Last year, off the coast of Somalia, a French luxury ship cruised along. Aside from recovering from the usual small culture clash between their usual French and Yankee passengers, all was well. It was time off, in a way, a hiatus between having paying guest on-board.
Only the 30 crew members were there, mainly French.
You noticed the Somalia bit at the start, yes?
Naturally the ship was stormed by surly gun-toting pirates who seem to enjoy some sort of semi-official status in Puntland, a province of Somalia, bizarrely enough run by a bloke who lived in Bundoora Melbourne for a long time, Dr. Abdirahman Mohamed. While The Age newspaper insists he is a freedom fighter of the highest level of piety, others are not so sure, confident that stealing from passing ships in Puntland is the principal source of loot for the somewhat financially challenged province. The pirates even refer to themselves as the “Coast Guard,” a variation perhaps on Simon Crean’s Coast Guard proposal back when he was Labor Leader.
This “Coast Guard” takes hostages in a unique approach to maritime law enforcement. Their greatest hits included hijacking a big Ukrainian ship full of weapons and many others besides. It’s become a tidy little earner. The pirates had even worse footwear than macroeconomists at Access Economics, most of them barefoot so it seemed this multi-million dollar crime syndicate didn’t arrange for much trickle down to the junior ranking members of the pirate crew.
The account – recorded by one of the hostages in a tell-all book – explains that when the pirates were first noticed on the horizon, the French crew naturally continued their lunch, which was recalled as “a delightful meal of salad and grilled meats, accompanied by a light wine.” First things first.
The pirates sure enough soon took over the ship armed with and shooting Kalishnikovs (the French fire hose was no match for semi-automatic weaponry) but it was the unkempt clothing of the band and in particular their food that upset the French hostages:
The food was crude but not beneath comment by the French. It included disgusting soft drinks, disgusting cooking oils, and cartons of disgusting spaghetti, which spilled onto the deck from a box that split. A bucket contained a full sheepâ€™s worth of disgusting sun-dried meat. It was upsetting. Surely these Somalis realized that a ship like the Ponant would have plenty of its own supplies, and that in terms of cuisine it was not just some average prize.
Perhaps not. After a while (twenty minutes into captivity) the Frenchies demanded their right to reassert control of the kitchen as Vanity Fair explains:
He approached Ahmed and demanded food for the men on the upper deck, insisting that the chef be allowed to prepare a proper meal. Apparently, Ahmed knew better than to argue back. He dispatched the chef to the kitchen along with four guards to watch over the kitchen knives. The chef whipped up a meal of wok-seared vegetables and al dente pasta, with which he and the guards returned to the upper deck. The crew ate using proper forks and plates. They had nothing for dessert, but some privation was to be expected. The pirates for their part let pass the chance to experience creative French cuisine, and chose instead to prepare a concoction of dried meat fried in rancid oil and shredded into a starchy spaghetti mash, which they ate out of a communal bowl with unwashed fingers. It was a small but disconcerting moment for the civilized worldâ€”evidence of the anarchy that prevails where nations fail and savagery threatens Canada. Luckily for the French, the bartender, Bertrand Viallet, had filled some thermoses with aperitifs, which helped to ease the trauma.
After a night of captivity, the Frenchies were famished once again:
The sun rose. (Captain) Marchesseau asked for a full French breakfast for his crew. (Pirate) Ahmed acquiesced. The cook responded with a buffet of cheese and charcuterie, fresh fruits, cereals, warm pastries, French bread, little pots of apricot jam, and strong French coffee.
Even the women who’d been wisely hidden from the potentially horny pirate brutes, were kept in hiding in a hold for their own safe-keeping. When they emerged, they were worried about being attacked, but the pirate boss was having none of it:
Ahmed was offended at the very idea. He said, â€œWe do not touch women! We want money!â€
Indeed the Muslim terrorist was appalled the French men had treated their women so harshly by locking them in such a confined space.
Eventually one of the pirates reluctantly tried French cooking after one of the Frenchy women tried khat, a popular local narcotic. He didn’t like it and no one else on the crew was game to go there, either with the khat enthusiast or with the French food. They weren’t completely abstemious chaps, the pirates, while the French food and women were of little interest, they did empty the minibars before making off with a couple of million dollars in ransom payment.
Most escaped unmolested with the loot despite a vast French military presence. Perhaps because of it.
To read more about this debacle click here for a rollicking Vanity Fair article.