Ship's Passengers Recount Pirate Attack
By BISHR EL-TOUNI, Associated Press Writer
Mon Nov 7, 8:48 AM ET
A World War II veteran wielding a camera found himself facing a smiling attacker armed with a grenade launcher. Another holiday maker escaped injury because she was taking a bath, and not in a stateroom where an explosive landed.
Passengers of the Seabourn Spirit described moments of panic and luck Monday after docking in the Seychelles after presumed pirates in speedboats chased their luxury cruise liner at sea. None of the passengers, most of whom were Americans, was hurt. One crew member was slightly injured.
Those familiar with the security sitation off anarchic Somalia's coast said Saturday's attack fit the methods of pirates who have been hijacking cargo ships for ransom and loot, but marked a new boldness.
Some passengers were lucky to escape with their lives, according to Charles Forsdick, from Durban, South Africa.
A woman survived an explosion in her stateroom simply because she was taking a bath at the time. Others flung themselves to the floor to avoid bullets that were zipping through the ship, Forsdick told Associated Press Television News.
"I tell you, it was a very frightening experience," WWII veteran Charles Supple, of Fiddletown, California, recalled by phone after the liner dropped anchor off Seychelles.
The retired physician and World War II veteran said said he started to take a photograph of a pirate craft, and "the man with the bazooka aimed it right at me and I saw a big flash.
"Needless to say, I dropped the camera and dived. The grenade struck two decks above and about four rooms further forward," Supple said. "I could tell the guy firing the bazooka was smiling."
Bob Meagher of Sydney said he climbed out of bed and went to the door of his cabin shortly before 6 a.m. after hearing a commotion outside.
"I saw a white-hulled boat with men in it waving various things and shooting at the ship — at that stage it appeared to be rifle fire," he told Australian radio.
"My wife said `look, they're loading a bazooka', which we later discovered was called an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) launcher.
"There was a flash of flame and then a huge boom — a terrible boom sound," he said, adding the grenade hit about 10 feet (three meters) from him and his wife.
Meagher and others praised the ship's captain and crew for the way they handled the attack and for keeping passengers calm.
"I was scared, I was very scared," Jean Noll, of Florida. But her husband said the experience was not likely to deter them from enjoying another cruise.
"We cruise all the time," Clyde Noll said.
The gunmen never got close enough to board the cruise ship, but one member of the 161-person crew was injured by shrapnel, according to the Miami-based Seabourn Cruise Line, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp.
The liner escaped by shifting to high speed and changing course.
The liner had been bound for Mombasa, Kenya, at the end of a 16-day voyage from Alexandria, Egypt. Instead, passengers were to continue from the Seychelles to Singapore, company officials said.
Some of the passengers who planned to tour Mombasa, however, will fly there Tuesday aboard a chartered plane.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Australia radio Monday that the attackers might have been terrorists. But others said the attack bore the hallmarks of pirates who have become increasingly active off Somalia, which has no navy and has not had an effective central government since 1991.
Even before the cruise ship attack, Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi Gedi had called on neighboring countries to send warships to patrol his 1,880-mile coastline, Africa's longest. As if to underscore his country's lawlessness, Gedi escaped an apparent assassination attempt in his capital Sunday.
In its latest piracy report, the British-based International Maritime Bureau said in a report released Monday that the risk of violent hijackings off Somalia's coastline was increasing. It said 19 attacks occurred between January and September compared to just one last year.
The bureau advised ships to remain at least 150 miles away from Somalia's eastern coast.
Armed pirates in speedboats frequently fire on ships passing near Somalia, seeking to hijack them and hold the crew for ransom, the bureau said. Somalia lies along key shipping lanes linking the Mediterranean with the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean.
Judging by the location of Saturday's attack, the pirates likely were from the same group that hijacked a U.N.-chartered aid ship in June and held its crew and food cargo hostage for 100 days, Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Program, said Sunday.
That gang is one of three well-organized pirate groups on the Somali coast.
Somali pirates are trained fighters with maritime knowledge, identifying targets by listening to the international radio channel used by ships at sea, Mwangura said.