While sailing the Nautica down the West African coast, our Captain Jurica Brajčić spoke to passengers about pirates and the attack made on the Nautica in 2008. Here is his story:
There were around two dozen passengers today who were on the ship when pirates attacked in 2008. Pirates target vessels traveling 14 kph (9mph) or less and have low clearance to water. Ships are captured for ransom but in West Africa it is oilrigs and ships in ports that are targeted.
Nautica takes precautions: Five Israeli Commandos join our ship as we cruise through these waters. Pirates have no source of income and this is all they have. In the 1990’s these people were trained to protect their fishing fleets. Today the training is used for piracy. They only attack in the daytime and are attended by a Mother Ship which often holds fishermen prisoners.
Pirates go out in skiffs that can go up to 25 kph (15.5 mph) and have a grappling hook to throw onto the prey then climb aboard. Our ship has a high boarding (greater distance from the waterline). They are among fishing boats and are difficult to identify. Pirates usually use fiberglass boats with 4-6 persons aboard. Fishing boats are usually wooden. Boats seen heavy-laden with people are usually into human trafficking. Smugglers proliferate also for alcohol and drugs. They carry rifles – AK-47s.
On November 28, 2008 at 9:26 am, passengers noticed two small skiffs speeding toward Nautica. This was during breakfast. The Captain was notified and ordered all passengers to lie on the floor toward the center of the ship away from windows and remain inside. Any shots fired from sea level would go through a window and into the ceiling. Most passengers complied, though a couple felt they had “paid for a cruise” and refused to disrupt their day.
The pirates fired at the ship and the captain put the ship at full throttle (23 kph/14 mph) and outran them. It also helped that the two heavy propellers created a wash (wake) making it difficult for a small boat to navigate. Only a few dents were found as a result of the shooting. They did not have AK-47s.
During the attack, the ship fired sonic cannons, which have a long-range high-frequency range of 7-150 meters (about 500ft.). The resulting blast punctures eardrums and causes pain and disorientation. The ship also has water jets – fire hoses that pump and spray seawater at high velocity down the sides of the vessel.
Three months ago a large cargo ship was captured and held for ransom. The pirates steal anything from crew and passengers and the cargo. The ship had been held for 3 months before a settlement of $7 million ransom was paid.
Today there are 25 countries working with war ships through the United Nations on a Transit Corridor that is 500 miles long and 12 miles wide with daily convoys taking ships through the dangerous areas, mostly in the Gulf of Aden. The vessels are grouped by maximum speed capacity and go together at 10, 14, 16 and 18 kph (6, 8, 10 and 12 mph).
The Captain was disappointed to learn the cameras on the Bridge were not working that day. He offered a bottle of champagne to any passenger who had taken pictures of the event, even though he realized that if they did have a photo they would not have been following orders. He had 50 pictures submitted! When asked by staff what to do, the Captain replied, “Take the pictures but don’t give them the champagne.”
The Captain Jurica Brajčić, an experienced captain who has served for 30 years, was awarded a rare Achievement Award in Shipping and Saving Lives at Sea. He was also given a monetary award that he donated to an orphanage in his hometown in Croatia.
Thanks to Phoebe Adams who did a fantastic job of taking notes and writing up the Captain’s story.