WHEN Michael Groves exchanged his life as a police sergeant for a role as security officer on a luxury cruise ship, he was looking for an adventure on the high seas.
Yet even in his wildest dreams, he could never have imagined that he would be called upon to defend the Seabourn Spirit against an attack by a marauding band of pirates who blasted a hole in the ship's side with a rocket-propelled grenade.
The 41-year-old hero's astonishing courage was rewarded by the Queen last week when she presented him with the Queen's Gallantry Medal, the thirdhighest civilian bravery award. His shipmate, Som Bahadur Gurung, 46, received the Queen's Commendation for Bravery.
But the terrifying experience has left Mr Groves with post-traumatic stress disorder and an injury that means he is unable to rejoin the police force.
Michael, from the West Midlands, had served eight years in the Royal Navy and 11 in the police when, following the breakdown of his marriage in 2003, he decided to take a sabbatical.
By 2005, he was working on the Seabourn Spirit, a 10,000-ton liner carrying just 200 passengers Ä‚Â± who paid up to Å500 a night for a cruise Ä‚Â± and 150 crew.
On November 5 that year, the ship was in the Indian Ocean 100 miles east of Somalia when pirates attacked.
At 5.50am the ship's chief officer shouted that a small fishing boat had been spotted off the rear of the ship.
Michael said: 'I saw a boat with about six men in it, just a few metres away from the ship. My heart started pounding, and they began to fire at me with AK47s.
'There was no mistaking the fact they wanted to kill me, so I fell to the ground. All around me, bullets were crashing into the boat.'
Michael grabbed a high-pressure hose and returned fire with a jet of water. The captain was trying to reassure terrified passengers, encouraging them to head for the relative safety of the dining room.
Michael realised he had to use the Long- Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), a sonic cannon to channel sound waves into a devastating, laser-like intensity. It was his only other weapon. He said: ' Then another boat moved to attack us from the other direction. One of the pirates was taking aim at me with a rocket launcher. I ran as fast as I could and dived to the ground as the explosion went off over my head.
'Instantly, an excruciating pain hit my left ear. I lay there, thinking it was the end, until Som, the Master of Arms, appeared and dragged me across the deck, saving my life.' Som, a former Gurkha, was then knocked unconscious after being hit by a bullet. Michael managed to drag himself to the sonic cannon.
He said: 'I turned the volume up and I could see from the pirates' faces the pain it was causing them. About 30 minutes after the attack began, they gave up and we got away.'
Michael now takes medication for post-traumatic stress disorder, and regularly suffers flashbacks. His hearing is so badly damaged that he failed his police medical on his return to Britain.
He has launched a damages claim against Miami-based cruise ship firm Carnival, accusing it of --negligence in an attempt to recover the future earnings he has lost as a result of his injury.