ViVi-Maj Miren talks about the pirate attack that left her husband hospitalized with a gunshot wound. [Photo by Trinidad Express Newspapers.]
NEWINGTON, CT, Mar 26, 2001--The Swedish skipper of a sailboat, who was shot after pirates boarded his vessel March 20 off the coast of Venezuela, remains hospitalized in Trinidad. The victim has been identified as Bo Altheden, SM7XBH, of Bjärred, Sweden. Hams on the Maritime Mobile Service Net assisted Altheden and his wife, ViVi-Maj Miren, when Miren put out a call for help on 20 meters after her husband was shot once in the abdomen.
One of the hams who assisted in coordinating the rescue, Eric Mackie, 9Z4CP, of Trinidad, met late last week with Miren aboard the couple's vessel in Trinidad and was able to learn additional details about what happened. According to what Miren told Mackie, the couple was en route to Trinidad and Tobago and having lunch around 12:30 PM Atlantic Standard Time when their 44-foot-ketch Lorna was approached by six men in a fishing boat. "The vessel approached from behind, pulled alongside and Bo went out on deck to see what they wanted," Mackie related. "They asked for cigarettes, and Bo said they did not smoke."
Sensing trouble, Altheden started back toward the helm with the intention of pulling away from the other vessel--which Mackie described as a "pirogue"--a common fishing boat. But as he turned away, the intruders shot him in the right lower back.
Mackie says Miren told him that the bullet wound caused considerable internal damage and bleeding. Although Altheden made it to the helm on his own, Miren had to help him into the vessel's salon, where he collapsed just inside. At that point, the pirates boarded the Lorna and helped themselves to what was on board.
According to Mackie, the pirates' booty amounted to less than $20 in cash, Miren's watch, binoculars, a Walkman, snorkeling gear, some alcohol and a few other items. Miren, in the meantime, was attending to her husband, who was conscious but not in good shape at that point. While the pirates destroyed the two VHF radios onboard before they left, they missed the HF radio--an SGC SG-2020--which, Mackie said, was right in plain sight.
The pirates gone, Miren set off an EPIRB and unsuccessfully tried calling for help using a hand-held VHF. "When that didn't work, she went to the HF radio," Mackie said. She tried 2182 kHz without success too. Eventually, she landed on 20 meters and found the net on 14.300 MHz.
Mackie, who is a TV weather presenter in Trinidad, said he got involved while monitoring the Maritime Mobile Service Net. As he was preparing his evening forecast, he heard a male voice call "break, break break" on frequency. "Propagation conditions at that time were absolutely terrible, and the net control station did not hear the call," he said. Neither did anyone else, and some of those on frequency later said that they were worried Miren's call would be overlooked.
Mackie said he broke the net to alert others to the call, which also was picked up by Dale Voss, KO4V, in the US Virgin Islands. The net control was having trouble hearing Mackie and the distress call, however. This was at approximately 3:10 PM AST--nearly three hours after the shooting.
"I took control and asked Dale to relay what information he had, and while this was happening, the hams in the US started zeroing in on Trinidad," he said. Mackie said he was able to learn in the meantime that the Lorna had been attacked by pirates, and he was able to contact the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard and advise them of the situation. "I was able to give them most of the required information at that point, and they soon came up on the net frequency and were able to speak with the S/Y Lorna directly," he said. "ViVi had also asked that I contact The Swedish Lion, some friends of theirs who were at the Coral Cove Marina here, which I did and asked them to prepare to assist."
The Lorna at anchor in Europe. Mackie obtained this photograph from ViVi-Maj Miren, the wife of the wounded skipper.
Mackie said he had to bow out and head for work for a couple of hours and got Khaz Baksh, 9Z4AF, and Tony Lee Mack, 9Y4AL, to stand by on frequency while he was away. By the time he got back, he said, word had spread fast and "every ham in Trinidad was tuned to 14.300!"
As it worked out, vessels from the Venezuelan Navy and the Trinidadian Coast Guard arrived on scene at approximately the same time. While a medical team from Trinidad was able to board the Lorna to attend Altheden, it was decided to wait until the vessel was in calmer waters before attempting to transfer him to the Coast Guard vessel.
Mackie says Bo Altheden now is in St Clair Medical Center, a private hospital set up to deal with trauma cases. According to Mackie, Altheden remains in critical but stable condition.
"On a personal note, I found that the cooperation of the three countries and the amateur operators was instrumental in the successful conclusion of this rescue," Mackie said, "This is not the first time that I have handled emergency situations, and there are few things that give me more of a sense of fulfillment than to be able to help someone in need."
The shooting in the Caribbean Sea occurred some 3200 km to the east-southeast of a similar pirate attack nearly one year ago. In that incident, March 28, 2000, armed marauders shot young Willem van Tuijl from the Netherlands, who was sailing with his parents at the time.
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