Behind-the-scenes of The Tears of Dark Water

Corban Addison recounts the real-life drama and murder behind The Tears of Dark Water, an epic drama of conflict, redemption and common humanity.

Posted on September 23, 2015 in Guest Author
Tags: blog, corban addison, thriller

In February 2011, a band of Somali pirates hijacked the American-flagged sailboat Quest off the coast of Oman and took four American sailors hostage. The U.S. government responded to the attack with overwhelming force, dispatching three warships to the scene, along with a hostage negotiator from the FBI’s elite Crisis Negotiation Unit, and SEALs from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU, who rescued Captain Phillips in 2009.


Over the next four days, the pirates sailed the yacht toward the coast of Somalia while the Navy attempted to negotiate a resolution. Then the unthinkable happened. On the fifth day of negotiations, when the sailboat was closing in on the Somali coast, a Navy destroyer attempted a “shouldering” maneuver to alter the sailboat’s course and buy more time. As the destroyer approached, the pirates opened fire on the hostages, murdering all of them.


I read the media accounts of the tragedy with a heavy heart and a curious eye. I wondered how the U.S. intervention had gone so awry, and what had driven the pirates—all of whom were motivated by the lure of ransom money—to kill the hostages and submit themselves to criminal prosecution in the United States. I was in the middle of writing The Garden of Burning Sand at the time, but my literary agent suggested there was a story there—about lawlessness in the Horn of Africa and the global fallout of the Somali civil war.


When my publishers asked for a third novel, I dusted off the idea and dived in. To develop a narrative for my fictional story, I went on a research odyssey unlike anything I’ve done before. I interviewed senior officials in the U.S. government. I attended the capital murder trial of the Quest pirates in Virginia. I spent time with Christopher Voss, once the FBI’s top international hostage negotiator. I got to know Somalis around the world. With the help of the U.S. Navy, I landed on the USS Truman, an aircraft carrier, in the Arabian Sea and spent a night on the carrier and two nights on the USS Gettysburg, a guided-missile cruiser. I visited Mogadishu, Somalia, and the Somali refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya, under guard.


What I found in my research was a far richer, more intriguing, and more heartbreaking socio-political landscape than I had seen before. I realized that the Quest tragedy, while certainly not a fait accompli, had arisen from a collision between the “no concessions” hostage policy of the United States (which forbade the pirates from taking the hostage ashore in Somalia) and the culture of the pirates, who saw compromise as weakness and would rather have died at sea than returned to their war-torn land without a prize.


My novel, The Tears of Dark Water, explores the many dimensions of this clash through the lens of a fictional pirate attack in the Indian Ocean, and its explosive aftermath. Some have called the book a drama, others a thriller, still others a story about the world. It is all of those things. Ultimately, it is a story about family and love and forgiveness and cross-cultural understanding.

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