Salt Lake Couple Was Aboard Pirate-attacked Cruise Ship

Salt Lake Couple Was Aboard Pirate-attacked Cruise Ship

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- "I enjoyed the pyramids; the pirates not so much," Salt Lake City businesswoman Tanya Mahood is writing on postcards home from the cruise ship Seabourn Spirit.

Mahood, owner of Antoinette's jewelry store, is recovering from the fright suffered when pirates armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the cruise ship off the coast of Africa.

"I'm starting to be able to breathe" she told The Salt Lake Tribune by telephone from the ship Monday. "I'm barely to the point where I'm not shaking anymore."

The Seabourn Spirit was docked safely at the Seychelles islands north of Madagascar on Monday, but during the attack Saturday morning, Mahood and her husband, James Mahood, feared they might die "especially when I saw the grenade launcher," she said.

The couple was two weeks into a monthlong cruise from Egypt to India, when they were awakened at 6 a.m. by the ship's captain announcing, "Ladies and gentlemen, stay in your cabins and lock your doors, we are under attack."

Mahood said she jumped from bed and looked out the picture window of her suite to see the brigands shooting at the ship from two small boats, each holding about five men.

"I'm looking dead at these people," she said. "They were right outside our window on the starboard side of ship."

Two of the pirates "were actually laughing as they were shooting at the ship, like it was fun for them," she said.

Despite the "pop, pop, pop" of gunfire and the pinging sound of bullets hitting the ship, Mahood stood "like Bambi in the headlights, just kind of in shock, looking out at them," until her husband said, "Uh, you might want to get away from the window."

One grenade entered a starboard cabin occupied by a man and woman, but it missed them and did not explode, she said.

At about that time, the 161 passengers were ordered to evacuate to the safety of an interior dining room. The ship outran the pirates.

Tanya Mahood said it was frightening, but the passengers were amazingly calm during the ordeal.

"There was one lady who was crying," Mahood said. "But a bullet did come through her window."

One member of the crew was injured by shrapnel.

Mahood said she learned at dinner the next night that the captain was not fooled by a ruse that could have spelled even greater trouble.

"He got a Mayday from a fishing boat" claiming they were under attack from pirates, she said. But identification information from the "ship in distress" did not match information available to the captain and he declined to respond.

"It was going to be a trick, is what it was going to be," Mahood said. "It was going to be a bigger ship we had to deal with. But when he didn't go back to help them, these two boats showed up ... launched from the boat that was calling."

The International Maritime Bureau has for several months warned ships to stay at least 150 miles away from Somalia's coast, citing 25 pirate attacks in those waters since March 15.

In June, a United Nations-chartered ship carrying food to Somalia was hijacked and held hostage for three months while the pirates tried to get the organization to pay ransom, which it refused to do.

Mahood said she and her husband were aware of previous pirate activity in the area. "But the (ship's) officers made it clear they were going to be (100 miles) off the coast," she said. "We felt pretty safe because we were so far out in the ocean."

Due to the attack, the captain abandoned plans to land at Mombasa, Kenya, and steamed straight south to the Seychelles, where a U.S. Navy vessel escorted them to dock and military personnel boarded, disarmed the grenade and began an investigation.

Although she is disappointed at missing her chance at an African safari, Mahood said she looks forward to shopping for antique jewelry in India at the end of the sea voyage. From there, they will fly back to the United States.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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