Every 90 seconds we would repeat, "Motor Vessel Queen, this is the Unites State Naval Warship four-three off your starboard bow. Come left to new course two-seven-zero. Slow to speed three knots. Establish communication on channel one-six." The Iraqis welded into the Queen didn't respond.
I wondered why the Thach crew didn't just board the Queen. It didn't have any spikes on the side or welded doors. We were so close to it you could see one of the crewmen walking on and off the bridge. I learned that only Navy Seals are allowed to board "non-compliant" ships. The job is so dangerous that only the most elite special force in the world can board the ship--but we let it get 100 feet from us. Bureaucracy -- it's faaan-tastic.
Canadian helicopter orders oil smuggler, Pull over you hoser! (All photos by Martin Wright)
Eventually, the MV Queen just wallowed on out of sight, allowing me time to return to taking pictures of the painter, who it turns out shouldn't have been painting the anchor-chain thing, so those pictures were a loss.
He wasn't that interesting anyway. He was taking a college course on the ship. The professor was some frail white-hair, who had to have been losing at the game of life to land that job. I took some shots, made sure paint boy wasn't going to do something worth shooting, and got some sleep.
When I woke up it was the middle of the night and we were catching up with MV Queen again. I could hear a female on the Canadian ship repeating the official order to stop over and over again. She went on so long the Arabs on the Queen would lean out and yell it back in their heavy accents. Probably the only English some of them would ever speak. When they got bored with that, they would play their Arab plinka-plinka music over the radio or say lewd things to the Canadian girl. I'm sure it took all the military bearing she had not to yell, "Take off, you hosers!"
Just as I was starting to enjoy the game, the XO came to the bridge and ordered somebody to put up cots for the Seals. The Seals! Hot damn! This story was finally gonna do something. I talked to the coxswain (I'm not making that up, it's a guy who pilots the little boats on the ship) and the XO to see if I could go over on a second boat to watch the Seals do their stuff. The Coxswain said it'd be no problem if the Seals remembered to keep the safeties on their weapons. Last time, he said, one of the Seals put a hole in the boat after letting a cap loose. So much for the invincible Seals mystique.
I watched as the cots got set up and asked myself why the Seals, who are based on carriers, would be taking a nap here. Then I watched with anticipation as Edgar and the rest of the flight deck crew got ready for the Seals to land. I ran myself silly from the bridge to the flight deck trying to stay on top of things and not miss the Seals landing.
I was very careful around the helos, because Edgar had told me that some Senior Chief had gotten killed on the flight deck last week. This guy stood up and got whacked by the helo blades. He was 6'10" and had worked in the Navy around 20 years. He died because one day he stood up straight too soon. I tend to duck-walk to and from helos.
The Seals got off the helo just like in the movies, dodging and weaving and whatnot even though the Thach was pretty much in friendly hands. I guess it was just practice. After they had gotten settled under the flight deck and most importantly in the a/c I sneaked a peek at them looking all Hollywood and shit. I didn't talk to them, they're supposedly cocky, and tend to look down on a guy who takes pictures for a living.
Then something unexpected and totally unpredictable came along and destroyed all the plans that the United States Navy had cooked up for the MV Queen: the sun came up. It seems that the Seals, like vampires, don't work during the day. So all the sweat, fuel and energy involved bringing them to the Thach was for nothing.