Reporters on the Job

• ADRIFT IN THE PACIFIC: Reporter Martin Hodgson rode along on one of four "piranha" speedboats used by the Colombian Navy. He spent a day with them as they searched the Colombian coastline, a labyrinth of jungle, rivers, and mangrove swamps where smugglers launch speedboats carrying cocaine and heroin bound for markets in the US (page 5).

"Most of the marines spent the night on board the piranhas, but the captain of the boat that I was on decided to return to base at dusk, because one of the motors had broken down. Limping along on one motor, it took about two hours to get back to the naval base.

"We were within 300 yards of the jetty when a wave flooded the other motor, and we were left adrift," says Martin.

By now it was completely dark, and there was a strong current sweeping them out to sea. The boat had no oars or paddles, and with no bailing pump, it started to flood with water. The marines radioed the base, but help was slow in coming.

Every few minutes the base commander would tell Martin the latest reason for the delay: There was no boat, there was no boatman. Then it took a good 20 minutes for them to find a hose to fill the tank with gasoline.

After drifting for about an hour, Martin's boat was well past the headland of Tumaco Bay. He could see the lights of the city falling further and further away. Then it started to rain.

"Sitting there in the crippled open boat, soaked through and drifting through the pitch-black night, I started to understand just how daring the smuggler pilots are – and how the naval officers could say that sometimes they admired the smugglers.

"When the rescue boat finally set out, they couldn't find us in the dark and drizzle, until one of the marines fired off a few rounds, hoping that they would see the muzzle flash. It took us another two hours to fight the current in to shore."

David Clark Scott
World editor

Cultural snapshot
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