Cruising down the Red Sea, beautiful weather and a gentle following wind. Such a relaxing ride after the bumpy Mediterranean and chaos of the Suez Canal. Time to catch breath and take advantage of the weather which is set for a couple of days more
The crew are also happy to have good weather and are setting about preparing the ship for the upcoming transit of the piracy area. Razor wire is being strung along the ships side and measures are taken to prevent any unwanted persons gaining entry to the ship. Anti-piracy and security drills are carried out and systems tested. Most of the crew have been through this procedure before many times – a sad element of modern seafaring.
Towards the bottom of the Red Sea we have a rendezvous to collect a couple more security guards and weapons before heading through the Bab el Mandab (Gateway of Tears), the narrow strait between Yemen and Djibouti that leads to the Gulf of Aden. Due to the current conflict in Yemen Bab el Mandeb is now considered a high-risk area. I planned to transit this area in daylight, but adverse winds and head seas slowed us, we passed by during darkness instead. Pirates in their small boats can’t operate during bad weather so a night-time transit didn’t have much risk involved. Warships, helicopters and military activity aplenty in this area. In the past I have spent time in Yemen, both on the coast and in Sana, it’s a strikingly beautiful country. It’s very wrong that a few people’s greed and thirst for power is causing so much suffering to the already poor people.
As we headed out into the Gulf of Aden the wind backed around to the West and headed us again, slowing our progress. The headwind and head seas continued all the way to Ras al Hadd in Oman. The windy weather reduced the chance of any pirate attack, but we maintained all anti-piracy measures in place with double lookouts. In the history of recent piracy in this area no attack against a merchant vessel has been successful when armed security has been on board and no boarding’s have been recorded on any ships that can travel at 18 knots or over.
We continued up the coast of Oman, past Salalah where as a young man I had delivered stores onto the beach for the British Army as local bandits shot ineffectually at us from high ground. Salalah is now a big town with an airport and large container port. Past Masirah Island where we used to drop supplies for a small Royal Air Force contingent who were based there. I remember the anchorage at Masirah for the fantastic fishing, the poop deck of our ship resembled a trawler, we quickly filled the freezers with fresh fish.
Once around Ras al Hadd the wind reduced and calmer weather remained with us all the way to India. It was interesting for me to go around Ras al Hadd, but disappointing that we couldn’t get close to see the coast in detail. The traffic separation scheme around Ras al Hadd now takes the northbound ships out over twelve miles distant – too far to see anything interesting.
Around 1997 Ngozi and I toured Oman by 4WD, we visited Ras al Hadd on our way to a turtle beach to the south, where we camped. During the night we were able to watch the turtles coming ashore and lay their eggs – and by day see the spectacle of hundreds of hatchlings struggling to get to the sea as birds picked off the many unfortunate ones. A memorable experience and we have many fond memories of Oman and the friendly people we met there.
Our voyage continued past Muscat and up to a rendezvous off Fujairah in the UAE where we dropped off our security guards and their equipment. Then it was the final leg to India with just the eight ships crew on board. During the next days we celebrated Christmas and made sure the ship was shining like a new pin for the new owners. Pre-arrival India there was also a mountain of paperwork to complete – multiple forms, frequently requiring duplicate information. The obsession in India for needless and mindless paperwork is world leading.
The arrival in India went well and we were securely berthed by mid-morning, engines shut down and formalities underway. Once the formalities were complete it was time for a beer – but – Gujarat state is dry, I had to wait a further two days until Delhi Airport to taste the amber nectar. Everybody on board was happy to have finished the job, 3,600 miles from Suez, and to get home before the New Year.