Hello, reddit! After making the front page of TIL the other day, there were many who requested that I do an AMA, so here I am! If you want to know a bit about me, here is a short bio:

Max Hardberger received his MFA in Fiction and Poetry from the University of Iowa before working a series of odd jobs including: English teacher, crop-duster, newspaper reporter, private investigator, and oilfield "Mud Engineer" in Guatemala during the Guatemalan Civil War. He currently works as a maritime lawyer, novelist, and vessel repossession specialist. In other words, he steals ships back that have been corruptly seized and hidden in seedy ports around the world and then returns them to their rightful owners. Max has been featured in interviews, articles, and book reviews by The Guardian, BBC News, Fox News, Men's Journal, NPR, and the Los Angeles Times. He has also had two separate television specials air about his exploits on The Learning Channel and American Heroes Channel.


If you are interested in reading more of my exploits, please download a kindle copy of my book, Seized.

OK, everybody, let's shut it down for tonight. I'll check in tomorrow morning. Thanks for the great questions

Good morning! I'm making some overseas calls this morning but I'll be sure to answer all questions.

Comments: 344 • Responses: 96  • Date: 

The_Naked_Snake152 karma

The next time you win a case, could you please end with: "Remember this as the day you almost caught Captain Max Hardberger!"?

MaxHardberger66 karma

Will do!

MaxHardberger78 karma

Pirates are a significant problem and everyone who buys imported goods pays the price because the shipping industry has to add the cost of piracty to the cost of transporting goods by sea.

rivalarrival45 karma

You need to reply to the comment, not create a new top-level comment. I think this comment was in reply to this one

MaxHardberger58 karma

Thanks--this is my first reddit experience and I just figured that out.

camgo7475 karma

Stealing ships from pirates sounds very dangerous, where do I apply?

MaxHardberger73 karma

If you have sea experience--preferably as an officer--please send your resume to the proper link at our website, www.vesselextractions.com.

camgo7490 karma

Although I am not an "officer" my great grandfather is Poseidon, he'll vouch for me.

MaxHardberger390 karma

Send me your great grandfather.

two_off48 karma

What's the largest ship you've recovered?

Do you have to work with a big crew, or can you go on your own to reclaim a vessel?

MaxHardberger55 karma

The largest ship I've recovered was about 40,000 tons deadweight (about 700' long). I usually use the minimum crew necessary. . .for a big ship, that would be about 10 men.

MaxHardberger46 karma

Yes, I do the dirty work; or at least I and my crew do the dirty work. We don't use SEALs for the usual repossession because I have a rule against using force against guards and crew unless they're part of the conspiracy to steal the ship from my client.

ilxFauno45 karma

What's the funniest experience you've had stealing ships back?

MaxHardberger82 karma

Probably the funniest one was one I haven't written about (yet), when I convinced a Haitian owner who wasn't paying his ship's mortgage to take the ship to the Turks & Caicos, where I could have the court seize the ship so I wouldn't have to--a man who apparently didn't realize that nothing is exported from the T&C. Then I tricked his crew off and had my crew ready to take over.

Iama_tomhanks20 karma

How did this trickery happen?

MaxHardberger61 karma

I had a tv crew with me, so I told the crew that I wanted them to get off on a tugboat (that I'd hired for the purpose) alongside so the camera crew could shoot them coming onboard. The camera crew had been onboard since we left Manzanillo, DR. the night before, so the crew didn't see anything unusual in that. But as soon as they got on the tugboat--which was nosed up against the port side of the ship--the captain backed off and headed for the beach. I had my crew waiting in a speedboat, and within five minutes my crew was in control of the ship. I already had tickets home for all of the old crew and the agent ready to take them to the airport.

Quizzelbuck37 karma

tickets home

That was mighty nice of you. Common courtesy thing, or do other people in your line of work not necessarily show that kindness to people?

MaxHardberger38 karma

No, it wasn't just kindness, although I have worked with charities in other cases to get stranded seamen home. In this case, since I had the ship seized by the T&C court to enforce my client's claim, I had a duty to repatriate the crew.

MaxHardberger38 karma

Seedy ports? I can name a bunch: Port-au-Prince, Rio Haina (DR), Cartagena, Port-of-Spain, Cortez (Honduras). . .the list is long.

Vtiboy37 karma

What type of person gets into your line of work? I ask as I assume a lot would be ex-navy due to the possiblity of pirates being armed to the teeth and possible substance abusers. (I know zero about pirates by the way)

MaxHardberger54 karma

Actually, since my vessex company does not use force, we don't need ex-navy or ex-military types. Instead, I need engineers and deck officers with a lot of sea experience. . .I only work with men I know or who have been personally recommended by people I know. My other business, GRUP7, which specializes in rescuing ships and hostages from pirates, uses ex-military, as seagoing experience is not necessary in a forced boarding situation. After the vessel has been taken, I will then bring on a navigation team.

