Oceans and Seas

the work of author Michael Krieger

Vätterö: Mutiny and Murder – The Captain’s Story: Part 3

Posted on Jul 7, 2017

Vätterö: Mutiny and Murder – The Captain’s Story: Part 3

With grave misgivings Jan-Christer watched the new men come aboard. They were mostly Cypriots, Moroccans, and Algerians, and they looked as if they had been recruited at the local prison. The Diane completed loading and with a partial cargo sailed for Calcutta. It was clear early on that many of the new men had little or no experience at sea. Still, the crew seemed competent enough to enable the ship to reach her destination.

The first incident came four days out, in the Red Sea, that oppressive body of water surrounded by the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, the Sudan, and Ethiopia. It was a typical inferno of an afternoon. There was no air to breathe, only a suffocating fog of condensed water vapor. A blistering sun hung over the ship as if some fool had nailed it atop the mast. The captain watched some of the crew approach single-file across the afterdeck. It occurred to him that he might be watching a mirage. The chief engineer, a swarthy Moroccan by the name of Ibn Mustafa, led the motley contingent of seamen, firemen, and two stewards to the bridge. Even Dimitri, the second-mate, hovered in the background. Jan-Christer looked at faces intense with greed and, worse, determination. Mustafa, the spokesman, wasted no time getting to the point. “The owner has us to put this ship down,” he began. “We are taking over this ship, but we want that you help us.”

The vacuum pipe is steadied and moved around the hold by the crew, who control it with a portable switch.

“You can’t. You don’t have to—you can’t take over any ship from me,” Jan-Christer stammered, his English failing him in his anger.

He was about to go on, but Mustafa interrupted him. “Don’t be stupid. It’s a lotta money. You be a rich man.”

Jan-Christer found himself. “The money, yes, but you have to think a little longer. When all your money is finished, what do you do then—and maybe you be in jail. What about that?” He tried to reason with them and saw it was not working. “Besides,” he added, “I’m not going to do it.”

Mustafa was resolute. “Yes, you have to do it. We help you,” he half pleaded, half ordered.

“No, never.” The normally calm Jan-Christer almost screamed his reply, “Never. I am the captain of this boat and you do as I say.”

The response was that of uneducated, unprincipled men. They cursed and heaped blasphemies on him. They wanted to kill him then, but they were too unsure of themselves. The group left the pilothouse, still threatening and swearing.

For the next three days nothing happened. A heavy air of hostility permeated every corner of the ship. The crew came together in small groups, meeting usually in the engine room, in the mess, or on the fantail. Jan-Christer took to wearing, even sleeping with, a .32 caliber Smith and Wesson. The Diane passed Aden, rounded the Arabian Peninsula, and headed east into the Arabian Sea.

On the third evening after the argument, Jan-Christer was on his way to the saloon, two decks beneath the bridge, to have his supper. Mustafa, Dimitri, and the youngest steward, a tough Algerian, cornered him in the narrow passage beneath the ladder from the boat deck. They probably could have killed him there. Perhaps at that point they thought he could still be persuaded to join them. No doubt they realized that if Jan-Christer were dead, they would have to explain both his death and the ship’s sinking to the authorities. Better to have the captain on their side, to have him explain the ship’s sinking. Finally, though, they must have concluded that further talk was useless. They simply threw Jan-Christer against a bulkhead and started beating him, two working at once, smashing him in the stomach and face. The space was so cramped that he could not draw his revolver or do much except try to cover himself. Finally Jan-Christer managed to catch the second mate’s arm. Dimitri, off balance, was spun around into the other two men while his arm was pinioned behind his back. A furious Jan-Christer, using all his strength, thrust the arm upward until there was a dull crack. The second officer’s scream filled the passage. The engineer and steward started to close in but stopped when they faced a cocked revolver. Jan-Christer dumped Dimitri on the deck and went back to the bridge.

Jan-Christer began having all his meals brought to his cabin or to the pilothouse. He still did not know how many of the crew had been bribed by the owner, how many were conspiring against him. He considered sending a radio message, but to whom and saying what? With the owner and the crew implicated, and having no witnesses, everything would simply be denied. He also knew that a captain who informs on a ship’s owner has a hard time finding another berth.

A week passed. Mohamed, the Nigerian bosun, and a Pakistani sailor by the name of Rashid came to him with their concerns. They had both been approached but wanted nothing to do with a mutiny or the sinking of the ship. They were afraid. Jan-Christer tried to reassure them. The Diane was then in the Bay of Bengal, only four days out of Calcutta.

Teodoro, the chief mate, was another unknown. The usually good-natured young Greek had been very quiet and nervous for the past few days. He might be involved with the others, but Jan-Christer didn’t bother to ask him. If Teodoro was with the crew, he would only deny it. Of the thirty-one-man crew, Jan-Christer had only the bosun and one sailor that he knew to be on his side. That left as many as twenty-nine men against him. He refused to think about the odds.