‘I’m lucky to be alive’ says Horncastle man attacked by Ecuadorian pirates

As Ian Norris stared straight down the barrel of a rocket launcher held by an Ecuadorian pirate, he thought he was going to die.

Fortunately, the master mariner from Horncastle survived because the rocket launcher failed to work.

Ian and Lyn Norris of Captain & Cook, Horncastle.

Ian and Lyn Norris of Captain & Cook, Horncastle.

Six months later, he has turned his back on a 37-year career at sea and teamed up with wife, Lyn, to launch Horncastle’s latest catering business. The duo are behind “Captain & Cook”, a fine food emporium that will feature a cafe, delicatessen and bistro in Church Lane.

Mr Norris ran away to sea at the age of 17 and worked his way through the ranks to captain some of the world’s biggest container ships.

In April, he was sailing from Ecuador when his ship - the Safmarine Benguela - was attacked by pirates.

One of the pirates aimed a rocket launcher directly at Mr Norris from less than 50 metres. The pirate pulled the trigger but the mechanism failed.

It was the latest in a long list of dangerous experiences for Mr Norris.

Previously, he had outrun Somali pirates off the coast of Africa. He has lost count of the number of times port officials held a gun to his head.

Mr Norris said: “The rocket attack was the final straw. We were aware there might be problem in that particular area of the world. In fact, our sister ship had been chased the previous day.

“It was about 4.30 in the afternoon. I was keeping watch and I saw this fast launch approaching.

“It got down to about 200 metres and I noticed the three men on board were donning flash hoods, a military style hood for weapon’s protection.

“It got down to about 50m. The one on the helm picked up a long tube about four feet long and pointed it directly at me on the bridge.

He held it under his arm for several seconds before slowly lowering it.

“The last I saw of him, he was very gingerly looking down the end of the tube.

“He’d tried to fire it and it hadn’t worked. It was my lucky day. Had it gone off, I wouldn’t be here.

“The chief officer came running up and said: ‘Did you see that?”

I replied: “I certainly did...I was peering straight down the barrel!”

Mr Norris’ ship sailed on, leaving the pirates in their wake.

He adds: “We kept the attack quiet at the time for our own safety. Publicity does not help.

“In fact, the public probably hears about less than one per cent of all the attacks on ships.

“The last I saw of the pirates, they were still peering down the end of the rocket launcher.

“I just thought - you’ve got a bigger problem than me. You’ve got an unexploded bomb on board your vessel!”

Mr Norris says it was a couple of days later when he took the decision to quit.

He adds: “I was actually sat on the bridge (of the ship) in the Panama Canal when I started to shake and realised that‘s enough.”

The couple, who have lived in Horncastle for 14 years, actually bought the premises for

Captain & Cook three-and-a-half years ago.

After a protracted planning battle, they have completely refurbished the building, stripping it back to reveal many original features.

Lyn, who has previous experience in the catering industry, said:

“The cafe will be modest when it starts but we’re hoping to gear up early in the New Year to a bistro.

“We’re aware there is another delicatessen in town - and other cafes - but we think we can compliment the other businesses.

“It’s great to get Ian out of what was a very dangerous lifestyle.

“Nothing should frighten us - apart from not making a living.

“Let’s face it. We shouldn’t run into too many pirates or super typhoons.”