Piracy in the Gulf of Aden... A salvage dive ship tasked with recovering a sensitive military cargo in pirate infested waters off the coast of Somalia... A love affair that can never succeed. Take a journey through the troubled waters off the Horn of Africa where the drama is real and happening as you read.
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Sea Of Jackals
The modern day scourge of piracy in the Gulf of Aden... A salvage dive ship tasked with recovering a sensitive military cargo in pirate infested waters off the coast of Somalia... A love affair that can never succeed.
Jeffrey Parfitt writes from experience and puts you right there. Take a journey through the troubled waters off the Horn of Africa where the drama is real and happening as you read.
SEA OF JACKALS
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or they are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.
THE SEASONAL SHAMAL blew steadily across the southern plains of Iraq raising a sand haze of finely suspended particles that permeated every crevice of every surface. The relentless wind, irritating and depressing smeared buildings a dirty red brown as it ground the paint off unprotected cars down to bare metal.
Bobby kept his black and white keffiyeh scarf wrapped around his face to shield his nose and mouth from the invasive dust, spitting a gob of brown phlegm to the ground. He shouted to make himself heard as he pressed his phone to his ear,
‘The five drums are loaded... yeah... I’ll confirm shipment when she sails tonight,’ the American stevedore turned his back to the light breeze that blew gently across his face irritating his eyes, resisting the temptation to rub.
Ending the call, he snapped the clam-shell phone shut and stuffed it in his shirt pocket. Adjusting the scarf once more over his mouth he reached for his Ray-Bans, his eyes watering to remove the fine dust that caused him to blink.
The large forklift truck moved adeptly around the huge walled city of stacked containers carrying the last of five stainless steel, hermetically sealed barrel shaped drums, each with a large red cap firmly secured to one end. Bobby looked on at the strange unmarked drums, not a single marking, not a symbol, nothing to indicate their deadly contents.
He took the last cigarette from a soft pack and let the crumpled wrapper fall to the dusty quayside as he pulled his scarf aside. Lighting up he took a deep pull, feeling the sand dust draw up his nose making his sinuses ache. He had done his bit, it was nothing special, he just had to see the drums loaded into a container and the container onto the ship and he would get his end. He had done it before, he did it all the time. The bastards pay me fuck all anyways... how else can I make the payments... fuckin’ bitch is bleeding me dry.
He watched as the last drum went into the container and the load firmly secured inside onto wooden pallets with ratchet tie backs,
‘Harry... make sure that one goes on today,’ shouting to be heard above the racket of moving cranes and klaxons, smoke drifting from his mouth and nose. ‘I want it on the Dammam Express, she’s leaving tonight,’
Harry waved in acknowledgement,
‘Okay Bobby,’ his voice muffled by the scarf protecting his face. Bobby swallowed hard, dust drying the back of his throat, he needed a beer.
The Dammam Express was a large container ship, not the largest by any means but a big ship, a thousand foot long. She was one of the regular runners in and out of Umm Qasr with a lucrative contract to carry logistics for the U.S led coalition forces and U.N. humanitarian aid to Iraq.
The port of Umm Qasr lay on the western edge of the al-Faw peninsula on the border with Kuwait. It was Iraq’s only functional deep water port and American contractors were tasked with re-building the port, to get it up and running to take larger and larger container ships, to get the country back on its feet. It lay in the Shiite province of Basra and had been the primary objective of the coalition forces during the 2003 invasion.
Captain Eide Steinbeck leaned over the bridge wing rail of the Dammam Express from his elevated position high above the quayside. Shielding his eyes from the relentless sand he watched as the containers made their pedestrian journey to the side of the ship, it was a slow process.
The port lacked the massive automated container cranes of the sophisticated hub ports, the port infrastructure destroyed in the continuously war ravaged country that was Iraq. He watched as the huge fork lift truck steadily drove along the quay with the container precariously balanced on its forks. Now and then the stevedores would drop one.
