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D I S P A T C H E S

+ "Like an Elephant Chasing a Mouse"


from Martin Smith

click here for a larger map We're waiting aboard the Algonquin for another "go-fast" interdiction -- a scene that I hope will help us later when we're trying to recount the night of July 13th in our documentary.

We are slowly getting tired of being sailors. Life on board is hard, and it seems I am constantly looking for some respite from it. Some things have gotten easier. At least I know my way around. During the first 18 hours I got lost any time I tried to move about. I've also learned how to swing myself into my bunk with minimal strain and much less drama, which is fortunate because I get up at all hours of the night. My internal clock is spinning madly out of control. When I can't sleep I wander around the ship as if I have a destination. I drink coffee in the officers' mess. I watch the TV -- a mix of football games, talk shows, and news broadcast via satellite from the home port in British Columbia. Then I go outside.

The most pleasant spaces are on the rear deck, beyond where the smokers congregate just outside the starboard side airlock, next to one of the ship's torpedo launchers. Though it is hot out -- always hovering around 100 or more humid degrees night and day -- the breeze created by the ship's 15 knot cruising speed, and the advantage of being able to locate the sky overhead, make the ship's aft deck a welcome refuge. I also like the areas by the 50-caliber machine guns a little further back by the stern on both starboard and port sides. I want to drag a cot from the infirmary out onto the deck and sleep under the stars and be there when the sun comes up. I don't care about the heat; I want fresh air.

Another place I like is the bridge. The watch officers are among the most friendly people aboard, interested in answering questions and telling stories. They seem a happier group. Maybe because they seem to really be doing something. I spend several pre-dawn hours here, as the ship patrols in the GOO (Gulf of Oman) for suspicious ships, trawlers, dhows, and go-fasts. I learn a lot about radar.

Late, late one night, up on the bridge, I hear a story.

A Greek helicopter lands on the flight deck of the HMCS Algonquin. (Photo by Marcela Gaviria)
Two weeks ago one of the P3 spy planes that help the ships locate the smaller, harder-to-detect go-fast boats sends the Algonquin's operations center a surveillance picture of six boats heading in tight formation down from Jask on the southern Iranian coast. Jask is a center for the men who make a living smuggling humans across the GOO.

Somehow, the Algonquin manages to find these six boats and gives chase only to discover that these are no ordinary go-fast boats. They are moving six times faster, and when pursued they take off in six different directions. By now it is evening and it is hard to keep them in sight, but the Algonquin throttles up to its top speed of around 28 knots and tries to chase one of them. With a speed advantage of 1 or 2 knots, the destroyer is able to close the gap, but just then the go-fast doubles back, a trick a megaton war ship can't turn. By the time the Algonquin has come about, the go-fast doubles back again to resume its escape. "It was like an elephant chasing a mouse," said one of the sailors on duty that night.

"We figured whoever was driving these boats knew what they were doing, and the passengers were likely paying top dollar for their services," Captain Gary Paulson told me later. "I'm guessing here, but maybe some bad guys with money had hired six boats, one for them and five as decoys. We could only chase one of those boats. Eventually he made a straight-on retreat for Jask. ... He must have had a GPS (global positioning system) to navigate like that. Our sister ships chased another two boats that got away as well. And who's to say that one of those six go-fasts made it across to Oman or Yemen?"

I ask him if, since that incident, they still have problems catching all the go-fasts. He says yes, of course.

In the end, I enjoyed being on the ship. When I ask the commodore how long this effort should continue, he says five more years. But these sailors will go on leave, rotating out of the GOO in another two weeks.

. . .

Back to Dubai. This is a day lost to catching up with email, doing laundry, and sleeping. Nothing happens except we go out for the best Thai food I've ever tasted. The Blue Elephant at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel.


< previous dispatch  +  next dispatch >

London
(Aug. 13-14)

Zubaydah Is Dead
13 August, London

Armchair Jihadists
14 August, London

Gulf of Oman
(Aug. 15-21)

Faces at a Dubai Mall
15 August, Dubai, U.A.E.

HMCS Algonquin
16 August, somewhere in the Gulf of Oman

On Board the Algonquin
17-18 August, somewhere in the Gulf of Oman

+ Like an Elephant Chasing a Mouse
17-18 August, Gulf of Oman

Dubai to Karachi
20 August

A Firehose of Information
20-21 August, Dubai - Muscat - Chennai

Pakistan
(Aug. 22-29)

Old Hash
22 August, Islamabad

Nuclear Neighbors
22-23 August, Islamabad

We Believe in God
24 August, Islamabad

Paranoid in Peshawar
27 August, Peshawar

Bombs or Dust Devils
27-28 August, Peshawar

Rumors and Half Truths
28 August, Peshawar

Pakistan Border Lands
(Aug. 30-Sept. 4)

On the Road to Chitral
30 August, Dir Khas

Prisoners' Dilemma
31 August, Dir

In the Northwest Frontier
30-31 August, Dir

Border Town
2 September, Chitral to Arandu

Don't Go to Timargarha
1-2 September, Drosh to Timargarha

An American Informer
3-4 September, Peshawar

Pakistan
(Sept. 5-23)

Road to Nowhere
7 September, Islamabad to Faisalabad

Faisal Town
7 September, Faisalabad

Frustrations
9 September, Faisalabad

The Plight of Women
10 September, Faisalabad

A Little Noticed Gun Battle
10-13 September, Lahore-Karachi

The Madrassa
14 September, Akora Khattak

The Next Big Get
20 September, Karachi - Islamabad

A Circle of Trust
21 September, Islamabad

Indomitable
23 September, Islamabad

Saudi Arabia
(Sept. 24-Oct. 2)

Inside the Kingdom
24-25 September, Riyadh

My Baffling Question
27 September, Unizah-Buraydah

An Obedient Dissident
27 September, Buraydah

An Audience with the Crown Prince
2 October, Riyadh

Yemen
(Sept. 25-Oct. 10)

Arriving in Yemen
25-26 September, Sana'a

The Wedding Party
27 September, Sana'a

A Talking Drug
28 September, Sana'a

The World's Most Ancient Skyscrapers
3 October, Sana'a

Americans Are Vampires
7 October, Sana'a

Waiting for Rahma
9 October, Sana'a

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