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Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Colin Freeman
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
Piracy – for some people, conjures up images of one-legged seafarers yelling “Arrr, me hearties” at the top of their lungs, usually with a parrot on one shoulder. For others, it’s the equally sweaty interactions on Tor, hoping like hell there’s enough seeds to download the latest episode of “Loki.”

Piracy recently received a new iteration in the form of Somali pirates who would take advantage of merchant vessels sailing too close to the Somalian coast. Jumping in dilapidated skiffs and intercepting these huge ships was a dangerous business, but the rewards would sometimes run into the millions of dollars after ransoms had been paid for the vessel and her crew.

The Tom Hanks movie “Captain Phillips” highlighted the ordeal that befell the eponymous ship’s captain when four Somali pirates took over the Maersk Alabama in 2009.

The difference between “Captain Phillips” and “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” is that whereas Captain Phillips suffered five days of captivity, the three ships featured in Colin Freeman’s excellent book were held for years.

Subjected to starvation, disease and torture, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” chronicles the trials and tribulations of mainly the Albedo and her men.

Uninsured against capture and operating on a shoestring budget, the shipping company leaves the incarcerated men to fend for themselves. No help is forthcoming, not from diplomats, governments, NGOs or SEAL teams.

Until retired army colonel John Steed gets involved. He embarks on a one-man diplomatic mission to have the hostages freed but the odds are stacked against him.

I really liked this book. I could easily see it as a film adaptation and it would be as tense and thrilling as “Argo” or “The Killing Fields.”

The writing is clear and concise, without excess melodrama or too much jargon. There is a little humour which tends to be of the gallows kind and soldiers the world over will probably enjoy it. The pages almost turn themselves, such is the speed of the prose. It doesn’t read like a non-fiction book, it is pacey and exciting, conjuring up the spirit of thriller writers such as Craig Thomas and Terence Strong. In his foreword, Colin Freeman notes how hard it was to research the story due to a number of factors, not least because of the cast of characters, availability and unwillingness to revisit those dark days.

One thing I would caution readers about and that’s the middle of the book, there is a spread of photographs and I would urge anyone to skip these and come back to it at the end. Reading the captions of the photos contain spoilers for how the book will end.

There are a lot of positives about the book but apart from the photo spoilers, I am hard-pressed to find anything much to complain about.

It is worth noting that the author, Colin Freeman, was also held by Somali pirates, so his sympathetic, pragmatic view of the pirates is particularly admirable. They are not cast as comedy villains, they are struggling to survive in one of the world’s worst, most lawless country and that is to be commended.

In fact, if there is a villain to this piece, arguably, you could point the finger at the Albedo’s owner, a man so bereft of honour or human decency, that it boggles the mind.

It is with no hesitation at all that I recommend this book, it’s terrific. It reads like a thriller but is a true story.

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5/5 Pirate skiffs
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