“Captain, we have an unidentified ship fourteen miles south-west and closing. She looks big – probably a tanker or container ship. I’d say she’s in ballast, from the speed she’s moving at. I reckon twenty knots. She’s failed to identify herself.”
“Okay, I’ll be right up.”
Toby Mitchel, the young and enthusiastic Chief Officer of the African Star, looked at the radar display. He rubbed his tired eyes and, picking up his watch binoculars, raised his lean six foot to scan the horizon. The approaching ship did not appear to be in trouble which could only mean one of two things. Their radio was dead or the ship was being crewed by pirates off the African west coast of Somalia.
Despite increased security on all vessels, the Bellingham Shipping Company, based in Amsterdam, had issued a warning that on no account were any company ships to go to the aid of another unless that ship was in danger of sinking and lives were at risk.
“Okay, let’s have a look.”
Mitchel stood aside as Captain George ‘Tug’ Wilkins came onto the bridge. A full head of white hair and a bushy beard to match, the captain stood just over five feet tall. His ruddy face gave no hint of the tough, no-nonsense taskmaster that he was. The bright piercing blue eyes that stared unblinkingly from beneath white eyebrows most certainly did.
Tug Wilkins frowned. “Can we see her yet?”
“Not yet, Sir, but we should in a few minutes. According to the chart, our course will cross hers in forty-five minutes – here.” Mitchel stepped back and tapped a finger on the map laid out at the back of the bridge on the chart table.
“Due West, Sir. On the horizon.” The Coxwain raised his glasses. “Container vessel – large one, Sir.”
“Keep to the course and increase speed or change course to avoid?” Mitchel eyed his captain expectantly.
“Neither, we stay as we are until we see a zodiac or fishing boat appear. Then we change course and increase speed.”
The captain later changed direction and reduced speed to run a parallel course with the Aegean Sunset, a Greek ship.
“We can’t leave her to carry on. She could become a danger to other shipping,” said Captain Wilkins. “Launch the small zodiac, Toby, and take three men.” He scanned the Aegean Sunset. “There’s a boarding ladder just for’ard of the bridge. Take an engineer and stop her engines while you search.” He picked up the bridge telephone and flicked a switch for the communications room. “Jarvis, contact the authorities and tell them our position. Tell them we may have a ship with dead crew and pirate involvement.”
A short while later, the captain watched his Chief Officer board the container ship. He waited impatiently for a radio report. When it did come, it was not what he was expecting.
“Sir, there are two drunk men on the bridge and the deck is strewn with pieces of eight.”
Writing order: Angela Shaw (NZ), Dan Oliver (NZ), Roseyn (Aus), Ken Burns (NZ), Ray Stone (Cyprus), Suraya Dewing (NZ), Evan Bekiaris (Aus), Linda Alley (Aus), Greg Rochlin(Aus), Anna Zhigareva (Scot)