The MV Maersk Alabama hijacking was a series of maritime events that began with four pirates in the Indian Ocean seizing the cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama 240 nautical miles (440 km; 280 mi) southeast of Eyl, Somalia. The siege ended after a rescue effort by the U.S. Navy on April 12, 2009. It was the first successful pirate seizure of a ship registered under the American flag for nearly two centuries. Many news reports referenced the last pirate seizure as being during the Second Barbary War in 1815, although this is not necessarily correct. It was the sixth vessel in a week to be attacked by pirates who had previously extorted ransoms in the tens of millions of dollars.

The story of the incident has inspired a book, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days, written by Stephan Talty and Maritime Captain Richard Phillips, who had been master of the vessel at the time of the incident. The hijacking also inspired a 2013 biographical film, Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks as Phillips.

History Edit

The Hijacking Edit

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The crew of the Maersk Alabama in 2009. The Alabama itself is behind them.

The Alabama, originating from Salalah, Oman was bound for Mombasa, Kenya after a stop in Djibouti with a crew of 23, loaded with 17,000 metric tons of cargo. On April 8, 2009, four pirates based on FV Win Far 161 attacked the ship. All four pirates were between 17 and 19 years old, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The crew members of the Maersk Alabama had received anti-piracy training from union schools, and had drilled aboard the ship a day prior. Their training included the use of small arms, anti-terror, basic safety, first aid, and other security-related courses. Firearms are not permitted on cargo ships due to the likelihood of crew members getting injured or killed. When the pirate alarm sounded on April 8, Chief Engineer Mike Perry brought 14 members of the crew into a "secure room" that the engineers had been in the process of fortifying for just such a purpose. As the pirates approached on a skiff, the remaining crew fired flares. In addition, Perry and 1st A/E (Assistant Engineer) Matt Fisher swung the ship's rudder, which swamped the pirate skiff, eliminating any means for escape.

Despite their tactics, the ship was boarded. Each pirate had an AK-47 assault rifle, at least one of the pirates had a weapon without a stock. Perry had initially taken main engine control away from the bridge and 1st A/E Matt Fisher had taken control of the steering gear. To fool the pirates, all power was shut down and the entire ship "went black". The pirates captured Captain Richard Phillips and several other crew members minutes after boarding, but soon found that they could not control the ship.

Perry remained outside the secure room lying in wait, knife in hand, for a visit from the pirates who were trying to locate the missing crew members in order to gain control of the ship and presumably sail it to Somalia. Perry tackled the ringleader of the pirates, Abduwali Muse, and stabbed him in his left hand with his knife while struggling to keep it at his neck. The pirate was then tied up and his wounds were treated by Second Mate Ken Quinn.

After suffering in the overheated secure room for 10 hours, the crew attempted to exchange Muse for the captain, but the the exchange went awry and the pirates refused to honor the agreement after the crew released their leader. Captain Phillips escorted the pirates to a lifeboat to show them how to operate it, but then the pirates fled in the lifeboat with Phillips as a hostage.

On April 8 the United States Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge and the guided-missile frigate USS Halyburton were dispatched to the Gulf of Aden in response to the hostage situation, with the Halyburton carrying two SH-60B helicopters on board. The ships reached the Maersk Alabama on April 9.

The Alabama was then escorted from the scene to it's original destination of Mombasa where Captain Larry D. Aasheim, who nine days later was relieved by Captain Phillips, took command of the ship. CNN and Fox News quoted sources stating that the pirates' strategy was to await the arrival of additional hijacked vessels carrying more pirates and additional hostages to use as human shields.

Rescue Edit

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The 28-foot lifeboat where Captain Richard Phillips and the 4 Somali pirates were held up. Photo was taken by a U.S. Navy ScanEagle UAV that scoped the gulf on April 9.

A stand-off soon began on April 9 between Bainbridge, Halyburton, and the pirates' lifeboat from the Maersk Alabama, on which they held Phillips hostage, with intentions to sail to Somalia. The lifeboat itself was covered and contained plenty of food and water, but lacked a toilet or ventilation. It was likely over 100 degrees Fahrenheit inside the lifeboat during the time of the rescue. The Bainbridge was equipped with a ScanEagle UAV and Rigid-hulled inflatable lifeboats. Both vessels stayed out of the pirates' range of fire, several hundred yards out. A P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft secured aerial footage and reconnaissance. Radio communication between the two ships was established. Four foreign vessels held by pirates headed towards the scene. A total of 54 hostages were on board two of those vessels, including people of Chinese, German, Russian, Filipino, Polynesian, Indonesian, and Taiwanese nationality.
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The USS Bainbridge shadows the Alabama lifeboat, near the lower right corner of the picture.

