After Suez, we enter pirate waters. Channel 16 is suddenly listened to much more carefully. Channel 16 is the official emergency and notification channel with strict codes regulating its use. You use Channel 16 to call someone, then you both agree on another channel for further conversation. In practice, that often fails, particularly in calm waters where there isn't much to do, and where pirate-provoked tension needs release.
The Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean, these are the seas of name-calling. Here, it is common to hear Indian voices yelling out, "Filipino monkey!" The captain finds this unpleasantly racist, but the Filipino voices generally retaliate. "Indian, I can't see you, but I can smell you!" There is no way to tell who is calling, so bored watch officers clog the airwaves for fun. When piracy started up again around 2004, there was a period when pirates would play music over Channel 16 just before they attacked, both to unsettle seafarers and to stop ships communicating with the shore.
The second mate has spent many a night listening to weirdness. Around these parts, he tells me, you also hear ghostly voices shouting, "Mario! Mario! Mario!" It's not just him: Friends of his on other ships have made posters about the ghostly Mario-shouter, but no one knows who it is. I don't think they want to know. Strange things happen at sea, and so they should.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
"there was a period when pirates would play music over Channel 16 just before they attacked, both to unsettle seafarers"
Rose George spent five weeks on a container ship and wrote about it about it: