Oceans and Seas

the work of author Michael Krieger

On Patrol: Pt. 14 – Explosive Escort

Posted on Sep 27, 2019

On Patrol: Pt. 14 – Explosive Escort

Back on the bridge deck, I am left alone. The Unity’s huge mast looms above me. Mostly it appears to be just a fixture to hold the navigating and surface-search radars and the optical device mounted to a twenty-foot extension on top of it. I decide to go below to the cabin assigned me for a quick nap.

Escort

Twenty-three forty-five. I am awakened by an alarm, then a rapid series of knocks on the door. Dave Wong sticks his head in, says, “We are picking up a natural gas tanker that we will be escorting through the straits. We knew you would want to see it.”

The Haydock (similar to this ship) is a natural gas tanker of 4,045 gross tons.

Yes, indeed. Scrambling into tennis shoes, I make my way to the bridge through a passage filled with crewmembers scurrying to their action stations, some donning life jackets and helmets.

Threats

The bridge hums with activity. All four machine guns are manned and are being checked. Steel boxes of 12.7mm ammunition are carried to the individual guns and eighty-round belts fed into the receivers. Everyone wears white flash hoods along with their bulletproof vests and life jackets. The hoods protect against burns from muzzle flash or enemy fire. A white beam from our searchlight goes out hunting for the tanker but also scanning the adjacent water for any sign of danger from any kind of boat whose occupants could pose a threat.

In the glare of our light the tanker appears in the southern shipping lane 500 yards off our port bow. The storm accompanying the distant lightning has finally caught up with us, and a steady rain, together with a moonless night, has reduced visibility. The tanker seems indistinct even at this short range. Briefly, she hits us with her spotlight, blinding us until she can identify us. Then her light plays out ahead of her.

Explosive Cargo

The Haydock is a coastal natural gas tanker of 4,045 gross tons and about 320 feet long. With a Panama registry, she is managed by a Singapore company. Her owner could be anyone, of any nationality, living anywhere in the world. The vessel carries two giant tanks of highly explosive cargo that, if suddenly detonated, might set off a chain reaction that could destroy Singapore’s Bukom refinery.

Not just the refinery is vulnerable. Downtown Singapore abuts the water in numerous places, and they are all potential targets. Business centers, amusement parks, and ferry terminals, all bustling with thousands of people, could be turned into infernos.

Obviously, ensuring the safety of the Haydock and similarly loaded ships has a high priority. Nobody on the Unity wants the Haydock to be used as a weapon.

Pirates

Not far ahead of us is the Western Boarding Ground, where vessels may be boarded by Singapore customs and immigration officials. It was just to the south of that, only a few miles into Indonesian territory, where another tanker, the Ocean Princess, was recently boarded by pirates, who took her master, three officers, and two of the crew hostage. After beating up the master and the chief engineer, the pirates ransacked the ship for valuables, including the vessel’s cash, and escaped.

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