Roles and his team load the magazines of their two semiautomatic weapons. They are 7.62 mm caliber, like the pirates' AK-47s, but the British security forces use a more powerful propellant. "If you hit a shoulder, that's an arm gone," Roles comments dryly. Three shots are enough to sink a skiff, and they have 600 rounds. Merchant ships and pirates sometimes trade fire for several hours. The men unpack helmets and bulletproof vests reinforced with steel plates.
For Roles' partner McGregor, this job is practically relaxing. He spent two years working for a security company in Baghdad and another two years in Basra. Eight of his friends didn't survive the assignment. McGregor developed cancer and returned to England, where, after successful treatment, he's slowed down a bit. "I'm married and I have an 11-month-old daughter," he says. "If we don't see any pirates, I'm happy."
That morning, Köhler calls the entire crew to the bridge and Roles introduces himself and his team. "We've got over 100 missions in pirate waters behind us and not once has something happened," Roles says. If the alarm sounds, he adds, everyone has to go to the citadel. Only his team and two officers will remain on the bridge.
McGregor retrieves the morphine that the captain keeps under lock and key. "If there are any injuries," he says, "it will be on the bridge." Pirates sometimes fire anti-tank missiles and AK-47 volleys at the bridge, and in some cases, the ship looks like a sieve by the time they're finished. "This is war," Köhler says.
It's an absurd war, one in which a few Somalis in flip-flops and tiny boats manage to put to shame modern warships from the most powerful countries in the world. On his last voyage, Köhler's ship was pursued by a pirate boat. The captain accelerated, sprayed water from the fire hoses and held up a homemade wooden weapon that looked like an AK-47 from afar. The pirates turned back.
Another 50 nautical miles on, the GasChem Antarctic hears another captain radio "Mayday", the international distress signal, from a location Köhler passed three hours before. A Spanish frigate makes contact and asks for more and more details -- the shipowner, the name of the ship, various technical specifications. He doesn't have time for such questions, the captain shouts into the radio, he's under attack. Then he breaks off contact, saying, "You are useless!"
A study by the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research concluded that the pirates are by no means poor fishermen who have turned to hijacking out of desperation. The fishing grounds off Somalia, the study found, are still productive, and in fact piracy started with comparatively well-to-do clans, who from the beginning simply saw a chance to "hunt for profit."
Night has fallen. Aboard the GasChem Antarctic, the crew fastens thick steel plates over the ship's windows, so that no light from the cabins is visible outside. The hatches are closed and secured on the inside with heavy steel bolts. The idea is to make it as difficult as possible for the pirates to penetrate the ship's superstructure.
The ship is at security level two, with watches doubled and lookouts to both port and starboard manned continuously. No one is allowed on deck. If the cook wants to take out the trash, he has to officially sign out of the kitchen.