Sea mystery as passenger claims ‘we beat pirates’

By James Martin, May 27, 2009
MSC Melody, attacked by pirates in April — but who really saw them off?

MSC Melody, attacked by pirates in April — but who really saw them off?

A London woman who was on a cruise ship attacked by Somali pirates said this week that “the heroic efforts of passengers in fending them off has been overlooked”.

Frances Pallas was a week into a three-week cruise, which ran from Durban, South Africa, to Genoa, Italy, when the MSC Melody was attacked by pirates last month.

Mrs Pallas disputes the claim of the ship’s owners, MSC Cruises, that pirates were thwarted by Israeli security guards, who “acted immediately and successfully” in response to an attempted hijack.

The ship’s captain, Commander Ciro Pinto, said after the April 25 attack that his security detail had “fired shots and sprayed the pirates with water from a fire-hose” causing the pirates to back down.

But Mrs Pallas, from central London, said it was passengers, who happened to be passing by, who were instrumental in fending off the pirates.

Mrs Pallas, a former member of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, and her husband, were enjoying a “relaxing wedding anniversary celebration” when a group of pirates in a rubber boat moved next to the MSC Melody — and started to make their way up the rear of the deck.

“My husband was listening to an opera concert, when the singer returned after a break screaming about a pirate making his way up the rear of the deck and trying to get on-board,” said Mrs Pallas, who was ill in her cabin at the time.

Her husband said: “The heroic passengers threw deckchairs and tables at the pirate, who had hooked a rope on to the rail along the rear deck.”

This account is contradicted by MSC Cruises, which said: “We acknowledge and thank the one or two passengers who threw furniture at the pirates, but our security team was already fully aware of the presence of pirates and was in place to make a response.”

Mrs Pallas also claimed that “two passengers were injured from shots fired from the pirate’s rubber boat, including one who was shot directly in the leg”.

MSC Cruises said: “One passenger and two crew members received minor wounds, but no-one was shot directly.”

After spending the night sitting in their cabin in terror hearing indiscriminate gun shots being fired at the ship, Mr Pallas said the couple were assured the next day that they could safely return to the deck.

Mrs Pallas added: “I felt we should have been warned about the risk of such an attack. We didn’t plan to

celebrate our anniversary on a ship which was in danger from a pirate attack.”

The company says that the ship, which was 190 miles from the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean when the attack took place, was in “a safe zone, so no briefing was necessary”.

Last updated: 1:31pm, May 27 2009