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Story Tools

Date of Issue: April 22, 2009


Busy buccaneers, threaten, draw line in Indian Ocean waters

The story smacks of a spellbinding thriller novel, but this tale is true.

A small group of modern-day pirates climb aboard a merchant ship 300 miles from the coast of Somalia in the Indian Ocean in the dead of night. Most of the crew eludes the pirates. The captain offers himself as a hostage to protect his crew and ship and, at gunpoint, is led to one of the ship’s lifeboats.

The valiant captain is held for four days by his captors as Navy ships, aircraft and federal authorities attempt to negotiate his release. Finally, only yards from shore, while the lifeboat is being towed to safer waters, a team of Navy SEALS make their move and shoot three of the pirates to free the captain.

All too true, unfortunately.

A buddy living in Panama sent me the following based on an e-mail one of the officers aboard the Maersk Alabama merchant ship sent in the wake of the ordeal. The message came before the captain was freed, and was directed to all the ships within the Maersk fleet plying the Indian Ocean.

The story in his own words:

Everyone on here is okay. We're on our way to Mombasa with Navy protection on board. Capt. Phillips is still hostage in the lifeboat with the four pirates. I hear they're flying out reliefs for everyone, but I'm not sure what all’s going to happen once we get to Mombasa.

Supposedly the FBI is coming out to investigate the crime. Maybe we'll be on the next CSI:Somalia.

I wanted to let you know some of the lessons we learned so you guys can better prepare yourselves for something similar.

The only guys actually captured by the pirates were on the bridge: the captain, three mates and two sailors. I don't really know why they stayed on the bridge until the pirates got up there.

The pirates got up to the bridge very quickly once they were onboard. We had a locked cage door over the ladder well away from the main deck, but it only took a second for them to shoot it off. They then got to the bridge up the outside ladders. By that time, we had taken control of the engine and steering down below. Mike stayed in the electronic control room and the chief mate was out on deck tracking the pirates' movement.

We kept swinging the rudder side to side. The pirates’ boat capsized, though I'm not sure exactly when or what caused it. After about 20 minutes, the engine was killed, I don't know by whom. At that point I shut off the air bottles and Mike killed power. He was also able to get outside and trip the fuel shutoff for the emergency drop gear to the lifeboat. I think this was critical. The pirates were very reluctant to go into the dark. We will be looking at a way to shut off the EDG from the electronic control room in the future.

All the crew had been mustered and secured in the steering gear compartment. Our pirates didn't have any grenades, so they would never have been able to break in there. The only problem with the steering gear was the heat and the shortage of water. In the future, we will store food and water in various spots for emergency usage. I think we will also run a freshwater line into the steering gear. 

We were able to make a run from the steering gear to fill up some empty oil sample bottles with water. The chief mate was also able to get some fruit and sodas from the galley and drop them down the line standpipe.

The pirates sent the third mate unescorted to go look for crewmembers, so he was able to get away. One of the pirates then went with a seaman to look for people. Mike was able to jump him in the dark and we took him prisoner in the steering gear. No one else came down.

As the day went on, the pirates became desperate to get out of there. Their boat was sunk, and they couldn't get our ship moving. The captain talked them into taking the lifeboat. The three remaining pirates went down in the boat with Capt. Phillips. We were then able to negotiate with them over the radio. We dropped some food, water and diesel to them. We started getting the plant back on line.

Unfortunately, the lifeboat wouldn't start. A couple of guys got another lifeboat and dropped it. They motored over and traded lifeboats. We were supposed to exchange their guy for the Captain, but they ended up keeping him.

They motored off in the lifeboat. They had no way of getting back aboard, so we followed them. The Navy showed up a few hours later. We stayed close by for some time, but then the Navy asked us to head out. I heard that several other pirate vessels were heading our way and the Navy wanted us out of the way.

Just to reiterate the most important points:

Have a well fortified location with food and water supply.

Kill all the lights.

Leave the alarms going; the noise helped cover our movements through the house.

Flashlights and radios are very handy, as well as the sound-powered phone.

Anyway, it was a pretty stressful situation. I have to say I am impressed with how the entire crew responded. We didn't have anybody who wanted to give up. I'm pretty confident that Capt. Phillips will end up OK. They have to know that if they kill him they'll be done.

I assume the company will be forced into taking some kind of action to assure our security from now on.

 

End of chapter, continuing thriller

Capt. Richard Phillips was rescued April 12 after Navy SEALs shot and killed the three pirates holding him hostage at gunpoint in the gunboat. He had escaped once, only to be coerced under rifle fire to return to the pirated boat.

One of the pirates had left the lifeboat already. He may be charged in U.S. courts.

Before the captain could make it back to port, any port, and fly home to his family in Vermont, though, his Navy transport had to aid yet another vessel in the Indian Ocean threatened by the Somali gangs.

Yet another U.S. ship withstood attack as well, thwarting a pirate invasion long enough for warships to drive off the pests.

French warships have intercepted what they called a “mother ship” for pirates last week.

But the pirates are vowing revenge against the United States in the wake of the ongoing and escalating conflict in those busy waters.

According to National Public Radio, one of the pirates said, “We will seek out the Americans, and if we capture them, we will slaughter them.”

It’s ironic that most of the ships attacked by the pirates are carrying food and relief supplies to the struggling people in the region.

 

Sandscript factoid

It’s also ironic that we are in the 21st century confronted with … pirates? Jolly Roger? Blackbeard? Didn’t those guys fade out of business a few hundred years ago?

Oh, right, we’ve got our fun-loving Anna Maria Island Privateers. And those jolly Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And then there’s those Disney movies ….

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