Krzysztof Kotiuk

Krzysztof Kotiuk

Master Mariner
Maritime University
Szczecin Poland
(1972 - 1977)


The Book Hansa Stavanger

121 days in the hand of Somali pirates

Hansa Stavanger by Krzysztof Kotiuk

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Read the first pages of the book right here:

Saturday, 4th of April

It's a beautiful, sunny, morning. One and a half day to Mombasa.
Everyone is looking forward to the barbeque, which is planned for today. The Filipino crew, waiting only for barbecue to commence, already marinated a small pig.

I am sitting in my cabin, preparing the last monthly balance to be sent from Mombasa by mail to the company.

09:14 AM - "Captain! Please come on the bridge immediately!" - the 3rd officer, who is on watch, yells into the telephone. "Speed boat approaching very fast from South-West, on opposite course."
"I'm on my way" I shout in reply and order an immediate course alteration to the East.
I instantly got up and ran to the bridge. The only thing I managed to do was to take off my captain's signet ring and my wedding ring and hid them in a flowerpot.
Within a few seconds I was on the bridge.

An echo on the radar was closing in really fast, 22.7 knot.
"Hard a-starboard and full ahead" -
- I ordered to immediately change course by 180 degrees, on opposite course and put the engine telegraph on maximal speed. After that I informed the chief engineer in the engine room about our situation and asked him for maximum power on the engines. It was a fight for life and death.
I have estimated the situation to be a pirates' attack, so I followed the antipiracy procedure.
"Whole crew to the "safety room. 3rd officer will be in command."
- The designated "safety room" is our hobby room where we normally play table tennis.
Myself, Chief Officer Vlad, 2nd Officer Frederik and my best helmsman, AB Jack, were left on the bridge.

"Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is "Hansa Stavanger",
repeat. "Hansa Stavanger", We are under pirates attack. Our position."

I have immediately made the appropriate emergency call, requesting immediate assistance, and informed everyone around about our current situation. The Chief Officer has sent an emergency signal to IAPCC informing every shore station and we have activated the SSAS alarm to inform the company. The 2nd Officer has made contact with the "Anti Piracy Center in Dubai". The officer on duty got constant updates, helping us with coordinating our actions. Using the "24h emergency number" I informed our company as well.
"I wish you the best of luck"- told some sleepy female voice. That was everything.
A crazy pursuit began. The boat's speed was over 22 knots, while our good old Hansa Stavanger made just 18.2 knot. It was everything she could give us with 110% engine power. Unacceptable maximal revs. Unfortunately the pirates came closer and closer to us. "We should make zigzag manoeuvres." - 2nd Officer Frederik forwarded the commands from APC Dubai.

"I'm doing that for a long time already." I replied calmly. With small course alterations I intended to build up a wave under the stern, which was hard to overcome by the pirate vessel. However, every change of direction was reducing our speed as well.
"They are closing in really fast." noticed scared helmsman Jack.
"We have to fight" -I answered, trying to reassure him. "We can do it."
With my camera I took some pictures.

The Pirates approached on the height of bridge, waving with their hands showing us we should stop the engine. "Like hell I will do it" -I mumbled.
I noticed how they turn their AK machine guns in our direction. They fired a few shots. Suddenly, one of them pulled out a "panzerfaust" - RPG, hand rocket launcher.
"Down on the floor!" - I shouted. "They will fire rockets!"
Everyone fell flat on the ground; shortly afterwards a big explosion shook the whole ship. The Rocket hit just under my cabin, which caused a fire to break out. I got up quickly from the ground, only to see that the pirates were trying to get near the ship's side and to put a ladder over the rail.

I turned the ship to the right, towards the pirate's boat. At the same time Frederik forwarded to me exactly the same message from APC Dubai. As the ship suddenly turned to the right, it pushed away pirate's boat. The Boat leaned over a bit and the mass of water pushed it away from our ship's side.

To our amazement the pirate's boat started to slow down until it stopped completely. I steadied up our course and we started to move away pretty fast.
"I think we've done it!" -I shouted with satisfaction. "We are leaving the pirates behind." Frederik instantly informed Dubai about that.
"Congratulations, you won!" - we could hear from the officer on duty on the phone. "Congratulations on winning that fight captain, splendid!"


Immediately I sent Jack and Chief Vlad downstairs to check the damage done by the fire. I told them to take the crew's passports and discharge books from my office.

Once steady back on course, we started to regain the speed, which we lost by that turn. I observed that the pirates were refueling their boat from cans.

