In January 2008 five Iranian speedboats approached three U.S. Warships in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. warships attempted to contact the Iranians: "This is coalition warship. I am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law. I maintain no harm. Over!"
A radio operator on one of the U.S. warships then heard a voice reply, "I am coming to you... You will explode in... minutes."
At first the U.S. warships believed this message to be coming from the Iranian speedboats. However, it has since been argued that the mysterious threatening message probably came from a "Filipino Monkey" prankster. Supporting this theory is the lack of background ocean noises in the transmission, which one would have expected to hear if the message came from the speedboats.
History of the Filipino Monkey
The Filipino Monkey is the name of an infamous rogue radio operator who interjects lewd jokes, threats, obscenities, and animal noises into ship-to-ship radio communications conducted on VHF marine channel 16 in the Persian Gulf. (VHF Channel 16 is the maritime International Emergency Distress Frequency that all vessels are required to monitor.)
The Filipino Monkey was first heard in the Persian Gulf around 1984, during the Iran-Iraq War. Despite the fact that VHF Channel 16 is supposed to be used only during emergencies, he would play music over it and taunt other seamen in a sing-song voice. He usually spoke in English. He had particular disdain for Filipino sailors -- as the name he gave himself would indicate. However, he was also extremely hostile to Iranians.
At first, sailors in the Persian Gulf treated the Filipino Monkey as a bizarre but harmless distraction. They would often respond to him in kind, causing the emergency channel to be filled with cursing matches. However, as tensions in the Persian Gulf escalated throughout the 1980s, the continuing antics of the Filipino Monkey were viewed as dangerous.
In 1987 Iran and Iraq began to attack neutral merchant vessels, prompting the US to send warships to the region. This period was known as the Tanker War. There was a large amount of military traffic in the Gulf, and tensions ran high. In this environment, the actions of the Filipino Monkey had the potential for causing serious misunderstandings that could turn deadly. For instance, in one episode in 1987, an Iranian gunboat challenged a container vessel to declare its cargo. Before the container vessel could reply, the Filipino Monkey broke in, "Oh, bombs, rockets -- atom bombs."
An Iranian gunboat challenged a merchant vessel near the Strait of Hormuz, demanding to know its destination. The Filipino Monkey broke in, "I go to your mother's house."
An Iranian warship locked its weapons radar onto a U.S. warship. The U.S. warship warned the Iranian vessel to stand down. The Filipino Monkey interjected, "Iranian warship, Iranian warship. You gonna get it now."
An Iranian gunboat confronted a cargo ship: "What is your cargo? What is your cargo?"
The Filipino Monkey: "Rockets, grenades, tanks, missile launchers, all bound for Iraq."
The cargo ship frantically responded, "That was not me! That was not me!"
The Filipino Monkey was heard shrieking, "It's the Fil-i-peeno Mon-key! Who wants some Fil-i-peeno ba-NAN-a? It's the Mon-KEEEEE! Come and get my ba-NAAAAAAN-a!"
During a standoff between an Iranian and U.S. Warship, the Filipino Monkey radioed to the Iranian vessel, "Now, I'm going to blow your ass out of the water." The American ship immediately denied the declaration.
Initial theories were that the Filipino Monkey was a lone troublemaker, who failed to understand the potentially lethal implications of his actions. Some speculated that he was handicapped, because he seemed to have nothing to do except remain on the radio all day. It was considered unlikely that he was a seaman or oil worker, because his presence continued over multiple years -- longer than a normal tour of duty.
However, by 1987 the general consensus was that he was more than one person. Most likely the original Filipino Monkey had spawned many imitators.
In 1987 the United Arab Emirates attempted to locate the source of the Monkey's broadcasts. However, their search proved unsuccessful because of the large number of possible locations of his transmitter. It might have been based on a ship, supply boat, tug, oil platform, or even the shore.
Naval Officers suggest that the Filipino Monkey has by now evolved into a widely known "radio call" used by numerous different pranksters. Bored radio operators call out, "Fi-li-pi-no MON-key," thereby provoking a torrent of responses from everyone in the area. In addition, the Filipino Monkey is now a worldwide phenomenon, although the prank remains most concentrated in the Persian Gulf.
Links and References
- Tyler, Patrick. (Oct 7, 1987). "Gulf's cluttered airwaves -- Ships and planes mix banter and bluster." Washington Post.
- Ross, Michael. (Nov. 12, 1987). "Filipino Monkey: On Backs of Many in Tense Gulf." Los Angeles Times.
- Horwitz, Tony. (March 1988). "The Strait of Hommus; there's more to the Persian Gulf war than geopolitics, a report from the scene." Washington Monthly. 20(2): 37.
- Marshall, Tyler. (Apr 23, 1988). "Commercial Traffic Resumes Following U.S.-Iranian Clashes." Los Angeles Times.
- Scutro, Andrew and Brown, David. (Jan 13, 2008). "Filipino Monkey behind threats?" Navy Times.
- Nizza, Mike. (Jan 14, 2008). "Filipino Monkey and the Naval Confrontation with Iran." New York Times.