MAHE, Seychelles – Pirates who attacked a cruise ship off the coast of Somalia grinned as they aimed grenade-launchers and machine guns at the deck and staterooms, some passengers said Monday, recounting the ordeal after safely docking in this Indian Ocean archipelago.
The ship escaped by shifting to high speed and changing course, and the cruise line said Monday the crew also used a sonic weapon, which blasts earsplitting noise in a directed beam, as it tried to ward off the attack.
"I tell you, it was a very frightening experience," Charles Supple, of Fiddletown, Calif., said by phone.
The retired physician and World War II veteran said he started to take a photograph of a pirate craft, and "the man with the bazooka aimed it right at me and I saw a big flash.
"Needless to say, I dropped the camera and dived. The grenade struck two decks above and about four rooms further forward," he said. "I could tell the guy firing the bazooka was smiling."
The sonic device that helped ward off the attack, known as a Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, is a so-called "non-lethal weapon" developed for the military after the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen as a way to keep operators of small boats from approaching U.S. warships. Makers of the device compare its shrill tone to that of smoke detectors, only much louder.
The gunmen never got close enough to board the cruise ship, but one member of the 161-person crew was injured by shrapnel, according to the Miami-based Seabourn Cruise Line, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp.
Relieved holiday-makers praised the ship's captain for foiling the attack, but some said they were lucky to escape with their lives.
A woman survived an explosion in her stateroom simply because she was taking a bath at the time. Others flung themselves to the floor to avoid bullets that were zipping through the ship, Charles Forsdick, of Durban, South Africa, told Associated Press Television News.
Bob Meagher of Sydney, Australia, said he climbed out of bed and went to the door of his cabin shortly before 6 a.m. after hearing a commotion outside.
"I saw a white-hulled boat with men in it waving various things and shooting at the ship — at that stage it appeared to be rifle fire," he told Australian radio.
"My wife said, 'Look, they're loading a bazooka,' which we later discovered was called an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) launcher."
"There was a flash of flame and then a huge boom — a terrible boom sound," he said, adding the grenade hit about 10 feet from where they were.
The liner had been at the end of a 16-day voyage from Alexandria, Egypt.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Monday that the attackers might have been terrorists. Others said the attack bore the hallmarks of pirates who have become increasingly active off Somalia, which has no navy and has not had an effective central government since 1991.