Messages From Rogue Radio Operator Could Provoke Attack : Filipino Monkey: On Backs of Many in Tense Gulf

Times Staff Writer

A cargo ship was sailing through the Strait of Hormuz recently when it was challenged by an Iranian warship demanding to know what it carried.

Iranian gunboats in these waters frequently attack vessels they suspect of carrying war materials to Iraq, and for the crew of the cargo ship, it was a tense moment.

“What is your cargo? What is your cargo?” the voice of an Iranian officer crackled over the radio.


Before the ship’s captain could respond, a third voice came on the air: “I am carrying machine guns and hand grenades to Iraq . . . and the atom bomb.”

The Filipino Monkey had struck again.

Jokes and Taunts

Sailors in this part of the world are by now well-acquainted with the rogue radio operator who calls himself “The Filipino Monkey.” He has been interjecting jokes and taunts into radio conversations between ships at the southern end of the Persian Gulf for at least three years.

But as the Iran-Iraq War escalates and tensions rise, with the warships of several nations patrolling the gulf on a hair-trigger state of alert, the Filipino Monkey has become more than just an occasionally amusing annoyance.

“He’s dangerous,” one gulf-based shipping source said. “He gets on the radio when ships are being challenged, and some of the things he tells the Iranians could provoke an attack.”

Most of what he tells the Iranians is unprintable.

‘Doesn’t Like Iranians’

“Whoever he is, he doesn’t seem to like Iranians very much,” the shipping source said. “He tells them what he thinks of them in graphic terms.”

Memories vary, but most shipping sources who have listened to the Monkey say they first heard him about three years ago.

“He started out by playing music and then by taunting other seamen, usually Filipinos, with curses in the middle of the night,” one official recalled.

Other seamen would respond in kind until the airwaves were alive with colorful arguments in various accents of English. This livened things up during the lonely and monotonous graveyard shifts in the gulf, and so for a time nobody much minded the Monkey’s technically illegal activities. His transmissions were an abusive, but harmless, form of entertainment.

Dark Humor

But since the arrival of U.S. warships and an increase in Iranian challenges to shipping at the southern end of the gulf, the Monkey’s mischief has assumed a darker side.

“I don’t know whether he’s trying to make trouble or whether he’s simply an idiot who doesn’t understand the implications of what he is doing, but either way he is a real hazard to commercial shipping,” a former ship captain said.

One case in point is another recent encounter between an Iranian gunboat and a merchant vessel near the Strait of Hormuz last month. When the gunboat challenged the vessel, demanding to know its destination, the Filipino Monkey broke in and replied: “I go to your mother’s house. . . . “

The encounter ended peaceably, apparently because the Iranian captain was also familiar with the Monkey’s antics.

Search Under Way

But the recurrence of such incidents has moved officials of the United Arab Emirates to mount a search for the Monkey. According to shipping sources, Ministry of Communications officials have been checking on shore-based two-way radios in recent weeks to make sure they are licensed.

“They are trying to narrow down where this guy might be broadcasting from,” one shipping executive said.

Catching the Monkey is not proving to be easy, however, because there are hundreds of possible locations for his transmitter, including ships, supply boats, tugs, oil platforms and shore-based facilities.

Also, there may be more than one Monkey. Because he has been broadcasting for far longer than any normal tour of duty for seamen or oil workers in the gulf, officials think the Filipino Monkey has spawned imitators and that there may now be more than one radio operator using the same moniker.

Many Monkeys?

“Everyone has their own theories about how many Monkeys there are and where he or they are based,” said Margaret Rogg, a reporter for CBS who frequently monitors marine radio traffic. “My own image of him is that he’s someone with a lot of time on his hands, maybe someone who’s handicapped and has nothing to do but play with his radio all day.”

Whoever he is, the Filipino Monkey’s sing-song voice is also becoming familiar to U.S. sailors in the gulf.

Early last month, for instance, he broke into the middle of a tense radio exchange between a U.S. ship and an Iranian warship.

The Iranian ship had locked its weapons radar onto the U.S. warship, which was warning it in no uncertain terms to stand down. The warning was repeated three times until the Filipino Monkey added his own.

“Iranian warship, Iranian warship,” he said. “You gonna get it now.”