Pirate Attack on the American Ship Maersk
Maersk-Alabama Capt. Richard
Phillips shakes hands with Lt. Cmdr. David Fowler, Executive
Officer of the USS Bainbridge after being rescued by U.S
Naval Forces off the coast of Somalia on Sunday April 12,
Somali pirates seized an American-flagged ship, the
Maersk Alabama in the Indian Ocean on April 8,
2009. The ship's crew included 20 American citizens, who
were initially taken hostage by their attackers. The crew
managed to re-take their ship, but their captain, Richard
Phillips, remained as a hostage as the pirates escaped
into a lifeboat. Within hours, the American warship, the
USS Bainbridge, was on the scene, though the
limits of American naval power became painfully obvious
as the large warship seemed unable to faciliate a quick
rescue of the American hostage.
(Ironically, it should be noted that the USS
Bainbridge is not named for Bainbridge Island in
Washington State, but is named for William Bainbridge, an
American naval hero who was at one point a hostage of the
Barbary pirates after his ship was hijacked.)
By the second day of the encounter, the Navy called in
FBI hostage negotiators from Quantico, Virginia, to aid
in the negotiotions with the Somali pirates.
President Obama was informed of the Alabama's
seizure as he returned from his first trip to Europe
and Iraq as President. National Security officials (and,
we assume, President Obama and Vice-President Biden),
were briefed in the White House Situation room on the
Somali Pirate crisis.
On April 10, 2009, Captain Phillips attempted to
escape from his pirate captors, but within seconds of
entering the water, the pirates fired their weapons as a
warning, and Phillips had to return to the enclosed
lifeboat with his captors.
On Easter Sunday, April 12, Captain Phillips was
rescued when U.S. Navy SEALS shot three of his captors,
killing all three.
The pirate attack on the American ship (reportedly the
first such attack since the Barbary
pirate wars of the 1800s) provoked serious debate
about the limits of American power, and the percieved
need for a naval force able to battle in
counterinsurgency mode against pirates and other
"assymetrical" threats on the high seas. Analysts
envision American foes such as al-Qaida and Iran's
Revolutionary Guards. Al-Qaida has
already undertaken lethal naval attacks on the U.S.
Navy, and it is not hard to imagine al-Qaida
operatives using failed states such as Somalia as bases
for naval attacks against ships of the Western Powers and
those Arab and Muslim regimes al-Qaida is attempting to
overthrow. The Revolutionary Guards possess many small,
swift boats that could quickly swarm and attack American
ships in the shallow Persian Gulf in the event of war
between the U.S. and Iran.
Wali-i-Musi arriving in New York
The U.S. military, while seemingly impotent in the
face of four pirates in an adrift lifeboat, reportedly
has had plans for a Special Forces strike at the Somali
pirates at their land bases. The Pentagon is reportedly
only waiting for President Obama to authorize an attack.
It should also be pointed out that the threat of the
fabled pirates of the Caribbean only ended with assaults
on those pirates' land bases by the U.S. and British
Royal Marines in the 1820s.