He is small. Barely a metre and a half tall. He sits down next to me. He seems a bit dim. His feet just touch the ground. His chest is enormous. His shoulders, drooped. His wrists, gigantic. He stares at nothing, as though in a trance.
Suddenly he wants to speak after all. He does so (one third) in English, (one third) in Spanish and (the rest) in gestures. He says that down below there is a chamber. “Down below” means the lowest level, at the very depths of this vast floating mass. In it is everything needed for survival. Then he draws a zigzagging line on the paper.
I wonder what this story will be about. But it is not fiction. Along the coast of Somalia and in many other parts of the globe, pirates attack merchant ships. They kidnap, rob and murder. It is such a serious problem that there have been many international conferences on the subject. As if amazed, this sailor tells me everything and in fact he turns out to be incredibly intelligent.
He goes back to his story of down below, about the chamber. He explains that they all fit in it: the twenty-four crew members. Standing, but also lying down. So that they can sleep for days on end. They also have nautical instruments (the same as those above). The chamber can be sealed from inside. It is a bunker: the last refuge from desolation.
―How does it work?
―When the pirates are on deck and there is nothing you can do, we all go down below and lock ourselves in. We then raise the alarm by radio and steer the ship blindly until help comes. We only come out when we know we are safe.
But on board the ‘Celebration’ they have not yet had to go down below: it is an immense ship. It rises so far out of the water that the pirates cannot reach the deck. The fact that it is a fast ship makes little difference. The outboards can catch up with anything, whether racing or using their grenade launchers.
―And how do you dodge them?
Then he points at the wavy line on the paper. He explains that the best tactic is expertise. Making the ship sail in a zigzag. The ship then creates such a swell that the speedboat cannot keep whirling around it and has to go.
[According to official information, in 2010 there were 445 attacks on merchant ships: 53 were captured and 1,181 taken captive. The problem is growing each year.]