Captain Ken #36 - Pirates and Hammerheads

Captain Ken Owen had a long career at sea which included sailing as master with Overseas Containers Limited (OCL), P&O Containers and P&O Nedlloyd.   Ken is now retired and in 2020 he started writing a monthly article for publication using the pen name 'Captain Ken' in the Mellor Church Outlook magazine.

A number of articles that Ken has written are about his time at sea and he has very kindly agreed that we can share them here.   In this, 36th one of the Captain Ken series published on the PONL Heritage website, Ken shares his thoughts on the risks to shipping from piracy and terrorism  and recalls an encounter with hammerhead sharks!       

(This article was first published in the April 2024 edition of the Mellor Church Outlook Magazine).

Two items of important shipping news attracted my attention, as I write this month’s article.  One, that a large bulk carrier has been seized by Somali pirates, and is being forced to proceed to Somalia with a warning that if a ransom  of several million dollars is not paid, the crew will be killed one by one.  And this is some 12 years after we thought we had solved this particular problem by embarking armed security guards.

The other shipping news that might interest readers is that the world’s largest cruise ship ‘Icon of the Seas’’ has been launched.  Carrying some seven thousand passengers and three thousand crew, a total of ten thousand people on one ship.  Those who are considering joining this Royal Caribbean Line I wonder could feel that she at least.

will be well guarded against pirates...  

Then, came the news, that the Yemen terrorists, the Houthis who are the cause of the Red Sea ships diverting round the Cape of Africa, have announced that they intend to continue drone attacks on ships that are making the diversion.  I feel rather concerned that these extremely efficient pirates may not be so clever at distinguishing the radar target of a huge bulk carrier from a gigantic cruise liner!

Then. recently seeing some hammerhead sharks on a television programme, I feel pleasantly reminded of visiting Labuan Island, in British North Borneo, (as it then was) while serving on a Blue Funnel cargo liner.  We had a free day and several of us including a few officers’ wives took the lifeboat to the most gorgeous sandy beach.  Here we anchored the boat in warm shallow water, and began swimming close to the boat.  

I thought it fun, to investigate an area of the beach where the local Malay fishermen, were landing their catch.  To my delight, I noted they had several two metre baby black hammerhead sharks.  I thought it would be fun to take one back with me and re-join the swimming party.

As we learned the local language so we could communicate with the stevedores loading the ship,  I spoke to them  - Saya mao satu ican yu’   (I want to buy a shark).  They were only too pleased to sell one for a tin of cigarettes and so taking it with me holding it under water, I returned to join the swimming party.

Then the fun began.  I said ‘it felt like something bit my leg’ and pretending I had just discovered it, flung the shark into the empty life boat, ‘Pesky thing’ I said as I clapped my hands.  But I wondered if I'd done wise thing when the shark suddenly twitched, and I thought it might be alive after all.  Fortunately, it wasn’t, but I would certainly not try the trick again!  And hammer heads still rather scare me.

For further articles in this series:

Captain Ken Owen's articles are being published on a regular basis here but if you are interested in reading others that he has written which we haven't yet used then please feel free to go to