Ships 2

Maersk Alabama

Ships 3

Maersk Alabama

Captain Phillips

American Hero Caught In Drama Off Somali Coast

By James Donahue

Navy Seal commandos on Sunday carried out a dramatic rescue of Captain Richard Phillips, the master of the American container ship Maersk Alabama, after he spent four days of captivity with would-be Somalia pirates in a floating lifeboat in the Indian Ocean. The episode captured the attention of the U.S. media as the almost unprecedented drama on the high seas unfolded.

Captain Phillips is going down in the record books as an All-American Hero.

While all the details of the pirate attack on the freighter are yet to be told, it is known that Phillips offered himself as a hostage to assure the safety of his 20-member crew. He and the four armed pirates were packed in a small lifeboat on the open sea as U.S. Navy ships and captured pirate-controlled ships surround them.

At first an effort was made to negotiate for the safe release of Captain Phillips. The pirates were reportedly demanding a ransom of $2 million and threatening to kill the captain if attacked.

In the end, trained marksmen among a team of Navy Seals, airlifted to the scene, skillfully shot three of the hijackers from positions on the deck of the U.S. Destroyer Brainbridge when they showed themselves in the lifeboat at the same moment. One of them was holding the barrel of an AK-47 at Captain Phillips' head at the time the marksmen fired the fatal shots.

The fourth pirate, who had been stabbed in the hand by a crew member during the unsuccessful attempt to hijack the freighter, had surrendered and asked for medical treatment on the navy ship. He remains under arrest.

In the midst of the drama, early on Saturday, Phillips slipped through a rear door and jumped out off the 28-foot boat in a wild effort to escape, but was quickly recaptured by the pirates. Keeping the captain with them, and alive was the only bargaining chip the pirates as they were surrounded by a growing flotilla of armed Naval ships and aircraft.

The drama began on the Indian Ocean, about 300 miles off the Horn of Africa.

The four gunmen, armed with AK-47s used a speedboat, probably launched from a mothership nearby, to overtake the Alabama then successfully boarded it. They sank their speedboat in the process.

Crew members told reporters after the ship docked that the gang rushed the bridge where they took Captain Phillips captive, but that the chief engineer then took command of the ship from the engine room. They said the pirates at no time had control of the ship.

Apparently one of the pirates made an effort to rush the engine room. That was when he was stabbed. Eventually the pirates left the ship with Captain Phillips in one of the lifeboats. From there, the standoff began.

They said Phillips ordered the 20-members of the ship's crew to lock themselves in their cabins, and volunteered to go with the pirates to protect his crew. 

The Navy destroyer Bainbridge, the frigate Haliburton and the aircraft carrier Boxer, were standing by. General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, was overseeing the rescue operation.

The Alabama was the sixth ship to be hijacked off Somalia’s coast in a week and may have been the first American-flagged merchant vessel to be attacked by pirates anywhere in over 200 years.

Pirating in that area of the world has become a big business. The ships are held for ransom, which has been paid.

There have been reports that some freight haulers have successfully warded off attacks by installing barbed wire along the rails, thus helping to repel boarders.

We believe the time has come for merchant ships to start arming themselves and training their crews to fight back. A United Nations resolution, however, prohibits commercial vessels at sea to be armed.