Ashley Cheek


Jane Perlez, “Polish Crew Tells of 3 Week Ordeal After a Red Sea Attack,” The New York Times, January 23, 1990.


Main Point / Summary:


On January 23, 1990 30 people were finally released after their cargo ship was attacked and they were taken as prisoners. The Polish cargo ship was attempting to deliver non-military supplies to the Ethiopian port of Massawa, which is a major delivery site for food aid attempting to reach millions of starving Ethiopian and Eritrean peasants, caught in the crossfire between the Ethiopian army and the rebels of Eritrea.


The attack came about suddenly, the Polish captain Andrzej Aikorski explained. Three speedboats appeared out of nowhere and began to attack the ship (which was flying both the Polish and Ethiopian flags, as required by international maritime law) with weapons such as cannons, machine guns, and bazookas. Finally, after hours of attack, the ship sank. The crew was sent into the lifeboats, and then were forcibly placed on two of the speedboats, which then drove eight hours to a small port in northern Eritrea. >From there, the crew was marched and sent to many smaller villages until arriving in Orotta, the administrative and industrial headquarters of the Eritrean rebels.


Finally at the ‘capital,’ the crew was told to feel like “guests, not captives” and was provided hot meals 3 times a day. After about one week, they were told that a mistake had been made, and they would be released. They were accompanied into the Sudan, where they were turned over to the U.S. This most likely was meant as a gesture of alliance with the U.S, with whom the Eritrean rebels desire more recognition. Finally, the entire crew was flown from the Sudan to Poland, ending their adventure, which was to be the polish captain’s last voyage.