Somali Pirates are well known for hijacking ships, but this is only one of a wide array of crimes they commonly commit. Pirates have also been known to steal, extort, kidnap, and murder, while pillaging the high seas. On April 8, 2009, four pirates made international news when they attacked an American cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama. Onboard at the time were twenty crew members and their captain, Richard Phillips.
The crew members hid from the pirates as they captured Captain Phillips and the ship. Upon running out of gas, the pirates abandoned the ship with only one prisoner, Captain Richard Phillips. The pirates, with Phillips in custody, boarded a life raft and headed for the Somali coast. The pirates’ plan was to leverage their hostage for millions of dollars in ransom, which would be used to fund other illegal activities and pay for food and housing for their families. The kidnappers threatened to kill Captain Phillips if their demands were not met.
Back on ship crew members were sent into a panic, as they desperately tried to call for help for their kidnapped captain. CTF-151’s destroyer USS Bainbridge was the first to respond to the maydays from Maersk Alabama, which blocked the way of the pirates in the stolen lifeboat, preventing it from escaping to land. The USS Bainbridge carried a Somali interpreter, a group of intelligence officers, and a team of Navy Seals.
The pirates were running low on food and water and were beginning to panic. Captain Phillips took this opportunity to attempt an escape, angering his captors. Deciding the captain’s life was in immediate danger, President Obama gave the order for the snipers to attack the pirates. The Navy Seals shot and killed three of the four pirates onboard and the fourth promptly negotiated the release of Captain Phillips. Both survived the ordeal. The final pirate who released Captain Phillips was 15 years old at the time of the incident, and is currently serving 33 years in prison for his role in the attack.
Following the incident, Phillips published a book expressing his thoughts about the hostage situation and telling the story from the perspective of an insider. A movie titled Captain Phillips, detailing the entire assault was released on October 11, 2013.
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