I suppose I've run and smuggled just about everything, People, Immigrants/emmigrants,
Tobacco, Alcohol, Amber, Arms and other stuff even ships, (I was once stopped and searched
when it was the ship itself that was the contraband).
To recount these events is nothing new and certain events for obvious reasons cannot
be for Public Domain.
One event however does bring a smile and may be worth a mention if only for the fact
that it is an uncommon contraband story and perhaps unique.
I was based at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, my call sign at the time was 'Arabone' and I sailed
under letters of Sheik Baroom who was the owner of the 17000 ton ship "Badr"
I was called to an audience with the Sheik who said we had a deal to smuggle Camels
into Saudi from Somalia, "Do you know anything about Camels?" he asked. I told him
that they had long legs and a hump. He smiled one of those Sheik smiles and advised me
to take a rapid course in Camels and the ship ready to sail in the morning.
We sailed before dawn, our destination Berbera in Somalia which at that time was
under Russian control and a Russian Frigate was berthed on the main pier offering the
only electric light source to the town from its deck lights.
Apart from the small three berth harbour, Berbera can be described as an oasis on the
coast, a few trees a dried up river (Wadi) no roads a few huts no electricty and a
population of Qat chewers, Qat a kind of coca,, everything in all directions is desert.
On the second night a messenger told me the Camels were on their way and they would
arrive at dawn the next day. Still dark an hour or so before dawn the Camels came over
the hills surrounding Berbera in a long never ending line, three hundred camels.
Camels are really ugly cargo, they are always pissed off in fact I believe they are born
pissed off and get worse as they age. Each group of Camels is made up of a male and his
hareem of a dozen or so females. Each group has to be kept seperate from the other
groups. Each group were walked up the specially constructed gangplanks and penned
into pens that are quickly constructed in timber using nails and rope each sized
depending to the number of camels in that group. It took all day and most of the
following night to load them all and construct on deck about 25 pens.
I employed 4 Somali Camel boys to look after the Camels and make sure they were
calm. The problem being, if a male Camel thinks another male Camel is looking at one
of his chicks he goes wild and I mean wild, so Camel fights were frequent and the Camel
boys made sure it was kept to a shouting match between Camels and nothing more.
During the loading we were offered another deal and loaded in the tween decks some
40 buffaloâ€™s and a score of what I was told were sheep. All the time the crew of the
Russian Frigate were looking on in amazement.
We sailed again before dawn.
As the Red Sea sun came up the Camels got more pissed off and it wasnâ€™t long before
they started fighting between pens then the other pens started fighting in sympathy.
Pens started to get smashed faster than we could repair them, one or two Camels got
into the wrong pens and Camels were fighting to the death, the Camel boys were all
but exhausted jumping from pen to pen and I was worried.
A dangerous situation If too many pens get smashed and the Camels all moved together
it could have been possible to lose the ship, they could have turned it over.
The Camel boys were reinforced by engine room and mess crew and no one slept until
after three days the Camels were off loaded in Jeddah and I was thankfully back in the
Palace hotel Jeddah counting my share.
An hou later and the phone rang, it was the shiek, he was happy, he told me I was so
quick completing the mission and we had time to do it again but we must move
immediately and we could get away with doing it twice. Another hour and I was back on
the bridge of the Badr and we set sail back to Berbera.
In the few hours I was in Jeddah and full of my acount of Camel running, I enquired if
such a lot of Camels had ever been landed before, I was told once an Egyptian Captain
had landed 420. That was a lot of Camels but I had to beat it
Again we berthed in Berbera opposite the same Russian Frigate, the noahs Ark scenario
was repeated, again the Russians seemed amazed and filmed us.
I asked the Camel dealers how many Camels they had in the desert, they had 500, 'Iâ€™ll
take â€˜em.' I said. They told me it was too many but I insisted. I took charge of the
pen building adding steel tank tracks and some old logs.
I managed to get 475 Camels on deck and took on extra Camel boys.