BurlBarer36 karma

Would you be available to do an hour interview on TRUE CRIME UNCENSORED in November?

MaxHardberger42 karma

I would be pleased to. You can contact my business partner, Michael Bono, who handles scheduling, through our vesselextractions.com website. Thanks for the interest.

Patches6735 karma

Is there a good chance of having a beer named after you?

MaxHardberger167 karma

I would certainly hope so! After all, Tusker Beer in Kenya was named after the elephant that killed the man who started the brewery. Anyway, I don't always drink beer, but when I do. . .strike that. I always drink beer.

CreamOnMyNipples30 karma

How exactly does one take back a ship? I don't think you can just walk in there and take it. Do the pirates ever put up a fight? Or do you use your awesome stealth skills to sneak on and take it back?

MaxHardberger42 karma

Of course the guards would put up a fight if they knew what I'm up to, but so far I've been able to get the guards and crews off with stealth, trickery or, in the last resort, bribery. But of course you can't just walk up and take it. . .not when somebody has invested a lot of money into bribing a judge to seize it.

idonthavearedditacct20 karma

Do you think this sudden publicity will hurt your ability do get things done? Reddit is a worldwide thing, not everyone knows about it of course, but it has made people famous all on its own.

I can't see how letting people know how you operate could be good for business. I love the fact that you avoid violence, but you wouldn't be able to trick anyone that has seen your picture along with the stories of how you tricked people in the past.

MaxHardberger47 karma

I have a few new tricks up my sleeve.

evilnougat25 karma

Do you notify the maritime authorities before you steal a ship back or do you just go for it?

MaxHardberger48 karma

Absolutely not! If I notified any authority anywhere in the world, that authority would have a duty to notify the country where I'm about to operate, and even if they didn't I wouldn't take that chance. Once I stole a ship out of Haiti while the US Coast Guard was protecting Haitian waters (the Haitians don't have their own coast guard) and a Coastie called my business partner to complain that we hadn't advised them. We both had a good chuckly about that afterward.

xampl95 karma

What would have happened if they'd come along side and boarded you? Just show them the repossession papers?

MaxHardberger6 karma

The tugboat was registered in the DR and the ship we were extracting was registered in Panama, so the US Coast Guard couldn't board us outside of Haitian waters (they had an agreement with the Haitian government) without permission from the DR. But we probably wouldn't have forced them to get that. . .I had given the tug master the complete file on the extraction, including a court holding in New Jersey giving our client possession of the vessel.

TheCadaver24 karma

What did you think of Captain Phillips?

MaxHardberger66 karma

The movie or the man? I found the movie tedious, although I liked the fact that it was filmed on an actual container vessel (the kind of ship Capt. Phillips commanded). The man himself is, according to his crew, an arrogant and unpleasant master, and he has admitted that he lied when he said that he surrendered himself to the pirates to save his crew. But he seems to be a competent captain, which is the essence of the job.

speaktothepeople9 karma

I've sailed with engineers that were with him. He was an idiot that was too close and didn't take proper precautions. I refuse to watch that movie because I know it's BS.

MaxHardberger34 karma

I liked the fact that Greenglass used real Somalis to portray Somalis. My Somali friends are upset that the movie BLACKHAWK DOWN used sub-Saharan Africans to portray Somalis, who have very different facial characteristics. It's funny to me that my Somali friends don't mind the portrayal of Somalia as a lawless hell of anarchy and conflict--they accept that--but they are proud of their unique genotype.

To read an article I wrote about the movie for WorkBoat Magazine, see http://www.workboat.com/Blogs/International-Waters/Captain-Phillips--Lies-damned-lies-and-Hollywood.aspx.

mynameisalso3 karma

Jfk is mostly bullshit as well but it's still a good movie.

MaxHardberger3 karma

You're absolutely right. The amount of truth in a movie--or a book or any work of art--has nothing to do with its artistic merit. In fact, there's an argument that it would be impossible to create something that is absolutely true or false. JFK was made and advertised as conjectural rather than factual, but unfortunately for Greenglass and Phillips this movie was billed as the truth, and it was very embarrassing for both of them to admit that it wasn't.

Vtiboy23 karma

How well organised are the pirates?

Is there much competition in your line of work?

I assume speed is of the essence when swiping a ship, how long does it take to get 40k tonnes on the move and how do people not spot it?

MaxHardberger34 karma

As for the Somali pirates--and I know some Somalis who are probably at least part-time pirates, they're not well-organzed at all. It is a small-time cottage industry requiring relatively small investment: a couple of skiffs with outboard motors (Yamaha, of course. . .at four times the cost in other countries), some weapons (very expensive in Somalia at $2000 for a Makarov and $1000 for an old AK, and $3/round for 7.62x39), and some gasoline. Once you seize the ship, you can sell it to a pirate investor who'll put the diallo onboard and cover the rest of the expenses. But they rarely work together, so an entire pirate band could be as few as a dozen men.