The truck deposited the steel box near the port quarter at the stern of the ship. A few minutes later the container was loaded onto the stern, on top of a six stack. Captain Steinbeck could see his ship was nearly loaded, he turned to walk back inside the wheelhouse. Watching the loading from the quayside, Bobby the American stevedore made another call,
‘That’s it... the consignments loaded... yeah, the Dammam Express and she sails tonight... Just pay me in the usual way.’
The Danish Captain moved to the chart table and examined the coming voyage charts, speaking to his Filipino Second Officer,
‘I don’t understand why the company has routed the vessel so far south,’ a slight Scandinavian accent prevalent in his English as his hand drifted across the chart of the Arabian Sea. ‘They have us passing very close to the island of Socotra,’
‘Maybe it is safer there sir,’ English with a heavy Filipino accent,
‘Well I’ve been monitoring these recent pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the attacks look heaviest to the east of the gulf, right where we are headed,’ the Second Officer said nothing. ‘Still we can make twenty five knots... I suppose that’s our greatest weapon...,’ smiling at the young man, trying to give him reassurance.
At one o’clock the next morning, the Dammam Express eased off the tyre fended berth aided by two large harbour tugs. the shamal blew across the black water of the harbour, the lights of the port reflected over the rippled surface. Steinbeck stood on the bridge wing watching the tugs labour to spin the huge vessel around and point her in the direction of the open sea, the towing wires straining under the colossal forces of thousands of tons. The sound of the wires stretching around the fairleads echoed to the bridge wing.
The pilot expertly guided the ship slowly into the channel where the Shatt al Arab waterway enters the Persian Gulf. Tiny gunboats slowly steamed alongside. The lone figure of a sailor manning the forward heavy machine gun silhouetted against the dockside lights as the little boats escorted the huge ship into the Gulf away from threatening Iranian war ships and opportunist terrorist strikes.
Another thirty minutes and Eide Steinbeck breathed a sigh of relief as the pilot disembarked and the gunboats fell away astern. He eased the engine telegraph ahead powering the ship to fifteen knots. Within the hour they would be making twenty five and leaving Iraq behind for another two months, heading toward their next great hurdle, a transit through the Somali pirate infested waters of the Gulf of Aden. Steinbeck looked forward to the not too distant future when he could leave all this behind forever, when the long trick is over.
‘ALLAH AKBAR… ALLAH AKBAR…,’
Mohamed Hassan held his hand across his brow shielding his deep brown bloodshot eyes from the intense sunlight, pointing to a faint object low on the horizon. The raised prow of the fibreglass skiff lifted gently in the long low undulating swell, a light breeze sending gentle ripples across the surface of the sea, searing heat from a cloudless blue sky penetrating the deep black skin of his naked slim torso causing beads of sweat to form along his untrimmed bushy hairline.
Staring across the horizon, his eyes strained for a glimpse of the tell tale sign of human existence, human existence that could bring him unbelievable wealth.
Leaning forward over the bow as if the extra few inches would magnify the horizon, he grasped a well used pair of binoculars in his hands, a trophy from another venture and pressed his shins against the forward thwart to steady himself. He scanned the heat seared vista.
Barely visible was a trace of light grey smoke in the distance, he focussed. As the long thin open white boat rose on the swell he stared hard trying to catch the briefest glimpse of a small black band as the funnel of a distant ship briefly entered his field of vision, then it was gone. He smiled.
‘Omar… OMAR,’ there was sudden activity in the boat as the three others arose from their uncomfortable slumber in the bilge, three skinny young men aged from fifteen to eighteen years old. Young men that would follow Mohamed Hassan to the ends of the earth, they would follow him wherever. They would follow him because Hassan was always successful, always victorious. When Hassan put to sea they knew they would return. They were Jin al Bar – Demons of the Seas. Hassan was the new self acclaimed pirate chief of Somalia and they loved and respected him and were afraid of him at the same time, Hassan our Father, our guiding light.
From their lowly position at sea level the men in the boat had a field of vision of only a few miles. Big ships could pass close by and they wouldn’t see them. Hassan laughed out loud as he turned and jumped backward into the open boat. He rummaged amongst some clothing and produced a large bottle of water. Flicking off the plastic cap, he squeezed the warm jet directly into his mouth, the excess liquid flowing freely over his chin. He wiped his arm across his wet face,
‘Come on . . . come on. Get ready now, it is time,’ throwing the bottle back into the boat.
