This Week’s 1st Reader Memory from Ashley Houston

This week I have 2 amazing readers’ memories to share, and to prevent you from having to scroll for an eternity, I’ve decided to share them in 2 separate posts. Enjoy, and stay tuned for this week’s second reader memory coming later today!

Favorite/Totally Crazy Memory from Ashley Houston, Boston, MA: The Peace Boat

In Spring 2010 I took a leap of faith. I quit my full-time salaried job in Academic Advising for a large University and flew over to Japan to board the Peace Boat, a Japanese based NGO that works to promote peace, human rights, and environmental sustainability.

As I journeyed around the world, literally, there were many inspiring, challenging and even harrowing events that occurred during my 4 months aboard the ship and in the 22 ports we visited. From hitchhiking with some questionable Venezuelan political figures, to climbing Mt. Fuji, to visiting a Palestinian refugee camp, my days and nights were filled with excitement and newness. The Peace Boat experience was by far one of my favorite life memories.

Perhaps one of the most unique and movie-like memories was one that occurred in early May 2010. The ship had been on “pirate lockdown” as we approached the Middle East through the Red Sea. I wasn’t too familiar with reality of pirate attacks that occur off the coast of Somalia until I became educated on board. Here is an altered excerpt from my travel blog about what happened that day:

It was a Wednesday evening and we had just finished our formal dinner on board. Everyone was looking quite classy in their fancy dress up gear. We headed upstairs to one of the bars on board, Starlight Lounge. We were all having a really good time dancing the night away when all of a sudden our bodies were hurled from one side of the boat to the other. I saw my two friends, Michelle and Carlos, who had been on the dance floor tossed back and forth sliding across the parquet floor. The boat was swaying intensely and we had no idea what was going on. A few moments later the PA system came on and the voice was shouting. We couldn’t hear anything because the music was so loud. We assumed it was just a really big wave we had run into. A few of us stepped out into the hall and could hear one of the Indonesian crew members over the loudspeaker yelling panickedly overhead, “Bravo, Tango. Bravo, Tango” over and over. A few of us became quite worried. Someone suggested, “Oh, it must be pirates climbing on our ship and they’re trying to shake them off..haha”

As we all piled into the hall the hurried announcement came on again, “All passengers go back to your cabins now!” or something to that extent then also broadcasted in Japanese. We waited for more information. People were running all over the place. I headed to my room, passing elderly Japanese passenger peering out their doors in their pajamas. I stopped by my friend Michelle’s room to take cover. They forced me to leave claiming there wasn’t enough life jackets for all the roommates and me.

I opened the door and booked it to my room. The route I normally take wasn’t accessible as the watertight doors had begun closing, so I had to navigate a new path. I finally reached my room, scared and confused. On my way I ran into Peace Boat staff who said we were being attacked by pirates.

Only one of my three roommates was there when I arrived. She was rummaging through boxes looking for her lifejacket. She pulled it on and sat with it in her bed. We both looked at each other and shrugged not sure what to make of the situation. Frightened, I changed from my formal dress to put on as much warm clothing as I could, thinking in my mind I did not want to freeze out to death in the ocean nor get raped by pirates.

Another roommate finally arrived back. We began chatting to distract ourselves. Suddenly, the PA came on again, “We have been approached by two unknown vessels. In order to take precautionary measures, you must stay in your room and lock your door. We had to change our course very suddenly and we request that you all stay in your rooms til morning. We are in contact with NATO and are being escorted by a NATO warship. We will update you again in the morning for further news.”

Oh the irony, the Peace Boat and a NATO warship.

The next morning I was sitting at breakfast and conversing with friends on board about what really happened. Some shared that they kept partying, while others had gone back and packed small bags. One friend mentioned ripping down the Union Jack flag in his cabin afraid the pirates wouldn’t like that and he wanted to be seen as neutral. He found a Swiss flag and laid it across his bed. The stories shared were crazy and crazier as our minds had wandered. We did notice outside the windows that all the lifeboat water hoses had been moved and were pointed out to the sea.

An announcement finally came over the PA system towards the end of breakfast. It repeated what was stated last night and to not be worried. As such, gossip began to spread. Another friend of mine shared her interaction with one of the crew who said that the ships were pirate scouter ships that were shooting machine guns at us and throwing grenades. They never did announce what actually occurred that night, but from the crew stories and article from the only paper that covered the story, Croatian Times, I have developed my own reality. Scouter ships did shoot at the boat and may even have thrown grenades. In order to avoid them our captain swerved to create a large wave so the boats could not get close to us. Our crew was perched at the water hoses pushing the smaller vessels away with the strong water force. NATO then accompanied us the rest of the way through the Red Sea.

Perhaps the foreshadowing of the Russian cargo ship being attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden not too far from us just a few days prior would have made it more plausible, but being a boat of peaceful passengers it was still a shock. I know one thing is for sure, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that night and the panic and excitement that ensued.



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