Dynamite? Seriously? The mere presence of foreign ships in Somali waters infuriated Saalax Raage Ibraahim. The coastline was once incredibly rich with a variety of sealife: tuna, dorado, perch, sardines, lobsters, and sharks. After the Barre regime collapsed in 1991, the foreigners pounced on the opportunity to trawl the undefended coastline. But trawling was not the only foreign activity that occurred along the coastline. Certain Europeans and Asians discovered that it cost them 400 times less to dispose of their toxic waste along the Somali coastline instead of doing so safely and responsibly at home. Since the foreigners had criminally caught or killed so many sea creatures, the nets were yielding fewer and fewer fish. And so, the foreigners were resorting to a new method: blast fishing. Dynamite. They bombed the ocean and watched as their nets filled up with stunned fish.
Nonetheless, Saalax quietly minded his own business in his fishing boat, even though fishing was no longer a profitable business for him. Before the foreigners had first arrived, all of the fishermen could earn a decent income. Now, a fisherman might go out for hours and come back with nothing. But Saalax's nets had been relatively lucky today; he had caught a big dorado. He and Caasha would eat well tonight, and he would trade the surplus to Xaaji's wife.
Xaaji Cali Axmed had stocked up on qaad about two weeks ago. He must have felt his sickness coming on. Xaaji had liked to travel northward when he fished. He stopped the day that he saw a broken barrel that had washed ashore, but it was too late. The toxic waste caused him to cough heavily, vomit, and bleed. He was too weak to go fishing. The qaad made him feel euphoric and took away his hunger. Saalax needed some more qaad for the days on which his nets were not so lucky. Xaaji's wife would give him a good amount of qaad in exchange for food.
Saalax noticed that the foreign ship was moving in his direction. He decided that it would be wise to head ashore. He had heard the stories. A small Thai vessel had once plowed straight into Xasaan's boat. Xasaan barely escaped with his life. Someone on a Spanish ship had poured boiling water on poor Libaax. He will never fully recover. A soldier on an American warship had shot and killed Cawaale's brother in Xarardheere because he wouldn't move out of the way. No doubt the politicians called it another resounding victory in the War on Terror.
But it soon became clear that this foreign ship was intentionally pursuing Saalax's boat. The foreigners were moving too quickly for him. Saalax couldn't get away. His boat's motor was too weak. What did they want? He had moved out of their way. The foreign ship closed in on him quickly. It rammed his boat with tremendous force. The jolt knocked Saalax overboard. Before he could even attempt to get back aboard, Saalax watched in horror as the foreigners stole his nets, along with his catch. They laughed at him as they committed this violent act of robbery. Then they took off in the opposite direction as rapidly as they had approached.
Once he managed to get back into the damaged boat, Saalax finished heading ashore. The foreign ships now concerned him more than anything. For a moment, he became more enraged than he ever had been in his life. He pulled out the kalachnikov that he had hidden in his boat and ran over to two of his fellow fishermen, Warsame Sugule Xaashi and Samatar Sugule Xaashi. They had seen what happened.
Saalax simply said, "We have to go after that ship."
Warsame and Samatar understood. The injustice that they had just witnessed appalled them. They, too, had had enough of the foreigners' torment.
Caasha Cumar Salaad's voice sounded out of nowhere. "I'm coming too. You'll lose your cool if I'm not with you."
If. Not. With. Every woman's three favorite words. It would be foolhardy of Saalax to attempt to utter words of either approval or disapproval. Of course Caasha was coming with them. Saalax could save face only with an inside joke. "We could use someone who knows how to identify parasites." She grinned.
The four of them jumped into Warsame's skiff. Warsame was always prepared for trouble, and he was one of the more successful fishermen. His skiff's Yamaha motor was well-maintained and powerful. He kept a few useful tools in the boat: a pair of kalachnikovs with minimal rust, poles with hooks, and rope. Warsame quickly got the motor running, and the party headed toward the foreign vessel. Although the vessel was still fairly far away, they could make out the colors of the flag that flew: orange, white, and green.
Caasha expressed her displeasure. "India. Hrmph."
Samatar joked, "The four of us could beat their national football team."
They all snickered. Warsame chimed in, “You would think that with more than a billion people, they could find eleven guys who can play football.”
Caasha saw things a bit differently. “We shouldn't underestimate them. Football just isn't a big sport in India.”
Her comment intrigued Samatar. “Really? Then what sports do they play?”
“Field hockey and cricket, mainly. If you ask me, India is among the best in the world at those two sports.” Caasha was encyclopedic when it came to facts about anything.
“Do those even count as sports?” This time, no one laughed at Samatar's joke.
Saalax jumped into the conversation. “Of course they do. A game becomes a sport when athletic ability matters.”
“I mean, who cares about those sports? Cricket is nonsensical British elitism. Field hockey is just an Olympic sport.”
They all smirked at Samatar's definition of cricket. Saalax replied, “What's wrong with field hockey? Look at the nature of the sport. Teammates pass a ball around. They run around a lot and desperately attempt to prevent their opponent from making an incursion beyond a certain point: the goal. They have a goalie as the last line of defense.”
Samatar didn't follow. “So what?”
“It's almost the exact same game as football. They just use sticks instead of their legs to move the ball.”
Samatar said nothing. He didn't care for Saalax's theories and analyses. But he could tell that they were important to Saalax.
Saalax continued, “Football and field hockey are both great sports because they represent the defense of property. In order to win, you must have the mindset that the entire playing field belongs to you and your family. The opponent is a threatening, criminal aggressor. It is the most natural thing in the world to engage in self-defense against such an aggressor. The most exciting and intense sports, then, are the ones that allow us to mentally and physically simulate an act of forceful coercion. They help prepare us for life-or-death situations.”
Samatar replied only with another joke. “I should have played more football before we tried to go after this ship.”
The skiff approached the foreign vessel from astern. They could read the vessel's name now—FV Malhotra. It was a fairly small fishing vessel that was no more than 25 meters in length. The draft was only two or three meters.
Warsame was a step ahead of the others. “Their ship looks ideal for boarding. I attached my hooks to the end of the rope. We should be able to hook the boats together. The only question is, who's going first?”
They all looked at Saalax. He took the rope and thanked Warsame. As the skiff moved into range, they remained undetected by the Indians. The Malhotra continued to move in a straight line. Saalax's first throw was too weak. But with the second throw, Saalax snagged the improvised grappling hook on the Malhotra's stern. He slung his kalachnikov over his back and quickly climbed the rope. He signaled to the others that the deck was clear. They all boarded safely. It couldn't have been easier.
Warsame wondered why it was so easy to board. “Are they ambushing us?”
Samatar replied, “It's just a fishing vessel. We've got them.”
Saalax and Caasha were on high alert, but they agreed with Samatar. The Indians were completely unprepared.
Saalax led them on a quick charge toward the bridge. They passed by a few shocked, terrified faces along the way, but they were of no concern at the moment. As they burst onto the bridge, they found only two men. Caasha spoke to them in English. “Stop the ship.”
The helmsman complied. Saalax asked Warsame and Samatar to stay on the bridge. Saalax and Caasha went off to gather up the rest of the crew. The entire ship had only seven crew members.
The captain was calm as Saalax and Caasha approached him. He spoke in English, “That was a clever trap, pirates.”