As he smiled so his new gold teeth sparkled in the sunlight, a present to himself from his cut of their last victory, a big Polish ore carrier that netted over four million dollars in ransom for the warlord of Bosaso.
A thin vertical jagged six inch slash of pale skin dissected his sternum, marking the wound where a bullet from another war had struck him square onto his chest and ricocheted upward opening the flesh of his chest and cracking his rib cage like chicken bones.
He had been lucky, he had survived that one. His lean lithe sinuous body displayed the scars from thirty six years of unrelenting civil war from Mogadishu to the Horn of Africa. Now Hassan was tired of war, tired of fighting and killing for other people and all for nothing. He wanted the spoils of the west. He wanted cars and phones and money. He knew he could get them and he wanted them now.
Dressed only in cut off shorts, his crew enjoyed one of the few benefits of the Gulf of Aden in May, the beautiful warm weather and calm seas as the monsoon season rotated from north east to south west.
Hassan was handed a short crop of green leaves. Glancing briefly at his palm he screwed his fist tightly compacting the moist foliage, the green juice staining his palm as he drew in the distinctive aroma. Stuffing the leaves into his mouth, he chewed the khat that made him indestructible.
The khat induced a mild amphetamine rush giving strength to carry out the attack, to numb the pain, to numb the hunger and the long hours at sea. The khat made him the predator looking for the kill and now he had a victim.
Shouting over to the second skiff drifting fifty metres away, his arms waving his voice loud, he saw the face of his beloved younger brother Bashir appear over the low gunwhale. Bashir was his Mother’s youngest child, only seventeen and full of youthful naivety and unbridled courage. His mother had instructed Hassan to protect him, to look after him. It was his late father’s will, Inshallah – God willing.
Quickly he had their attention as he pointed in the general direction of the funnel. They didn’t have to see it, they just had to do as they were told. But they understood, everyone understood.
Hamed kicked the powerful outboard into life and Hassan was forced down into the boat as it rapidly accelerated onto its plane toward the invisible target.
Reaching for his iridium satellite cell phone he dialled the mother ship. Speaking briefly he outlined his intention to run in toward the target and position for an attack. The mother ship always remained at a safe distance would move toward their position to offer more troops should they prove successful.
Soon both skiffs were making nearly thirty five knots toward their prey. Hassan estimated the giant ship could only be five miles away and at this speed they would be on it within fifteen minutes. After another five minutes the ship’s accommodation and funnel were in view and so were a line of containers. It was a container ship and a big one. Now he knew he had a problem on his hands, container ships were fast and it was very hard to catch one.
Another few minutes and they were closing in, rapidly approaching onto the stern. The container ship was not getting away but its relative high speed was exposing the skiffs to early discovery which could lead to failure. It would still take another fifteen to twenty minutes to get close without being detected.
Onboard the Dammam Express the bridge was all quiet. The ship had sailed from Umm Qasr in southern Iraq only a few days earlier, the one thousand foot long vessel with a crew of only eighteen could make nearly twenty five knots. The Danish Captain had asked for more crew for the dangerous Gulf of Aden transit but his company could not justify the additional expense. The fleet manager instructed the Master to make best possible speed to avoid any pirate confrontation as she would be too fast for a military escort which supported the slower more vulnerable shipping.
Captain Eide Steinbeck decided to stay on the bridge throughout the passage as with the minimal crew there were simply not enough personnel to keep a strong security lookout. Off duty engineers and stewards manned the wheelhouse to assist the overworked bridge crew.
The Captain had studied the security web site of the UN task force and looked enviously at the images of ships with electrified barbed wire fencing and water cannons used for self protection. The Dammam Express had to rely on speed alone, hoping that speed was the best weapon, their only weapon.
Steinbeck knew it was very difficult for the pirates to board a massive ship from sea level in open thirty foot boats. In another time he might have admired them, admired the pirates for their courage and fortitude but not now. This was no longer a game of armchair entertainment for the evening news. It was a fight he had to win, every time.
