Em Phumanny comes from the lush province of Kampong Chhnang, north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. He’s thirty-nine years old, a new father, and now lives on the outskirts of the city for the sake of a job in a Chinese garment factory. A decade ago, he worked on his parents’ farm, growing chilies and other vegetables. But he didn’t like the work, and he wanted to see the world. He heard that a local recruitment agency needed seafarers. “One of my aspirations was to go to sea and see other countries, and then the money they offered, a hundred and fifty dollars a month . . .” He trailed off.
“Was pretty good,” I replied.
“Yeah, is pretty good,” he answered.
I met Phumanny nine years ago, in Somalia, on a tuna vessel called the Naham 3, after Somali pirates hijacked it on the high seas and took twenty-eight of its crew members hostage. (They killed the twenty-ninth, the captain, on the spot.) I was a hostage, too. Somali gunmen had captured me on land, as a luckless journalist, and stowed me on the Naham 3 for safekeeping, probably to consolidate captives and save money. For almost six months, I lived on the ship and got to know its crew members and their stories.