Captain Phillips rescue, Part 1
Posted by John Reed on
The pirate rescue story has been misreported.
The basic facts are four Somali pirates got onto the U.S. flagged container ship Maersk-Alabama which contained food relief for Kenya. The crew resisted the pirates by locking doors and by stabbing one in the hand with an ice pick. The captain persuaded the pirates to leave the ship in one of its lifeboats by offering himself as a hostage.
The pirates wanted to capture both the ship and the captain and take them to Somalia to get ransom. But the lifeboat did not have enough fuel and they ended up at sea adrift and surrounded by U.S. Navy ships.
On Easter Sunday, one of the pirates had gone to a Navy ship to get medical treatment, to negotiate the escape of the pirates, and/or to surrender himself. Reports vary.
At one point, the three remaining pirates heads were all visible from the U.S.S. Bainbridge. At that time, three sailors simultaneously shot them in the heads, killing them and ending the matter. Phillips was not injured.
Media stories use the word "snipers" to describe the sailors who shot the pirates. But I was unable to tell from the stories if snipers means they had special sniper training or were just three regular sailors who fired rifles in this case as snipers would.
I am a West Point graduate. Like most West Point graduates of my class (1968), I received an expert rifleman's badge, the highest, as well as a ranger tab and airborne (paratrooper) wings and I am a Vietnam veteran.
Military is overhyped
Generally, I think the military is way overhyped. I wrote detailed articles about the overhyping of rangers, paratroopers, Navy surface ships, tanks, and other aspects of the military.
Trained snipers are impressive
However, I have seen documentaries and read books about U.S. military snipers. I am genuinely impressed with them and their training. As with the other so-called elite military units, snipers are occasionally used as if they were supermen, rather than just guys who are skilled at creeping around, concealing themselves, and hitting small targets a extraordinary distances.
For example, in the Blackhawk Down incident, a couple of snipers were put on the ground to defend the crew of the Blackhawk helicopter that crashed. As you would expect of two guys with bolt-action sniper rifles who were surrounded by thousands of people with automatic AK-47s and RPGs, they were slaughtered. (They got Congressional Medals of Honor. The guys who put them in that situation should have gotten Congressional Medals of Stupidity.)
A reader who did not give his source said the two snipers had a heavily customized CAR-15 and an M-14. An M-14 is a wooden stock rifle. We carried them in parades at West Point. Indeed, I suspect that is their only U.S. Army purpose anymore. Neither of those two weapons is bolt action. Generally, sniper rifles are bolt-action. Those two rifles have a magazine and a selector switch that lets them be fired in semi-automatic (one shot per trigger pull) mode or automatic (keeps firing until you stop pulling the trigger). So I will restate my sentence in response to this pedant.
As you would expect of two guys with rifles who were surrounded by thousands of people with automatic AK-47s and RPGs, they were slaughtered.
Reportedly, the distance between the sailors who killed the pirates and the pirates was about 80 feet. That is the distance between the 50-yard line and the 23-yard line, ten feet less than the distance between home plate and first base.
Under ordinary circumstances, I would expect that any better-than-average graduate of basic training could hit a head at 80 feet. In basic training, we had to hit torso-and-head silhouette targets that popped up briefly from 300 meters. 300 meters is 975 feet.
On the other hand, the pirates were shot at dusk. Basic training qualifying on the rifle is in broad daylight. The shooters used night-vison scopes. I have not used those but I expect they are more difficult than regular sights in daylight. The fact that all three rifles were equipped with them indicates special rifles of the type trained snipers would have.
Bobbing in the water
The tricky aspect of these shots is one I have not seen discussed at all. That is, how do you contend with the fact that the navy ship is bobbing up and down and from side to side. And so is the lifeboat. Even regular riflemen in the military are trained to hold their breath to squeeze the trigger and shoot. Snipers try to shoot between heartbeats to avoid the slight little jiggle that causes. I would have thought you would need a gyroscopically stabilized platform or some sort of timing device to be accurate. I believe naval artillery uses timing of the bobbing to shoot accurately. I would like to hear an explanation of how they dealt with the bobbing of the two vessels in the water.
