A MYSTERIOUS ASSAULT. AN UNSOLVED MURDER. AND A SHIP THAT HASN’T GIVEN UP ALL ITS SECRETS
BY KIT CHELLEL AND MATTHEW CAMPBELL
Nestor Tabares must have known the hijackers were out there, waiting. It was his 13th day at sea aboard the oil tanker Brillante Virtuoso, and as the ship turned east, into the pirate-strewn waters off Somalia, the 54-year-old chief engineer would have understood that it made for an obvious target. With a top speed of less than 13 knots and stretching 300 yards from bow to rusting stern, the black-hulled Brillante was plodding into the world’s most dangerous shipping lane with a cargo worth $100 million.
It was July 2011, and the threat of Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden had never been more severe. The Brillante’s crew of 26 Filipinos, including Tabares and the ship’s captain, Noe Gonzaga, 57, set up the standard deterrents. Around the deck’s perimeter they fitted coils of razor wire, aimed eight high-pressure hoses for blasting attackers off the hull, and propped up a scarecrow in overalls, to suggest the presence of a watchman. Deep inside the tanker, they stocked a mechanical space with food, water, radios, and medical supplies—a panic room in the event pirates did come aboard. Most of the crew had faith that would never happen. They knew the ship’s owner, a company called Suez Fortune Investments Ltd., had arranged for a small security team to rendezvous off the Yemeni port of Aden, as an escort through the most dangerous part of their journey.
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