The skiffs planed across the surface of the near calm water, the outboards occasionally racing as the propellers leaped out of the sea off the top of a rising swell. Hassan stood in the bow, his knees bruised and aching from being forced against the forward thwart to hold his body upright, the amphetamine rush of the khat smoothing any sharp pain.
Grasping the stem post rope for support, the strong artificial breeze cooled his burning skin. He chewed on the khat pushing it into a ball of weed in his cheek, his lips and gums stained green by the juice of the leaves, his tongue macerating the straw like fibre against his gold rimmed teeth.
Adrenalin started to flow, his skin tingling in anticipation as he caught sight of the huge flat cut down transom stern of the Dammam Express. He lived for these moments and smiled broadly from the exhilaration, the thrill of the chase. Another forty minutes and he could be on his way to Eyl on the eastern Somali shore of the Indian Ocean with another prize. There the vessel would be taken over by the local tribesmen headed by the powerful warlord Mahdy Ali Kahin and the ransom negotiation would commence. There would be several days of riotous celebration, Hassan already dreaming of cruising around Bosaso in a new Japanese 4 x 4. His heart raced at the prospect of the untold fortune that lay before his very eyes and all he had to do was capture it.
‘CAPTAIN . . . Captain . . .,’ from the port bridge wing. Captain Steinbeck heard the commotion and spilled coffee from his lips as he clumsily set his mug down against the bridge windows. The 3rd Engineer, a volunteer lookout for the passage through the Gulf of Aden was pointing astern,
‘Small boats Sir . . . over there,’
At first Steinbeck could see nothing. He stared in the general direction of the pointing finger. Then he saw them, the two skiffs powering over a rising swell, a brief white wake highlighting their position, there was no mistake.
This was a classic attack as outlined in his security briefing. Two skiffs coming up from the stern, there could be more. He glanced around the horizon looking for a swarm attack. He knew they would try and take his ship from each stern quarter with grappling hooks and guns, he also knew there would be a mother ship close by. Close by and observing.
‘ATTACK . . . ATTACK,’ he yelled running back into the bridge wheelhouse. Captain Steinbeck hit the emergency alarms that activated sirens and bells all over the vessel. The crew immediately went into their well drilled routine, the sound of steel fire doors automatically closing resounding throughout the ship.
The accommodation was rapidly sealed, automatic security alerts were transmitted giving their position. The engineers sealed themselves into the engine control room and off duty personnel barricaded the door into the mess room. They had no weapons to fight off the pirates, it wasn’t allowed, insurance and all that.
They were easy pickings, sitting ducks. Steinbeck gritted his teeth, his fists a ball of anger. He knew they were too far south, they should have entered the Gulf of Aden further north as he had recommended, fucking pen pushers, but the company had ignored his protestations,
‘Quickly . . . hand steering,’ to the Second Officer. ‘Put her into hand steering.’
The young Filipino Second Officer operated a few buttons and took the minute wheel, a wheel smaller than the average saloon car to steer a leviathan container ship a thousand feet long.
‘Starboard ten,’ the wheel turned quickly, the ship responded rapidly at twenty five knots. From sea level Mohammed Hassan could see the sudden change in aspect as the huge vessel swerved to starboard, the crew had seen them.
‘Faster… faster… quicker BASHIR,’ waving the other boat onward. ‘They have seen us… There will be a helicopter soon…,’
Hassan knew they had twenty minutes at the most. Once a security alert was transmitted the nearest warships would despatch armed helicopters to intervene, there were at least 28 warships of all nationalities on patrol throughout the Gulf of Aden, but no one navy in overall control. The Russians would not allow the Americans to direct their operations and likewise the Americans would not allow the Chinese control. All the navies were pulling in opposite directions.
