Dead in the Water: Murder and Fraud in the World’s Most Secretive Industry by Matthew Campbell and Kit Chellel - review by Michael Burleigh

Michael Burleigh

Pirates of the Aegean

Dead in the Water: Murder and Fraud in the World’s Most Secretive Industry


Atlantic Books 288pp £18.99

At 3am on 6 July 2011, the USS Philippine Sea, on piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden, received a radio distress message: ‘Coalition warship, coalition warship, this is Brillante Virtuoso. We are under attack.’ There were pirates on board and the ship was on fire. After abandoning ship, the tanker’s mainly Filipino crew, along with their packed suitcases, were picked up by the US cruiser from a large lifeboat.

The Brillante’s captain explained that he had given the ‘Somali’ intruders the ship’s $100,000 wage pot. The chief engineer said he had sabotaged the engine, which explained why the pirates had decided to take off, though they first set off two explosions. Very little of this yarn was true.

With fine attention to detail and great storytelling skill, two Bloomberg reporters, Matthew Campbell and Kit Chellel, here unravel the sordid conspiracy behind the hijacking of the Brillante. Greek salvors, conveniently on hand, quickly rescued the stricken ship, and the $100 million worth of crude on board was successfully decanted to another tanker once the Brillante had been towed to the UAE. Nominally worth $55 million, the Brillante was sold for scrap a year later for $700,000 and cut apart in a breaker’s yard in Pakistan.

This was not a victimless crime, though it was treated as such by the insurance industry in their Lime Street hubs. While all the ship’s crew were rescued and no one was hurt, the all-important surveyor who did the initial insurance inspection was not so lucky. This was

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