MV Faina

The MV Faina is a roll-on/roll-off cargo ship operated by a Ukrainian company that sails under a Belize flag of convenience. The Faina is owned by Waterlux AG, based in Panama City, and managed by Tomex Team in Odessa, Ukraine.

On 25 September 2008, the Faina was hijacked by approximately 50 Somali pirates calling themselves the Central Regional Coast Guard in the twenty-sixth such attack in 2008. The Faina’s crew (at the time of capture) consisted of 17 Ukrainians, three Russians and one Latvian. The ship was allegedly heading to Mombasa, Kenya, from Ukraine with 33 Soviet-made T-72 tanks, weapons (including rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns) and ammunition on board, when it was seized. The pirates said they were unaware of the ship’s cargo before they captured it. However, the pirates claim that documents found onboard indicate that the arms cargo was destined for Juba, Southern Sudan, instead of Kenya, as originally understood. The claim was confirmed by U.S. Navy and Western intelligence officials, though the Kenyan government denies the allegation.

The pirates demanded a ransom and had threatened to blow up the ship, along with the pirates themselves and the ship’s crew, if the ransom is not paid. The ransom amount has been reported as US$35 million, US$20 million, and US$8 million in the days that the ship and its crew have been held hostage. The pirates are thought to be attempting to move toward the pirate haven of Eyl in Somalia in an attempt to unload some of the cargo there.

The U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Howard and the Ticonderoga-class missile cruiser Vella Gulf engaged the Faina in pursuit within several hundred yards to stop the unloading of the cargo by the pirates. As of 21 October 2008, six U.S. warships have surrounded the Faina with the Russian missile frigate Neustrashimy en route.

On 28 September, Viktor Nikolsky, first mate on the Faina, said that Vladimir Kolobkov, the ship’s Russian captain, had died from a hypertension-related stroke. On 5 February 2009 the MV Faina was released after being held captive for 5 months. The remaining crew of 20 were freed along with the ship and are reported by the Ukrainian presidency as being healthy and safe. A ransom of US$3,200,000 was paid on 4 February 2009 by the ship’s mysterious owners. The pirates left the vessel early next day stating that the release had been delayed for one hour, but the ship was eventually released. The ship arrived to its destination, the Port of Mombasa, on 12 February 2009, where the cargo was unloaded. The body of the captain was taken to a local morgue awaiting a shipment to Russia.

The Nagasaki Spirit

On the calm clear night of 19 Sep 1992, the 100,000 ton crude carrier Nagasaki Spirit collided with the 27,000 ton container vessel Ocean Blessing. The collision occurred just before midnight at the northern entrance to the Malacca Straits. It was a classic T-Bone collision in which the Ocean Blessing is believed to have been making 21 knots based on the engine room log repeater found in the aftermath, and the V-shaped ripping in the side of the Nagasaki Spirit. A massive fire ensued and at least 12,000 tonnes of crude oil spilled out into the Straits. 44 sailors did not survive to tell the tale of what happened before the collision. The final message of the captain of the Nagasaki Spirit however leaves little doubt…

Have been fired upon and now have fire in Nos 5 and 6 and central tanks. Abandoning vessel immediately and into two 16 man life rafts and will activate EPIRB in lat 04.33N, long 98.43E at 1623 GMT Sep 19. No time to report further as abandoning vessel.

No lifeboats were ever found, onboard the Ocean Blessing investigators found only small piles of ashes — the remnants of human remains, and no remains were found on board the Nagasaki Spirit.

Speculation has it that the Nagasaki Spirit was taken by pirates, and the Ocean Blessing had also been pirated, or was trying to avoid the same, as she was observed by another ship “to move in an erratic manner — changing speeds from 10 to 20 knots, from side to side, as though the deck watch officer was trying to employ evasive maneuevers to avoid being boarded by pirates”.

Sailing a Pico in St Stephen's Beach

View Larger Map

St Stephen’s Beach is a very nice area near Stanley market. It is located within the same bay and if you stand at Stanley together with the tourists and look out to sea and to your left, you will see a boathouse and a patch of sand which is called St Stephen’s Beach. I say it is nice because it is tranquil and not packed with tourists or commercial interests, unlike Sentosa in Singapore. Indeed, the South side of Hong Kong is always beautiful, at any time of the year.

The sailing centre at St Stephen’s Beach is much better than the Sai Kung one, because it’s 5 times less crowded and the staff are more friendlier, i.e. have more patience with newbies like me. In addition, the boats are newer and I would say better than the RHKYC ones.

So last Sunday, I rented a Laser Pico. I had initially invited this Indonesian babe from Morgan Stanley to sail with me but it turns out she had other plans during that Christmas weekend (which is understandable because the concept of Indonesian and babe is a remote combination in the SAR). Since I had already paid for the boat, I went out alone. Now I had never sailed a Laser Pico before, but I did my best in rigging up (and some fellow sailors pointed out that I got one or two riggings wrong) before setting sail for Stanley Bay. After about 15 mins of happily cruising in the bay (wind was gusty but more tolerable than Deep Water Bay), I noticed that I was slower than all the other Picos in the bay and could not catch up with any of them no matter what I tried. So I thought to myself, wow, everyone here must be really good. I also made a mental note to get in a lot more practice, since I had already registered for a Laser racing clinic with the RHKYC in January and did not want to be last in class (you can tell I am a true blue Singaporean).

Well mental notes aside, after another few minutes, the front of my hull decided to go underwater. I was really shocked because in my limited sailing experience with Lasers, the front of a boat never gets dragged underwater like that. It was as though some invisible hand had just dragged the whole boat underwater! I panicked and thought that maybe there was some kind of fishing net or rope that got stuck on the front and caused the boat to tilt downwards. So after a few seconds it surfaced and all was fine. I crawled to the front to inspect the hull but no, no rope or anything like that. Then after a while it went underwater again. I knew by then that something was wrong with this boat and decided to immediately get back to base. However, even though I had formed the intention to cut losses at this stage, my Sunday adventure had just begun. The hull dipped a few more times under the choppy waves. And then it capsized.

As any beginner can tell you, the worst part of sailing is capsizing, not because you are announcing to everyone around you that you are a beginner, but because it takes a tremendous amount of energy and co-ordination to get the boat back upright. In addition, you would have immediately lost any race that you were in, and the inconsolably unfriendly concept of wind-chill would sit right next to you whether you like it or not.

So I slowly flipped it over, and it promptly replied to me by capsizing again. Strange, I wondered, why is it capsizing so easily and with no apparent fault in my sailing technique. And so after flipping it up I loosened the sails to prevent the wind from causing a capsize, but it still capsized. Then I lifted the rudder, it still capsized. Then I did all of the above and lay flat in the boat, still capsized. It consecutively capsized 15 times until I was running out of energy and it dawned on me that the hull of the boat was sinking deeper and deeper underwater each time I righted it up. It was like I was standing on a plastic iceberg. Water was rushing into the seating area as though a dam had somehow been broken and the water would just rush in. The boat just would not drain out the seawater. Gosh, I thought, this boat had to be leaking and I somehow managed to rent a boat with a leaky hull. Luckily I am close to shore otherwise I’ll be in big trouble. So I waved the rescue boat to come over to save me from this difficult situation. As it took time for them to come (they were busy rescuing other windsurfers who had capsized for reasons different from mine), rather than wasting my energy righting up the boat umpteen times, I allowed it to capsize and sat on the hull.

When the rescue boat was approaching my boat they asked what the problem was. I told them water was entering the boat, and I remember the pair of sunglasses smiling back:

“Did you remember to fasten the drain plug before you took the boat out?”