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Monday, July 15, 2013

Maersk Alabama ~ marine museum ~ piracy and the movie 'Capt Phillips'

The National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in US  has thousands of items, including a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter ~ but this 20 foot boat is unique.  It is all about a boat - bright orange and relatively large, with a round shape and enclosed top ~ not an ordinary one !! Chennaites have been waiting for it to happen – a Marine museum – reportedly that of INS Vagil, the decommissioned Navy submarine…. Sure you have seen cinemas featuring Tom Hanks – famously Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Da Vinci code, Angels & Demons among others.  MV Maersk Alabama (formerly Alva Maersk) is a container ship owned by Maersk Line Limited and operated byWaterman Steamship Corporation – this is the subject matter of this post……


It would have been one amongst the many container ships but for that incident of hijacking by Somali pirates in 2009 – the incident, the hostage rescue all became part of history ~ and it got connected with the Fort museum dedicated to Navy SEAL history as a lifeboat of the ship was handed over by the owners of the ship. It is no ordinary one but the bullet-sprayed lifeboat  in which a Captain was held as hostage and later rescued in a dramatic manner. The 20-foot lifeboat still battered and full of broken glass is a rare part of recent history.  The Maersk Alabama hijacking was a series of events involving piracy that began with four Somali pirates seizing the cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama 240 nautical miles  southeast of the Somali port city of Eyl. It was the first successful pirate seizure of a ship registered under the American flag since the early 19th century. 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.


For sure, the pirates took a wrong bait when they attacked the ship with crew of 20 laden with cargo.  On 8 April 2009, four pirates based on the FV Win Far 161 attacked the ship; boarded it and captured Capt. Richard Phillips and several other crew members minutes after boarding, but soon found that they could not control the ship. Chief Perry and his team could capture one of the pirates but lost him in the bargain.  Capt. Phillips escorted the pirates to a lifeboat to show them how to operate it where they fled with the Captain. On 8 April 2009, the destroyer USS Bainbridge was dispatched to the Gulf of Aden. In a daring action, the Navy Seals rescued Capt Richard Phillips on 12th Apr 2009.   The Navy Seal Snipers killed the three pirates in the lifeboat reportedly with a simultaneous volley of three shots. A fourth pirate, Abduhl Wal-i-Musi, was aboard the USS Bainbridge negotiating a ransom and was taken into custody.

The owners of U.S. 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  was also loaned to National Geographic for its "Real Pirates" exhibition at the Nauticus marine science museum in Norfolk, Virginia. The lifeboat’s two broken-out windows and a short, diagonal row of three bullet holes would tell the chilling story to its visitors. 

The three Somali pirates thought the American warship was doing them a favour when it offered to tow the drifting lifeboat in which they were holding captain Richard Phillips after it ran out of fuel. The USS Bainbridge fed out a 200-foot line but as the seas grew more choppy the American sailors hauled the rope in and brought the lifeboat much closer. Sitting in the wake of the US warship's broad beam riding on the tiny craft would have been a lot less rough. ……… it  also brought pirates within range of three snipers perched on the Bainbridge's stern and made the Somalis more stable targets. When the order came, it took just one shot each from the three sharpshooters to end the five-day stand off and rescue Phillips after he was seized from an American-registered container ship, the Maersk Alabama. The navy special forces then hauled themselves along the tow rope to the lifeboat to rescue Phillips.

The pirates had accepted the US warship's invitation to take a tow as their situation grew increasingly desperate after the Americans refused to discuss paying a $2m ransom for Phillips. The lifeboat ran out of fuel and was adrift in the searing heat. The pirates said they would drop the demand for money and release the US captain in return for their own freedom. The Americans refused that too. A fourth pirate, believed to be in his late teens, had surrendered earlier by jumping in to a small craft delivering food to the lifeboat.


The response of US to pirates capturing their merchant vessel and taking hostage a Captain was swift and retribution …. It was precision killing of the three pirates by six members of SEAL Team.  Captain Phillips  became a hero and now has an upcoming biopic in the same name  directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks, scheduled to be released on October 2013. Aside, in April 2009, a crew member Richard E. Hicks filed a lawsuit against his employer, Waterman Steamship Corporation and Maersk Line, Ltd., for knowingly sending him into pirate-infested waters near Somalia.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

15th July 2013.

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