FRESH out of school, young and in need of an adventure, Jack Carew set off on a voyage that would ultimately shape the rest of this life.

It was 2011 and Jack was 18 when he followed his older brother on board the decks of some of the world's largest live export ships bound for the Middle East, Russia and China. He spent the next three years in countries in the middle of a civil wars, on board ships for up to 30 days straight and preparing to defend himself from what could have potentially been a lucrative pirate attack.

"My older brother Ben had been working on the ships for a year or so when I was in Year 12. He would come back from taking a load of cattle to The Middle East, cashed up, unshaven and well-travelled. I knew I was super keen for this adventure," Jack said.

Ipswich businessman Jack Carew spent three years working on live export ships between the Middle East, Russia and China.
Ipswich businessman Jack Carew spent three years working on live export ships between the Middle East, Russia and China. Jack Carew

"I finally got the call to say that I had a ship called the Bardar lll waiting for me in Fremantle, Western Australia in two weeks time." For three years, Jack and his crew mates set sail on multiple voyages between the Middle East, Russia and China, delivering up to 20,000 head of cattle to international slaughterhouses.

Every trip was an exciting adventure with promise of stop-overs in foreign countries but also a reminder of the potential dangers of the live export industry.

"From the equator, the closer you got to the shores of Somalia, Kenya, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the more risk we would be in of being attacked by pirates. To get to the red sea, you have to go in between the coasts of Somalia and Yemen. The Gulf of Aden is a particular hotspot for pirate attacks," Jack said.

"One of the ships I travelled on frequently called the MV Maysora. On one of its trips back from the middle east, it had an RPG fired at it and an orange life raft got blown to smithereens. It also had bullet holes up one side of the ship where a pirate unloaded a mag from an AK-47. I wasn't on the ship when it happened, but I would always look at the holes in the side of the ship as a reminder."

After a couple of years of working the ships, Jack was on the world's largest live export ship, the Nada, bound for Russia.

"This huge ship could hold up to 22,000 head of cattle. To put that in perspective, I worked on a cattle station that was 1.3 million acres, and it could hold roughly 8000 cattle on it at a time., so 22,000 head of cattle on one boat was huge. Luckily, the company I was working for at the time only loaded 18,000 head onto the ship, so there was more than enough room which made our job relatively easy for the 30-something day trip to Mother Russia," he said.

"On board the ship there was nine Australian stockmen that were in charge of the welfare of the animals on board. Along with 80-odd Pakistani and Indonesian crew. Our voyage would see us travel across the Indian Ocean, up the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal, straight through the Mediterranean Sea, up the Bosphorus Strait, into the Black Sea and arrive at our destination in Novorossiysk, Russia.

Ipswich businessman Jack Carew spent three years working on live export ships between the Middle East, Russia and China.
Pirates travel in smaller boats called skiffs. Jack Carew

"Luckily for this trip though, we stopped in at the Maldives and picked up three Sri Lankan armed guards. Who, for the next 10 days would be on full time, 24/7 pirate watch. With the help of a few Pakistani crew, eyes and ears would constantly be looking out to the ocean. Naturally, I had a million questions for these security guards. They all had old school SLR rifles, chest rigs/plate carriers, tac helmets.

"Nearly every smoko and lunch, I would be on the bridge on voluntary watch, checking the sonar radar and the oceans for skiffs. Pirates operated with a mothership that would get them from A to B, that's where they would sleep, eat and drink." But they would attack other ships on these smaller boats called Skiffs. Essentially, a small motorized speedboat that looked very similar to the fishing boats used by local fisherman."

It was that voyage that would make for some of the most memorable moments of Jack's live export career. 

