Risky business in Somalia

//Risky business in Somalia

Risky business in Somalia

As I left my keys to the hotel reception he asked what my destination was for the day. (He had learned by now that I fly to a new destination every morning.)
I said Bosaso in Somalia and he looked at me and said: Good luck Sir, that’s a dangerous area. Not quite what I wanted to hear at that time.

I had breakfast with the 737 crew at the hotel just before our pickup arrived. We drove out to the airport and it was time for another flight into Somalia. This time in an AN-24, again a russian prop.  This would be my second time in an AN-24, last time was in year 2000 with Air Moldava International. A noisy aircraft with little comfort for a jumpseating photographer.

Went out to the aircraft and met up with the crew. All russian again… Spent the time before passengers arrive to take some shots.

Today's aircraft

I was really surprised to see 2 pretty big LCD screens mounted on each side of the cockpit door, showing in flight entertainment in this old AN-24. It somehow didn’t fit in the picture of an old russian prop like this. They were both connected to an old VHS video player stored in the cargo department between the cabin and cockpit. So russian!

AN-24 Cabin

As we were starting our engines the IL-18 started to taxy outside and we all just sat and watched the old 4 prop lady pass us on her way to the runway. I just wished I was outside to take some nice photos of her passing us. The big rubber fans were spinning like crazy in the hot cockpit, trying to cool us down. They didn’t… they only moved the air a little bit and that was worth a lot.
It was another hot day in Africa.

We were soon airborn and started to head almost straight westerly, following the Somali coastline. Bosaso is a small village just by the coast of Gulf of Aden.
Captain explained with his very limited English that they usually leave the aircraft during the turnaround and go swimming in the ocean.

Turnaround times in Bosaso was varying but they usaully had time for a swim to cool down. Not bringing any swimtrunks I thought about solving that, but soon came to the conclusing that anything goes, as long as I get to cool down in the “cool” ocean water (24-28’C in the water)

Window view

After a little more than 1hour and  30 minutes of flying we were finally on short final for Bosaso runway. It was a very rugged terrain, far from any major city or civilization. The runway was only a gravel strip next to some barren mountains. This was one hot and torrid area!

Bosaso

We touched down and taxied to the parking spot next to the small buildings which apparently were supposed to be terminal of some sorts. Passengers disembarked and the crew started talking about going for their ocean swim.

Bosaso Terminal

I stepped outside to take some photos, as I always do. As I came down the stairs the station manager welcomed me to Bosaso together with some other gentlemen. I greeted them all and they explained that they wanted to talk to me. One of them was the Airport Manager, one other was Head Of Security.
I said ok and they suggested we go to the office. They said I could leave my bag on the aircraft, but that’s a big no-no for me. I always bring it with me.
No matter where I am, or how far I will go. Loosing it on an assignment would be devastating, so never! I brought the camerabag and walked with them to the little houses.
The heat was intense!

People went inside and came out again. They all talked and pointed. I didn”t understand a word anybody said. I barely understood what they said when they spoke as their English was limited.  The station manager  entered a very hot old car telling me to get in.
I asked where we were going ? He just explained we needed to see the manager.

I still don”t understand why, but I got into the car and put my camerabag next to me in the backseat. Another big gentleman entered the car and he was obviously the driver.
We followed an 4×4 jeep on the rough ground, I can’t call it a road, it was simply rough ground!

I got more and more concerned as I realised we just left the airport area! I never, ever do that on destinations I go to during stopovers.
In this case I wouldn’t dream of doing it! Somalia, no way!

Check again what Lonelyplanet.com says:  Kevlar vest; check. Military entourage; check. Somalia, here I come.  They also say:  ..“Puntland which remains a no-go area”
Guess where Bosaso is…. Correct, in Puntland.

So, I was definitely concerned as I realised we were heading for the village centre. Danger isn’t my style. I’m very happy with being a safe traveller.
I was also missing a visa for Somalia, as I never intended to visit the country, just stay in and around the aircraft.

I got more and more worried and wanted to know why we needed to visit the village. As I understood it it was some trouble with my photo permissions.
So now were were looking for the head of the village. On every phone line following the “road” there were vultures looking at us as we passed.

Vulture

We couldn’t drive quicker than 15-20 km/h as the “road” was so bad. I bumped and held on to my camera bag as we finally reached the village.
The only difference was some small buildings surrounding the rough terrain we just called road.

We stopped several times outside various small buildings and the station manager would get out. He went inside and came out again and we kept going.
After a while we stopped outside another building and everybody got out.

It was the airline’s office. I stepped outside too, bringing my camera bag. We went inside to wait, as they couldn’t find the guy they were looking for.
I spent the time doing some interviews with the airline people and broke my camera bag doing it.

The zipper closing it all broke!

Perfect! Inside poor Somalia with a bag full of expensive camera equipment which I cannot close. Lovely. Dream scenario.
I ended up wrapping some sticky tape around the bag, that was enough for now so at least I could carry it.
Again we went to the car and started looking for the chief. I hated this driving. We were driving slowly through the centre village and in front of us was another 4×4 jeep.
Pointing out of every window was a machine-gun. The fact that another Swedish photographer was shot dead in the streets 2 months earlier didn’t help.
I wanted out! I wished I had never stepped down from the aircraft.

Luckily we found the guy they were looking for and we could finally have our meeting. We all sat down in a small building at the airport.
The room only contained one wooden table and some chairs around it.

After some discussions it was all cleared up, they thought I was there to photograph navigation equipment.
When I explained that I was there to do some photo work for the airline they all said ok and I could continue.

*phew* Finally.

Our AN-24

I immediately walked back to the aircraft, feeling much safer there. The crew was gone, swimming in the ocean. I missed the swim, but I didn’t care much about that right now.
I was happy to be back by the aircraft and alive. Now if we only could get airborne!

We took off shortly after and had a safe flight home.

By |2018-09-27T14:39:27+00:002006-12-22|Aviation|0 Comments

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