Very little competition in this business.

It takes about 30 minutes to get oil pressure up on a ship's main engine, which can be a long time under dicey circumstances. The ship will need another 15-30 minutes to get up to sea speed (depending on the size of the ship) once she clears the harbor. Keeping people from spotting the ship on the move can involve the dark of night, wet weather, timing the extraction for holiday nights (a favorite tactic of mine), and making the necessary arrangements for steaming out openly as if with a clearance to depart.

idonthavearedditacct15 karma

Wow were those weapon prices just what they would charge you, or what is a common price around there? I can't believe there would even be a local market at those prices, an old AK and several thousand rounds would be less than $1000 in the US.

I remember reading there are places in South America where you can shoot a cow with an RPG for $1300. Breaking down the price it was $100 for a box of AK ammo, $200 for the RPG, and $1000 for the cow.

MaxHardberger26 karma

Shooting a cow with an RPG sounds like nasty business! The reason firearm and ammo prices are so high in Somalia is due to the longstanding embargo. I had a CZ and 9mm ammo for it was $10/round. Those are the common prices! On the other hand, I once got a chance to shoot 4 rounds from an Zu 23mm AA gun--just shooting into the empty desert--that only cost me $25 /round.

comedygene22 karma

It seems like a big ship takes time to steal, so how do you buy enough time to get away?

MaxHardberger26 karma

It depends on how far it is to international water. It's best to start as soon after dark as possible so it'll still be dark when you reach international waters even with the inevitable delays. I once hired some Haitian "flying squad" men to control a situation on the dock and buy me enough time to get the ship out. . .one was (and is) a friend of mine. His squad goes into slums like Citie Soleil in Port-au-Prince and drags out criminals. We didn't have any trouble with the locals on that job!

comedygene9 karma

Can you detail the events of one? What was the dock situation? Do you need tugboat assistance? Why after dark, seems like they would know as soon as it leaves port

MaxHardberger13 karma

It depends on the layout of the port, but I like to steal 'em out during the dark of the moon and, if possible, on an overcast night. A rainstorm is the best, of course. Also, like other businesses, things at a foreign port get looser at night--fewer checks, fewer busybodies around, etc.--so that's usually the best time unless my "suitable pretext" (an old private investigator term) covers a daylight extraction. As for tugboats, sometimes you need them, sometimes you don't. If you don't need it, a tugboat would just attract more attention.

elroy_jetson3 karma

I don't get why security stops work at night?? Surely not?

MaxHardberger7 karma

Well, they don't actually stop work, or at least they don't stop getting paid. But security is much more lax at night in every Third World port I know. Visibility is down, fewer people are around generally, and since shipping is a 24-hour business, ship movements at night do not normally attract unusual attention. There have been things I've done at night, like the time I crawled under the railroad gate in Puerto Cabello to board a seized ship and steal her out--it was just I, as the crew were friendly--that I could never have done in daylight.

dehrmann21 karma

How can I rephrase "that is fucking awesome" as a question?

MaxHardberger85 karma

"How fucking awesome is that?" (I assume rhetorical questions count.)

thenextdoctor20 karma

I imagine this sort of work is not cheap. How much money on average goes into recovering a vessel, and how much (again, on average) do you make for a job? Read about your work before, thanks for popping up to answer a few questions. I've been very curious about your work.

MaxHardberger25 karma

Happily, I leave all financial issues to my partner, Michael Bono. We charge a two-tier fee: an investigation fee to research the situation and, if necessary, make a recon trip, and a success fee if we manage to get the vessel out. That is based on the degree of risk, the time it takes, and the value of the vessel. Of course, all expenses are paid by the client. A $5M ship could cost a quarter-million between expenses and our fees.

thejimsy13 karma

You charge a success fee so what does a failure look like for you? Is it just being unable to board the vessel or get the guards off the ship? Have you ever had pirates retake a ship from you?

MaxHardberger27 karma

A failure is an inability to deliver the vessel to the client in his nominated port, whatever the reason. I'm happy to say that, once we start the actual extraction, I've never failed (yet), but there've been a number of times when I had to call the operation off before the extraction due to adverse conditions.

CSLC20 karma

How much of a problem are Pirates, really?

MaxHardberger30 karma

The problem of pirates shifts continually, but never goes away. The Indian Ocean is relatively quiet now, but piracy is a growing problem on the West Coast of Africa.

wave538demon20 karma

Who sends you on these missions to recover stolen vessels? Private companies?

Do you get requests for help from governments with lost ships, or have you ever worked with a military operation to recover a vessel?

MaxHardberger27 karma

About half of our clients are mortgagees whose loans are in default, just like the credit companies that hire car repossessors. The other half are shipowners whose ships have been seized by corrupt governments. We've never worked for governments. Although vessel recovery from pirates is quasi-military, it is not a military (i.e., government) operation per se.

