travelling through the islands part 1

Traveling through the islands
My return to the Far East as a civilian gave me an opportunity to view first hand the Indonesian side of the former confrontation situation that had existed between Malaysia and Indonesia in the mid sixties. This unique chance came about because of my marine experience in West Africa working on Volvo Penta and Perkins marine diesels. At the time that this chance arose I was filling in on a crew in Oman which had become very quite since my first visit there in 1970 when there was an insurrection against Sultan Qaboos. On this second occasion life was very laid back with no rebel threat since the Sultan’s successful hearts and minds campaign had taken dissident tribesmen off the Jebel and resettled them within the country. The “Jebel” being a range of hills between Oman and Saudi Arabia from where the rebels had been supplied and funded, the campaign had been fought with British assistance and the help of contract troops hired by the Sultan many of them Buluchistani with either Rhodesian or New Zealand contract officers.
At that time the Trucial Oman scouts had been disbanded or incorporated into the Oman Army, a few had become ARO’s Arab Representitive Officers who played a liaison role between the American drilling company’s and the various tribal groupings which abound in Oman. One such character was an ex Royal Signals sergeant named Rex King based at Ibri who used to come on the radio schedule with the call sign “King of Ibri here” There were several other flamboyant ex officers who led a colourful existence but had an intimate working knowledge of the tribal areas. Sultan Qaboos deposed his father because as a Sandhurst trained officer he wanted to drag his country out of the feudal state his father insisted on maintaining. The laws were so stringent that the gates of Muscat the capital city were closed every night after sunset and anybody moving around had to carry a lantern.
However, back to marine engines, which was the reason for my trip to Irian Jaya in an attempt to salvage a sunken supply vessels running gear. The company was operating out of Singapore and had purchased a second hand ocean going trawler as the crew supply ship, the logistics of this exercise took some contemplation when you consider Irian Jaya is only 400 miles from Darwin. Regardless of this the operation commenced and the supply ship departed from Singapore only to loose the starboard engine reduction box a few days out and the Dutch Captain continued at half speed with one engine in the monsoon season. It was quite a feat of seamanship as the South China Sea can become extremely rough with violent tropical storms.
On arrival at the base camp on the Fly River, which forms part of the border between Papua New Guinea and Iran Jaya. A place where reputedly Rockefeller’s son was taken by a crocodile in the early sixties while on an anthropological survey? The Dutch trawler captain and the young crew party manager, fresh out of university, went head to head because the supply ship arrived three months late. That, notwithstanding the fact that it had arrived at all was little short of a miracle but our Young Turk could not see the skill and seamanship involved and in a bout of alcohol fueled revenge the Captain opened the sea cocks and sank the vessel.
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