On the overnight to Padang, TC took first watch, I came on at 2300. Nice night; heat lightning in the distance over Sumatra; some fishing boats around with blazing fish-attraction lights; a large ship 7 miles ahead, coming our way but the AIS says we will clear by 2 miles. TC goes below to sleep; I watch the ship on AIS and radar.
Something doesn’t seem quite right with the radar, but it takes me a while in my not-quite-awake state to put 2 and 2 together. The big blip ahead on the radar can’t be that ship! AIS says the ship is 7 miles away, and the radar is only on the 6 mile range. It shows the big blip as less than 2 miles away… Binoculars. Yes, ahead just slightly to port are two red strobe lights. Probably one of those huge fishing platforms, not lit up tonight. Or a fishing boat anchored or drifting, taking a break. I come to starboard a few degrees to be sure we will miss it.
I enjoy the night for a few minutes, and look at the radar again. The blip still seems to be in the same relative bearing, and closer of course. I can see the red strobes now without binoculars, and we don’t seem to be clearing them. Must be some current… I come to starboard another 10 degrees.
Then things start to happen quickly. I can see the outline of the fishing boat, and it is big and completely black and closer than makes sense to me. I turn another 10 degrees to starboard, just as it dawns on me that this boat is underway, and moving fast across (maybe) our bow. All my turning to starboard kept moving us into its path! I turn sharply to port, and watch as an 80 foot boat steams silently past, 50 yards away. Not a single light aboard other than the red strobes — no running lights, no cabin lights, no work lights on the deck. Eerie. And I came close to steering right into its path!