214b4 karma

How do you know that a vessel seizure was "corrupt"? Do you investigate the circumstances of the seizure until you are certain you're working for the good guys? Or are certain countries just assumed to be corrupt all the time?

MaxHardberger5 karma

That's an excellent question. We absolutely investigate the circumstances of the seizure and we do it on the client's nickel. Michael Bono does the research and I go to the port--or the last port if I'm looking for a ship--to do on-the-ground vetting. If you know the right questions and the right people to ask, you'll soon find out. Also, I've developed a nose for a scam, and sometimes my client's story won't smell right from the beginning. Also, being lawyers, Michael and I can sort out the details of charter parties and other contracts that will usually tell the true story of whether the vessel was properly seized. I can't say "legally seized" because it's always legally seized. In this regard, Michael and I have to be the decision-makers, but so far we haven't acted on the part of any bad guys that I know of.

oderptheherp19 karma

What is the hairiest situation you've been in trying to take a ship?

MaxHardberger27 karma

Probably trying to get back to Port-au-Prince from Miragoane, where I'd taken a ship out from a corrupt seizure, in the middle of the night during the Haitian revolution. All the jails had been emptied by the rebels and all the Aristide police had thrown off their uniforms and run up in the hills, so nobody was on the roads. The brigands would pile rocks in the road at night and then shoot you when you stopped to clear them away. I had three heavily armed Haitian SWAT policement with me and we were all on high alert for the whole trip. When we arrived at the outskirts of PAP at dawn, we hadn't seen a single other car on the road after a four-hour trip. We did come up on a roadblock, but I think my men's submachine guns discouraged any attempt at robbery, and we were able to clear the rocks away without incident.

DutchUsername18 karma

Why hasn't Discovery Channel made a show about this yet? Sounds better than the stealing planes show..

And: If pirates take a ship, doesn't it make it a job for the Navy or something? (Could be a stupid question..)

MaxHardberger23 karma

It's a very good question, and several reality producers have called me, but unfortunately I can't give them a reliable prediction of when an extraction will occur, so it hasn't been regular enough for them so far. There've been a couple of shows like the REPOMEN STEALING FOR A LIVING and the HARDCORE HEROES episodes that did feature my extractions.

timhba18 karma


MaxHardberger23 karma

Good question. Always. Sometimes they're more aspirational than practical, but at least they're something. I always make plans in advance to get out of the country without the government knowing it if I can't get the ship out and our plans are discovered. Most of these countries have a few jungle border crossings that aren't hooked to the country's computer system like the immigration desks at the international airports, so I check out ways to get to one in a hurry if I have to. One time I left Venezuela by the ferry to Trinidad because I was afraid I'd been betrayed and I didn't dare try to fly out of Caracas. If I'm on an island I want to have enough money on me at all times to hire somebody with a boat to take me to the nearest foreign country where I can go straight to the US embassy.

timhba8 karma


MaxHardberger20 karma

Easy. . .get a map of the country (or go on google earth) and look for small border villages. Almost all are going to have a crossing.

Deckma11 karma

Have you ever had to exit or enter a country "unofficially" (e.g. not at a border crossing)? Seems like in your field of work stealth is important.

MaxHardberger13 karma

I always enter officially, because if you're caught in a foreign country without an entry stamp in your passport you're in big trouble (unlike the US). I have definitely sneaked out without an exit stamp many times, but that's no big deal. You don't always get an exit stamp and even in countries where it's routine customs officers sometimes neglect to stamp you out, so it's not conclusive evidence that you've done something wrong. Also, it's not hard to copy an exit stamp with a pocketknife and a potato since they can be so smudged as to be illegible anyway. The date's always handwritten. In any event, the only time you have to worry about not having the right stamps in your passport for a particular country is when you go back to that country.


You have far too much faith in the US embassies. If you have any faith in the US embassies, you have far too much faith in the US embassies. You would be lucky if they didn't report you to the local immigration authorities for entering illegally, and have you arrested.

MaxHardberger2 karma

I have some personal experience in this area. If you are in jail in a foreign country, especially for drugs, they'll do very little for you. But whenever an American shows up at the embassy gates and appears to the Marines to be a US citizen--by speech primarily--they let him in. As to whether the embassy staff would turn one over the local government for the local entry violation, if that's the only offense it's very unlikely.

IamtheonlyDave18 karma

What is your proudest work related and non work related achievement?

Also my family friend is a staffing consultant for those with silly amounts of money. How heavily protected do you recommend his clients boats be? I'm talking yachts for billionaires. He previously mentioned a client that didnt want protection on her yacht and I thought that seemed silly. Thoughts?

MaxHardberger27 karma

Work-related? I suppose stealing out the PATRIC M because the owner was a friend of mine and I was happy to save his ship for him. Non-work-related? I don't know. . .I don't have many non-work-related activities. I guess being the father of two wonderful children.

