This Is Real Life (and Mutiny) Aboard a Rust-Encrusted, Rat-Infested Derelict “Tramper” Ship in Alaska

by Owen James Burke

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Photo: USCG by U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro

The Bangui Perkasa, a “tramper” ship intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard off Alaska. Oftentimes these ships are Korean-, Japanese-, and Russian-flagged vessels, but in reality they don’t belong to any one nation.

Each year in Western Alaska, a number of stateless, putrid, rat-infested ships and their lawless, tyrannical captains approach the fishing grounds for mackerel and whatever else they can scrounge up from the sea. The crew that board these vessels are often a mixed bag of citizens of the Third World, tragically worse for wear and desperate to find any condition other than their own, hoping for even a chance at earning enough wages to feed their families. Some go along with an idea of what horrible, inhumane torment awaits them, and others do so with equal desperation, but utter cluelessness. What is someone to expect when leaping head first into the annals of human depravity? It cannot be imagined. Naturally, tensions grow tight aboard these ships, which are commonly known as “trampers.” The following is a recounting of a mutiny aboard one such ship, the Auba Maru, as told by Capt. Willy Cork (ed’s note: he was not captain of this vessel, in fact, far from it), passed along by Capt. Pete Garay (as best as he can recall):

We had been at anchor for 10 days in a nameless bay 600 miles from the nearest living human being. The trawlers had been arriving regularly with full loads of Atka mackerel. I was alone most of the time in the wheelhouse. When the trawlers were alongside, the entire crew was required to work 24 hours a day, except for the captain’s young cabin boy, who had special privileges. Down in the cargo holds, the rest of the men wrestled 50-pound blocks of frozen fish, as the entire ship was stowed by hand.

The ship’s house was no warmer than the winter weather outside because the captain had turned off the heat. The captain did little to hide the contempt he harbored toward the race of humans his company hired to work aboard his ship. When the men came in for their meals, he made sure they didn’t get too comfortable, loitering around the galley or grabbing a little nap. When I inquired about the lack of heat, the captain replied in broken English, “Must save fuel.” I was luckier than the shivering sailors, because the captain was good to me and gave me a hotplate from the galley for extra heat in my room. I might also add, that in addition to saving fuel, the thrifty captain had also shut off the ship’s supply of fresh water to all the faucets and showers, for conservation measures. Fortunately, before the ship went on water rations, I was again afforded special treatment as a full, 5-gallon bucket of water was delivered to my stateroom for my personal use and hygiene.

Read the rest of the story at Alaska Dispatch News — OJB

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