Four men in a Boat – Chapter 9 by ‘Shipmate’

9 CHAPTER NINE(Presumed Dead.)

On leaving China, no final destination was available so the Captain was instructed by the London Office to head for European waters.  With a full cargo of rice the ship seemed to enjoy the prospect of heading home and was coping with the heavy seas with ease.  Everyone aboard was affected at the prospect of returning to Britain and although several weeks remained until they arrived, a general feeling of euphoria prevailed.

During the night, the ship turned into the Malacca Straits and just after four in the morning the Chief Officer sent for the senior Apprentice.

“I want you to wake the Serang and your two buddies and do a thorough search of the ship from stem to stern.” 

 He restlessly paced the bridge and pulled deeply on his ever-present cigarette.

“ When I came onto the bridge at the start of my watch, the Second Officer was nowhere to be seen.  We are now on a reciprocal course and I’ve doubled the lookouts and reduced speed.”

It took over two hours before they were certain that he was not on board and the Serang reported that his efforts had also been unsuccessful.  As daylight came it was hoped that something would be seen but nothing was spotted.  Searches were continued and earlier radio contact had been made with the Singapore Coastguard who had alerted all ships in the area.

The original course was ordered by the Captain to be resumed at the last known position where the Second Officer had taken over the watch from the Third Officer at midnight.

As the Third Officer was the last person known to have seen the missing man, he had to make a written report to that effect including comments about The Second Officer’s state of mind amongst other things.

The morale was affected but life had to go on and nobody relished entering the Second Officers cabin to deal with his belongings, although his desk had been searched in case some sort of letter had been left.

The immediate effect did have some rather paradoxical benefits, which, in the circumstances were hardly welcomed.  The Third Officer was promoted to Second Officer and the senior apprentice became the acting Third Officer.

The less junior apprentice became the senior apprentice.

It is probably for Insurance purposes that most Officers sail at a rank below their Certifications thus promotion is made easy and serves to satisfy the Company’s Insurance requirements.

Later in the passage the personal effects of the missing Officer were packed up.  The packing was duly carried out by the Chief Steward with one of the deck Officers present, who recorded the contents in a logbook as they were packed.  Once the packing was completed the cabin was sealed and the luggage was put into storage until a homeport was reached. 

The new Third Officer was very aware of his elevated status and carried out his duties in a most conscientious manner.  He was able to put into practice a lot of the theory that he had learned at pre-sea training school.  He was to find however, that most of the four hour on and eight hours off watches at sea, consisted of endless scanning of the horizons.  As a consequence he had plenty of time to recall his erstwhile friend and shipmate.

He had first met Jenk’s, as the late Second Officer had become known, when he joined his previous ship in Rotterdam.  They had both been transferred from Newcastle in New South Wales to the Tealbank but at slightly different times.

On first meeting Mr. Jenkins appeared unusual in many ways.  He was extremely refined, well bred, and courteous but quite elderly for a Second Officer though he had once confided that he had once been Captain of King Faisal’s Yacht.  This bit of information however, was taken with a pinch of salt.

He seemed reserved and didn’t drink but spent much of his spare time listening to classical music; particularly to the violin that he proudly explained was played expertly by his daughter. 

Their previous Captain had been a great friend with his Second Officer, presumably because of their similar ages and status.

Having recorded the late Navigator’s belongings the previous day, the Third Officer felt that the answers to certain questions no longer remained elusive.

On their previous ship, quite out of character, the Second Officer had joined the Radio Officer for a “Jolly” whilst in South America, which resulted in the hapless Irish Sparks being replaced.  The then senior apprentice wondered how the Second Officer had avoided a similar fate, a question whose answer now became obvious. 

The one lapse was now thought to indicate that the former Second Officer was suffering from some sort of alcoholic denial.  His reprieve, following the mis-conduct, seemed to have been because not only was their Captain a good friend of his gentle navigator but also, that they were both Freemasons.  Unable to receive similar sympathetic treatment from the new Captain and faced with the prospect of some sort of enquiry back in England, he had apparently taken what he thought was the easy way out.

