Pirates of the Arabian
Two days ago, an announcement rang through the ship. From now until we reach Egypt, we are under anti-piracy countermeasures.
This area, after leaving India, travelling through the Arabian Sea and up through the Gulf of Aden into the Red Sea (you can tell I have a map in front of me as I write this), is apparently notorious for pirates. And not of the jolly, shwashbuckling Johnny Depp type, or the fun-loving One Piece type. Not even of the comical peg-legged, eyepatch-wearing type. But the serious, take your stuff and kill your people (with guns, not even cutlasses) in a boring and efficient manner type. Which is, I’m sure you’ll agree, less cool.
As a result, for the five days it will take us to pass through this area, the boat is on lockdown. There is a curfew at sunset, at which point no one is allowed out onto the deck or outdoor areas. All windows have been covered – those without solid curtains have been covered in canvasses or cardboard. And while normally, the boat is lit up like a Christmas tree in order to provide collisions as it coasts through the ocean, all exterior lights have been killed, so that our position is not broadcast to the Somalian pirates.
We had an emergency drill the other day. On the call of “Bravo Tango”, all passengers are to return to their cabins, lock the doors, and stay away from the windows. This is the warning of a possible pirate attack, and was apparently used at the start of the year when the boat travelled through the same area.
We are also being led and tailed by two warships from the Japanese Self Defence Forces, equipped with the necessary firepower to take down any approaching trouble. This final point has been a topic of some controversy. As the Peace Boat, we are supposed to be travelling the world promoting the message that peace can be achieved without resort to arms, that weapons are unnecessary. After the Second World War, the new constitution imposed on Japan included the famous Article Nine, which stated that Japan was not allowed to have an army. They have, however, been allowed to have a “Self-Defence Force”, which is weak, but apparently has at least two warships. In place of a real army, however, Japan is home to American army bases, who theoretically provide the necessary deterrent for any potential invaders.
That whole hairy issue aside, part of Peace Boat’s message is to promote the idea of Article Nine, that countries should not have an army, and that everyone should lay down their arms and live in harmony. This message is somewhat hampered by the presence of decked-out warships escorting the Boat itself. However, due to the fact that so many Japanese citizens are on board, and that these waters are potentially dangerous, the Japanese Government has issued a law stating that this Boat must have an armed escort, so there is no real way around it. Personally, I’m happy to have them.
There is at least one extra plus side to this situation, which I discovered last night. Since the boat is usually so heavily lit, the stars at sea are not as visible as they could be. However, we found an area on one of the upper levels where windows had been left open for ventilation. By leaning out these windows and gazing at the sky, I was able to see one of the most beautiful night skies I have ever seen. Cruising through the open sea in near-total darkness, the sky of the Northern Hemisphere was spread out across me. After about a minute, as my eyes adjusted, more and more lights started to appear before me. There were a few people who had discovered it, and we all stood there, looking out and up, appreciating the beauty of it in silence.
To top it off, I saw a fantastic shooting star. It shot across a large expanse of sky, leaving a sparkling white trail behind it before it disappeared beyond the horizon. The trail shimmered for a while before fading away itself, but will remain in my memory for a long while to come.