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Snap Fact #103


President Obama Ordered The Navy Seal Rescue Of American Ship Captain Held By Somali Pirates!

American ship captain Richard Phillips was the captain of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama. In an act of selflessness, he offered himself as a hostage in return for letting his crew go after Somali pirates attempted to commandeer his ship in the Indian Ocean on April 7, 2009. At the time, the captain was heroically risking his life for his men. He had no idea that he would be freed in a dramatic rescue on April 12, 2009, authorized by President Obama and carried out by Navy Seals.

What followed the attempted ship hijacking was a 5-day standoff with off on and on negotiations between US naval forces and 4 Somali pirates who kept Captain Phillips hostage in a covered orange lifeboat off the Horn of Africa. The lifeboat was about 20 miles off the coast of Somalia when the standoff ended. U.S. military officials were determined to prevent the lifeboat from reaching the Somali shore.

The lifeboat was being towed some 75 to 100 feet away from the United States Destroyer USS Bainbridge in search of calmer waters. Food was being brought out to the lifeboat. The pirates were demanding $2 million for Captain Phillips safe return. As time went on and the pirates weren’t getting what they wanted, they became angrier and agitated as their little lifeboat bobbed up and down in rough waters.

As darkness fell, the pirates fired a tracer bullet toward the USS Bainbridge, ratcheting up the pressure. Unknown to the pirates was the fact that Navy Seals had men who had secretly boarded the Bainbridge the night before. These Seals had clandestinely flown to the area, parachuted into the ocean and then climbed aboard inflatable boats they had dropped into the sea. Now they were hiding on the Fantail of the destroyer awaiting final orders from President Obama when to fire. Suddenly one of the pirates could be seen through a window in the bow of the boat. He was holding an AK-47 so close to Captain Phillips that the weapon appeared to be touching him, an indication that his life was in imminent danger.
Two of the other captors were observed poking their heads out of a rear hatch of the lifeboat, thus exposing themselves to clear shots from the Seal's weapons. Having received authorization from President Obama to intervene immediately if Captain Phillip’s life was in danger, Navy Seal Seal snipers simultaneously opened fire on 3 of the pirates There aim was true as they killed all three instantly.

A 4th pirate who had surrendered before the end of the standoff was receiving medical treatment for a stab wound to the hand, inflicted by a member of the Maersk Alabama's crew when the gang tried to hijack the ship. He was later transferred to the Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, where he would await prosecution. The Navy says it is working with the U.S. Department of Justice to determine how to hold the pirate accountable for his crimes. He could be prosecuted in the United States or in Kenya.

As soon as the shooting ended the Navy sailors then sailed to the lifeboat in a small inflatable craft and rescued Phillips. The captain was unhurt when they found him tied up inside the 18-foot-long lifeboat. He was freed and then also transferred to the USS Boxer for a medical exam and found to be in good condition for a 53-year old seafarer despite his 5-day ordeal. Captain Phillips then called home to let his wife Andrea and two college-aged children in Underhill, Vermont know that he was OK. President Barack Obama also called the Boxer to speak to him. Captain Phillips also spoke to officials of the Maersk Line telling them: “The real heroes are the Navy, the Seals, those who have brought me home.” The Navy made arrangements for his return home to Vermont. The navy also released images of the scene from an unmanned drone, Scan Eagle which recorded the rescue.

In Somalia itself, other pirates reacted angrily to the news that Captain Phillips had been rescued, and some said they would avenge the deaths of their colleagues by killing Americans in sea hijackings to come. Following the rescue of Captain Phillips, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled a plan on Wednesday, April 15, 2011 to tackle piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean off Somalia.