‘Midships,’ again Captain Steinbeck steadied the huge ship. ‘Do not turn too quickly or we will lose too much speed. It is our only weapon,’ he glanced at the digital real time display on the radar, the ship’s speed had fallen to nineteen knots. ‘Again… 5 degrees to port,’ carefully monitoring the speed of the turn,
‘Dammam Express . . . this is USS Cole . . .,’ the VHF radio kicked into life. ‘A helicopter has been despatched to your location Sir. Maintain anti-boarding manoeuvres. Helicopter ETA twenty minutes,’
‘Twenty minutes... Jesus Christ twenty minutes,’ twenty minutes seemed like a year to Steinbeck.
The Second Officer gave a nervous acknowledgement. They had to hold on, just a little bit longer.
Hassan braced himself in the bow of the grubby white fibreglass skiff and crudely balanced a well used Russian made RPG launcher on his narrow shoulder, the skiff violently moving around,
‘Slow down Omar... slow down,’ he was afraid of firing directly into the sea ahead of the boat. The boat perceptibly slowed and steadied. He aimed and after a brief pause squeezed the trigger.
The rocket whooshed from the launcher toward its target, a wild shot made harder by the rise and fall of the boat. Captain Steinbeck saw the tell tale flash from the skiff and knew in an instant the missile would strike aft of the accommodation, at least his crew would be safe,
‘They’ve fired…,’ hesitantly. ‘They’re shooting at us…,’ shouting to no one in particular, fighting to maintain self control.
The rocket arced toward the large blue container ship. For a moment Hassan thought he’d missed, that the rocket would be carried over the stern, then it dipped striking the aft most stack of containers on the port quarter.
There was a flash of flame and smoke and a dull thud a second later. Cheering could be heard from the other boat as the two skiffs powered toward their prey.
The Captain looked down from the port bridge wing, his heart pounding with adrenalin but in no mood to surrender,
‘The bastards have hit the stern boxes, not the ship… MIDSHIPS,’ yelling into the wheelhouse. ‘Keep her steady,’ a nervous mumbling of acknowledgement from somewhere inside the wheelhouse.
He gripped the bridge rails trying to assess the damage from his lofty position. The skiffs now laboured over the increasingly turbulent sea as they ricocheted over the violent stern wake. The huge container ship still zig zagged away, the chaotic stern wash nearly three metres high, a violent frothing white brew that threatened to overwhelm the small fibre glass skiffs and toss their pathetically weak bodies into a crushing vortex of spinning water they could never survive.
Hassan waved the other boat onwards. Looking over at his younger brother Bashir he willed him forward, watching as Bashir reached down for the long aluminium boarding ladder lying along the topside of the open boat.
Hassan picked up his Kalashnikov from the bottom of his boat and as his skiff streamed alongside the ship he let loose with a wild volley of automatic fire, blindly strafing the bridge and accommodation, trying to distract the crew to allow the second boat to close and attack.
There was a rat-a-tat ringing from steelwork around the bridge wing and Steinbeck became aware of paint and steel splinters flying off from the surrounding steel plates as he instinctively dived for cover below the bridge wing rails. In the skiffs, Hassan’s men fired indiscriminately raking the ship with their aging rusting sub-machine guns.
Powering close to the hull, the ferocious wash of the twin giant propellers boiled the sea around them, the skiffs becoming unstable as they were battered from side to side. In the boats the gunmen dropped their weapons to hang on for their lives. Steinbeck again ordered a change of course losing sight of the skiffs as they drifted underneath the huge stern. The speed had dropped to seventeen knots,
‘Jesus Christ we are too slow,’ lunging for the internal phone he punched in the number for the engine room. ‘Chief, we are too slow and losing speed... I need more,’
‘Captain... she’s on maximum... I will have to remove the safeties off the system,’
‘Do it Chief... do it now. I need everything you’ve got,’ and slammed the receiver down,
‘Christ he thinks we’re on a Sunday cruise,’ the Filipino second officer looked nervously on as he steered a steady course.
This was the classic manoeuvre, fire an RPG and strafe with gunfire hoping the crew would surrender. But there was no sign of surrender, the massive ship continued to zigzag back and forth.