The simultaneous shots sound impressive. I understand the three shooters wore earphones and that a fourth person was calling "one, two, three" or some such into the headsets. I would expect simultaneous shots is a standard part of sniper training. I coached 15 football teams and wrote many books about football coaching. We often had three quarterbacks simultaneously throwing passes to various receivers. We would designate one QB to call cadence and all the other QBs and receivers would go on that one QB's cadence. Snipers work with a partner who controls the sniper to a degree. unlike the QBs, one of the three snipers could not call cadence because of the need to remain totally motionless to aim accurately.
Much has been made of the fact that Navy SEALs participated in this. The SEALs are perhaps the most overhyped unit in the history of the U.S. military. I have seen multiple documentaries about their training. As is typical of so-called "elite" units, the training is extremely difficult. But I found that aspect of military training to be mostly masochism and actually a distraction, an artificial source of something to brag about, and a deterrent from acquiring actual skills. SEAL training's salient feature seems to be subjecting the candidates to near hypothermia. That is, dangerously low body temperatures. Army Ranger students have died of hypothermia on a number of occasions.
SEALs get extensive SCUBA training. They are descended from UDT (underwater demolition teams) of World War II that sneaked in and blew up beach obstacles before amphibious landings. They also get parachute training.
The thing I note in this rescue is that whatever special training and abilities SEALs have, they seemed not to have been needed or used in the pirate rescue. The pirate rescue consisted entirely of three simultaneous shots to the heads of three pirates who simultaneously exposed their heads. I do not know if SEALS routinely get sniper training. I recall no mention of it in the documentaries I saw about SEAL or sniper training. It is possible that a few SEALs are sent to Army or Marine sniper schools to acquire that additional non-SEAL capability.
Navy ships also routinely carry a contingent of Marines. Some non-SEAL sailors may have sniper training. There may be a special unit of Special Ops guys trained to deal with hostage situations and one would expect that unit to have some snipers.
After the shots were fired, SEALs quickly went to the lifeboat to see if Phillips was OK. He was.
Some media reports said they previously HALO parachuted onto the Bainbridge at night. HALO stands for high altitude low opening. It is better known as sky diving.
Why in the name of God would they do such a thing? It sounds suspiciously public-relations-oriented. It took days for the Bainbridge to get there. The SEALS could have gotten onto the Bainbridge by helicopter during that time, or even after it arrived at the scene. Why a dangerous night parachute drop onto a friendly ship?
Much has been made of the Navy commander's giving the order. Seems to me that the situation should have been covered by a standing order—perhaps a 200-year-old standing order. Something along the lines of, "If you see an armed enemy engaging in acts of war against the U.S., kill him. If friendly persons are in the vicinity, use your judgment with regard to weighing their safety against accomplishment of our mission and the safety of additional personnel not yet in imminent danger."
In other words, there should not have been any order. The snipers should have been allowed to act when the opportunity presented itself. I suspect that's actually what happened and that the commander simply recited the standing, common-sense order and then took credit for having done so as if there was any need for it.
I wrote a book called Youth Baseball Coaching. In the base-running chapter, I said base runners must be highly trained then allowed to make their own decisions about when to steal or take another base on a hit and how. Coaches yelling "go" or "stay" greatly harm base runners because it is a split-second opportunity. There is no time for coaches to get involved at that stage. My base runners and those of my readers are the scourges of their leagues. Ditto the opportunity of a sniper to shoot an enemy in a hostage situation.
If there was a need for such an order, the Navy is too micromanaged by brass hats.
Speaking of micro-managing…
Then there is all the credit that has been given to Barack Obama. If Obama had anything to do with the pirate rescue, he had too much to do with it.
Obama was 12,000 miles away from the scene. He has never been in the military or police or had any training or experience in those operations.
I did have some pertinent training and experience as stated above. But here is what I would have said—if I had Obama's lack of military background, were president and in a sarcastic mood—if the Navy commander on the scene had called me for guidance.
Commander: Mr. President, what do you want us to do here?
Me: Don't you have training and standard procedures for this?
Commander: Yes, sir.
Me: So why are you asking me what to do? Do what your training and standard procedures tell you to do. Use your common sense. Haven't the American people spent millions training and equipping you and your subordinates?
Commander: Yes, sir.
