Part I: Pirates Traumatised Mangala Captain

November 26, 2008 

When Jeevan Kiran D’Souza landed at Bajpe airport on October 16, 2008, there was an audible collective sigh of relief among Mangaloreans who had kept a vigil for the safe return of this young merchant mariner held captive in his ship, at, Iran Delmat, hijacked by Somali sea pirates since August 21. Somali pirates are now holding over a dozen other ships, including MV Faina of Ukrain, loaded with 33 battle tanks and heavy ordnance. US and Russian war ships are keeping a vigil in the vicinity: but are watching helplessly as negotiations over ransom for the release are going on. The war ships cannot strike lest men on the captures ships are harmed or killed. Already the Chief Officer of BBC Trinidad has been killed for delay in stopping his ship when ordered by the pirates. Somali pirates are armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK47s and operate speed boats. Their annual pickings from ransom for release are estimated at $100 million.

Somali coast has now emerged as the new hot spot of sea piracy. Another hot spot of longer vintage is Singapore-Malacca Straits. Jeevan had to endure shortage of food and water during his captivity – but no physical violence. In another case, the Captain and his family from Mangalore had traumatic experience of violence. However, 16 years ago, when that happened, Mangalore did not have TV channels via cable. Even the print media here didn’t cover the incident. But this Mangala Captain is the central hero of a gripping book on sea piracy as highlighted below. This story is largely unknown in Tulunadu and that is the rationale of resurrecting it now in the context of topicality of sea piracy.

Sea piracy continues to be the scourge of ship-owners, mariners and insurers. Modern pirates in speedboats fire automatic weapons at ships and rob, maim and kill mariners with no holds barred. If real piracy is thriving, can reel piracy be far behind? There have been several Hollywood flicks centred on sea piracy.  There is a renewal now. A series of three films are in focus. There have been three films in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. The European premier of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” was held in London on July 3, 2006 and the film had earned in   the first ten days of its release $ 258.2 million. Johnny Deff and Keira Knightley have been associated with films. Now a fourth sequel is being talked about and the name of High School Musical actor Zac Effron  is expected to be part of it. 


“It happens as one sees in cages: The birds which are outside despair of ever getting in, and those within are equally desirous of getting out”. So said Michael Montaigne, French philosopher (1533-1592) apropos matrimony. A similar situation confronts sailors. When they are at sea, they long for home. When they are at home, they are impatient to get back to the sea. That has been happening to Capt. William Eric Donald (Donny) Monteiro (Monty) whom I met in his well-appointed apartment overlooking Gandhinagar Park in Mangalore. He reminded me of the lines of Charles Mackay, Scottish poet (1814-1889):

Some love to roam o’ver the dark sea’s foam

Where the shrill winds whistle free.

We must start with how Captain Donny Monteiro had his tryst with the sea with which his love affair had been going on for the last 35 years. Donny, son of Henry and Letitia  Monteiro, was born at Urwa on February 10, 1952. He did his studies up to PUC at Bajpe, where he was brought up, and B.Sc. at Mulki. He joined Shipping Corporation of India as a cadet in 1973. He worked his way up to earn the command of a ship as Captain in 1984. Then he switched to foreign registered shipping companies and ships. He has captained tankers, bulk carriers, general cargo ships and reefers. He has covered the main sea routes of the world. As John Webster, English dramatist (1580-1625), said:

He hath put the girdle ‘bout the world

And sounded all her quicksands.

Donny married Vimala (Vim)—nee Lobo—of Mangalorean roots transplanted in Kottayam. The couple has three children – Deepak (b. 1984), Vanisha (b.1991) and Dhiren (b. 1993). Donny, Vim, Deepak and Vanisha were victims of a violent, life-threatening attack by sea pirates on a tanker, on which Donny was the Captain, on April 24, 1992. Donny and his family’s involvement in this sea piracy attempt got widely covered in the world media, including on BBC and Voice of America. In India, Malayala Manorama went to town with the coverage of this incident. This incident is the central theme of a spine-chilling book on sea piracy, Dangerous Waters, by John S. Burnett. In this book sub-titled “Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas”, the author, a noted journalist and professional sailor, takes the reader on a gripping voyage into the world’s oceans and into the little-known world of pirates and maritime terrorism.

The author had come to Mangalore and interviewed Donny and his family. He acknowledges this on the opening page of the published book presented to Donny. This handwritten message reads: “To Donny, Vimala and family – without your help this (book) would not have been possible – affectionately – John Burnett”. In the index to this 332-page book there are more references under Monteiro (Captain Donny, Deepak, Vanisha and Vimala) than to any other person or subject. There are 32 entries in all, some of them running into several successive pages. In addition, Donny’s ship, Valiant Carrier, has14 references. In his book, under Acknowledgements, Burnett notes: “And warm thanks to Donny and Vimala Monteiro, for their candor and hospitality – never forgotten”.

The pirate attack happened on Valiant Carrier of Indian-owned, London based company, Foresight Limited. As the author says, “The firebombing of the Valiant Carrier, a fully laden tanker, and the assault on its Captain and his young family is so unimaginably cruel that it beggars imagination. Yet it is representative of the horrors that occur at the sea today. I have written the story of Valiant Carrier as it was related to me by the Captain, his wife and children. Their tale of terror needs no embellishment”.

Though I could have had the story from Donny and Vim first hand, it is best told in the words of the author himself. He is liberally excerpted here: “It has been four months since Vimala Monteiro had seen Donny, husband, father, sea captain – a short time compared to some contracts he has had. One day she would get him off the ships and back home where he would be able to help raise his son and daughter; but she knew it would be at the time of his choosing. Four months was just too long – more than half a lifetime of their baby. Vim could imagine Donny’s smile when he saw his daughter”. Vim had joined Donny on Valiant Carrier at Singapore with Deepak, then eight years, and Vanisha, just seven months.

Describing Donny the author says: “Dressed in an open-collar white shirt, pressed white pants, gold bars on his shoulder boards, he cut a gleaming, important figure. Captain Donny Monteiro was a handsome man – not because of his uniform or his command responsibilities, she (Vim) often reminded herself, because it was simply fact – every one agreed. Her mother joked that he looked like the actor Omar Sharif – solid jaw, carefully trimmed moustache, full black hair beginning to gray at the temples and patient and communicative eyes. He even had a dimple in the centre of his chin. He was a good father – when he had the opportunity. Vim was very proud”.

  • Part II : Foreboding of Danger on Valiant Carrier
  • Part III : Donny and Family Taken Hostages by Pirates
  • Part IV: Sea Piracy Post-Valiant Carrier
  • By John B. Monteiro
    John B. Monteiro, author and journalist, is Editor of his website
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    Comment on this article

    • Monteiros, Bahrain

      Wed, Nov 26 2008

      Great coverage Mr. John Monteiro. Good to see the recent lovely photograph of our family the V5 Monty's. Our love to you all. The Monty's from Bahrain

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    Title: Part I: Pirates Traumatised Mangala Captain

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