In the skiffs Hassan struggled to maintain purchase, he couldn’t get in close enough to hurl a grappling iron onto the rails. If he could only get closer he knew one of the young men would risk their life to swing under the stern and climb up onto the ship. They were brave warriors fighting for a common cause and did not fear death the way older men valued life.
The second skiff with his beloved brother was having difficulty closing on the stern, the menacing wash of two giant propellers rotating at full speed thrusting the skiff from side to side, the boats occasionally taking large scoops of sea water as the sharp bow of the boat sliced through the towering surf.
Hassan had promised his mother he would take care of his little brother, her beloved youngest. Hassan gritted his teeth and let loose another volley, he saw men ducking down on the bridge as the bullets patted around them throwing steel splinters in all directions. He glanced to his right keeping one eye on the skiff,
‘Come on Bashir… hurry,’ the second skiff was now under the port quarter.
Hassan saw his brother reach up with the ladder to hook it over the stern rails. The younger men were fearless, agile and fit. Their lithe slim bodies able to negotiate swinging ladders and barbed wire fencing, nimble and fast, without effort or thought for their own safety, they were indestructible.
Hassan saw his brother hook the ladder over the rails as the ladder rode up and down nearly two metres, his brother keeping one hand sliding on it as the ladder punched the sea in and out. He watched as Bashir poised to spring onto the rungs, watching his timing, one slip and he would be lost. Bashir placed his foot on the swinging first rung, his Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder. Go on Bashir… go on… you can do it, willing him on, pushing his brother to success.
That was the last time Hassan ever saw his brother alive. The RPG had struck the after set of containers destroying the steel tie back rods holding them in position locking them into the ship. As the ship zigzagged so the 6 stack of forty foot long containers swayed on their small securing locks. The tower tilted outwards then inwards, then outwards as the stack of boxes as high as a tall building passed over its point of equilibrium came thundering down, pile driving into the sea as giant steel Jenga blocks. One moment Hassan was staring at his brother stepping up onto the ladder in pursuit of glory, in the next instant he had been swiped off the face of the earth, not a sign, forever. Just a brief hole in the sea where six forty foot steel boxes had driven the skiff straight down.
‘Bashir… BASHIR…,’ Hassan screamed, turning the boat quickly around to head for the wreckage. He thought he heard cheering echoing from the rapidly disappearing leviathan container ship.
In a state of wide eyed shock Hassan slowed his boat and negotiated around the remaining floating containers looking for signs of life, for his brother. The undulating wall of water from the dissipating stern wash was still a threat, as the fragile skiff battled to hold position. There was absolutely nothing, no indication that his brother’s boat had ever existed.
‘Bashir… Bashir…’ Hassan increasingly desperate as the containers took in water and slowly slid beneath the surface. Hassan screwed his eyes closed and turned his face to the searing sun, tears streaming down his blackened cheeks,
‘BASHIR…’ he pulled the trigger of the Kalashnikov spitting lead across the open sea. In the near distance the increasing whomp whomp sound of chopper blades beating down into the air moved closer and closer.
‘WHAT THE HELL’S Spooner up to?’
‘I don’t know Boss but he looks like he’s enjoying himself,’
The two men pulled another slug of cool beer from their chilled bottles as they looked over at their colleague hugging two young pretty Chinese girls.
‘Jesus it’s only four in the afternoon. How long’s he been here?’
‘About two hours Boss. I gave them all an early stand down once we received orders, you know… a last blast. They’ll go into the bin within the next few days and blow down,’
The Boss, otherwise known as The Fridge behind his back nodded in slow acknowledgement. Munro knew his men called him The Fridge but as Dive Superintendent he sometimes had to take it as well as give it, besides, he had heard worse.
‘Yeah well he might as well go for it. He’ll probably be in saturation for a month.’ They both drained their bottles, ‘Want another,’
‘I’ll get them.’ Dive Superintendents rarely bought their own drinks. When you had the power of giving huge financial reward to those below you, you didn’t have to pay for much.
