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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Going Out With a Bang And a Splash

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My final posting before I retired from the navy was on the Black Sea. I was already waiting to be discharged when I was sent to Odessa. From there, I was to travel on to the shipyard at Nikolayev. I would have had to wait an entire day for the train from Odessa to Nikolayev had I not got wind of the fact that an old empty ore freighter called Krivoi Rog had come from Marseilles via Istanbul to Odessa and would soon be setting off for Nikolayev to be scrapped. The boat's captain was a former naval colleague of mine.

I hurried down to the wharf. The vast 12,000-ton freighter was already signaling that it was ready to put out to sea. For some reason, the ship's deck was filled with passengers milling around as well as people with tripods and film paraphernalia.

Once on deck, I proceeded to the captain's bridge where I was reunited with my former colleague, Nikolai M. He was delighted to have me on board and immediately invited me to his cabin.

I gasped as I looked around it. Under the porthole stood a writing table of water-seasoned oak covered in green cloth and a comfortable chair with carved arms fixed to the deck. By the entrance hung an antique barometer in an elegant case. Behind a velvet curtain was a comfortable bedroom and a low door led to the bathroom, which was fitted out in light blue Dutch tile. Nikolai showed me the cabins of the crew and a wonderful mess cabin.

"What a beauty and it's for the chop," I said, distraught. "It's beautiful here," the captain sighed, "but the entire boat has rusted through. It has been in service since 1912."

Nikolai explained that the freighter was carrying a film crew from Moscow who were shooting a movie about the war. The mass of people were to be refugees on board during an enemy bombardment.

We set off and eight kilometers out, two aircraft suddenly appeared, swooping down low over the boat. The cameras whirred into action and the masses pretended to panic. Blanks were fired at the planes and pyrotechnics created the effect of a bombardment. The special-effects crew threw fake explosives from the bow of the ship creating fountains of water to the fore and sides of the ship -- though at some distance from it. Then one of the effects crew dropped some explosives close to the ship. There was an explosion and after a minute, the boatswain's head popped up from the engine room.

"Captain!" he bellowed. "The explosion tore the rivets from the onboard water-cooling system. There's water in the hold. We must save the cargo!"

The sailors opened the hold and made their way to the scene of the accident. They got a winch working and lowered a huge rigging net into the hold.

"They said you weren't carrying anything. What's this cargo then?" I asked Nikolai.

"Gold," he growled.

In the net that was rising from the hold I could see striped boxes of imported Turkish vodka.

Vladislav Schnitzer is a journalist and pensioner living in Moscow.