As for yacht protection, it depends on the yacht's trading area. In US waters the vessel need little or no protection. In the waters off the north coast of South America, it needs more protection than it's likely to have onboard. Remember that in the modern world you can't clear into most countries with firearms onboard. Some will hold them for you until you clear out, some with refuse you entry, and some will arrest everyone onboard and take your boat. So unless you plan to cruise around without entering any foreign national waters, you really can't have much protection onboard. There are some non-firearm-related measures--I mention some of them in my book SEA BITCH--but they're not much use against a heavily armed pirate skiff. The only real answer is to stay away from pirate or bandit infested waters.

tallfellow2 karma

How does one identify pirate/bandit infested waters?

MaxHardberger4 karma

There is an insurance/legal definition put out by the IMO, but the actual threat changes. At one time the Malacca Straits were the hot spot, then Somalia, and now West Africa. The internet is full of sites tracking attacks by region, type, etc.

turnpikenorth16 karma

Will you avoid ships that have pirates from areas hit by Ebola?

MaxHardberger30 karma

No, that's the least of my worries. If the ship's in an ebola area I and my crew are going to take serious precautions, though, and we won't be getting any blood or saliva (or other noxious bodily fluids) on us.

Taco_Turian15 karma

What equipment do you typically use when recovering ships? What is a must have piece of equipment? What do you hope you never have to use?

MaxHardberger21 karma

Of course it depends on the job. I try to avoid having to sneak onboard but we have used grapples and ascenders when necessary. Any navigation equipment that's not still onboard I"ll have to take. The only must-have equipment for all extractions is a satphone; I never use the ship's communication equipment until we're out of danger. What I hope I never have to use is lethal force, which I've been able to avoid so far.

reddituser977915 karma

Your short bio mentioned that you steal back ships from "seedy ports" around the world , could you give an example of one ?

MaxHardberger29 karma

Probably the seediest is Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

newera1414 karma

Have you ever needed researchers? If so how do I apply? I can find out almost anything.

MaxHardberger17 karma

So far Michael Bono, the Vessex business manager, has done a hell of a job with research: he once tracked an airplane we were hired to repo from Africa to a repair facility in Europe where we were able to recover it. But of course I'm sure he would be glad to review your resume, which you should send to the proper link at www.vesselextractions.com

mikeseal14 karma

Hey, Max. Hope all is well. Are you still playing music?

MaxHardberger21 karma

Hey, Mike! What's up? Yes, still banging away. . .my Ddrum set was stolen while I was in Somalia so I have a Mapex set now. I'll give you a call next time I'm headed for Jackson Town.

FourPartPlan14 karma

What has been your most dangerous mission to date?

MaxHardberger18 karma

Probably the 2004 extraction of the MAYA EXPRESS from Haiti during the revolution.

flowerboy9810 karma

So basically you're a privateer?

MaxHardberger33 karma

Nope: a privateer holds a letter of marque from one country allowing it to take vessels flying the flag of another country with whom that country is at war. There are no peacetime privateers. Anyway, letters of marque can only be issued by governments and my clients are all private entities.

timetravelist9 karma

wouldn't it be nice to hold a letter of marque in your personal collection though?

MaxHardberger8 karma

I could probably arrange for one from Haiti if we could go to war with somebody. . .say Burkina Faso.

timhba10 karma


MaxHardberger24 karma

Weeeelllll, bribery is a delicate subject, especially being a lawyer. Happily the FCPA (Federal Corrupt Practices Act) only applies to bribes offered to government officials, so bribing a hostile crew to abandon a ship isn't illegal under US law. I've paid as little as a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. I once bribed a guard with about five years' worth of salary to leave his post for a few minutes. . .I'm sure he quit his job and retired after that. So it cost about $5K to save a $10M ship.

MaxHardberger10 karma

The largest ship I've recovered was about 40,000 tons. I work with the minimum crew necessary to get the ship out, which often depends on how far was have to go to deliver the ship to the client.

ShiTappens10 karma

Do most big ships have plans in place to repel boarders? Is deadly force legal while repelling boarders?

MaxHardberger14 karma

The ships that transit pirate waters usually have an anti-piracy plan in place. Today's ISPS code requires all international vessels to have such a plan in place, regardless of trading area. Deadly force is legal to repel any boarder who appears (to the master) to present a threat of violence against the vessel's crew, which would include virtually every forced boarder. However, on US flagged vessels the crew must comply with Title III in regards to weapons.

AThievingStableBoy8 karma

Title III? What types of weapons are allowed?

azreel28 karma

Title III is part of the Americans with Disabilities act...

So the weapons would have to be wheelchair accessible.

MaxHardberger25 karma

Thank you. I meant Title II/Class III.

MaxHardberger15 karma

The same weapons that are allowed on US soil are allowed on U.S. flagged vessels. Of course, a vessel in state waters must comply with state firearm laws as well.

ijon_cbo9 karma

What about the engines? I do know a bit about commercial shipping and I have been in several different engine rooms of commercial ships - do you select an engineer for an extraction based on the propulsionsystem of the vessel, or do you have a couple of "know-it-alls" that can get any vessel steaming?

