- “Dead in the Water” is an expose of the corrupt inner workings of international shipping, written by journalists Matthew Campbell and Kit Chellel.
- They describe the kidnapping and burning of the brilliant virtuoso tanker and its aftermath.
- The following is an excerpt from the book, describing the events of a week after the suspected murder of David Mockett, the maritime expert who was investigating the kidnapping.
When armed assailants destroyed the supertanker Brilliant Virtuoso in 2011, maritime experts were confused. Why would Somali pirates board a ship and then burn it down without demanding a ransom? His bewilderment turned to horror when David Mockett, a marine surveyor working for the Bright’s insurers, was killed by a car bomb in Yemen, just a week after surveying the ship’s wreckage. Clearly, this was no ordinary case of hacking.
In this excerpt from their forthcoming book Dead in the Water, Bloomberg correspondents Matthew Campbell and Kit Chellel recount the aftermath of Mockett’s murder and how suspicions began to mount about the fate of the Bright.
The following is an excerpt from the book.
About a week after her husband’s death, Cynthia Mockett heard a knock at the door of the Vicarage, her home in Devon.
It was a uniformed police sergeant who was there to take a statement. She invited him into the living room, where David’s image remained constant in her life, thanks to framed photographs of him everywhere: some as a handsome young sailor, others smiling over a glass of wine in the garden, or posing with one arm. around his daughters.
The officer seemed to apologize that he couldn’t do more for Cynthia. The Devon and Cornwall Police obviously had no jurisdiction in Yemen, and the British government had decided it was too dangerous to send detectives there to conduct a proper investigation.
The police were doing their best under difficult circumstances, he explained, and they needed his help.
Cynthia was exhausted. She spent the week acting as a focal point for her entire family’s grief, receiving condolences.
of all the world. The bureaucracy of the loss also fell on her. Retrieving David’s body proved difficult.
Aden officials had been reluctant to facilitate the repatriation until a friend of the Mocketts persuaded the head of a local shipping company to foot the bill. And there were so many financial matters to take care of, including his life insurance policy. She wasn’t entirely sure that she covered the death abroad by a car bomb.
To increase the pressure on Cynthia, the British media had become interested in what happened to David, and reporters had been showing up at the house.
A Brit apparently blown up by terrorists made for a compelling tabloid story. A newspaper published a quote on behalf of Cynthia, saying that she feared the explosion would be so powerful that there would be no body to bury. Either the statement was fabricated or the reporter had spoken to someone else: she never gave the interview and never said anything remotely to that effect.
But despite Cynthia’s exhaustion, she was eager to help the police if she could, so she pulled herself together and offered the sergeant a cup of tea. She had no illusions about how difficult it would be for the British police to get the truth out of Yemen. As she had learned in the years she had visited Aden, it could be a confusing place.
“Yemen is a world of relationships, not institutions,” wrote Ginny Hill, an analyst and journalist who covered the country for more than a decade. Partly for reasons of self-preservation, “each version of events revealed to her depends on the speaker’s assessment of her suspected connections and affiliations.”
When it came to investigating Mockett’s death, the identity of the person making the inquiries would be of paramount importance. Were they loyal to Saleh, linked by obscure financial ties to the president’s family? Or were they connected to another of the dynastic clans fighting for position after the Arab Spring? Perhaps the interrogator was an honest local detective or a jihadist double agent who had fought against allied forces in Iraq.
The answer could be different each time. A Westerner unaware of Yemen’s power structures might not get a meaningful answer at all. “There are many versions of the same moment, and each one is valid in some way,” Hill wrote.
After taking notes on Cynthia’s account of her last conversations with David, the sergeant asked her about the details of her final job: the Brilliant Virtuoso. The police wanted to explore any avenues that might have unwittingly led him into conflict. Cynthia explained that most of Mockett’s professional materials were kept in her office in Aden, and she agreed to call the young Sri Lankan surveyor David had taken under her wing there.
When he answered the phone, Mockett’s protege looked terrified.
“Ma’am, the file has been stolen,” he said. In the days since Mockett’s murder, she told Cynthia, someone had broken into the office and rifled through her things. Whoever it was, she had taken Mockett’s journal, as well as his entire file on the Bright. The surveyor seemed worried about his phone being tapped. “I have to be very, very careful what I say,” he said. “What do I do, ma’am?” Cynthia had met the man several times and she always thought he was an excellent choice as David’s understudy. She could only think of one thing to say. “Do what he has taught you to do,” she said. “You have to do what you think is right.”
Matthew Campbell is a reporter and editor for Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. Kit Chellel is a reporter for Bloomberg and a writer for Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. This is an excerpt from his new book Dead in the Water.