Goa-based Norbert Rebello sails through words with the same ease as he navigates bulk tankers across the oceans. He readies this week for his second novel, also on a theme set at sea, giving hint of how diverse interests show up as more Indian captains and officers take to the global merchant
"Pirates! Beware!", says Capt Rebello, based on the current piracy situation off Somalia that has taken the world's shipping industry hostage.
"Like a hurricane, it has destroyed lives of thousands of sailors and their families, hijacked by the inconsiderate men whose only motive is greed."
He calls this an "overlooked story" of so many seamen travelling that area, and says his book "pays tribute to sailors across the globe... in recognition of the risks they shoulder while executing their everyday duties in an often hostile environment".
Piracy that began around the coast of Somalia has now spiralled deep into the Indian Ocean. It is also flourishing along the west and central African waters especially off Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea.
In the Indian Ocean, ship owners are forced to shell out money, take longer routes which raise the cost, hire private armed guards who are razor wires to protect the ship, he says.
Rebello, 51, argues that while piracy exists in waters off various countries, Somali pirates are of a different breed. They are determined and vicious and will stop at nothing to accomplish the hijacking they have in mind.
Rebello has been an ardent reader since childhood. Three of his uncles ran a press in Mumbai that "besides printing a weekly Konkani-language newspaper (the Cine Times) also churned out novels".
He explains his own interest in writing novels set at sea: "In 1999-2000, I was on a ship that was deserted by the owners in former Yugoslavia as one of their tankers split into two and caused a major oil spill. This disaster made the company go bankrupt and the owner was on the run."
Rebello spent over a year in Montenegro, earlier a part of former Yugoslavia, struggling with the other crew as they fought for their wages. After the episode, he decided to write "the truth about the hardships faced by the seamen". That turned into his first novel, "Memories of Another Day", in 2008.
Says Rebello: "I now concentrate on writing about seamen. My forthcoming novel 'Cruise the Horizon' will be about the hardships faced in a supposedly cheerful cruise line industry."
Piracy hurts deeply. "Once the ship is within the high risk area, there is constant fear of the unknown. Any small craft seen on the horizon escalates one's heartbeat and blood pressure."
Being out at sea is a high-stress level job. Earlier it spelt glamour and money. Today, he says, crew reductions and stringent laws at sea, specially on tankers, make it like living on the edge.
The Indian Navy's participation in the Gulf of Aden and the safety corridors established can boost crew morale, he feels. Piracy is a threat to the world economy, Rebello says, citing figures to state that the average ransom to "liberate" a ship has doubled each year of late -- from $150,000 in 2005 to $6 million in 2012.
All acts of piracy, and the intent to commit piracy, should be criminalised, he suggests. More naval assets are needed in the Indian Ocean and greater political will too.
"The only way I can reach to the world is through my writing," he adds. His work, which highlights the issue in the form of fiction, contains real-life photographs of ships attacked by 21st century-style pirate vessels and the armed guards his vessels have had to carry to defend them.
At sea since 1981, Rebello has been in command for more than a decade and a half, and joined the tanker industry in 1991. He currently sails with Teekay Tankers with the Suezmax size vessels -- the largest ship measurements capable of transiting the Suez Canal in a laden condition.
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