April 1977 - Maritime Reporter and Engineering News

Colombian Pirates Attack Lykes Ship At Buenaventura

Pirates have struck again!

The latest attack came recently in the waters off Colombia's west coast Port of Buenaventura as the Lykes Lines ship Mason Lykes rested at anchor.

Because the ship was deep in the water, Colombian pilots had refused to bring it to dock during the night of its arrival, advising instead that they would board the vessel the following morning.

Lykes agents at the port advised the ship to "be careful of pirates while at the anchorage." This was the first report received by Lykes of pirate activity in the area.

Capt. H.G. Guice, master of the ship, ordered the necessary precautions, which included rigging clusters of lights over the port and starboard sides of the ship; placing lookouts on the bow and stern, and assigning crewmen to patrol the main deck. All went well until just before midnight.

"I was in my room," said Captain Guice, "when the general alarm was sounded, followed by a series of long and short blasts of the ship's whistle. Arriving on the bridge, I was informed that at least six and possibly more armed pirates had boarded the vessel, robbed Mate Coy Deaton and were then frightened off by the general alarm and whistle blasts." In spite of all the precautions taken by the ship, the pirates — as many as 15 — had arrived alongside the ship in two powerboats and climbed aboard the ship by using grappling hooks on the port side near the bow.

Mate Deaton was the first to encounter the pirates. They robbed him at gunpoint. Chief Mate Charles Wagner, seeing them aboard the ship, screamed at them from his position near midship and had to duck behind some containers when they pointed pistols in his direction.

When the pirates left the ship, anchor was raised and the vessel got under way slowly, but the small boats continued to trail the ship until the engine speed was increased to full ahead and the wave wash discouraged any further attempt to board—only temporarily, however.

The small craft disappeared from the ship's radar and the vessel's speed was reduced to slow cruising. An hour later, another small boat was spotted approaching the ship's bow, and speed was again increased. The ship continued to maneuver at various speeds throughout the night until the pilot boarded the following morning.

An inspection of the ship revealed that the pirates broke two locks on deckhousing and stole two fire extinguishers and 75 feet of cluster light cord. "They will steal anything they can carry off the ship," said one crewman, "and they can find ready buyers for their loot no matter what it is." Captain Guice said he considered the matter to be serious, particularly when harbor authorities declined to help during the moments following discovery of the pirates aboard the ship, armed with guns and knives. He recommended that ships avoid anchoring at night in this area, and that the U.S. State Department take note of the situation to avoid any further possible danger to ships and their crews in Colombian waters.

The attack was apparently well planned and well organized. It came at a time when the ship was changing watches. The grappling hooks were apparently padded to muffle the sound as they were tossed aboard and hooked on the railing of the ship. The ropes to which they were attached were believed to be knotted at intervals to make climbing aboard easier.

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