Me: When in command, command, commander. You're there. I'm not. You are career military. I was never in the military. What the hell would I know about it? The guy who needs to make the decisions is you, not me. Or better yet, let your subordinates decide. They may have only split-second opportunities. It's your job, commander, not mine. Do your job. Don't call me again for guidance. Just call your superiors if you need anything. Only call me if you need something and cannot get it from your superiors. I'm not gonna micromanage a five-person hostage situation from 12,000 miles away in the Oval Office.
A reader says that Obama's only contribution to the rescue was to delay it. He says the Navy should have been watching 24 hours a day and should have obliterated the lifeboat when they saw Phillips jump into the water. Good point. I agree and I suspect that consulting Obama and Obama's vaunted 17 meetings about Capt. Phillips before the rescue did indeed adversely affect the operation, namely by delaying it and making those on the scene afraid to take action when they had the opportunity. Too much WWOD (What Would Obama Do?) or WWOW (What Would Obama Want?)
And if he needed 17 meetings to decide to shoot three pirates, how the hell many meetings will he need the next time al Qaeda blows up 3,000 Americans?
Those on the scene should have recognized that they were the ones who needed to make all the decisions, not anyone located elsewhere, because sniper opportunities arise unexpectedly and sometimes last only a second or two.
Can you imagine if during World War II U.S. soldiers and marines had called Commander in Chief Franklin D. Roosevelt every time they spotted an enemy soldier? "Uh, yes sir, Mr. President. This is Corporal Henderson, USMC. I'm here on Iwo Jima and I can see a Japanese soldier's rifle sticking out of cave about 25 feet away. What do you want me to do, sir?"
The pro-Obama press has raved about his cool leadership. Folks, Obama is always cool. That is his only emotion. He would be cool and detached if he happened on the scene of a rape in progress. He's like some actress who had botox and cannot express any emotions or facial expressions other than a blank stare. He's not cool because it's the appropriate way to be in the situation. He's cool because he's a one-trick pony. Everything he knows about hostage rescue he got from a deodorant commercial: Never let them see you sweat.
Here's a line from the book Ahead of the Curve which is about Harvard Business School's MBA program and was written by an MBA from the Class of 2006.
A company with a seamless upward curve of earnings seemed no more credible to me than a man whose brow never furrowed or whose eyes never blinked.
Obama's brow never furrows and his eyes never blink.
As I said above, if he exerted any leadership in this situation, he exerted too much. He was too far away and too ignorant of military operations to play any part in it. There is no aspect of this rescue where he had superior knowledge or judgment to the others involved. If he was consulted, it was out of protocol and obsequiousness, not out of any need.
The only reason for the Navy personnel to consult even the commander on the scene was to cover their asses in case something went wrong. Obama was brought in by the military to make him take the blame, rather than them, if Phillips died or was seriously hurt. If he had any experience in the military or even any executive position other than president, he would have recognized that and chewed his subordinates out for it, as I sort of did in my example conversation above.
Safety of Phillips was 'principal concern'
In his statement after the rescue, Obama said, "… his safety has been our principal concern…"
That's the opposite of what the U.S.'s principal concern should have been.
In any hostage or human-shield situation, the principal concern of the U.S. government should be the discouraging of taking of future hostages or human shields. The way to do that is to ignore them.
That's why it's illegal to pay ransom. It encourages the taking of more hostages. In the Blackhawk Down incident, Somali gunmen held women and children against their chests as they skittered across the street firing at the Americans. The idiot Americans held their fire because of the women and children, who may have been volunteering for the shield role. The Americans should have shot the gunmen through the human shields. That would not have been good for the shields, but it would have been great for potential future human shields because the Somalis would have stopped using them if the Americans did not honor them.
I'm not saying we should have shot Phillips. His safety was a concern, but a secondary concern to doing anything that would encourage Somalis to take future Americans hostage. Taking advantage of a momentary opportunity to rescue a hostage is altogether fitting and proper. The FBI gave a good illustration of it in the movie Dog Day Afternoon where they got the gunmen in a hostage situation to lower his guard for a split second and instantly shot him dead in the forehead.
Judge by what the decision makers knew at the time, not results
The overpraisers in this rescue seem focused on the result. That's incorrect. You do not judge decisions on results. You judge them on what the decisionmaker knew at the time. In fact, Obama and his subordinates were lucky. Dozens of things could have turned what they did into the death of Phillips.