It is quite impossible for me to put down in words just how scary a cargo of Camels can
be, perhaps if I say that we stored the lifeboats and made them ready to drop, or that
no one slept or if they did it was near or in the lifeboats. The engine room crew stayed
mostly on deck and every door on every deck was jarred open. The camels fought as
usual and perhaps more than usual but as luck would have it because they were packed
in so tightly they had difficulty in causing real fight problems but the noise was
hauntingly frightening, the fights in the night screamed out over the sea and would
have scared Leviathon himself..
We off loaded the Camels at Jeddah, they were counted, I knew I had broken the
record for Camel running in the Red Sea. The record is only 472, three Camels were
disallowed, one Camel had died onvoyage, one had a broken leg and was put down on
landing and one was missing.
I knew how many Camels were on my ship and ordered them to be counted again, I said
that it was impossible that a Camel was missing! They counted twice but the total was
always the same, I was extremely dismayed, not because I got paid per Camel but more
for the record. How did I lose a Camel. I got paid and was back in the Palace Hotel.
The ship Badr went back to "normal shipping operations". Shiek Baroom asked me to
take the ship to Costanta Rumania on the Black Sea to pick up straight cargo.
A few days later and after passing the Bosforus and entering the Black sea at night with
an oil calm sea, I gave the order to open the hatches, we would go straight into
Costanza port and load the next morning.
Opening the forward hatch a strange noise was heard coming from the hatch, it
sounded like, aaarrggghhh!! Yes you got it, a Camels angry voice.
We had found the missing Camel. I knew that if we arrived at Costanta with a Camel
onboard it was going to be a Q,(Quarantine) flag problem, delays, controls and who
knows what, big problems.
We hoisted the Camel up on deck, he was ok, we gave him a cabbage and a bucket of
water, he got up on his feet and looked around strangely, maybe wondering where the
hell the other 472 Camels had gone, he was cool and calm as he chewed the cabbage.
Somehow the camel had to go and the only way to lose the Camel was overboard
I ordered the Camel readied to be put in the sea I'm sure the Camel looked at me and
winked and smiled which seemed to give my soft animal heart a break.
In those days the Black sea was controlled by the Soviets and anything that moved was a
blip on all kinds of radar screens. As the Camel munched his cabbage I got back to the
bridge and ordered the port engine to be stopped. Then I radioed the Bulgarian Coast
Guard asking permission to slow and close the coast, I said I had an engine problem,
IAllowed to do so we closed to about 3 miles. I stopped the ship and ordered the Camel
lowered overboard. The camel hit the water as the ship was still slowly moving forward,
this together with our shouts in all languages of encouragement and pointing him in the
direction of the land had the desired effect, the Camel swam for it, (the Camel knew
where the land was. )
We restarted engines got back on course and relaxed, we all agreed the Camel would
make it and that the Camel had agreed to the decision.
Next day we were in Costanta.
One morning a couple of days later in Costanza port I noticed a paper boy walking
through the port. The newspaper was written in cirilic but the front page picture was in
Camel. I quickly bought a paper, it was my Camel! I got an interpretation.
The newspaper was concerned about the deteriation of relations between Bulgaria and
Rumania because they both laid claim on the Camel.
My Camel, as it turned, out finally reached the beach right on the border between
Bulgaria and Rumania and was directionless, he was wandering backwards and forwards
across the border of the two countries both of whom then claimed ownership of the
The problem and claims of ownership between these two Soviet states was finally
settled by sending the Camel to Sofia zoo where it lived to an old age, this was ok by
me, it was my Camel not theirs.
To this day, the mystery of the Camel in the coastal border towns of Bulgaria and
Rumania Remains a mystery, hereby revealed.
Camel dealers and lead Camels
Where did you come from?
Hello what are you?
I'm a Dog innit! You never seen a dog
before? But what are you? Thats the
question innit! Why you got that long
"I am a Camel, my name is 475. Anyway
where am I?"
'Look,475 your ugly nose is in Romania
right I'm in Bulgaria innnit .
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