Introduction: Line at the End of the World is a contemporary fiction narrative about illegal fishing, ecosystem collapse, and human rights abuses on the high sea, developed and written by Jefferson County geographer David Manthos. This story will run in serial format over the coming months. To learn more, and to support the project, visit patreon.com/lineattheendoftheworld.
— Previously in the Story —
Two ships collide in the southern Indian Ocean on a dark and foggy night. Without explanation, an enormous oil-tanker-turned-seafood-processing ship known as the Lafayette deliberately strikes the Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru—resulting in an explosion. Three months prior, the story begins in Lagos, Nigeria, where fisherman George Igwe finds himself among strange company in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the city.
Eventually satisfied the building was empty, the men uncertainly congregated around Fredrich. His burly crew had removed the tarps, uncovering two pallets, stacked high with crates containing at least a metric ton of paint cans. And laid out at his feet, two wooden cases—drab army green with Cyrillic markings.
“OK my friends,” Fredrich began, “it’s very simple. You are in two groups; half of you go with George, half of you with Ade. George gets one of these cases and half the paint, Ade gets the rest. We meet at the Raider by noon. She’s a white factory longliner moored at Buoy 17, two kilometers southwest of the inlet. Questions?”
Ahmed, a slender man in his thirties with a wispy black beard, tentatively raised his hand. His black eyes darted hesitantly around the circle.
“Don’t we need, uh, those?” He gestured weakly at the army-green boxes. Even to his limited knowledge, they clearly contained guns or some other kind of military hardware.
“That depends on what you think ‘those’ are, and what you think we’re doing with them.”
Ahmed shifted uncomfortably; Fredrich’s eyes were boring into him.
Someone coughed, though it sounded quite like the word, “Kalashnikov.”
“Don’t we need some kind of, um, firepower … to, um, take the Raider? Especially in,” Ahmed paused and looked around, “especially in broad daylight?”
Fredrich grinned a tight-lipped smile.
“No. They are expecting us and will welcome us aboard. Just keep the crates wrapped up and out of sight under all the cans of paint. Yes, Ade?”
A heavy-set man stepped forward from leaning on one of the motor-trikes. “What if we get stopped by police?”
“Don’t. You have maps to show the safest routes. But you are in two groups for a reason. Anyone gets caught, you are on your own.”
The men exchanged glances, murmuring and shaking their heads. Fredrich sensed the group turning against him, though none dared leave.
“Listen! You aren’t here because of our good friendship. George, you owe me for your motorbike. Ade, you owe me for the new motor on your boat. Every one of you is late with your payments.”
Fredrich’s four large bodyguards no longer slouched indifferently; they stood at rapt attention.
“Help me secure the Raider and ready her for sea, I forgive half the debt and give you two months to pay the rest. Don’t help and your debt is due now. Today.”
The air was charged as the men furtively glanced around, each weighing their options.
“Anyone ready to pay the man?” Fredrich challenged.
No one moved, but no one dared make eye contact.
“OK then!” Fredrich clapped his hands together. Ahmed flinched.
“See you at noon.”
The sun burned high and hot as George and his boat approached the rusted white ship bobbing in the Gulf of Guinea.
It had taken three hours to load the motorbikes, wind through the streets of Lagos, and unload the bikes into a colorful wooden pirogue—a twenty-five-foot wooden boat common to the African coast. Then another two hours to make it to the open ocean after winding through the narrow, boat-clogged channels of Makoko—a densely populated slum built on stilts at the edge of the Lagos Lagoon.
Approaching the Raider, George saw the other pirogue already tied up alongside. The crew waved them around to the other side of the sturdy vessel.
Emmanuel, a diminutive but muscular young man in his late twenties, took charge of the cargo net lowered from above. George liked the young man’s friendly manner and found a spot to work near him.
“They must really need this paint,” Emmanuel mused as George passed him cans to load into the cargo net. “If it was just a decoy, they could have picked something lighter.”
“Ya, like bricks!” George cracked.
Emmanuel chuckled, then banged twice on the side of the ship and hollered to the crane operator to hoist away.
George wiped the sweat from his brow. Just shy of his fortieth birthday and out of shape from too many months of too little work, he was feeling his age.
They unloaded the pirogue in under an hour and climbed aboard the Raider. To their surprise, Fredrich greeted them warmly and invited them to the mess for a simple meal of yam potage with shrimp. The galley crew was washing the dishes when Fredrich reappeared.
“Good food, eh?
The men murmured in agreement. A crewman in the galley looked out at them for a moment, then returned to scrubbing an enormous pot.
“Great!” Fredrich smiled. “Now just relax. I still need you, but later today. Alright?”
He grinned, slapped the table heartily, and breezed out of the mess. Some men went topside to smoke and play cards, a few tried their hand at fishing with small handlines from the pirogues. The Raider’s crew studiously ignored their guests except when Fredrich pulled one of them into some animated conversation.
George and Emmanuel stayed in the mess, talking like old friends. They were both from Makoko, and their children had attended the same school—the Makoko Floating School—until it collapsed from disrepair and vandalism.
Ahmed appeared in the mess hatch, looking distraught. He gestured franticly to come into the passageway. George and Emmanuel both got up from the table.
Ahmed grabbed George by the arm and pulled him aside.
“Leave him, I have to show you something,” Ahmed hissed in his ear.
“I don’t know what, but it’s wahala. Big wahala. So much trouble.”
“Ok, Ahmed, calm down. I come in a minute.”
George shot Emmanuel an apologetic look, but the younger man just smiled and headed topside.
Ahmed practically dragged George down corridors and stairs until they came to a large padlocked door. He nervously looked down the hall and over his shoulder, then pointed to a small porthole.”
The viewport was small and dirty, but he could see that the cargo hold he was peering into was nearly filled with large white sacks, all stamped with the word, “OXIDIZER” and emblazoned with yellow warning diamonds bearing the symbol of a flame. On top of it all, a cluster of red sticks of dynamite taped together, wires protruding everywhere.