Part IV: Sea Piracy Post-Valiant Carrier

November 26, 2008

  • Part I: Pirates Traumatised Mangala Captain
  • Part II : Foreboding of Danger on Valiant Carrier
  • Part III : Donny and Family Taken Hostages by Pirates

    When Samuel Johnson said that the sailor’s life on ship is worse than life in jail, he was talking of an era long gone by when steam ships were fueled by coal and crew was treated as slaves. This has improved tremendously with ships running on liquid fuel and diesel generators. Modern ships are highly automated and run with a lean crew. Yet, international shipping is fraught with risks of running aground, hitting the rock mass in narrow lanes, sinking in storms and increasing sea piracy. Despite this, many brave souls discount the risk and make a lifetime career at sea. They are not put off by their traumatic experience as reflected in the case of Donny.  Except for two short breaks, when he took up shore jobs for domestic reasons, he has been back at sea for twelve of the sixteen years since the piracy incident in which he and his family were taken hostages and suffered traumatic violence.
  • When we talk about the incident and Donny’s family in it, we have so far not brought in Deepak, the eight years old son who had boarded Valiant Carrier in Singapore with his mother. It was noted earlier that one of the bandits who confronted Vim looking for jewelry on her and found none. Thereby hangs a tale of how Vim tried to save her jewelry in advance of the impending calamity. With sudden desperation, Vim removed her gold jewelry, including her necklace, a couple of gold bracelets and her wedding ring. She pulled off two tiny bracelets from Vanisha’s little arms. She asked Deepak to put them in his trouser pocket, thinking that none would bother him. During the commotion, Deepak had crawled under the mattress on the bedroom floor and peered out from there with frightened eyes. At the end of the violent drama he was the only one undiscovered and unharmed, with all the family gold safe in his pocket.

    All through the commotion on the ship it moved directionless along an uncertain coastline, unattended and on fire. Donny recalls that he saw that the lights on shore were brighter, more distinct and closer. He could see that his ship, still on auto-pilot, was being set by the current and was scrabbled towards the reef, where it could break up and all on board could be incinerated. But, there was nothing he could do except watch helplessly. After the pirates jumped off the ship, Donny raced to the bridge to take control of the moving ship. He stopped the ship in the nick of time. Donny managed to turn the ship around and headed back to Singapore.

    At the Marine Medical Center in Singapore doctors said that Vanisha had been seriously injured. X-rays showed that while the bandit’s knife had penetrated the skull, it missed the brain by just 1 mm. Many of the injured crew were treated at the Center and discharged. It took 47 stitches to close Homi’s wounds. But, while exposing his ribs, the slash across his stomach did not penetrate any vital organ. 

    Reflecting on the event, Donny says that the turning off the deck lights by Homi meant an open invitation for the gangs lying in wait. He sadly notes that with so many ships under attack since the assault on Valiant Carrier, there are captains who do not take defensive measures – fire hoses, deck petrol with walkie-talkies and deck lights – when passing through known pirate haunts.

    Citing the case of Valiant Carrier, Burnett says in his Dangerous Waters: “Ten years on, piracy is a crime out of control, more costly and more disruptive to commerce than ever before. Recent estimates put the cost of world trade at $ 16 billion. From 1992 to the day I joined Monrose (a 300,000-tonne very large crude carrier on which he traveled in 2001 to gather material for the book), the number of attacks have increased by four hundred per cent and during those ten years it has become more violent: two thousand seafarers had been taken hostages during that period, and this accounting represents only a third of the actual attacks”. The others go unreported.

    Innocents ashore may wonder why ships are not armed. This is not done for various reasons. Arms can be used against each other by the ship’s crew. Insurers are against arming ships. On the contrary, after encouraging or mandating the adoption of various defensive strategies, the advice displayed on board is: “Remember that the best defence against pirate attack is vigilance. If you are threatened by armed men, it is not advisable to resist them. If pirates succeed in entering the accommodation, do not place yourself or others in further danger by resisting or antagonising the attackers”. Pirates can be antagonised by not getting any booty on board for their troubles. Therefore, even in these days of cashless electronic transactions, captains are provided with respectable amount of money to ransom out the ship’s personnel.

    Captain Donny, in his interview with John Burnett, had vowed not to go on pirate infested waters of Malacca and Singapore Straits. But, once you go back to the sea, the routes are not of your choosing and Donny has captained his ship through those dangerous Straits.

    So, when we think of the high dollar salary mariners earn, instead of grudging their income, let us spare a kind thought and pray for their safety. For, these brave seamen, who bear the risks for their families back home, are apt to say with John Milton, English poet (1608-1674), in Paradise Lost:

    “All is not lost; the unconquerable will…

    And the courage never to submit or yield…”

    Donny Monteiro ( Monty) has his family E-mail ID is “v5montys”, referring to the five members of the family. V also stands for victory, as Churchill signalled during the dark hours for Britain during the Second World War. Four of the five dramatis personae involved in the Valiant Carrier piracy episode have risen from their traumatic ashes like the legendary Phoenix. They have turned their back on that tragic interlude and have moved forward. Since then Dhiren, born in 1993 and now studying in Std.X, is a post-Valient Carrier addition to the family. Donny commands ships for the Bahamas-based shipping company, Dock-en-Dale its Chairman, Leslie J Fernandes, being a Mangalorean. Wim juggles house-keeping  with a flexible office job.  Deepak id doing his masters in Petroleum and Gas at Tulsa University, USA. Vanisha, now in IInd PU-Arts, is blossoming into a pretty teenager. Life goes on for the V5Montys—despite occasional nightmares. They deserve a salute for their resilience.


    I was introduced to Capt. Donny by my nephew, Pradeep Fernandes, a marine First Officer, in June 2006, after I read Dangerous Waters. I was surprised to learn that Donny and Vim had not read the book presented to them by the author, John Burnell, as they didn’t want to relive their traumatic ordeal on board Valiant Carrier. But, they gracefully went through the draft of this series of articles—for which I am thankful.

  • Part I: Pirates Traumatised Mangala Captain
  • Part II : Foreboding of Danger on Valiant Carrier
  • Part III : Donny and Family Taken Hostages by Pirates
  • by John B. Monteiro
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    Comment on this article

    • CA NITIN J SHETTY, Mangalore

      Wed, Nov 26 2008

      Nice write up John.Donny and Vimala are known to me since the last 15 years but i was not aware of this incident.

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    Title: Part IV: Sea Piracy Post-Valiant Carrier

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