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Armed self-defense at sea -- to quell pirates

Originally ran here as:
"Sailor phoned home as he fought pirates"
by Gordon Arnott, The Journal
October 12, 2001

Coast of Africa -- Tyneside shipping boss Neil Thornton found his employees involved in a gun battle with pirates when he took a late night phone from his boat off West Africa.

The call to his Newcastle home came as shots rang out on board the 5,200 tonne-tanker his firm charters off Sierra Leone.

The drama started in the early hours of yesterday morning when marine superintendent John Bailey, aboard the tanker Cape Georjean, used the vessel's satellite telephone to call his boss to see if he could summon any help to the area.

Eight heavily-armed pirates had boarded the Bolivian-registered boat, which was moored near Freetown, and frogmarched the Ukrainian captain around the deck searching for valuables.

Another officer was beaten by the gang.

Mr Bailey, of Hornsea, near Hull, had woken to find a pirate pointing an automatic weapon at him.

"I heard weapons cocked outside my cabin door," said Mr Bailey, 52.

"I opened the door and saw this man with an AK47 pointed at me."

"He was pulling the trigger and trying to fire but it had jammed."

"If the weapon had not jammed then I would have been killed."

Mr Bailey said he fired a pump action shotgun at the raider and blasted another 17 rounds at the other offenders who dived into the water to escape.

He added: "I called the company in Newcastle while all this was going on because I knew they would know the numbers of people over here to help."

Minutes later, stunned staff at Humber Coastguard took a call from Mr Thornton.

They contacted their headquarters at Falmouth, Cornwall, who alerted military authorities in the hope that a British vessel was in the area and able to help out.

Mr Thornton, a director of Brunswick Village-based Atlantic Bunkering, charters the vessel, which was fitted out on Wearside, to supply fuel to cargo and fishing boats.

He is the designated person ashore for the company and on 24-hour standby in case of emergency at his home in Jesmond, Newcastle.

"When John rang me the incident was still ongoing," said Mr Thornton. "I was sick to the pit of my stomach for him and for the crew."

"I'm so pleased that the coastguard and British military were there to help. They were excellent."

Coastguards in Falmouth had already picked up a signal from a distress beacon Mr Bailey had activated during the fire fight.

"Then we got this call to say that someone was off Sierra Leone being attacked by pirates," said a Humber Coastguard spokesman.

Mr Thornton said it was the second time in five weeks that pirates had launched an assault on the boat.

"It would appear that they fought the pirates off themselves and that they were armed,"said a spokesman at Falmouth.

"They thought there might be a British military presence in the area and that's why the telephone call was made back to Tyneside."

The Royal Navy had no boats in the area to respond to the incident but senior British army and navy officers - in the country on UN peacekeeping duty - boarded the boat yesterday to offer help.

The International Maritime Organisation - which promotes safety at sea - said there was a 50pc rise last year in the number of armed robberies and acts of piracy against ships worldwide.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office last night confirmed that an attack had occurred on the ship.

Isn't it interesting to see the Brits glorify armed self-defense?

Originally ran here as:
"Shotgun Briton scuppers armed pirates"
by Sam Lister
The Times
October 13, 2001

A BRITISH mariner brandishing a pump-action shotgun thwarted a gang of armed pirates on a fuel carrier off the coast of Sierra Leone, shooting one, after a Kalashnikov pointed at his chest failed to fire.

John Bailey, 52, chased the eight-man gang around the 5,200-tonne Cape Georjean with his shotgun, firing round after round until they fled into the sea. Two people were believed to have died and several were injured.

Mr Bailey, a marine superintendent, was asleep in his cabin when shouting from his nine crewmates woke him. He said that he heard the "spine-chilling" click of weapons being cocked outside his cabin door. Armed with the ship’s shotgun, he opened his cabin door to be confronted by the muzzle of a Kalashnikov.

Speaking last night, Mr Bailey, from Hornsea, Humberside, described the moment that his assailant’s gun jammed. "I knew my crewmates were in trouble, so I had to open the door," he said.

"I was about to turn the handle when I heard the click of automatic weapons — the noise is very distinctive — so I took the shotgun with me. When I opened the door, I saw the gun pointing at me from a yard or two away. There wasn’t much I could do, but as he pulled the trigger it seemed to jam. It was so fortunate — someone upstairs was certainly keeping an eye on me."

As his assailant struggled with his gun, Mr Bailey fired his shotgun and dropped to the floor to avoid ricocheting pellets. "As I fell to the ground, I pulled the trigger and fired a shot as he disappeared around a corner. I knew I had hit him because he left a trail of blood," he said.

The pirates — who had travelled three miles by motorboat to reach the Cape Georjean, moored off Cape Sierra Point in the early hours of Thursday morning — scattered after Mr Bailey grabbed a jacket and more ammunition and chased them. After a radio alert had been sent to British coastguards in Falmouth, Cornwall, Mr Bailey called his employer at Atlantic Bunkering, a ship refuelling service based in Newcastle upon Tyne, to report the attack.

Neil Thornton, a director of the company, said: "When John rang me, the incident was still ongoing. I was sick to the pit of my stomach for him and the crew." He called Humber Coastguard, who contacted their headquarters at Falmouth.

They had already alerted military authorities in the area. Police in Freetown, the Sierra Leonean capital, and an adviser from British Forces in the area went the scene.

Mr Bailey, who was questioned by the police later, said he was uncertain if he had killed anyone, adding that he had seen only one person escape in the motorboat. "If you attempt to do something like that, you do face the consequences,” he said. “It was very dark and I don’t know whether anyone actually died, but I certainly hit one person."

Last night Mr Bailey, who has spent much of his life at sea, played down the heroics that saved his ship and crewmates, most of whom are Russian. Only the ship’s first mate, who was taken hostage by the gang during their search for valuables, suffered minor injuries.

Mr Bailey said that he was looking forward to returning home to see his wife, Pam, a property conveyancer, and their two daughters, one of whom he has not seen since her marriage ten days ago.

"It was just what had to be done at the time," Mr Bailey said. "I was more frightened after the event than actually during it because it all happened in such a rush."

"Piracy is a terrible problem, which is why I was armed. That said, I have worked at sea all my life and I never imagined finding myself in a situation like that. It was like something from an action movie and not the kind of thing that I relish getting involved with. I just did what I had to do and adrenaline took over."

A Foreign office spokeswoman said that any investigation would be conducted by local police, as the incident occurred in Sierra Leonean waters. "All the officials have been extremely helpful and are fully aware of the details of the situation," she said.

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