What about Food/Water? How do you get enough food rations and water onboard? Do you just trust, that there is enough aboard from the "previous crew" or do you carry rations? How long is a journey on average after the successfull extradition of the vessel?

Also, on a recent reposession of a nice realestate on an island, i was the guy responsible for all the high-tech-trickery, that my crew brought in. Also I have a startup for shipelectronics, but no officers-certificate. would you be interested in reading my CV for your company? I do have a couple of hundred NM under my belt on various vessels, but not more.

MaxHardberger9 karma

You sound like a good candidate. Please forward your CV to vesselextractions.com--there's a link for applications.

I have several good chief engineers with experience on the kinds of ships we usually deal with, but I choose the engineers for a particular job based on the type of machinery we expect to find onboard. Sometimes we get enough time for them to acclimate to the engine room, but usually they have to sneak onboard with me and get the engines going and ready the ship for departure based on their general knowledge, at least to get to somewhere safe so they can figure everything out.

I have never worried about food as there has always been food onboard. If my recon shows no food, we would carry enough food for the few days we'll need to deliver the vessel to the client's nominated port.

ijon_cbo2 karma

I will, sir. what can I do to make sure that it will at least be read? because, as I said, i do not have an officers certificate. (But would love to have one)

MaxHardberger5 karma

I'll tell our managing partner, Michael Bono, to keep an eye out for it.

treepoop9 karma

Are you, by chance, a fan of any of Clive Cussler's work? Based just of your bio you seem to be the closest thing to a real-life Dirk Pitt as we'll ever get.

MaxHardberger21 karma

I'm sorry to report that although I like the subject matter of Cussler's work (and that of the people who are now writing the Cussler novels), I haven't been able to get past what I consider a turgid writing style. I am, however, a big fan of C. S. Forester.

MiG-219 karma

Have you ever had to beat up the crew of a ship? How did it make you feel?

MaxHardberger15 karma

Never, not once. I've gotten in fights onboard with thieves, stowaways, and even crewmen of mine, but never with the crew of a vessel I'm extracting. If the crew is innocent--in other words, is just doing their legitimate job of running a ship--it would be morally wrong to use any kind of force against them. Even if the crew are pirates, there won't be any beating up; once we have secured the vessel, my GRUP7 ROE requires that all surviving prisoners be treated as humanely as security allows and turned over to authorities as soon as possible.

MiG-219 karma

What kind of firepower you guys pack? You must never get bored in your line of work?

I like the cut of your jib, you're a real tough guy, and I mean it as a compliment.

MaxHardberger21 karma

Thanks, but I'm not, really. My children thought I was a push-over! Anyway, I try to approach the business as a business, although I have to admit it tickles me pink to see some wannabe ship thief spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (it's not cheap buying a judge and paying the ship's expenses until the auction, paying guards and the inevitable port official bribes, etc.) and end up with nothing. And I'm no adrenaline junkie--I hate that moment when it looks like the future is going to include some nasty moments in a nasty foreign prison--but I suppose I hate to see the bad guys win, so somebody's got to do it.

As for firepower, in GRUP7 we use a lot of neat equipment--including devices that can listen in on all conversations outside of the engine room through the ship's hull, and can even send ghostly messages to the guards or crew using the hull as a giant speaker--but for firearms we have to use whatever we can buy--if you know what I mean--locally. Short-barrelled weapons are best, of course. In Somalia we used pistols and short-barrelled "tanker" AK's, which is about all you can get there smaller than RPK's. Flashbangs are important tools: they're hard to find overseas but easy to improvise. Shrapnel grenades are no go unless you know there're no hostages anywhere onboard. Since we're operating in an unknown environment, even when we've done tape drills based on the ship's known lay-out, and since our MO is to send several teams to various pre-determined areas simultaneously, commo is extremely important.

highfiveswithmoose8 karma

Have you ever gotten caught by or in trouble with foreign governments?

MaxHardberger12 karma

No, thank goodness. If I had, I probably wouldn't be here. The average life span of a gringo in a Latin American jail is six months. . .disease, starvation, and beatings take about that long to do their work. As for a Haitian jail, well. . .

nexuslab57 karma

Do you regret majoring in fiction and poetry? I plan to major in English(emphasis on creative writing), but my family wants me to major in something more useful, as they put it. A lot of this has to do with my switch from wanting to be a veterinarian to a writer(I realized veterinary medicine wasn't for me). Thanks.

MaxHardberger17 karma

Well, to be honest, I was having too much fun in Iowa City during those heady days of the early 70's to worry too much about writing, which is something I'd been doing from pubescence and continued doing regardless of the degree. But I am certain that creative writing is a science like any other--I've taught it as a science--and a good writers' workshop could be valuable. But I wouldn't do it as a career choice without a day job backup.

funsurprise7 karma

What is the most beautiful thing you have seen at sea?

