his freighter berthed nearby.
On the bridge something that looks like a telex machine was spitting out the latest piracy reports.
Tearing off an update he smiled broadly, gave a shrug and said: "You can get one of these in Mombasa. They cost $200 (£137). All the pirates have them."
As he contemplated a high-seas dash for the Middle East during a week in which there had been at least two pirate attacks every day he said it no longer made sense to trust anyone.
"I don't tell my company exactly what route I will be taking, I don't want people to know where I am."
It is widely believed that there are spies both within the ports and the shipping companies themselves leaking information on ships' cargo and whereabouts to the pirates.
He said he avoided typical shipping lanes, where pirate mother ships carrying smaller attack craft lie in wait.
"No one" gets to see his charts, he explained, and that is the best form of anti-piracy he has come across.