Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Pirates: The Maersk Alabama


Saturday, negotiators recognized that the wounded pirate, Muse, needed medical attention. They brought him aboard the destroyer. Before he was transferred to the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer for treatment, Muse told commanders that his comrades planned to kill Phillips.

USS Boxer
USS Boxer

By then, negotiations between the pirates and the USS Bainbridge, overseen by the FBI and the pirates' Somali mentors ashore, were breaking down. U.S. negotiators insisted that the pirates would have to give themselves up as part of any deal, and neither the pirates nor their tribal elders seemed to have seen much reward in surrender.

Believing that the pirates were desperateand possibly deranged not only by hunger, thirst and sleep deprivation, but also by the mildly narcotic khat widely consumed in Somaliaor withdrawal from khatthe Navy determined it was time to act.

Harvested khat plants
Harvested khat plants

A military plane dropped a squad of Navy SEALs near the Bainbridge Saturday night. The SEALs were equipped with inflatable rafts, which they used to rendezvous with the destroyer.

The next morning, the pirates ran out of fuel and began drifting. They agreed to accept a towline attached to the Bainbridge as they figured out what to do next. The line was initially a comfortable 200 feet, but the Bainbridge crew took advantage of the increasingly uneven motion of the choppy seas surreptitiously to shorten the line gradually to a mere 100 feet, easy shooting distance for a trained and equipped sniper.

At dusk, three SEAL snipers trained night-vision scopes on the lifeboat from the fantail of the Bainbridge. Soon, two pirates peeked out of the hatch, and the SEALs could see the third framed by the lifeboat's window. That third pirate was pointing an AK-47 at Capt. Phillips' head.

When Phillips moved to the side of the boat to urinate, the snipers each had a clear shot. The SEALs fired simultaneouslyand killed each of three pirates with a shot to the head.

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