MaxHardberger11 karma

Clear nights at sea with all the stars glittering, the satellites streaking across the heavens, and moonlight washing over the swells. . .those are the night watches I love.

ijon_cbo5 karma

This. Or maybe also this:

I personally prefer the moonless night, that is completly pitch-black, when the ship is "floating in light" due to marine phosphorescence and every swarm of fish the ship goes through produces a fireworks light effect just below the surface.

MaxHardberger5 karma

You're right. . .phosphorescence can be amazing. One night a lady and I were swimming off my sailboat in Belize and when she came up the ladder behind me her entire body glowed green, still fading as she climbed into the cockpit.

Heamar7 karma

How do you get paid?

MaxHardberger18 karma

We charge an upfront "investigation" fee that covers our estimated research and recon expenses and a daily rate for me and whomever I take with me on the recon. Once we have determined the situation and agree to take the job (more often than not we turn them down for various reasons) we charge an upfront estimated expense amount. If we are successful, we charge an additional amount. We always get paid because our services are a "necessary", giving us a lien against the vessel in any legitimate jurisdiction in the world, and my business partner and I are both maritime lawyers.

thejimsy12 karma

What reasons would cause you to reject a job?

MaxHardberger26 karma

One common reason is that the vessel owner is trying to use us to help him avoid paying a legitimate debt. Another common reason is impracticality--we recently turned down a job to extract a vessel in the national waters of a country (which I won't name) where, because of a long string of offshore islands, the ship--which would have to be towed--wouldn't reach international water for a whole day. I knew that the government of that country wouldn't hesitate to shoot up and sink a tugboat towing a ship seized in one of its ports even if it were in international waters (the government of this country routinely violates international law) and giving its helicoipters and warplanes a whole day to do so was a risk I couldn't ask the tugboat crew to take.

SnortsOffRugs5 karma

Who is the most Jack Bauer-like dude in the game?

MaxHardberger17 karma

There aren't many of us, and I can't name the others or they wouldn't like it. I do have one British friend--actually a character in SEIZED whom I call Barry Butler--who's my hero in this business. He's the only man I know who holds both an Unlimited Master's ticket and an Unlimited Horsepower Chief Engineer's ticket.

MaxHardberger5 karma

This is highly specialized work and I only use men with sea experience.

starkimus5 karma

How much does an entry level Grup7 member make?

MaxHardberger5 karma

GRUP7 works for salvage money, so it depends on the risk, the difficulty, and the expense of the extraction and the value of the ship. I pay in two stages, the first as part of the advance payment and the second after the vessel has been sold at auction. In the GRUP7 contract, pay is specified as a percentage of total net recovery, but it would be at least a thou or two a day.

hoodyupload4 karma

How many ships have you stole from pirates ?

MaxHardberger8 karma

I call many of the men who try to steal my clients' ships pirates, but in fact piracy means a hostile boarding at sea, so they're more like garden-variety scammers than pirates. However, in total I've rescued a couple of dozen ships and a few aircraft.

maxusatom74 karma

What nation has the largest naval piracy problem OTHER THAN Somalia?

MaxHardberger4 karma

The nations most at risk now are on the West Coast of Africa, including Sierra Leon, Nigeria, Liberia, etc.

j_one_k4 karma

Do you do non-piracy related ship repo as well, or just piracy recovery?

I ask because I have a finance friend with a funny story about the time he realized that taking claim on the asset backing the bonds he owned meant hiring a "self help repo consultant"--i.e. sending a guy to take control of a cruise ship mid-voyage. But, I imagine cruise passengers are a lot less dangerous than pirates!

MaxHardberger5 karma

You can't take control of a cruise ship in navigation without committing piracy yourself. I would recommend tracking the ship to the first port with a legitimate judicial system and have her seized there, or wait until the passengers were off somewhere and extract the vessel without committing kidnapping. But yes, we do other related work from time to time.

lostpatrol4 karma

If you went into porn, what would your stage name be?

MaxHardberger33 karma

I wouldn't need to change it.

reddit0611134 karma


MaxHardberger8 karma

Ha! I've never tried that. I really don't think of myself as a pirate, regardless of what the book promoters write. But if the alternative is keelhauling, well. . .

mindfulmu3 karma

Could I intern with you?

MaxHardberger7 karma

Unfortunately, we don't have any intern spots because I can take only a very limited number of men on an extraction, and every extra person means more visibility, more complexity, and more risk. However, I'm always ready to look at the resume of deck officers and engineers good sea experience.

Li0nhead3 karma

Are you not slightly worried that doing this AmA will result in a flood of applications to your company from the 99%+ of us who would never be suitable for such a role or worse, some idiot on here decided to try and do their own extractions?