We had some short 10 minutes of luck. After refueling, the pirates resumed their assault, approaching us from the left side, then from the right, just abeam of the cabin of the 2nd engineer. Suddenly an explosion again shook the ship. Still, we were running away. When we were lying on the floor after some shots, the pirates started another attack from the right side. They moved abeam of the bridge, and we got hit for the third time. This time the rocket was aimed on the bridge. We were incredibly lucky, that we were not hit, because as they fired the missile, their boat jumped a bit on a wave and the rocket exploded just over the bridge. It was a miracle.

The Pirates did another attempt of getting to the ship's side, and we carried out the same manoeuver, this time lying on the floor. After that the Pirates put their ladder on rail and seconds later they were on board. Barbed wire didn't help, neither did a wall of water from fire hoses. Four armed pirates were on board.

"This is the end."- I thought. At this point our fight was over. I informed APC Dubai and we switched off the receiver. Usually we should have been losing speed for half an hour, so during those circumstances without thinking I put the engine telegraph to 'stop'. The Pirates should not know that we were trying to run away with full speed. "Everyone on the floor, hands on your heads." - I ordered. The Pirates came up the exterior stairs, shooting their Kalashnikovs, and ran to the door. They got to it, but I forgot they were close. I heard some screams; they shoot a few bullets over doors and windows and I jumped to doors.

"Don't shoot!" One bullet flew right over my head, into the ceilings. Crouching, I moved towards the bridge doors. I felt the draught on my hair as this time a bullet flew few millimeters over my head. It ended breaking a window. The Pirates broke the windows in the doors with their machine guns and our hands met on the door's lock. They opened the doors and jumped inside.

"Stop engine!" - One of them shouted.

"It is stopped already. No problem" - I was trying to explain to them that engine is already off and we're only moving with the rest of ship's original speed.

"All crew, on the bridge!" - shouted on of the pirates.

Another few bullets were fired into the air. I could see that the bandits were not shooting at us, so I tried to calm them down a bit. The Ship will be stopped soon and the whole crew will be on the bridge. I noticed that the pirates were young people, very scared.

In the meantime the fire one deck below started spreading. I could see fire in my bedroom, which was now getting to the bridge. It was getting stuffy and foggy. The whole crew already gathered on the bridge. Everyone was laying flat on the floor, with their hands on their heads.

"All German" - gesticulated one of the pirates, asking how many persons are on board, using rather his hands to communicate than speaking English. I showed him the crew roster.
"Five Germans, great" - the pirates were looking forward for profits.

Smoke was filling the bridge by now. After getting permission from the pirates, I sent 4 men below to fight the fire. After half an hour there were 8 men fighting the fire, then 12 and finally the whole crew expect me.

At first only the bedroom was on fire, then my office. The Crew couldn't get inside through the doors because of too much heat. They broke a window and poured in tons of water using buckets. They did the same on the left side of the ship, on the 1st engineer's side. Luckily the rocket didn't cause a fire there. Through a cable room the fire was spreading so fast that the whole deck was burning by now, as well as the ground of higher decks - especially the area above my cabin. We tried to pour water from the outside, whereas those crewmembers with oxygen masks fought the fire from the inside corridor.

After two hours of fight, we managed to get to my cabin. We used fire extinguishers and eventually inspected what was left of my cabin. Lounge and bedroom were completely destroyed by the flames.
My office was completely burnt out and blackened with smoke. Every piece of paper, documents, and certificates as well as my belongings were destroyed. The only things left were what I was wearing at the time - shoes, socks, underpants, shorts and a polo shirt.

The fight with the fire still continued on the higher decks, where the owner's cabin and 2 spare cabins were located. Not everything was destroyed there, but it was completely damaged by heat, smoke and tons of water. After 6 hours the fire was extinguished completely. The Crew was tired, but happy. At least we managed to save the ship. Yes, we saved ship. Everybody returned to the bridge.

The Pirates ordered to bring them everything valuable - cell phones, money, gold, notebooks, etc. They started looting the ship. With three armed robbers, I went to my cabin in order to open the ship's safe. They took the key from me and opened the safe by themselves. They took all the money. Fortunately they didn't take other things that were in the safe, like a box with dangerous drugs, which I always keep, locked away in a safe.

Later on, at the first opportunity, I hid those drugs in a safe place. After that, we returned to the bridge. "Go, go, go!" - shouted one of the pirates, showing me a small GPS with a place, where we would be heading now. I laid down the track on the chart and off we went. Our destination was south of Mogadishu, near Baraawe.


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