The trip to the SSS ship was supposed to take five hours. The engine failed at about four and a half. “Mr. Ian, we have a problem,” Mohamud said, glancing furtively at the guards. Seeing his facial expression was like sniffing spoiled milk. I didn’t need more information to know it was bad. “I see that,” I replied, nodding toward the engine. “No, bigger,” he said. A text on his phone had informed him of new coordinates of the SSS ship. It would now take another nine hours to reach our destination, he told me. It seemed, for security reasons perhaps, that the SSS ship had moved farther away from us since we had launched.
The expedition was deteriorating rapidly into a dangerous situation. If we stayed the course — assuming we could even get the engine going again — we would be traveling after dark, when pirate and al-Shabaab attacks were more common. The bigger risk, though, was the water. At night, the winds picked up, turning five-foot swells into twenty-foot waves that would easily capsize us. Our boats were low-sided and prone to taking on water. Each had a 25-horsepower motor, barely stronger than an engine in a riding lawn mower. These vessels were not meant for carrying five men, much less the weight of heavy weapons and steel drums full of petrol, traversing coastal waters with night swells.
Not a hard call: I told Mohamud that we needed to turn back. He looked at me, nodded, and continued tinkering with his outboard motor as though he had more important concerns on his mind. One of the armed guards seemed especially nervous, his eyes darting, his fingers fidgeting with his gun. I asked him if he was worried about Al-Shabaab or ISIS. “PMPF,” he replied, much to my surprise. It wasn’t the terrorists that most worried him, he said. It was the police.
This is an edited extract from The Outlaw Ocean by Ian Urbina, available now.