Finding a ship that doesn’t want to be found is almost impossible on Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk, 600 million square miles of icy water north of Japan, and the Iskander was doing its best to remain hidden. The rusting hull of the 180-foot ship bore no name, and its transmitters had been disabled. In the right light, it might have disappeared into the low-hanging clouds that often blanket the waters off Russia’s east coast. But it didn’t.
According to a November 2013 incident report, the Border Guard Service of Russia—the functional equivalent of the U.S. Coast Guard—first tried hailing the unidentified ship. There was a moment of static before a response from the vessel crackled over the radio: “SRTM-K Breeze.” That is not, in fact, one of the ship’s many names, which in the last five years has gone by Afeliy, Costa Rapida, Status, and, most recently, Iskander. But what is a pirate to say?
The conversation didn’t last. The exchange had barely ended when the Iskander’s engines cranked to full throttle, and the vessel began to pull away. When attempts to intercept it failed, the border patrol fired warning shots, pocking the water behind the ship. These went unheeded. The Iskander continued to run, the border patrol chased, and meanwhile, the crew frantically dumped its cargo of live king crab overboard.