His lifetime’s personal belongings were packed away and listed.  They included his uniforms and other clothing, and a jacket wrapped in polythene sheeting, complete with Masters insignia.  A trunk contained his collection of classical tapes, an old violin, a bundle of letters tied in a yellow ribbon and the clandestine regalia required for Freemasons.  Among the classical music was a tape of a violin concerto that had been known to reduce the departed gentleman to tears.

In his Journal were three recent letters.  The first, a single page from his ex wife.  The second letter was a much longer letter from his daughter, whose return address suggested that she was a senior violinist on tour with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

The final letter was dated July 1958 and remained unopened.  It was post marked from Baghdad.

The Chief Steward placed the unopened letter on the Chief Officers Desk.

“I’ve been through all of the possessions except this Sir,” he said.

The Chief Officer took the letter and examined the envelope noting its origin as Iraq.  He saw it was addressed to,

 Captain.  D. Jenkins. 

 C/O Merchant Navy Officers Club,

 Pall Mall London W.C.1.                                ‘Kindly forward Urgent.’

“Anything else Chief?” asked the Chief Officer.

The Steward replied,

 “ We went through everything as much as possible and read extracts from other random letters.  Apart from what we already know there was nothing to indicate any reason for a deliberate action on his part.”

“Thanks Chief,   ” the Captain’s deputy replied, “leave it with me.”

The Chief Officer was aware that many freelance Officers left details of their whereabouts at the Officers club for forwarding and noticed a scribble in pencil directing the letter to the Company’s Head Office in London.

He vaguely wondered why it hadn’t been opened and left it to one side until later.

There were forms to fill in and a report to write and whilst he had to stick to the facts, in the rare instances he had to deal with such matters, he tended to hint at misadventure rather than suicide because of insurance and pension provisions but mainly with the feelings of the relatives in mind.

It took nearly three hours to complete the report and fill in the necessary forms that also required the Captains signature.

He had written a letter to the late Second Officers daughter and a more difficult letter to his wife who was still listed as his next of kin. 

He poured himself a scotch and eyed the unopened letter for several minutes before he decided to open it.  It was dated 13th July 1958

It began, 

                                                                         Royal Palace

                                                                         Baghdad.

                                                                         Iraq.

Dear Captain Jenkins, 

I’m sure you know that the situation in the Middle East has become very volatile since President Nasser came to power in Egypt and commandeered the Suez Canal.  The resulting turmoil worldwide is affecting all Arab Countries and I am forever looking over my shoulder. 

The ‘Aliye’ should now be waiting in Turkey and I have been persuaded by my cousin King Hussein of Jordan to take temporary refuge aboard until the present unrest dies down.

I have been meaning to write to you since your departure as ‘Captain’ of the Royal Yacht early in 1957 but firstly and most importantly the purpose of this letter is to request that you once again take command of the Yacht.  On receipt of this letter, wherever you are, telephone the Embassy in London who will arrange First Class Air tickets.  Your salary and conditions will be as before plus half as much again and this of course also applies to leave and pension entitlements.

The unfortunate incident that led to your departure has now been clarified and you are completely exonerated.  Had I have been aboard at the time, matters would have been very different but those responsible could be excused at their unbending interpretation of Sharia Law when considering alcohol.

You will, without doubt, remember those wonderful times when we both enjoyed wine, women and song, ashore as well as on board the Yacht.

There has been a string of Officers since you left but none have really suited, mainly because unlike you they did not speak the language and had little control over the crew.

My dear friend (yes I must call you that) I look forward again to sharing the relaxing evenings especially listening to your violin.

  With the hopes that it may ‘swing the balance,’ and help you make a positive decision, I have arranged for a very special present that awaits you and is locked in the safe of your suite on the “Aliye’. 

 I’ll give you one clue before closing.  It was purchased in Lombardy in Italy at a place called ‘Cremona.’

Your humble and respectful friend,

Faisal.11 Ghazi

The Chief Officer sat in contemplation and topped up his glass.  He remembered the headline well.  He had spent some time on oil tankers before being flown out to join the ship in Freemantle.  Just before he left, the item about Iraq had particularly interested him, as it was a place he regularly visited.

