In 2008 the navy deployed HMCS Ville de Québec to patrol for pirates off the Somalian coast. They didn’t find any. “Back on Ville de Québec I’m bored, too,” writes Jennifer Savidge, an intelligence officer aboard the frigate. This has the makings of a feature story in a hometown weekly: LOCAL WOMAN TOURS INDIAN OCEAN.
Instead Savidge spins the tale into 272 pages titled Hostile Seas: A Mission In Pirate Waters. The cover image is a stock photo of a ship in a moonlit bay. There is water everywhere. Pirates – not so much.
“Unlike pirate lore…there is nothing fun or romantic about this enterprise,” writes Savidge, a naval reservist. Hostile Seas reads like the diary of a ten-week cruise.
There is fresh linen every week, and an adequate supply of Kit Kat bars. Saturday night is pizza night. Officers have a cappuccino machine. There’s a great dessert buffet: “On the wardroom bar after meals lay a mind-blowing array of treats: freshly-baked cookies and cakes, pies and puddings, sometimes even ice cream and ingredients to make our own sundaes, surprisingly effective morale-boosters for sailors on long deployments.”
Ville de Québec was assigned to escort cargo ships to Mogadishu. Not a shot was fired in anger. The assignment itself was mandated under NATO, though the link to national security seemed tenuous even at the time.
“These waters are now considered the most dangerous in the world,” explains Savidge: “The alternative is routing their vessels all the way around South Africa, adding an average of twelve days to a typical voyage from Europe to the Gulf, which could potentially increase freight rates by at least 25 percent, time being money in this industry. Through higher prices in goods, the increase in shipping costs is ultimately passed on to the consumer.”
Is it the job of the Canadian navy to keep down prices for German consumers? The question is unasked and unanswered.
No matter. Aboard Ville de Québec there is not a pirate in sight. “On my way to fitful sleep I think of the pirates,” writes Savidge. The author even invents a character, Abdi the pirate, to fill out the narrative. “The story line of the Abdi character is pure fiction,” she explains.
Also, “dialogues and interactions within the book are recreated from memory”; “Many of the names have been changed”; “Others who shared in these events will no doubt have experienced them differently.”
Hostile Seas is an odd account of an unexciting mission, though it was undoubtedly meaningful to Savidge. In 2009 she received a commendation for her service about Ville de Québec.
“I feel lucky,” she said.
By Holly Doan
Hostile Seas: A Mission In Pirate Waters, by J.L. Savidge; Dundurn Press; 272 pages; ISBN 9781-4597-19378; $22.99