The real-life tales of a football writer
I’m in ‘pirate alley’ - the area of sea between the coast of Somalia and Yemen known as the Gulf of Aden.
We were supposed to stop in Yemen but the foreign office won’t let us. The risk is too high and there were several murders, attempted murders and kidnappings of westerners last week.
We’ve had a letter from the captain of the ship explaining the pirate situation...
“As you will are no doubt aware we will be passing through an area of the Gulf of Aden. The area at present is considered a High Risk Area due to the presence of Somali Nationals harassing shipping passing through the Gulf of Aden.
“We will be transiting using the Recommended Transit Corridor supported by the UK, US and European Naval Forces. This is considered the safest route. Naval Forces from the following countries have ships patrolling the corridor: United Kingdom, Germany, India, Russia, USA, Denmark, Holland, Sweden, Malaysia, France and China.
"I’ve seen Indian, British, French and German navy ships in recent weeks, but they have a vast area to patrol. All communication will be switched off because the captain doesn’t want members of the public contacting the media if there’s an incident. Guards monitor the decks, which have been closed at night and the back of the ship has been made as impenetrable as the Maginot Line.
"A Royal Navy Middles East expert is on board dispensing advice. Positions must be reported to the nearest navy vessels on a special communication channel. The ship is travelling at full speed and the muster stations have been changed to more secure areas."
So I was alarmed to see a fleet of high-powered skiffs around the boat this morning of the type used by pirates. They looked far too small to be so far out at sea. Several zigzagged around the ship, each containing five or six men.
They didn’t look like fishing boats. One skiff zipped across the bow of the ship at high speed, forcing us to quickly change direction.
Yemeni fisherman sail alongside our ship
“This is it,” I thought. And I wasn’t the only one. The pirates would board and hold the ship to ransom before a fistful of dollars would be dropped at an agreed location. Like outside Boots in Dudley town centre, or Selfridges in Mogadishu.
Aside from my fiancée, I was worried about pirates having my dictaphone away containing nine in-depth interviews for my next book. I’ve decided to call it ‘Glory, Glory… Man Utd in the 90s: The Players’ Stories'.
Lose the dictaphone and I lose the book. I don’t fancy trekking around Europe to do all the interviews again and I’m sure the players would be even more reluctant. So I’ve found a hiding place for it that no pirate will be able to sniff out.
“You can see the Yemeni fishermen to the starboard side,” announced the captain calmly. The fishermen waved. Some held up tuna. The pirates tend to go for slower cargo ships which sit lower in the water and are easier to board. Our ship soon steamed past.
“They’re weighing us up, testing our speed and reactions,” theorized one passenger. “They’ll then radio ahead to the pirates.”
Conspiracy theories and rumours abound. He said, she said. It’s like being at a European away game. Postscript
It’s two days later and all communications have been switched back on. We’ve just exited the dangerous area into the safer Red Sea. Eritrea is the left, Yemen to the right.
We weren’t attacked, but four other ships were on the day we transited. Four! I was incredulous when I saw that reported on Al Jazeera. Three are being held by Somali pirates including a cargo ship which sailed just 20 miles behind us. I like the idea of doing a feature on the pirates and spending time with them in Somalia.
But I also like being alive…
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