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Kat's Final Encounter with the Militia of the Congo

Posted by Kat Hart 5th October 2011
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It would seem I was a bit too hasty in sending in my last blog entry... Half an hour later, we heard the noise of a powerful engine. Most traffic on the river is paddle-powered so it was something of a novelty, and anything above 50hp, which there was no doubt this was, is such a rarity we'd maybe encountered it once before. It came quickly and aggressively into view creating a huge wake behind it and we saw that it was a ridiculously armed gunboat... A manned heavy artillery machine gun mounted on the bow, five militia men wearing non-specific camouflage and too-ostentatious sunglasses, all with Kalashnikov's and all very definitely trained on our boat.

Our crew's reaction was instantly worrying, they disappeared nervously from the deck as the boat came alongside and tied up to us. I switched the satellite phone on and kept it hidden out of sight as, I'm assuming, the commander came aboard.

Still sunglassed to the max and giving away nothing, he paced the length of our boat in his para-boots and ear defenders, clearly making a show of the uncertainty his presence had created. It was a very tense few minutes onboard.

He eventually storm-trooped his way with 2 of his men flanking him to the rear of the deck and sat down with Michel who, characteristically, had waited to be identified as the owner of the boat, and therefore the  target of their attentions.   After protracted and tense discussions that we could only watch and speculate on, the commander removed his eye wear and the heightened atmosphere was broken. Cigarettes were "donated" and a few minutes later, five litres of fuel was produced for our guests.

Further negotiations and five of our party were being helped onboard the gunship, by the still armed but now grinning militia, having bartered another five litres of fuel and a packet of chewing gum, for a joyride round our boat; ostensibly to take photographs of the good ship Go Congo while she was on the move.  Absolutely and under no circumstances were photos allowed of them or their boat. They tore off at full bore and in full show off mode for a lap round the boat.

All 5 of them returned grinning from ear to ear at their adventure, with photos that they had sneakily managed to take of machine guns and ammunition, and gun barrels pointing directly at the boat. The photo caption would definitely have the words "pirate" and "hostage" in it.

On reflection, it was probably a good decision not to have sent this little anecdote to the duty phone by text message at the time.

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