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Captain Phillips (right) with Commander Frank Castellano of the USS Bainbridge after being rescued.

On April 10, Phillips attempted to escape the lifeboat, but was recaptured after the pirates fired shots. They then threw a phone and a two-way radio dropped to them by the U.S. Navy into the ocean, fearing the Americans were somehow using the equipment to give instructions to the captain. The United States dispatched another warship, amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, to the site off the Horn of Africa. The pirates' strategy was to link up with their comrades, who were holding various other hostages, and to get Phillips to Somalia where they could hide him and make a rescue more difficult for the Americans. Anchoring near the shore would allow them to land quickly if attacked. Negotiations were ongoing between the pirates and the captain of the USS Bainbridge and FBI hostage negotiators. The captors were also communicating with other pirate vessels via satellite phone.

Not long after negotiations began, hours were broken down after the pirates fired on Halyburton not long after sunrise on Saturday, April 11. The American frigate did not return fire and "did not want to escalate the situation". No crew members of Halyburton were injured from the pirates' gunfire, as the shots were fired haphazardly out of the lifeboat's front hatch.

One of the pirates announced "We are safe and we are not afraid of the Americans. We will defend ourselves if attacked" to Reuters by satellite phone. Phillips' family had gathered at his farmhouse in Vermont awaiting an update to the situation.

On Saturday, April 11, 2009, Maersk Alabama arrived in the port of Mombasa, Kenya, under U.S. military escort. An 18-man security team was on board. The FBI then secured the ship as a crime scene.

Commander Frank Castellano, the commanding officer of Bainbridge, stated that as the winds picked up, tensions rose among the pirates, making them trigger-happy. Castellano and FBI negotiatiors managed to persuade the pirates to be towed by the destroyer.

Finally, on April 12, 2009, Navy SEAL marksmen opened fire on the lifeboat killing the three pirates that remained inside with Phillips, who was rescued uninjured. Commander Castellano, with prior authorization from higher authority, ordered the action after determining Captain Phillips' life was in immediate danger, citing reports that a pirate was pointing an AK-47 rifle at Phillips' back. Navy SEAL snipers, from SEAL Team Six, fired approximately 6-7 shots from Bainbridge's fantail, killing the three pirates with bullets to the head. The SEALs had arrived Friday afternoon after having parachuted into the gulf near Halyburton, which later joined with Bainbridge. At the time, the Bainbridge had the lifeboat under tow, approximately 25 to 30 yards (23 to 27 m) astern. Two of the three pirates killed have been identified as Ali Aden Elmi and Hamac, while the third has been left completely unidentified. The pirates' leader, Abduwali Muse, was aboard the Bainbridge at the time of the SEAL's siege on the lifeboat, and was negotiating for Phillips' release while being treated for his stab wound that he had sustained while struggling with Mike Perry days prior on the Maersk Alabama, he was soon taken into custody.

The bodies of the three dead pirates were turned over by the U.S. Navy to unidentified recipients in Somalia in the last week of April 2009.

Trial Edit

Surviving pirate Abduwali Muse was held on Boxer and was evetually flown to the United States to face trial. Prosecutors brought charges in a federal courtroom in New York City that included piracy, conspiracy to seize a ship by force, and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking. Muse's lawyers asked he be tried as a juvenile, alleging he was either 15 or 16 years old at the time of the hostage-taking, but the court ruled that Muse was not a juvenile and would be tried as an adult. He later admitted that he was 18 years old and pleaded guilty to hijacking, kidnapping, and hostage-taking charges in lieu of piracy charges. He received a prison sentence of 33 years and nine months.

Later Incidents Edit

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The Maersk Alabama lifeboat in which Phillips was held for ransom on display at the National Navy SEAL Museum.

Since the pirate hijacking, the Maersk Alabama has since repelled two attacks partly through the use of armed security.

UDT-SEAL Museum Edit

The owners of MV Maersk Alabama donated the bullet-marked 5-ton fiberglass lifeboat upon which the pirates held Captain Phillips hostage to the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida, in August 2009. The lifeboat had recently been on loan to National Geographic for it's "Real Pirates" exhibition at the Nauticus marine science museum in Norfolk, Virginia. The producers of the Captain Phillips film visited the Museum in the process of re-creating the lifeboat and interiors for the set. An example of the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle used to monitor the crisis is also on display, as is the SR-25 sniper rifle used by the U.S. Navy SEALs to kill the pirates and free Phillips. The actual ScanEagle used is on display as well, along shell casings at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

References Edit

  1. [1]List of Ships Attacked by Somali Pirates
  2. [2]Operation Dawn of Gulf of Aden