Like most lads, Jordan Wylie grew up thinking a pirate was an old bloke with a wooden leg, a parrot on his shoulder and a “Shiver me timbers!” on his lips.
“They were the characters I saw in pantos or films,” he smiles. “Long John Silver in Treasure Island or Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean.”
“I never thought of them as skinny African kids in sweaty T-shirts and dirty trainers, wearing earphones and posing for selfies with automatic weapons.”
But that’s exactly what ex- soldier Jordan saw as he peered from his hiding place inside a ship’s funnel: six seaborne bandits about to take the crew hostage.
Jordan, 33, was a guard on a vessel carrying aid into Mogadishu at the height of the Somali piracy crisis.
He’d sailed scores of missions protecting ships in the dangerous waters around Africa.
But this was the first time one had been boarded by Somali pirates who, in the early 2000s, were netting multi-million dollar ransoms.
And Jordan knew his life and those of the crew were in the balance. They were locked in the Citadel, a fortified room in the bowels of the ship – and also the title of Jordan’s breathtakingly exciting new memoir.
When the pirates approached, the crew followed the drill, retreated to the secret room and sent an SOS to the navy.
But the satellite phone wouldn’t work, even though it had been tested dozens of times in drills.
Jordan says: “Against all the protocols, I had to leave the Citadel and climb a ladder in the funnel to get a signal.”
“That’s when I spotted the pirates at the bow, scaling the hull with their weapons and taking souvenir photos.”
“We were in big trouble. At that time only a few countries allowed armed guards on their merchant vessels and this wasn’t one of them.”
“We had no way of defending ourselves. But I eventually reached the nautical equivalent of 999. And, by a miracle, a helicopter from the new multinational naval task force was overhead within an hour and the pirates fled back to their skiff. We were incredibly lucky.”
Jordan is not a man who relies on luck. He’s a highly trained stickler for detail.
Which is why he rode the top of the security wave during the piracy “gold rush”, earning £500 a day and staying in five-star hotels. It was a far cry from his early days in Blackpool.
Jordan followed his dad into the military, joining the Kings Royal Hussars at 16 and serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Ireland. But a back injury cut short his career.
So when a former Marine pal offered him the chance to join a team protecting ships, he jumped at it. In 2000, after a civil war in Somalia, foreign vessels had begun exploiting its lack of a coast guard to dump waste.
Starving fishermen responded by forming armed groups to deter the invaders and then began hijacking vessels. It grew into a lucrative trade with shipping lines paying huge ransoms from ship owners.
Jordan says: “Six guys jumping on a ship in the Indian Ocean have been able to extract $15million ransoms. And I totally understand why they do it.”
“People are shocked when I say I sympathise. But these young men don’t have much to live for. Ninety per cent of the country is jobless, 10% earn under $2 a day, it’s still in the middle of a war, there are no opportunities and terrorists are exploiting them.”
“So are pirate warlords who don’t get their hands dirty actually attacking the ships. The hijackers are poorly educated 15 to 21-year-olds.”
“They do the hard yards while the masterminds sit in luxurious homes.”
“The money they were making was massive so shipping companies realised it was cheaper to hire trained British servicemen to protect their ships.”
But hired guns on vessels of nations that ban weapons on board were soon dubbed “mercenaries”. Jordan bridles at the word – “a slur that ignores our years of service and our professionalism”.
He is a passionate campaigner for the Chennai Six – former British soldiers working on a US-owned “floating armoury” who were held by Indian coastguards for allegedly having illegal arms.
They deny any wrongdoing but have been in jail since 2013. “It was four years last month,” says Jordan, sadly.
“Boris Johnson has not done enough for these guys who all served in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is tragic, disgusting. Ninety per cent of world trade is still conducted by sea – the things we eat, buy and wear and the fuel we use.”
“If it wasn’t for people like the Chennai Six, we would all pay more.”
Piracy was eventually controlled in 2012 after the UN established Combined Task Force 150 to patrol the area.
Jordan says: “It was contained by the international response, better-trained crews and most importantly armed guards. No vessel with armed guards has ever been hijacked.”
“But now, instead of having highly trained ex-British military, the armed guards are guys from the Philippines with a year’s experience.”
“But they are cheaper. We were paid handsomely. In 2010 a team leader might earn £500 a day. Today they’d get £100.”
“Which is why we are seeing the problems starting again.” A new report reveals pirates have attacked 121 vessels worldwide this year.
After working on the ships Jordan was asked to be an adviser on Captain Phillips , the Tom Hanks movie about Somali pirates. He then took a degree in security risk management and a Masters in maritime security and has now set up a company to tackle the new pirate threat – cyber piracy.
He says: “One of the greatest risks to all industries today is cyber crime. Think of the chaos they can cause by taking out a whole company or a whole port.”
Jordan’s book has won widespread praise from military chiefs. Gen Sir Richard Shirreff, head of his former regiment, said: “This is the story of an exceptional individual…and it would make an amazing adventure movie.”
Jordan jokes: “I quite like the idea of Tom Hardy in the lead role.”
Disclaimer: The above image is for representation of the below incident and need not be considered as an actual case image.
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