If pirates hijack a ship, they may kill people like me, says maritime marshal
He has been a maritime marshal, or what is also known as a ship-based armed guard, for the last four years.
But Joshua (not his real name) still gets the jitters whenever he is about to put to sea. That is because each time the ship he is guarding ventures into pirate-infested areas such as the waters off Somalia, his life could be at risk.
More so now, with pirate attacks on the increase.
According to the International Chamber of Commerce's International Maritime Bureau, pirates have so far this year hijacked 13 vessels in Asian waters by targeting small tankers carrying oil and gas products. The corresponding figure for last year was only three.
Said Joshua, a former Singapore cop in his late 30s: "My colleagues and I have traded gunfire (with pirates) in the dead of night. We have the bullet holes on the ships to prove it."
His role is to protect the crew and vessel he is on, and prevent pirates from boarding. They scan the horizon for suspicious boats from well-prepared defensive positions on the vessels' decks.
By his side is an AK-47 rifle or a sniper rifle with a powerful scope. At other times, he is on the bridge monitoring radar signatures.
He keeps his hair long and acquaints himself with the duties of the ship's crew, just in case his vessel is hijacked by pirates.
He does this hoping that the pirates would mistake him for a crew member and not an armed guard.
He said: "If there are scores of pirates armed with heavy weapons, there's a chance they can overwhelm us. When they come aboard, I can assure you that in their anger, we (maritime marshals) will be the first to be shot."
Depending on the company and job experience, a maritime marshal can be paid at least US$300 (S$390) a day. While maintaining a team of marshals can be costly for ship owners, their presence has proven effective as a deterrent.
No ships with marshals have been hijacked so far, according to the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (See report on facing page).
Nevertheless, to close relatives, Joshua has shared stories of dramatic incidents he has experienced at sea. One short video clip he showed to The New Paper was a blurry one taken at night last year. In the distance, a boat seems to be displaying multiple "flashes".
"Those were gunshots aimed at us," Joshua said. "I have been lucky so far but all it takes is for something to go wrong (just once). I know I will leave this job in a few years' time because I don't want my children to grow up fatherless."
RECENT PIRATE INCIDENTS
1. On Nov 7 at 5.50am, six armed robbers on a speedboat boarded tugboat Winstar Grace near the Strait of Malacca.
After tying up the ship's master and crew, the pirates ransacked the cabins and stole the crew's belongings. They destroyed the vessel's communication system before escaping.
2. On Oct 9 at 6am, pirates boarded the Srikandi 515, a product tanker carrying 3,100 tonnes of palm oil, in the waters near Indonesia's Central Kalimantan.
The crew were blindfolded and tied while the pirates commandeered the tanker and sailed in a north-westerly direction. Some 13 days later, the crew members were forced onto a life raft and abandoned at sea. They were rescued the next evening by a Vietnamese fisherman.