My need to expedite my egress off the ship started nine days ago, just after breakfast. Lucretia, I could tell, wanted me in the most carnal of ways. At about ten o’clock Ferdinand began his daily ritual of preserving his liver in good Russian vodka. Lucretia decided we should take a walk and explore the ship. Who am I to refuse a lady? I think she was really looking for a private spot to explore carnal knowledge.
The AbQaiq is over 300 meters in length; our walk is more like a hike. We wander the main deck, enjoying the calm seas and fresh air. Lucretia guides us toward the bow of the ship, once there, she opens a hatch and we clamber down. I notice the seawater end of the forepeak ballast tank pump is bypassed with a hose that leads to the main deck. Near the connection, I see a familiar looking residue.
Oil transport is a one-way trade, taking oil from places that have it to places that don’t. Too specialized to carry other cargo back, oil tankers can’t go back empty. The propeller would be out of the water, the bow subject to slamming, and the ship nearly unmaneuverable. Therefore, tankers use seawater as ballast. The ballast pumps move seawater in and out of special tanks and between tanks to insure stability.
Lucretia discovers a locker in the foc’s’le with a door that has been modified to lock from the inside. She beckons me over. I join her inside a little room not much larger than the loo in an airliner. A dirty porthole glass illuminates the cramped quarters and as Lucretia latches the door I notice the space has a slight fishy odour to it. “We can talk in here” Lucretia whispers, disrobing.
Giggling, Lucretia admits she knows who I am; she’s seen my picture in KGB case files. “My marriage to Ferdinand is a sham” she says flatly, removing her blouse. I offer insincere consolation. “No, really, it’s part of my cover” she counters brightly. Lucretia is a field agent, I learn, assigned to project: RAPE. The Russian Alliance for Petroleum Equality aspires to weaken the market share of Middle Eastern oil.
I pump Lucretia for information; she divulges the true nature of the cruise. The Ab Qaiq is transporting over fifty thousand tonnes of a designer drug in her ballast tanks. The narcotic, manufactured in America, is suspended in water, forming a slurry that can be pumped in and out of the tanks. When the drug is precipitated from the water, the 65 million pounds, worth over 984 million US dollars will be given away.
“The Americans call it Homeless” Lucretia informs me. The plan is to create a drug culture in the Middle East that will parallel the one in North America. The RAPE consortium believes that productivity and ambition will decline as the addiction sets in. They believe the new narcotic will create a dependence that will neutralise Middle East petroleum production and export. After all, the delirious effects are working exceedingly well in the United States. However, she has a problem with the plan.
Lucretia’s talent for eliciting information allowed her the realisation that her sponsors are planning to burn her. “I’ve had to ‘interview’, she signs the air quotes, nearly the entire crew” she explains with satisfaction in her voice. “They will probably leave me in Baniyas to take the fall if the plan goes awry” Lucretia concedes, accepting her fate. I’m beginning to wish the Durex I said I was wearing was real.
Lucretia decided she wants to retire from the sex for secrets business. She interviewed with Lora about a month ago, and thinks she has a shot if she can get out of her current predicament. In Syria, there is no one that I know who would help her; or me for that matter. Redressing, I ask to borrow Lucretia’s Satellite Phone. “Sorry, the captain confiscated all our phones before leaving port” she replies, wiping an oily putrid substance off her knees.
After our knee trembler, Lucretia and I part, she to the lounge area, I decide to wander the ship a bit. Deep in thought, considering my options as I stumble through the engineering spaces. I hesitate when something catches my attention. Light vanilla mixed with smoky black tea and singed rubber, only one man I know wears Bulgari Black, it is … a sudden pain in my neck followed by unconsciousness, interrupts my thoughts.
I awake in another tiny room, this one at least, smells significantly better. “I’m sorry my friend” a familiar voice behind me starts, “I wasn’t sure who you were, and I cannot risk being discovered, yet”. The compounded midazolam sedative Mohammed injected me with wears off fairly quickly. I relate a synopsis of my journey between Glendale and here, then question Mohammed about his presence aboard.
“Ecuador, one of the smallest producing OPEC countries, has a vested interest in the stability of all the OPEC countries”, Mohammed begins. My friend goes on to tell me that Ecuador discovered what they think is an immense petroleum field, about 500 miles off their coast. His client needs the countries targeted by RAPE to remain productive and profitable in order to finance the exploration of the Galapagos field.
What are we in for, what is your plan., I ask Mohammed. I know better than to suggest anything. Even though we enjoy a mutual professional respect, Mohammed scares me a little. By the look in his eye, I can tell he’s not too sure which side I’m on. I reassure him the only side I am on in this operation is my own. I just want to go on vacation. The fact that I refuse to assist him, cements his belief in my story.
Mohammed educates me: All tankers are required by the IMO to have inert gas systems. These systems maintain an inert atmosphere in the cargo tanks. This means there is not enough oxygen in the flammable cargo tanks to support an explosion. During hazardous cargo operations, inert gas is pumped into the cargo tanks. The inert gas is manufactured by an inert gas generator.
Mohammed’s plan is to wait until the ship is well into the Ionian Sea before executing the crew and passengers. Cross connecting the output of the inert gas generators to the ventilation system, he will asphyxiate the majority of the crew. The few remaining crew and passengers will be manually dispatched. He will then scuttle the ship at Calypso Deep. After sending a distress call, he’ll be the only survivor rescued.
Great plan, but what about me? Problem. The “rescue” arrangement works only for one person, there’s no room for guests, I’m on my own. I ask Mohammed to borrow his Satellite phone. Mohammed simply pointed to a distorted and oozing apparatus, sighing that the battery exploded when he tried to recharge it using the ship’s power. Time for me to hatch a plan of my own. I just need to make a phone call.
The next morning I awake with a start, having been tossed from my bed by the pitching of the ship. The public address speaker squawks to life with the voice of the captain. Announcing that because of heavy weather for the next several days, everyone is advised to stay in interior spaces only. He also mentions that tomorrow’s scheduled stop at the Azores is cancelled. Azores? I’m running out of time.
I enlist Lucretia to “distract” the overnight helmsman and first mate. She only needs to draw them away from the bridge, then what she does with them and how often, is up to her. In exchange for her help I promise a way to get us both off this death trap before Mohammed engages operation ghost ship. Lucretia and I bang out the details for tonight’s mission. The storm seems to be getting worse, good.
It’s 04:13 hours Zulu, the ocean has calmed a bit with only eleven foot swells. The sound of the driving rain pounding the cold steel deck is competes with the whistling 32 mph wind as it whips past the superstructure; bad night for a walk outside on deck. From my vantage point, I can see directly into the bridge, I watch as Lucretia saunters up to the helmsman and after a brief interaction, I see them disappear. Time to make that call.