MaxHardberger3 karma

No, not really. Anyone can access our website at www.vesselextractions.com and submit a resume/CV. In fact, I encourage people to do so. Of course, our requirements are pretty specialized, but like any company we're always ready to consider highly qualified people, no matter how they contact us. As for the "idiots" who might want to go into competition with us, they're welcome to try. This isn't an on-the-job-training kind of thing.

pzerr3 karma

I figured this must have been asked but could not find. Is that your real name never changed?

MaxHardberger3 karma

Yep, real name. In fact, my father was FMH Sr.

pigpotjr3 karma

Any advice for a 16 year old?

MaxHardberger8 karma

Well, you're not too young to go to sea. International law would permit you to sail as a cadet until you reach 18, but cadets don't get paid, so it would be an unpaid internship. If you would like a career at sea, I would recommend going to one of the excellent maritime academies we have in the US or to one in your country so you can graduate as 3rd mate. That way you could become a captain in as little as six years.

pigpotjr3 karma

Awsome thanks, and by academy you mean something like a merchant marine academy?

MaxHardberger6 karma

Yes. Maine Maritime is a good one and I have friends who are graduates so if you decide to go into bluewater stay in touch. SUNY has a good program as well. The MMA is hard to get into and I'm not sure it's worth the trouble. You can always "go up the hawsepipe", but that takes a minimum of 10 years to reach master. As for getting captain jobs, nobody cares if you're an academy graduate or not if you have the requisite STCW COC.

viveknarayan963 karma

Do you spare time with your family?

MaxHardberger9 karma

I wasn't able to for most of my life. . .gone on flying jobs, or working on oil rigs in Central America, or working on ships. I once calculated that during my 23-year marriage, I was home for Christmas about 10 times. Now my law practice keeps me in the office at least some of the time, and extraction work is short-notice and short-duration (usually), so I get to relax occasionally. As much as I want, anyway!

Lil-Doomie3 karma

Max, are you in South Florida? UM Law's Maritime and Admiralty Society would love to have you down for a chat.

MaxHardberger3 karma

Hey, I'm in Louisiana at the moment but I'm either in So. FL or going through on my way to Haiti fairly regularly. I would be delighted to sit down with the UM MAS but it would probably have to be on short notice.

Lil-Doomie3 karma

Thanks, Captain! Is the best way to get a hold of you through VessEx?

MaxHardberger2 karma

That's fine. . .send me an email and we can establish communication.

purcerh3 karma

Hey man! With a title like that, I'm sure you kill it with the ladies. What does someone in your profession make a year?

MaxHardberger6 karma

Well, being a ship captain in the Caribbean is like being a rock star in Greenwich Village. . .all the girls want to tell their friends they're dating the captain. As for income for vessel extractors, it's hit-and-miss because I only get paid a percentage of whatever we get for a recovery, and we don't make significant money unless we're successful. Ship recovery also depends heavily on the state of the industry--when ship values are up people don't default as much, and when they're down owners sometimes have to dump their ships like penny stocks. And then there are the jobs that we just can't take on--like the time we were contacted by a company that was a notorious shell for a foreign government under a UN embargo, but we couldn't get the necessary DOS waiver in time. The government eventually mounted a successful military operation. So it's feast-or-famine in the ship repo business.

Animal_Mother272 karma

Do you have any favorite firearms that you have used or carried?

What was the biggest waves you have ever sailed in?

Very interesting AMA by the way!

MaxHardberger5 karma

I'm a big AK fan. In pistols I favor automatics with external hammers.


You should try /r/guns

They love combloc guns.

MaxHardberger3 karma


NavyWarrior2 karma

I've been through VBSS training in the Navy. Would that be something you look for in employees?

MaxHardberger3 karma

That would certainly help, although of course we're on the other side (we're the boarders, not the defenders, as a general rule).

NavyWarrior3 karma

That's srf-a, a prerequisite to VBSS. The VBSS portion is visit board search and seizure. We're the boarders! I have two years left on my contract. I'll be operating off a small craft that specializes in VBSS work out near the middle east. Expect my resume! Thank you for the response sir!

MaxHardberger2 karma

Sounds good. I'll tell Michael to look for your CV.

JimsApplePie2 karma

Best AMA in a long time.

I've sailed from Ireland to England on a 3 hour ferry, is that enough sea experience for a job?!

MaxHardberger5 karma

Absolutely. I know a guy who's got a little scow that goes around to drilling rigs collecting sewage. Of course, in an offshore environment there's naturally a lot of spillage. He's looking for a deckhand.

cheekia1 karma

Ever pirate speak to the pirates?

MaxHardberger5 karma


ShitBets-2 karma

do u liek to gamble?

MaxHardberger5 karma


Iama_tomhanks-4 karma

This is fascinating. Could you please give us an example of how these extractions work?

MaxHardberger8 karma

There's actually quite a bit of information about how my company operates on our website, www.vesselextractions.com.

Iama_tomhanks-14 karma

I don't want to look at your website.

MaxHardberger10 karma

I didn't want you to. I was just being polite.