The International Writers Magazine: Diplomatic Diaries Part
DIARIES PART III
James Skinner is the Honorary
live by the sea. Arent I lucky! Everyday I open my office
window and take in the fresh salty breeze of the North Atlantic.
My view, as a I
travel for miles along the coastal roads on consular missions of mercy
is that of a beautiful coastline with bays, coves and sandy beaches
stretching from the North to the South of the Atlantic coast of the
Iberian Peninsula. Every now and then, I do it for pleasure and relaxation,
I stop off at a seaside bar of some forgotten town, for a bottle of
Alvariño, a bowl of cockles and a tray of fresh shrimps, overseeing
the fishermen arriving with their catch of the day. But there are occasions
when duty calls. Some Brit has got himself into trouble!
If you think that national or even international legislation of the
civilised and democratic world is complex, dont even try understanding
International Maritime Law. Im sure that for every rule that applies
in a civil or criminal court arising from some dispute there are two
or three related to the world of the oceans. Anyway, back to some of
my lighter experiences dealing with sailors, mutineers,
and wayward yachtsmen and, we mustnt forget fishermen!
Got a call one day from a woman in Jersey, Channel Islands. My
lad Johnny has hopped on a yacht and is heading your way! So?
I answered, whats his problem? Hes forgotten
his passport! was the frantic reply. Now I must explain, the loss
or the misplacement of a passport is a very serious matter. With todays
international mafia dealing with drugs, arms and all kinds of other
felonies, many rat bags out there are only too eager to get hold of
a European or other passport, falsify it, and use it for their criminal
gains. When a situation like this arises the whole machinery of the
Foreign Office and Consular core kicks off to reunite passport holder
and passport. Through the use of diplomatic courier or other mailing
systems, Johnnys document was sent from Jersey, via London, then
Madrid and finally arrived in my hands about the time that this lad
had docked with his captain in Corunna. End of story? By no means! First
things first. Port authorities and yacht club were advised almost immediately
that a yacht was on its way and that one of the persons on board had
no documents. This is where the peculiarity of sea life comes into play.
There is a sort of weird and common bond between all of them. No
problem, consul, says the yacht club manager; well
house him in the Seamans Mission awaiting your instructions.
Customs and immigration are all cooperating.
Captain calls me on arrival. Mr. Skinner, weve arrived.
OK, great. You realise that I have to check out Johnnys
identity and that he cant enter the country without documents.
Youll have to sail down here to Vigo.
No problem, well be there day after tomorrow.
Give me a call when you arrive, I replied. Now heres
the catch. I had to make sure that Johnny was Johnny. I mean physically,
face to face with passport in hand! Absolutely vital. What I didnt
count on was when. The captain arrived all right and I got the phone
call. But it was 06:00 on a Sunday morning, down by the docks, where
all the Saturday night left over drunks, pimps and whores were still
frolicking about in the street. Besides, it was my bloody day off! Despite
my sleepy eyes, Johnny was Johnny all right. He retrieved his passport
and I buggered off back home, brushing aside a luscious blond that was
offering me a two for one.
Opened the newspaper one day. Headlines read, Portuguese fishermen
take over fishing vessel. The story went on to inform how the
crew decided to mutiny against the Galician skipper and his engineer
because they were not being paid enough money. They threw the whole
catch overboard, smashed a few odds and ends on the boat and locked
the captain in the bridge. Naturally the coastguards went out to bring
the whole motley crew back to the port of Marin, about 10 miles from
Vigo. So whats it got to do with me? Damn ship was registered
in the UK. Mayhem started. Called my counterpart in the Portuguese Consulate.
Dont talk to me about this lot. Ive just put them
all on a bus and sent them on their way back home. Skipper has decided
not to press charges, so lets leave it at that. I could just picture
the Portuguese and Galicians at sea having a bash at each other!
OK, I said, suits me. I put the phone down.
End of story? Like hell! Get a call from the UK Maritime Agency. Whats
all this about mutiny aboard a British ship? Oh, God,
I thought, what do I do now? Well, I said, tongue
in cheek, theyve all gone home. To another country. No forwarding
address Im afraid. Theyre all foreigners anyway. I
closed my eyes and crossed my fingers. Mutiny at sea is a serious
business you know? Ill write up a report to the effect and see
if we need to take any further action. Case never raised its ugly
Skipper tied to mast!
of all was a call I got from the BBC. This case did hit all the
tabloid press including front page in the Mirror and the Sun. Morning,
is that the Consul? Yes. Im JB from
the BBC. Its about this fracas aboard a British yacht just
off Corunna. Is it true that they tied the skipper up and threw
him overboard? My adrenalin began at a million per hour. I
called up my contacts in the coastguard and sure enough, a yacht
with three Brits on board was now moored right up in one of the
smallest and most northern fishing ports in Galicia. It had been
towed in after an emergency distress signal had been fired off.
Two of the crew had tied up the skipper to the mast all right, and
then called for help!
The different storylines
were as follows. Skipper said, my crew panicked in heavy seas
and tied me up. Then they pulled the emergency flare. They didnt
need to do that.
Crew said, skipper went berserk and was not himself. We had to
do something otherwise we would all drown.
Salvage group said, it cost several thousand Euros to bring the
yacht back to port. I hope somebody pays!
Villagers said wow! The television is here. Well be on the
Press said all sorts of things, from Mad Captain to Mutiny
on the Bounty II. Judge said, theyre all upset and
must be sent on their way home. In the back of her mind was, I
must get them the hell out of here as soon as possible. I dont
need all this!
I said, thank God theyre all still alive! I went back
home and poured myself a large Scotch! I have no idea what the final
I must end on a sad note. One that has haunted me ever since it happened.
Three yachtsmen were adrift in the Bay of Biscay. Distress signals had
gone out and a helicopter rescue team were on their way. Eventually,
two were saved but the third, the skipper, although grappling for the
rope as the last one to abandon ship, suddenly disappeared
into the ocean. Despite further fruitless efforts, the search was abandoned.
Two months later, a passing freighter reported sighting a body floating
in the sea. It was recovered and turned out to be that of the missing
yachtsman. Identification was a problem but thanks to the cooperation
of the local police a positive ID was issued and the body allowed its
rightful repatriation. A proper funeral was carried out in his hometown
A gulp still remained in my throat as I closed the file on Man
© James Skinner. February 2005.
James Skinner in Vigo
all rights reserved