Simon Roberts – June 2018
Part 1 of 3
Retired Royal New Zealand Navy Captain, Tom Harris, is returning home after two years sailing his home-built ketch in the Pacific. The tranquility of his journey is broken, however, by a strange radar contact one night. His yacht goes ‘dark’ before arriving in Wellington harbour. It’s then that mayhem breaks loose.
“What’s happening, Jack?”
At the sound of her voice, Customs Officer Jack Reynolds removed his feet from the watch-room desk and sat up so quickly that he spilled most of the remains of his flat white down the front of his uniform shirt.
“Not much…”, he stammered. “Pretty quiet actually”. He tried in vain to dab away the coffee stain.
“That’s when we have to be most alert, Jack.” Newly promoted Operations Manager, Nicky Bradshaw, had a reputation. Ambitious but not very bright, she was a stickler for rules and, as such, a favourite with the previous Customs boss who had put her in the accelerated promotion queue in the mid-norties. The mood at the Integrated Targeting and Operations Centre in Auckland had changed significantly since her appointment and not many were happy about it. At least the former boss had moved on.
“Who are we expecting?” she said.
“The usual cargo and scheduled passenger traffic in the next 72 hours. No unusual air traffic and just one private yachtie inbound from Vanuatu”, Jack replied.
“Tell me about the yacht”, she continued.
Jack sighed and reached for his mouse to bring up the file. “It’s a NZ-built, 14m ferro-cement ketch, Khamun, that is returning from a two-year trip around the Asia-Pacific region. Solo sailor and heading for Wellington as port of entry. We received his NZCS 340 form yesterday”.
“Anything we should be alert to?” Nicky asked.
“Nope. He’s ex-NZ Navy and is enjoying his retirement sailing”, Jack replied.
“OK…keep up the good work…and keep your feet off the workstation”!
“Yes Ma’am,” Jack replied as she swooshed out of the ops room.
Retired Royal New Zealand Navy Captain, Tom Harris, squinted abeam at the gloomy but calm ocean trying to spot the contact his radar had shown. Low cloud blocked the moon and the absence of wind, combined with converging temperatures and dew points suggested sea fog was likely. Except for the slap of waves on the hull, the only sounds came from the throb of the Khamun’s engine as he tracked east of Norfolk Island toward New Zealand; occasionally punctuated by the hum of the autohelm adjusting the rudder.
Tom headed down the companionway to the chart table where a second set of instrument screens was mounted. The contact was still showing slightly ahead at about 1 nautical mile and 30 degrees to port. However, now there was a second, weaker contact on a line directly between him and the original mark. His Navy instincts kicked into gear. He reached under the table for his flares, disengaged the autohelm, changed course 30 degrees to starboard and increased engine rpm to maximum. He mounted the companionway steps in two bounds then armed and fired the first of the two parachute flares off the port beam. Tom’s blood ran cold as he saw, by the flickering red light of the para-flare, a rigid inflatable boat carrying three black-clad figures closing rapidly on him. He grabbed his long boathook from its stowage below the aft boom and reached for the radio handset.
Tom had barely put his hand on the transmit button when the RIB bounced alongside. One of the raiders raised a silenced pistol and Tom’s retirement trip ended then. Another commando jumped on board. He stopped the yacht’s engine and turned off the navigation lights before securing the RIB fore and aft. Several watertight metal boxes were passed silently over the lifelines and secured below decks. A second commando boarded the yacht and untied the RIB which sped off into the darkness.
By the time the two had restarted the yacht’s engine and turned on the instruments, the initial radar contact had disappeared from the screen. Harris’ body was stripped, weighted with a spare anchor and thrown overboard without ceremony. His cell phone, with GPS locator on, was secured on a bulkhead. The two commandos had a quick discussion at the chart table and set the vessel on course for New Zealand.
The duty officer at the National Maritime Coordination Centre in Wellington had just come on duty and was looking at the previous night’s logs. Of note was the fact that the private yacht, Khamun, was no longer showing its Automated Identification System – AIS – transponder code. “Strange”, she thought. “Maybe an electrical problem”, as she sat down and started emailing her colleagues at other agencies to see if they knew anything about it.
These enquiries drew a blank. The yacht had ‘gone dark’ somewhere off North Cape and persistent thick cloud and fog had left a lot of satellite imagery useless. She picked up the phone and called the Integrated Targeting and Operations Centre in Auckland.
“Jack Reynolds speaking”.
“Hi Jack, it’s Sam Stewart at NMCC here. I’m calling about the inbound yacht Khamun. I emailed you earlier.”
“Oh yeah – Hi Sam. No news here, I’m afraid. It’s still too far out for terrestrial radar and we have 8 octar cloud cover as far south as Taranaki.”
“Ok, thanks. I’ll see if we can get some eyes on it”, Sam replied. “Bye”.
She walked through to the uniformed joint force officers. “Hi Sam”, they chorused with a smile.
“Hi folks. I have a private yacht that’s gone dark somewhere between North Cape and here. Do you have anything around there that could get eyes on it?”
“Nothing from Navy, sorry”.
