Payson Man Meets Pirates On The High Seas

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A pirate attack is not what Armand Werle was expecting when he set out on a 16-day voyage aboard the 5-star cruise ship Seabourn Spirit.

"I've done a lot of cruising since my wife died five years ago, but this was one (cruise) I, nor anyone else, could ever have expected," the 85-year-old retired West Coast city manager said.

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The Seabourn Spirit's cruise along the east coast of Africa was more spirited than most would like. The ship was attacked by pirates and had to outrun them to keep the intruders from boarding.

Werle was among about 200 passengers aboard the luxury cruise liner when it was boldly attacked Nov. 5 just off the coast of the east African country of Somalia.

Pirates in two boats fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at the ship, sending passengers scattering for cover.

Some of Werle's shipmates reported flinging themselves to the deck to avoid bullets that zipped through the cruise liner.

"It was about a quarter to six in the morning and I heard a loud boom," Werle said. "Pretty soon the captain came on the intercom and told us to go to a center area restaurant below deck and stay off the top of the decks."

While heading to the evacuation area, Werle saw first hand some of the damage done by the gunfire.

"I walked by a suite near mine and looked in to see all the windows were shattered," he said. "I talked to a guy there and he said when he opened his drapes he saw a gun pointed at him, so he dropped to the floor and the shooting started."

According to reports compiled by Seabourn officials, one crewmember, a security officer, was injured while combating the pirates with a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) that emitted powerful sonic waves designed to repel attackers.

No passengers were injured, but an unexploded grenade was found wedged in the wall of a room. It was later disarmed.

Werle said the pirates were in what appeared to be "long row boats with motors on the back of them."

Pictures taken by a British passenger show four pirates in one boat.

"I think there was three in the other," Werle said.

While the passengers hovered in midship, the Norwegian captain, Sven Erik Pedersand, first attempted to ram the pirates, but then escaped by speeding away.

"The captain told us they (the pirates) couldn't get on board unless we were stopped and he was not going to allow that," Werle said. "He decided the best thing was to try and outrun them."

When the cruise ship was attacked, it was about to dock at Mombassa, Kenya and end the cruise a day later in the Seychelles Islands off the coast of Africa, Werle said.

"Needless to say, we didn't stop at Mombassa but headed straight for Seychelles," Werle said.

Werle and the other passengers boarded the ship in Alexandria, Egypt and had sailed through the Suez Canal.

According to CNN Web site news reports of the attempted hijacking, the attack bore the hallmarks of pirates who have become increasingly active off Somalia, which has no navy and has not had an effective central government since 1991.

According to John Muindi, the U.N. International Maritime Organization's regional coordinator for eastern Africa, Somalian pirates are not only attacking near shore, but more than 200 miles into the Indian Ocean.

Following the attack on the Seabourn Spirit, rocket launchers and machine guns fired at a cargo ship in the area. It sped away.

For Werle, the ordeal did yield some unexpected benefits other than the opportunity to spin fascinating tales to his friends in the Payson Men's Golf Association.

"After we docked, Seabourn offered us a free seven-day cruise," he said. "I've got one already picked out in February down to Costa Rica and through the canal.

"I'll go anywhere there is no pirates. I've had enough of them."

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