By: Joe Walsh
Richard Phillips, the 53-year-old captain of the MV Maersk Alabama was freed Easter Sunday ending a five-day hostage standoff with Somali pirates.
His rescuers were Navy SEAL Team Six snipers who shot and killed three Somali pirates holding Phillips captive in an enclosed lifeboat hundreds of miles off the Horn of Africa. The fourth pirate in the lifeboat surrendered soon after.
Vice Admiral Bill Gortney ordered the snipers to shoot when he determined Phillips was in imminent danger. The lifeboat was about 25 yards away from snipers positioned on the USS Bainbridge, which was towing it out of rough waters.
“This was the biggest story of our Easter break,” Marist College junior Sal Furino said. “Looking back, it seemed like the only things we did over the weekend were keep close track of the Somali pirate hostage situation and celebrate Easter. It was dreadful but captivating. I was relieved to hear that the captain was finally free.”
Last Wednesday, April 8, Phillips surrendered himself to the pirates to protect the rest of his crew who had held off the intruders by locking themselves in the engine room. They later used what has been called “brute force” to retake the ship and overpower some of their captors.
The USS Bainbridge was the first to arrive near the lifeboat. Upon the Bainbridge’s arrival, the Alabama made its way to the Mombasa port in Kenya, its original destination. The Alabama had a Navy team of armed guards on board for the remainder of the trip.
The Alabama was carrying 17,000 metric tons of U.N. food aid for the East African region.
“The thing that has hit me the most is that these pirates are taking food from people in need,” Michelle Reid, a junior at Marist College said. “They don’t have the right to take it for themselves when there are so many people that need that food.”
Pirates in the region have been reacting to the news, stating that they will now escalate their level of hostility to foreign ships.
“Now they became our number one enemy,” Jamac Habeb, a 30-year-old self-proclaimed pirate told the AP regarding the U.S. “From now on, if we capture foreign ships and their respective countries try to attack us, we will kill them [the hostages].”
The precision of the U.S. Team Six snipers who attacked the pirates, aiming for the heads and shoulders, allowed Phillips to escape the lifeboat unharmed.
Phillips had previously tried to escape the lifeboat on April 10 by swimming but returned when the pirates shot at him.
A U.S. ship had tried to come near the lifeboat early on but retreated after it was fired upon. In an effort to not escalate the situation, the U.S. ship did not return fire.
When Phillips was brought to safety after the 5-day ordeal, he was not looking for praise. His statement to President and CEO of Maersk Line Limited was modest and heartfelt.
“I’m just the byline. The real heroes are the Navy, the SEALs, those who have brought me home.”