In Jack's words

Meet happy - a cow on a live export ship: Meet happy - a cow on a live export ship
Meet happy - a cow on a live export ship: Meet happy - a cow on a live export ship

One day during a lunch break, I was up on the bridge keeping watch with the other crew, when one of the deckhands pointed out to the ocean, he spotted a skiff that was so far away it looked like a spot in amongst the white caps. It was on our starboard (right) side of the ship and travelling in a direction that could have been interpreted as if they were trying to cut us off. The security guard got called over, he grabbed a set of binoculars and had a look casually, it was common to see fisherman out on their boats. I moved over to the radar and could see the faint blotch on the sonar. After a while of speculation, the security guard called via radio the head of the security team who was currently off duty. Not long later the two off-duty security guards were on the bridge with binoculars in hand.

By this stage, I was getting a little excited, we were facing a potential pirate attack and I was going to be there to witness it all. For a better word, I was super pumped, just the thought of a pirate attack excited the s*** out of me. After a short time, that one skiff off to our right that we saw in the far off distance, soon turned into four skiffs travelling together. Still in a direction that looked as if they were trying to cut us off.

When the head of security realized that there were then four skiffs, the captain was called upon the bridge. Now I was on edge, I could clearly see the four boats on the sonar, slowly but surely bleeping their way closer towards the direction we were travelling.When the captain reached the bridge the first mate informed him what was happening. The Captain ordered the ship to be adjusted five degrees to the port side. The first mate turned the ridiculously small helm (steering wheel) to redirect the course. On the radar I watched our line of direction change slightly to the left, then as if orchestrated, the four small blimps on the radar corrected their course and I watch their skiffs double in speed. My heart started thumping, the bridge exploded into action, it went from all the ship officers curiously watching, to full blown all hands on deck. Officers jumped on phones and two ways, lights and sirens erupted from the walls. All that was needed, was a small change of speed and direction from these skiffs, to go from a 'could be fisherman', to holy f***, 'we are being attacked by mother f****** pirates'.

The security guards cracked open the box and started throwing each other guns, mags, tac vests, and gear, getting suited up, the captain was bellowing orders to the officers as they jumped on radios and PA systems. Those skiffs were now fully visible, I could see the troop of men in each skiff as they motored towards us. My heart was in my throat, I was fully ready, mentally and physically, to grab one of those rifles and go to town on these pirates to protect myself and the ship. When they got close, the security guards were on the side of the bridge holding their rifles up in the air to show the pirates they were fighting an armed and ready ship. I was being told to go down to my room by one of the officers, I wasn't going anywhere...

Once the skiffs got close they realised what exactly they were coming up against, an armed and ready ship full of p***** of Pakistanis, and I realised they were literally sitting ducks on the water. Their little skiffs were jumping around on the top of the water, the MV Nada was like a rock in the water slowly rolling from right to left. Nearly a perfectly stable platform to take aim from one of those SLR rifles. Not only that, but I wouldn't want to be boarding a ship with a s*** load of p***** off Pakistanis with fire hoses in hand.

After not long at all the skiffs turned around and motored off in a different direction. Not a single shot was fired. Slightly disappointed but severely satisfied, it was back down to the decks to finish up for the rest of the day with my moo cows.

Jack Carew worked on an export ship that was attacked by pirates.
Jack Care worked on live export ships for three years before he returned home to Ipswich to start a business. Rob Williams

Lasting memories of the Middle East

THE second Libyan Civil War is an ongoing conflict among rival factions seeking control of the territory and oil of Libya.

The second Libyan Civil War is an ongoing conflict among rival factions seeking control of the territory and oil of Libya.
The second Libyan Civil War is an ongoing conflict among rival factions seeking control of the territory and oil of Libya. Jack Carew

It was still a war zone when then teenager Jack Carew disembarked a live export ship and set foot in the embattled country.

He recalls empty streets, marked with burning cars and crumbling buildings, bullet holes sprinkled on cement walls and warnings of active bombs.

Jack has since returned home to run a business, Tactical Ops Paintball, but considers his time in the live export industry as one which will stay fresh in his mind.

"I feel very privileged for the life I have and they are memories I will never forget," he said.

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