As The Fridge waited for his beer, a small young pretty Chinese girl draped herself over his shoulders, her long painted nails stimulated the skin under his tight shirt as she dragged her hand across his back. He looked at her long flowing smooth black hair and felt the supple young body of the girl push into him, her small soft breasts rubbing against his arm, her nipples protruding through her light vest. He slipped his arm around her tiny waist and felt the curve of her young hips and firm thighs.
‘You want nice girlfriend,’ she spoke in broken English he could barely understand above the racket of the rock music and exciting noise of the darkened bar.
‘I’ve got a daughter older than you sweetheart but thanks anyways,’ he replied in his Louisiana drawl.
Just for a moment the desire to have a young woman, to feel her soft smooth young flesh lying next to him was almost irresistible. For a second he was able to believe that she really was attracted to him and it made him feel good, young again, then the moment passed and reality returned. He remembered he was fifty, balding and paunchy and she was a whore that only wanted his money. He smiled as he pushed her away.
There was no shortage of available pretty young Chinese women in this bar, these days China exported flesh in huge quantities as well as industrial goods. He looked through the darkness of the club and spotted more of his dive team in various throws of embrace, canoodling in dark corners, one or two girls draped around them. In a whore house they were kings of sex to a man, seduced by their own vanity. Here they were in Steamers Bar in Bahrain, a tiny island kingdom in the Persian Gulf not twenty miles off the coast of Saudi Arabia.
‘It must be pushing fifty degrees outside. I was already dripping wet from leaving the cab to stepping inside,’ he took a swig from the freshly chilled bottle, condensation off the green glass running over his fingers. The chilled liquid burned the back of his throat as it slipped easily down,
‘Aye I know,’ his drinking partner Hamish in an Aberdeen Doric,
‘One minute we were having a holiday in the dockyard, the next we gotta job,’ both men staring at the drunken antics of others, wanting to indulge.
‘Shit this job must be pretty important. We have to mobilize immediately and head off down there… We’ve even gotta military escort,’
‘Do you know what the job is?’
‘Some kinda salvage. We just need to recover a container lost over the side from a ship last week,’ they continued to sip greedily already half way down the new bottle,
‘Must be some container to hire us,’
‘Yeah… that’s what I thought… and we’re half a million bucks a day,’ he raised his eyebrows in exaggerated manner,
‘Whooh… Deep Water Salvage are on the button… I suppose it was that mean bastard Jerry Dobbie who negotiated that one,’
‘You know Jerry… He’d make you buy the skin off his shit,’
‘You okay if I blow them down in two days or do you want it sooner?’
‘Logger needs a few days to get the boat ready… you know this anti-piracy shit. He’s puttin’ barbed wire and fencin’ up all over the place… all kindsa stuff,’
‘Are you referring to our beloved Captain Mike Evans…’ sarcastically,
‘Yeah… like I said Logger Evans,’ they both grinned,
‘Yeah... ha ha... one step outta line and you’re in his book,’ Hamish took another drink,
‘As soon as the anti-piracy measures are in place we’ll blow the guys down and we’ll be good to go,’ glancing over at Jonny, ‘and he can run the first dive. He’s a pain in the ass... I nearly ran him off the last job... causes too much goddam trouble,’ hesitating for another sip. ‘So blow the team down to a holding depth of one hundred metres. Apparently that’s the least depth there. If the cans are lost off the shelf that’s it... game over, we won’t be able to go for it. They’ll be too deep.’
Munro drained his bottle and looked at the empty green glass trying to see if there was any left,
‘Jesus they don’t give you much for four bucks,’ Hamish still had an inch or two in his bottle but was already resigned to getting in another round,
‘Well I don’t want to go down there but we could do with the work... it’s been a lean year,’ Munro agreed and handed Hamish his bottle, ‘Aye okay. It’s goin’ to be one of those nights tonight… and they’ve only just started,’
‘That’s okay. Set the dogs loose. One last blow out, I don’t want any fightin’ or diseases or any kinda shit that will give me problems. So they can have their night but they better switch on in the mornin’,’
‘Well you know Spooner. He’ll be banging whores two at a time. He’s got enough viagra with him,’ Munro shook his head,
‘Well he won’t need that at sea,’
‘That’s not what I heard,’
‘He better not be sniffing round my daughter or I’ll personally cut his goddam balls off,’
‘No… not your daughter,’ and they both laughed again.