“Might have a P3 out of maintenance tomorrow,” the Air Force duty officer added. “But if it’s urgent, I could probably get an NH-90 in the air from Ohakea in a couple of hours”.
“That would be great”, Sam replied. “I’ll write up the task request straight away.”
“Ohakea Control – Green Three One”
“Ohakea Control – Go ahead Green Three One”
“We have the ketch Khamun positively identified 7 miles west of Kapiti Island tracking toward Makara. There is a person on deck waving to us. No answer on the radio”
“Does everything seem OK, Green Three One?”
“Affirmative, Ohakea, but our brief says this is a solo sailor”.
“That is correct.”
“Our FLIR is showing another human heat source on the vessel.”
“Roger. I’ll pass that on.”
“Green Three One inbound Ohakea.”
“Ohakea control acknowledged.”
The Wellington-based NZ Police launch, Lady Elizabeth IV, eased away from Queens Wharf as the Khamun entered the inner harbour. It took them only a matter of minutes to be within hailing distance, having failed to get any response on the radio. They were about 100m off the starboard side of the yacht when the deckhand screamed out “Sarge, aft deck! He’s got a friggin M72!”
The skipper of the Lady Liz had no time to respond as the glowing arc of the 66mm short range anti-armour rocket snaked toward them, slamming into the midships. The armoury ignited followed by LPG tanks and the police launch erupted in a ball of flame. Nonplussed, the firer threw the spent tube overboard and took the wheel. Khamun was approaching Wellington and there was now nothing to stop her.
Sirens wailed from the crush of emergency services descending on the waterfront as the yacht dropped anchor 100 metres out from the interisland ferry terminal. The two on board carried a large box up on deck, opened it and spent a few minutes keying data into a small computer attached to the clam-shell lid. They crouched down and, with a single keystroke, launched a swarm of tiny drones that flew to port and starboard before rising up above the masts and forming what appeared to be an arrowhead formation. This lasted no more than a few seconds before the swarm, having confirmed its coordinates split in two and moved landward. Over the quays, the formations split again and again until pairs of drones were flying in all directions across the city.
The first explosion happened less than 30 seconds after the launch. A pair of drones flew straight at the Interislander ferry terminal and detonated immediately above the passenger lounge. It was a remarkably small blast, perhaps only a half kg charge but created a dirty mist that blew up and out before settling over the building and vessels in their berths. What followed sounded like a string of firecrackers going off, punctuated by the odd scream and the screeching of car tyres. The drones were detonating everywhere; the ‘Beehive’ (which houses most of NZ’s executive wing of Government) and Parliament buildings – which was currently in session; Police, Defence and intelligence agency headquarters, fire station, science centres and the national museum, Te Papa. The police Armed Offenders Squad had just arrived at the waterfront and were taking up firing positions when the two on board Khamun opened fire with 40mm grenade launchers. The AOS vehicles erupted in flames and dozens, including the police fell victim to the lethal mix of shrapnel and riot strength CS gas fired at them. In the melee, Khamun raised its anchor and headed toward Evans Bay and the airport. At the northern end of the runway, it beached on the rocks, much to the surprise of walkers passing by. A few minutes passed, then an almighty explosion ripped the side of the road and runway, throwing a huge spray of water and debris several hundred metres. The yacht was obliterated by the force of the BLEVE – boiling liquid evaporating vapour explosion – created with its lpg bottles.
As soon as news of the attack was heard, the ‘Bunker’, as the command post under the Beehive is known, was activated. The head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was in the process of coordinating the members of the Domestic and External Security Group when his assistant handed him another phone with a concerned look.
“Sir, it’s Sonya Mackie here from GNS Science. You’re not going to like this so I’ll keep it brief. Our monitoring stations are reading off the scale. Those explosions are dirty bombs. The whole city is radioactive.”
The head of DPMC stared at the phone in disbelief then handed it back to his assistant. “Get the command group in the bunker now and send the Chief of the Defence Force, Police Commissioner and Chief Science Advisor directly to me in there.”
“Sir, we have to seal the bunker.” The ODESC Operations Manager was looking worried.
“Not yet – we need to get the Prime Minister in here,” the DPMC head replied. “Where is she?”
“Her security detail advises that she won’t come down here without her daughter and nanny. She’s gone to get them from the Parliamentary creche.”
“We don’t have facilities for a baby in here”, the head of Civil Defence and Emergency Management exclaimed. “We could be here for weeks!”
Just as he was about to reply, the PM arrived with baby in arms and a very nervous looking nanny trailing her with a nappy bag.
“Hi everyone, sorry to hold you up,” she offered unconvincingly. “What have we got?”
The heavy bunker door marked ‘Beehive’ closed with a thud causing the baby to start crying.
All the security chiefs side-eyed each other.
Before they could take their seats, the secure command line rang with a shrill tone. Being nearest, CDF picked it up. “Operations Room,” he intoned dispassionately.
“Hi…it’s Robert McGregor. I understand you’ve got a bit of a situation there. Like some help?”
COPYRIGHT 2018. All Rights Reserved. DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to people living or dead is a coincidence.