The bullets rattled off the side of the Seatrekker's hull like rain on a tin roof; pattering, hissing, daring me to peek out the lace draped porthole of my executive suite and get a face full of lead. I was doing all I could to restrain myself. “Stay away from windows and verandas,” the captain had repeated over and over, his voice cracking with strain. “They want to hurt you. We're radioing for help. The coast guard of Somalia will be here any minute. Just stay calm and stay were you are.” It was hard. I wanted to scream. To shout. To run. I felt like a sardine in a can. Doom was imminent. I could hear the frantic wailing of the mother of three next door. Ranting at this unseen, newfound enemy. Frankly, I wanted to join her. I was so helpless. My life was so fragile; like a blown glass knickknack in the hands of a giant...
The Seatrekker had started out like any other cruise. No one was expecting to be shot at later on and no one should have. It was just a high priced vacation. With good food, long nights of talkative company and sampling foreign beers. Dances and dinners with the captain. The only differences being the fact of the $65,000 fee and that it would be a two month long voyage. Small details. The immense ocean liner would be my home for fifty-eight days, circling the world, visiting the ports of Barcelona, Venice, Newfoundland, New York, Ngqura, Hong Kong, Calcutta, Siam, Bordeaux, Brisbane. Everywhere. It had been my dream for years: to see what the rest of the world was like. What good was life on earth if you never got to see what the world was really like outside the borders of your homeland? And after years of working, years of investing in nickel stocks and convincing rich clients to buy outrageously priced products, I got my wish. A ticket on the Seatrekker. It had been like Christmas in the spring time. It only took me a month to get my affairs in order and then head out to see the world.
Everything started out nicely enough. By the end of the first two weeks I had seen ten foreign ports in Europe and Canada and gained about ten pounds. I swear the cooks were trying to fatten me up for the kill. Venice came and went. As it turned out though, the cruise wasn't what I had expected it to be. The tours of the port cities were contained and guided and only lasted for about eight hours at a time. I was a tourist and I was treated as such. There were no opportunities to get out and explore the alleyways and back streets. No opportunities to be mugged or shot. Cruise approved material was safest, the staff reasoned. Their precious cargo of rich Americans would not be harmed; they couldn't. The cruise line would not stand for lawsuits. So I was treated like a six year old, my hand being held by a tour guide and all the greatest sites being pointed out for my picture taking pleasure. By the twenty-seventh day I had decided being behind my desk was more exciting than seeing the sheltered versions of the countries I visited. That, however, was all about to change.
The thirtieth day started out like every other. As we rounded the tip of Somalia in Africa, people were lounging in deck chairs outside on their verandas at dawn or just rising from their beds to shuffle down to breakfast. Six o' clock came and went and I sat groggily on my couch wading through Paradise Lost which I had been trying to read since five. “Death,” John Milton was wailing, “Grinn'd horrible a ghastly smile, to hear His famine should be fill’d.” I finally rolled my eyes and sighed, dropping the book beside me and made my way over to the balcony. I was supposed to be enjoying myself. Getting lost in my own paradise. Not reading Milton's epic, ADHD nightmare. I leaned against the veranda railing and surveyed the Somalian coast.
Somalia. The land of pirates. At least, that's what I had heard and read. The waters outside the safe confines of the Seatrekker were teeming with desperate, hungry Somalians carrying Ak-47s in innocent looking fishing boats. Their country was in absolute turmoil. It was every man for himself – dog eat dog – out there in those peaceful looking dockyards. If my memory served me, the country's government had actually officially declared civil war status the month before. But even before then, merchant ships had been attacked on the Somalian coast on an hourly basis; cargo holds looted, burned, their crews slaughtered. And no one could do anything about it. What police or coast guards the country had were corrupt and most likely pirates themselves. Being the good guy meant being killed. It was too dangerous to be fighting against the pirates. They were like the mafia of the ocean.
I took a seat and let the wind run it's fingers through my hair. That morning I was anything but hungry. The night before had been a buffet of Italian and Greek meals, loaded with cheeses, butter, and meat sauces. I was still burping garlic. Besides, I had just discovered reading Milton made me sick. Restlessly, I turned over in the deckchair and glanced down at the ocean, sparkling with sunlight. There was a healthy collection of fishing boats and merchant ships puttering in the shadow of the Seatrekker, making a living, honestly or not. My eyes lingered on a pair of boats sidling near the ocean liner. I frowned. Local boats were advised to stay away from cruise ships as a rule. Anything sailing too close to the ocean-going behemoth could be caught in it's wake and overturned in a heartbeat. Besides, small boats cluttered appearance. Tourists weren't sailing to watch grimy fishermen work, they were sailing to see blue oceans and white beaches. But there they were, two boats edging closer to the hull of our ship. Ignoring the unwritten rule of the cruise lines.
Curious, I leaned forward and tried to catch a glimpse of the crew of the boats. They were both empty. I couldn't see a soul. Not even a deckhand. My frown deepened. The whole thing looked suspicious and I couldn't help the thought of pirates flash across my mind. But what pirate would take on a cruise ship? It would be stupid. Besides, no pirate had the fire power to take down a 640 foot long, five star German built boat; it would be like a mouse felling an elephant. Suddenly, finally, the head of an African man in his thirties emerged from the boat on the right, glared up at the Seatrekker and then disappeared back into the cabin. The man appeared again, his hands holding something at his waist obscured by the metal boat wall. He walked up to the railing of his boat – the one on the right – eyes still on the Seatrekker and then hefted the hidden object. I inhaled sharply...
He held a rocket propelled grenade launcher.
Without even a pause he pulled the trigger and the grenade hissed from the barrel, a trail of smoke spiraling behind it, and plunged into the heart of the Seatrekker. The ship trembled for a moment, like a wounded beast, before heat and light and molten metal exploded from the gaping hole in the ships side only fifty feet away from my veranda, lifting me off of my chair and tossing me against it's metal railing like a rag doll. I gasped... And instantly began screaming and scrambling into my room. Pirates! Ten other men were swarmed onto the decks of the fishing boats and unloaded clip after clip at the verandas and decks and windows of the Seatrekker. Beneath my own screams I could hear other people bellowing like demons from hell across halls, above me, under me. I just managed to stumble into my room and onto my bed. The room suddenly filled with crackling and the strained voice of the captain thundered out of a pair of speakers. “Stay away from windows and verandas,” he tried to say firmly, “I repeat, stay away from windows and verandas. Somalian pirates are assaulting the boat. They want to hurt you. We're radioing for help. The coast guard of Somalia will be here any minute. Just stay calm and stay were you are.” Calm. Peace. How could that be possible? My heart beating a million time a minute, I slipped over the side of the bed and fell into a kneeling position. I thought about praying but couldn't keep my mind from racing, my hands from shaking. Terrorists! Here...now. In my life. It couldn't have been possible. It shouldn't have been possible. I had spent $65,000 bucks for this. “Bastards,” I whispered at the sliding door leading to the veranda. What right did they have to be killing people? The bullets rattled off of the side of the hull as a response, like rain on a tin room; pattering, hissing, daring me to peek out the lace draped porthole of my executive suite and get a face full of lead.
I suddenly realized that I was helpless.
A sardine in a can.
TO BE CONTINUED>>>