‘Yep, eat, drink and fuck all night and worry about tomorrow, the life of the professional deep sea diver,’ they both laughed.
Steamers was typical of dock side bars all over the world, over-flowing with pretty available girls and expensive beer, loud music and constant darkness no matter what time of day. The air conditioning was ice cold, so when you entered you didn’t want to leave, too comfortable inside and 50 degrees of heat and humidity outside. Outside where every breath was an effort, the heavily laden air drawing on your lungs, making you work that little bit harder, your skin constantly sweating and rubbing at the seams of your cloths, when just moving seemed too much of an effort.
Munro didn’t like Bahrain, he didn’t like the middle east, but it’s where his work had taken him and he still needed to work. Like many middle aged dive professionals, he was on a second marriage with young children back home and expensive maintenance from his ex.
‘You know what. I think this salvage job’s worth the risk to get outta this shithole. I’ve had enough of Saudi. The mindless bureaucracy and cocksuckin’ fanatics. I’m sick of standing in line at immigration desks for hours on end, stand here... stand there... do this do that. Fuckin’ fingerprints and eye scans, you can’t do this and you can’t do that. Then I see them come over here every week and get blasted, drinking and whoring like good ol’ boys,’ Hamish agreed,
‘Aye they’re just hypocritical bastards that’s for sure,’
‘You want another,’ pointing to the empty bottles in Hamish’s hand,
‘Aye I’ll get ‘em,’ Hamish knew the rules.
The bar in Steamers ran half way along the longest wall and was always two to three deep with men looking for a drink from the overworked underpaid bar staff. On the small stage at the end of the room was the obligatory Filipino rock band playing classic rock covers, with a pretty girl in camel toe hot pants mimicking Tina Turner and flicking her hair in every direction. Every bar east of the Suez Canal seemed to have a Filipino rock band.
At the far end of the bar close to the stage stood a large metal cage with a monkey in it and every now and then it would leap up and down throwing itself wildly around, squawking and gnashing its impressive teeth. Drunken punters were throwing nuts in to antagonise it and the monkey was throwing them back. As Munro looked over, he noticed two of his men teasing the monkey,
‘Hey Hamish... watch this... have you seen this,’ Hamish and Munro continued to observe the two men.
‘Come on Josh... I want to introduce you to my friend from Africa, he’s an old pal of mine,’ Johan ‘Jonny’ Visser encouraged his young friend Josh Manley to step closer to the cage.
Johan Visser, known as Jonny7 spoke with a heavy South African accent, Afrikaans. He was thick set, a powerful man at just over six feet tall, his bald head accentuated his physical athleticism and a large walrus moustache gave him an air of aggression. In contrast Josh Manley was an athletic slim young Canadian, a baby diver in the saturation world but already establishing his reputation as competent and safe. Johan Visser pushed his beer bottle toward the monkey,
‘Hello old pal... how you doing... remember me, your old friend from Cape Town,’
‘I suppose you swung around the trees with him in the bush,’ Josh laughing enjoying a swig from his bottle,’
‘Yeah that’s right mate... me and the monkey used to hang around together eating bananas. Why don’t you say hello,’
Josh leaned forward toward the cage. The rhythmic beat of the band drowning out all other noise, alcohol coursing through his body from a steady afternoon’s drinking session, the smell of cigarette smoke permeating the dark enclosed space. The monkey’s arm extended as if in friendship as Josh offered his bottle.
‘Shake the little fuckers hand mate,’ Jonny edging him on, Josh leaned closer. In a flash the monkey stretched out its left arm grasping Josh by the throat,
‘Christ,’ he choked, unsure of what to do. With its other hand the monkey snatched the bottle by the neck and pulled it into the cage immediately gulping the cold beer. It paused to bring up gas and licked its lips. Josh pulled away rubbing his throat. Munro and Hamish collapsed laughing. Jonny was doubled over unable to speak, his face bright red, tears of laughter rolling down his cheeks, the monkey won again.