Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Pirates: The Maersk Alabama

The Captain's Ordeal

Confident that the pirates in the low lifeboat couldn't make it back aboard the ship, the crew of the Maersk Alabama now trailed the pirates as they motored away with Phillips.

33 hours after the hijacking, the crew of the Alabama finally heard from U.S. authorities. The Navy assured them that they were in place to deal with Phillips' captorsbut warned that more pirates were in the area and considered the ship an especially lucrative catch, likely to garner a substantial ransom from its Danish owners. The Maersk Alabama followed Navy instructions and sailed for its originally intended port, reaching Mombasa on Saturday. Local officers reported that the crew were startled when they approached, fearing that they might be yet another pirate threat.

Phillips remained onboard the lifeboat for five days.

USS Bainbridge
USS Bainbridge

Capt. Phillips and the four pirates continued along the coast, with U.S. helicopters and warships watching the boat. The USS Bainbridge, some 350 miles away, was headed closer. Thursday, Commander Frank Castellano, the captain of the Bainbridge, began relaying messages from FBI negotiators. The pirates consulted with Somali elders. Negotiations did not result in an agreement.

Friday the 450-foot warship reached the lifeboat. Phillips valiantly managed to break free and jumped overboard to swim toward the Bainbridge, but the pirates caught him before he got far and got him back in lifeboat. This time they tied him up.

The Navy consulted with the Commander-in-Chief. President Barack Obama declined to grant the Navy commanders' request to use force Friday. When there was no sign of the situation being resolving Saturday morning, Obama gave an order permitting the Navy to use deadly force if Phillips were in imminent danger.

That day pirates fired at a boat that approached from the Bainbridge. And Phillips was indeed immediate danger.

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