Captain Tariq Farooqi, 51, pictured, stands on the bridge of the MV Onega I, overseeing the loading of 7,000 tons of food and cooking oil into her cavernous hold. It’s a hot day in Mombasa, as cargo handlers and Onega’s 22-man crew prepare the vessel for her Tuesday run from here to Mogadishu, delivering her cargo to the U.N.-run Somalia aid effort feeding 4 million people.
The waters through which Onega will pass are the most dangerous in the world, teeming with hundreds of pirates armed with AK-47s, RPGs and aluminum ladders. Onega will be escorted by a Greek frigate, and no food ship under escort has ever been successfully attacked by pirates. Still, Farooqi says, even without an escort, he has no fear.
“We have got so much courage because we are living on the sea all the time. [There's] no piracy [everywhere], but we have seen storms and hurricanes. There is no fear.”
The only thing Farooqi fears, he says, is God.
One time, sailing past the Nigerian coast, another piracy hot-spot, Farooqi ordered his crew to unwind the fire hoses and prepare to hose down anyone attempting to climb aboard. The old hose trick is a favorite of captains defending their ships against pirate assaults. In Farooqi’s case, it wasn’t necessary, but he was prepared all the same.
There’s a mood of genuine panic in Mombasa among those who livelihoods come from the sea. But not among the seafarers working the Somalia food circuit. For a year, every food ship has had a military escort. And escorts work.
Too bad there aren’t enough warships in the world to escort every single ship plying East African waters. But then, imagine the cost if there were …