Friday, June 7, 2013

Africa Mercy - Departure from Guinea: One Nurse's Journey

Hi . . . Two more emails from my friend on the Africa Mercy. Marilyn talks about pirates and stowaways as they prepare to leave Guinea for Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. I find it sad the desperation that Africans must feel as they attempt to stow on board. I wonder how many people actually drown trying! It is yet another reminder of how fortunate we are to live in the modern world.

When I first offered to post Marilyn's story, I had no idea how extensive her trip would be. I don't know about you, but I am grateful to have participated in this very small way. I know she appreciates your comments!! 

Departure from Guinea
1 June 2013

I'll begin this email now, but I'm not allowed to send it until after we have left Guinea.  There's a reason for that restriction--stowaways and pirates--both of which frequent this port.  They don't like for us to discuss the details of the security measures we take, which are considerable, but let me share a couple of recent events.

Stowaways: Conakry is rated among the top ten ports for stowaways.

After this week, I believe it!  A couple of days ago, a cargo ship left port...and then had to turn around to bring four stowaways back.  One very unhappy captain spent hours dealing with Immigration, sorting out the mess. I can understand why a couple of stowaways found earlier on a ship beside us suddenly, involuntarily, became "swimmers."  They swam the length of our ship before heading in to the dock--I think they wanted to distance themselves from any further action.

We have recently increased our stowaway security measures, as we always do near the end of our stay in a port.  For several nights, we have had watchers on the bow and the stern in two hour shifts in addition to the regular security activities.  I watched at the stern from 1:00 to 3:00 AM last night.  My watch was quiet, but the bow watch kept a close eye on several prospective stowaways trying to board the ship next to us.

Later, during the next shift, a couple of potential stowaways made a stab at boarding our ship.  Matt, the security officer on duty at the time, later told me it was a bit comical.  They approached by canoe, then slipped into the water to swim to the ship.  Problem was, they couldn't swim, so they were hanging on to white plastic jugs as floation devices--easy to spot!  Matt yelled at them, and they moved off, perhaps to try their luck elsewhere. 

We are supposed to wear our identification badges at all times, but it becomes especially important during the time just before we sail.  We are supposed to be watching all the time for intruders without badges, possible stowaways.  Yesterday, my friend Leslie was in her cabin, and a man without a badge walked into her cabin and hastily retreated.  Alert to possible implications, Leslie followed him and called for help.

Lincoln and Matt heard her and went in pursuit of the fellow.  The intruder broke into a run--wrong move!  Lincoln collared him, swept his feet from under him, and planted him more-than-firmly against the stairs.  Matt, meanwhile, was on the radio alerting the security team of the pursuit and then the capture of the intruder.  It all took place in less than a minute, start to finish. A textbook operation, beautifully done.  Oops!  Just then, the captain announced a drill...intruders on the ship, and can we find them?  The poor guy was a plant, not a real intruder.  Hope he wasn't hurt too badly. Lincoln wouldn't have played so rough if he'd known it was a drill...the captain had just been giving them a couple of minutes to get hidden before he announced the drill...


2 June 2012  

We are now underway, sailing for Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.  We'll be in the shipyard there, getting repairs, rennovations, and inspections done.

In August, we'll head to Pointe Noir, Congo, for the next field service.

Stowaways are just people trying to find a better life for themselves.

You have to feel bad for them...but it sure is the wrong method to use.

They generally end up being taken back to their own country, put in jail, and blacklisted from ever obtaining a lawful visa.  Pirates, on the other hand, are dangerous men in pursuit of money, and they don't care who gets hurt in the process.  The odds of being accosted by pirates is low, but we have to be prepared, just in case.  So, last night I was on pirate watch.  I am happy to report, I didn't see any.  A couple of hours under the stars in mild weather, rocking gently as we plowed through calm waters, watching the lights of ships passing in the night...really not a bad gig, I'd say.

One more thought:  When we left Conakry yesterday afternoon, nothing "official" was planned to mark our departure.  The ceremonies and thank you's had all been done in the preceding days.  The officials of Guinea really put together a wonderful exhibition of local talent to entertain us as a thank you for our work here. speeches were made, recognition was given, and so forth.  But now, as we left the harbor, several small boats accompanied us--pilot ships and fishing boats.  They blew their horns and waved as they traveled alongside for quite a distance.  Many other people in the port left their work to congregate on the docks and wave as we sailed past.  These ordinary folks expressed their gratitude so eloquently and so spontaneously--it really warmed my heart.

More stories another day.

This is a running post about her work in Africa as a nurse. Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting situation. I feel sorry for the stowaways, too. I certainly makes one count one's blessings. The idea of pirates, though, is really scary!


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