For example, if a pirate had coincidentally ducked down at the moment of the shots, he could have seen what happened to his cohorts and instantly machinegunned Phillips. Or if a pirate was only wounded and still conscious, he could have killed Phillips. A bullet could have gone through a pirate, or ricocheted off a hard object, and killed or seriously wounded Phillips. If there was anything flammable in the lifeboat, the shots could have started a fire that killed or seriously injured Phillips.
A French military "rescue" of hostages the previous week resulted in the death of one of the French hostages. There is a good chance that all the hostages would have survived if the French had not attempted the rescue. If I recall correctly, no hostage taken by Somali pirates has been injured other than the one killed in the French rescue. Accordingly, it is likely that Phillips would not have been harmed either had the pirates not been shot. The pirates were stupid and out of cards to play at the time of the rescue. True, they had guns and could have harmed Phillips. But they were surrounded, out of fuel, running out of food, needing sleep. The Navy probably did the right thing. If you threaten to kill a hostage, as the pirates did, the U.S. is entitled to blow your brains out. But the result is not the standard for evaluating what happened. What could have happened and what was likely to happen should be the criteria for judging the action taken.
May escalate the violence
Some including the Navy commander have wondered whether the killing of the pirates may escalate the violence. Who cares? If it does, it will galvanize the international community to take military action and the Somalis will be toast.
Militarily, the Somalis have nothing. Furthermore, they are not about to acquire a navy. If all you have are flimsy boats and small arms, you cannot escalate violence against a super power or a former super power or a wanna-be super power or even a third-world country that has a real government and Mickey Mouse navy. Somali pirates have no violence-escalating cards to play.
More Navy ships?
I saw one former Navy guy on TV saying this proves we need more ships. He whined that we used to have 600. Now it's 200+.
600 was the Reagan Administration. It was the most Navy ships in peace time history—the absolute best case scenario for career Naval officers whose dream is to be captain of a ship.
But as I said in my article about the obsolescence of Navy surface ships, these things are expensive anachronistic toys for Admirals to play with. They are way too slow for the 21st century. They can be sunk by widely available missiles like the Exocets the Argentineans used to sink six British Navy Ships in the Falkland Islands war in 1983. An Iraqi fighter hit the U.S.S. Stark with two Exocets during the Iraq-Iran war. The ship was not sunk but was knocked out of action and 37 sailors were killed.
As I also said, the way to deal with protecting the sea lanes is aircraft, not ships. On Tuesday after Easter Sunday, another group of pirates attacked another American ship. By the time the U.S.S. Bainbridge poked along over there, the pirates were long gone.
We either need air strikes against the bases of the pirates to nip them in the bud rather than waiting until they are a hundred yards from a merchant ship or we need a land base or carrier base for aircraft that patrol the huge area where the pirates operate off the Somali coast. Patrolling with Navy ships is useless. The Somalis would just put out a line of picket ship "fishing" boats to monitor and radio the locations of the few Navy ships.
Some would ask, "Where would the snipers stand to shoot pirates if we have no ships there?" I think that was a one-time deal. Somali pirates will not make that same mistake again. Hopefully ship captains will not offer themselves as hostages again. Captain Phillips has been hailed as a hero for doing so. Seems like a dumb idea to me. The pirates could have killed him and the crew and taken the ship to Somalia after accepting his offer. You don't enter into agreements with pirates. They cannot be trusted, by definition. They're pirates for Christ's sake!
We have gone a bit nuts with the yellow ribbon stuff in this country. Being a prisoner or a hostage is not an accomplishment.
How about some Q ships?
During World Wars I and II, the British and U.S. created armed Navy ships designed to look like merchant vessels. Back then, the German and Japanese submarines were big on surfacing and sinking the merchant vessels with their deck gun rather than torpedoes. Deck gun ammo was cheaper than torpedoes. See the Wikipedia article on Q ships. Q ships were moderately successful in World War I, but not much in World War II where the enemy simply torpedoed them.
Sounds like an even better idea for countering Somali pirates who have no torpedoes at all. Indeed, the Somalis have no desire to sink the ships. They want the cargo and crew.
Assumption is the mother of all screw-ups. The Somalis, like pre-9/11 airplane hijackers, assume they will encounter little or no resistance to their attacks. Obviously, we should render that assumption a screw-up by arming some merchant ships.