The headline in the ‘Times’ newspaper was in bold letters had proclaimed one word.  Massacre.  The whole Iraqi Royal family and their servants had been slaughtered in a military coupe on July 14th 1958.

After a while he picked up his letter to Jenk’s daughter and placed it together with the letter from Iraq into another envelope which he addressed to Katherine Jenkins care of: –

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Royal Festival Hall

89 Albert Embankment

London SE 7 TP

England. 

The ship docked in Gibraltar, late in the evening so that any business had to wait until next day.  On his way back from the Post Office next morning, the Chief Officer passed the Library and on an impulse entered its quiet and cool interior.

The staff obligingly set about to retrieve the journals and newspapers he had asked for.

Lloyds lists is a journal, published in London, that records the whereabouts of most of the World’s shipping especially those insured through Lloyds.  The Chief Officer was intrigued as to what had happened to the Aliye and had decided to carry out investigations as soon as they reached port.  He had intended to wait until they were back in England but his spontaneous decision to enter the library was partly out of burning curiosity and partly to avoid the burning midday sun.  He also wanted to confirm her location on the 15th July 1958 and the yacht’s latest known position including under whose flag she was now registered.

His researches revealed fairly sparse information as though the World’s press had agreed to restrict detailed particulars.

The best account that he had been able to discover was published in the Unites States in the ‘Sarasota Herald Tribune’ dated July 20th 1958 under the heading: –

TURKEY HOLDING FAISAL’S YACHT 

Istanbul (AP).  After a reported fight amongst the Iraq crew, Turkey took protective custody, Sunday, of a yacht, which belonged to the late King Faisal 11 of Iraq.

Two navy gunboats moved alongside the luxurious vessel, the ‘ALIYE’, anchored in the Bosporus and kept all other craft from approaching.

The ‘ALIYE’ had been anchored here several weeks, awaiting the ill fated King and his Uncle Crown Prince Abdul Ilah who intended to board last week for a Mediterranean cruise.

Reported scuffles among the crew were scanty and unconfirmed but crews of vessels anchored nearby, said there had been some disturbance.

The Chief Officer looked up at the library clock and saw it was approaching noon.  Soon the customary changing of the guard would take place a practice that dated back to 1728 and was one of Gibraltar’s main attractions.

He still had some time before he needed to get back to the ship so he continued with his investigations.  He desperately needed a cigarette but decided to leave it for the moment as he was enjoying the cool breeze from the large overhead fan, it was one of those lattice types often found in the tropics and its large blades made up for its slow rotation.

He had to wait for the librarian to return from the archives with a copy of the Washington post dated July 18th 1958.  He felt flattered that she was helping him so much and thought it a shame that she looked like a stereotype of her profession, right down to having her hair in a bun and wearing thick framed glasses.

The headline was in bold letters right across the whole front page: –

MIDDLE EAST CRISIS  

The UN Security Council is to convene members of the General Assembly to discuss the crisis throughout the Middle East and the effects it is likely to have on oil supplies.

The troubles started in Iraq with an armed take over of the Government that saw the brutal murders of the complete Royal family.

A BBC reporter sent the following dispatch before taking refuge at the British Embassy in Baghdad.

An armed insurrection took place just after dawn and all strategic government buildings including the media were taken over.

Forces were sent to the Palace where they met with little resistance and during the assault King Faisal 11 was shot dead.  His uncle Crowned Prince Abdul Ilah was wounded and then towed behind an army vehicle before being hanged in public from a prominent building.

During the unrest a serving British Army Colonel was shot dead outside the British Embassy.

Prime Minister Nuri, who had just past his seventieth birthday, was caught while trying to escape, dressed as a woman.  The new ruling party executed him without trial.

John Snow Baghdad.

Out in the sunshine and fresh air, the Chief Officer deeply inhaled his cigarette.  He reflected that fate, luck, or whatever you called it was unpredictable.

One minute you’re a King and own Palaces and a magnificent yacht, and the next minute your dead.  Thank goodness, he thought to himself that these things didn’t seem to happen to ordinary people.  He truly hoped that both the King and Jenk’s had had some great times aboard the yacht.

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