Freighters often have ports of call that are far off
the beaten tourist path. One of our passengers was an ambassador returning from the Vatican to New York via Lykes. He had
spent most of his career visiting official state functions in world capitals. He said that he was retiring and would like
to cruise the world, visiting the small places that he seldom was able to visit during his career. I believe that one does
get a better feel of a country from traveling to the small places, rather than the major cities and tourist destinations.
We can find trouble in any place, even in our own homes we
can become victims of crime. I have never experienced any crime while aboard ship, other than an occasional petty thief among
the crew or longshoremen while in port. This does not mean that it can't happen. On one occasion I was captured by pirates
while leaving Buenaventura, Colombia. The Ashley Lykes had spent about 5 days loading coffee there. On the docks were a group
of evil looking people who were waiting for us to lower our guard. I had doubled and tripled the watch, and they were not
able to get aboard during our stay.
We left port
at Midnight and proceeded down the channel to sea. Off Punta Bazan, where the pilot disembarks, we had to slow down. While
we were at slow speed, a boat approached the opposite side, and the pirates boarded. Usually they quickly rob the mooring
lines and storage rooms, and get off in a matter of a few minutes. The third officer spotted their boat alongside, and called
me by phone. I had just retired to my cabin after being awake for many hours with the extra watches. I was groggy, but put
on my trousers and took a flashlight to inspect the damage, thinking that they had most likely departed. We had placed seals
on all spaces after inspecting them for stowaways, so that if the seal was intact, nothing had been taken from that space.
On the fwd. deck I found a broken seal, and entered the mast house. I was greeted by the same evil looking people I had seen
on the dock. Later count revealed that there were 10 of them.
One grabbed me in a hammer lock, another waved a turnbuckle at me. The person holding me told me in Spanish "no
paso nada" or nothing will happen to you. I wasn't so sure about that. The deck was totally black. I had no way to communicate
my distress to anyone. I was able to get a bite on the hand that covered my mouth, he let go, and I screamed. I don't know
how loud I screamed, but I was hoarse for a few days afterward. My scream was heard on the bridge, and they threw on all the
deck lights and rang the general alarm bell. The time was about 3 A.M.
I was really impressed at how rapidly the crew came to my rescue. I was released, and the pirates rounded up. I held
them at gun point with the ship's revolver until we were able to return to the pilot station and turn them over to the Colombian
Army. When the general alarm bell rang, even our passengers came out in their pajamas to find out what was going on. We told
them to return to their cabin and lock their doors until we got rid of the pirates. I was really lucky in that they were not
really armed pirates, who would have killed me. They were only stowaways who wanted to get to the United States. That is one
disadvantage of flying the American Flag in foreign ports.
In all ports, especially third world ones, you have to search carefully for stowaways. If you enter the U.S. with
any, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service fines you $10,000 per person, and the costs of repatriation of the stowaways.
Any captains or officers who arrive with stowaways usually are demoted or fired. I always felt that unfair, since there are
thousands of hiding places aboard the large ships of today, and small crews to search them.
Most problems for passengers arise while going ashore in foreign ports. Around
seaports are usually found pick-pockets and thugs who pray on seamen. Go ashore in groups of at least 4, in day light, and
be vigilant. Don't take cameras around your neck, or wallets and purses in bags or pockets. Take a shore pass and a few dollars
and keep it in your shoes in ports where there is trouble. Often times the ship's agent can arrange a private car or taxi
to take you where you want to go. I have seen seamen stripped of everything but their underwear, returning to the ship under
the eye of their shipmates, struggling to maintain their dignity. I could happen to passengers as well. Being aware of your
surroundings and staying sober are good deterrents to this type of crime.