Outlaw paying ransom and insuring against piracy
You cannot buy insurance against punitive-damage judgments. It violates public policy by preventing the punitive damages, which are supposed to punish the miscreants, from being punishment.
Since the whole reason for piracy is ransoms for cargo and crew, or for confiscation and sale of the cargo, outlaw the paying of ransom by insurance companies or ship owners. The punishment should be banning the ship from visiting the ports of civilized countries and fining the insurance companies sufficiently that they cannot make any profit from writing piracy policies or outlawing such insurance and terminating the licenses of the companies if they violate the law.
Ultimately, the people who pay the ransoms are the consumers who buy the products shipped through pirate waters, and the shipping companies, insurance companies, and pirates are all taking a cut of our money. The shippers and insurers are accomplices not victims. I heard the owner of the Maersk-Alabama say he couldn't care less about the ransom for the crew and cargo and ship because it was all paid by the insurance company. How about caring about the lives of the U.S. military personnel who risked their lives to rescue the captain? How about caring about passing the cost of the ransom onto consumers? How about using some common sense, like a group of small business owners who hire security guards because they are in a high-crime neighborhood?
Defend the ships
Obviously to everyone but the people in the shipping business, the ships need to protect themselves by firing back at the pirates. Militarily, the pirates are a joke. They are armed with AK 47s, pistols, and RPGs. Those weapons are essentially incapable of harming a ship. The pirates win by boarding the ship and intimidating the unarmed crew with these street weapons.
On the other hand, the pirate ships, often inflated boats, cannot withstand even the smallest ship-to-ship, one-shot-one-kill, guided missile or maybe even a .50 caliber rifle or machine gun.
The ships need to prevent boarding. I assume some modifications of the ships, along with some armed security guys, could do that. The guys on the ship have the high "ground" which is the superior defensive position.
Every time some maritime expert appears on TV, they sound like total idiots explaining why they do not want armed men on their ships. Either the U.S. government and other governments require it, or we ignore the plight of the ships altogether. The notion that the ships and their owners can go limp and demand the taxpayers bail them out again and again is nuts.
Reportedly, the pirates come from and operate out of a place called Eyl. Why does this place still exist? I guess because some bleeding hearts excuse the pirates behavior or think there might be an innocent civilian there. I suggest we book passage on a cruise ship loaded with bleeding hearts. They can sail to Eyl and talk to the pirates about the "root causes" of their behavior. Obama thinks he can talk everyone into agreeing with him. He could lead the delegation.
In a world where the enemy no longer wears army uniforms, we need to scrap the various treaties and agreements under which we vowed not to hurt civilians in wars.
Wall Street Journal editorial
The most well-thought-out story on the incident was the Wall Street Journal editorial on it. They made many of the points I made above.
Jonah Goldberg's column on the subject was pretty good on general policy as well.
What is lacking is more cold, hard, just-the-facts,-ma'am analysis of what military eliteness had, or did not have, to do with the rescue. I hate the notion that so-called "elite" military units are inhabited by supermen who can do anything. The pirate rescue seems to be getting used precisely for that purpose. The overhyping of "elite" military units results in deaths. Sometimes they are the deaths of the "elite" military guys themselves, like the 18 special ops rangers, Delta force, and snipers who died in the Blackhawk Down incident or the Navy SEALs who got slaughtered in the landlocked country of Afghanistan. Sometimes civilians die, as in the pirate "rescue" by French "elite" military units.
As the great philosopher Clint Eastwood said as Harry Callahan in the 1973 movie Magnum Force,
A man's got to know his limitations.
So do "elite" military units and the nation that uses them in combat.
Here is an email I received about this article. My responses are in red:
Some comments from an active duty Navy guy [officer during recent years] who spent 3 years with a SEAL group, and almost 4 years on surface ships. I was also ex-enlisted, so I went through boot camp, albeit in 1987. This articlehas some pretty good info as well:
1. SEALs have their own sniper school; it's 2-3 weeks long. I'd say about 1 in 8 or 1 in 6 SEALs is sniper-trained (ie went through the NSW sniper course). By the time you get to the E-6/E-7 level, numbers go up; it's more likely career guys have gotten to the school.
