3. Pirates

#3. Pirates

Crete, as most people know, is an island. What is, however, not so well known is that parts of the south coast of the island are only accessible by sea and are dependent upon the services provided by the (ir)regular ferries that commute between our village and the more remote villages along the coast. The two large car carrying ferries that perform this task normally, carry out an intricate ballet between four villages, ending up in the evening by depositing the two or three hundred tourists, who have slogged their way down 18 or so km of a deep gorge for fun(?), at either end of the ferry route, from whence they are bussed back to their hotels up north. It’s a complicated system but it’s worked well for the last 20 or so years.

Last year however, as part of the austerity programme and the dismantling of Greek bureaucratic state, the task of inspecting and certifying the seaworthiness of the vessels was taken from the state run organisation that had done it since the year dot and handed to the ship owners for them to find private surveyors. The owners of the two local big boats did just that and, allegedly, found these nice Russian gentlemen. Messers. Ripemov and Youvbinconned, who arranged to do the survey on the cheap. So, two months later than scheduled, one can no more speed up Russians than one can Cretans, the ferries start running their usual routes and by early September are up to their eyes in tourists.

It was at about this point, so the story goes, that someone from the insurance company got round to inspecting the paperwork provided by the Russians and looked into their credentials. Imagine their surprise….the survey/insurance company didn’t exist, the paperwork was worthless and the money and the Russians were conspicuous by their absence.

Panic then ensues as it is realised that the ferries are at sea, full of tourists, with no seaworthiness certificates and no insurance. Nine o’clock on a Tuesday morning, and the Coast Guard swing into action. An urgent message is sent to the furthest ferry ordering it back to its home port immediately and the local coastal protection gunboat sets off at high speed, intercepts the nearest ferry at sea, full of passengers, and escorts it back to our village, from where it had departed 45 minutes earlier. By midday and there was one ferry tied up here under the watchful eyes of the Port Police while the other was tied up, about 40 km along the coast from us. At this point, dear reader, you need to be aware that on Crete, the men of the district in which the further ferry was now incarcerated, have a certain reputation for independence of thought and action: they like to claim that theirs was the only district that in the 300 or so years of Ottoman rule, the Ottomans never managed to conquer, and that theirs was the district that the German never managed to subdue….both interesting myths which nevertheless partially account for the act that a man from this district is just as likely to have a gun in his pocket as he is to be pleased to see you. (Their reputation for a certain independence of attitude was reinforced several years ago when a police helicopter, sent to investigate the alleged production of certain herby substances, was driven off by small arms fire.)

One version of the story of the subsequent events of that day, and there are several, goes that the mayor of the district in question, who did not take kindly to the fact that ‘his’ ferry was now tied up in ‘his’ harbour and the 200 or so tourists that would be expected to arrive in his village for lunch, were stuck at a village up the coast with little prospect of them getting out in time to spend any money on his patch, took matters into his own hands and commandeered the ferry. Opinion here is divided as to whether or not actual bits of hardware were displayed during the exercise, the majority view being that a display of force would be unnecessary since the implicit assumption is if you’re from this district, you’re armed, but eventually the ferry Captain was ‘persuaded’ by the mayor to resume its interrupted journey and the tourists duly brought into the village.

Such actions did not go unnoticed and off went the gunboat again, this time with the aid of a large body of police, but no helicopter, which descended on the village from the north of the island. The Coast Guard boat recovered the ferry and escorted it back here and the police arrested the mayor. Local sympathies are divided, our village derives considerable income from the tourists brought in by ferry passengers also, but it has been suggested that when the mayor gets out of jail, he’s to be offered the position of Mayor of Mogadishu*. In the meantime, the ferry service previously offered by two large car carrying vessels is now being carried out by two much smaller, foot passenger only, ships; the Russians are still at large and the ex-mayor of a certain Cretan village is anxious to have a word or two with them.

Now you may think that none of the above is true, and I wouldn’t blame you, but as I sit here on the veranda, I can look down past the flowers and vegetables and see the two boats that normally ply their trade along the coast, tied up awaiting a new inspection of seaworthiness and new insurance certification; yes, as I always suspected, there are ferries at the bottom of my garden.

(I would just like to add that the ship shown above WAS NOT one of those involved!)

*The copywrite of this ‘joke’ belongs to Spiros from Birmingham and, quite frankly, he’s welcome to it.