2. "Small boys" (cruisers, destroyers and frigates) don't carry Marines. [I think that leaves just carriers as having Marines, although I thought I saw them on an active destroyer I visited during Fleet Week in San Francisco a year or so ago.] It's plausible they'd have a SEAL element on board if they were doing anti-piracy ops, but in this case, it's clear they didn't.
3. There's no way your average sailor could make a center-of-mass shot with an M-14 at 80 feet. (Yes, I know how easy a shot that is, and yes, I know they likely didn't use an M-14.) [I disagree. I think almost anyone could make that shot with an M-14. I would want the best marksmen for this situation, but it is not a difficult shot. Let me put it this way. Would you want to stand still ten feet short of first base and have a guy standing at home plate shooting at you with an M14 which is similar to a relatively high-powered hunting rifle like a 30.06?]
Navy guys get almost *zero* firearms instruction. None in boot camp, very little in the fleet. [It was my understanding that all U.S. military personnel in all branches of service including Navy, Coast Guard, Reserves and National Guard had to qualify (that is, pass a marksmanship test) on the basic rifle. I am extremely surprised to learn otherwise.]
I hear now they use a laser tag system in boot camp; in my day it was .22's on a .45 frame, but we skipped that class since the range was down. I believe now you commonly shoot a <50 round="" course="" of="" fire="" to="" qualify="" with="" a="" 9mm="" pistol="" maybe="" 6-8="" rounds="" 12ga="" shotgun="" most="" junior="" enlisted="" have="" never="" shot="" long="" gun="" in="" their="" life="" typical="" destroyer="" crew="" 250="" men="" you="" could="" likely="" pull="" up="" couple="" country="" boys="" who="" knew="" way="" around="" but="" i="" wouldn="" t="" trust="" them="" this="" kind="" precision="" shooting="" situation="" ll="" ask="" the="" navy="" folks="" work="" what="" official="" firearms="" experience="" is="" currently="" based="" on="" at="" our="" annual="" range="" excursions="" it="" s="" pretty="" minimal="" br="">
For me, in ~ 5years of enlisted service, I shot 150 rounds of .45 and maybe 21 rounds of 00 buckshot; in ~12 years of commissioned service, 100 rounds of 9MM and 30 rounds of 5.56MM. (Of course I shot plenty more when I could, but that was on my own time and my own dime.)
As for the bobbing issue, it's not as bad as you think. The ocean doesn't bob like a lake; the bobbing is more long and slow, so not as hard to "roll with". A SEAL sniper I know talked to me about making shots from a helicopter; my takeaway was you had to respect a heli-borne sniper out to about 250 yds. If you can shoot from a helo, you darn sure can shoot from a ship. [In June 1966, I and the rest of my West Point class went out in the ocean on destroyer escorts for one day and the carrier Essex the following day. We were so far out you could no longer see land. It was out of Rhode Island. The destroyer escort moved continuously like a bucking bronco rising up and down like an elevator, rolling from side to side and pitching from front to back—all at the same time. Every time the bow pitched down, it went under water and tons of ocean exploded about 30 or 40 feet over the bow toward the bridge. If Leonardo DiCaprio had tried to stand right at the point of the bow and say, "I'm the king of the world," he would have been swept overboard by tons of ocean water about the time he got to the word "world." Every time I stood up, I threw up. I finally fond a pile of laundry bags in the exact center of the ship. I laid down on those on my back. That put me at the center of rotation of the rolling and pitching, minimizing them. It did nothing, however, for the elevator movement which continued. The bridge was the opposite. Because it was so high above the center of rotation, it was flying around like the end of a whip. But at least after I found the laundry bags I stopped throwing up. The following day we went out on the Essex and you could not tell you were in the ocean. There was no movement and no one got seasick. I would have been unable to hit pirates with a Claymore mine from that DE. I think it depends on how high the waves are at the time. We were not in a storm on that DE, just a normal day in the Atlantic.]
4. Re: why insert via parachute? Well, first off, to make a case against your "Airborne" article. But seriously, landing a helo on a destroyer isn't as easy as landing on a piece of asphalt. [So rope down to the deck of the Bainbridge or jump a few feet from a chopper into the ocean next to the ship during daylight or rope down into a Zodiac near the ship] There are wind req'ts to meet, which call for the ship to maneuver at certain courses and speeds. If the ship was staying close to the lifeboat, going to flight quarters would take them off station. [The lifeboat had no power. There was more than one U.S. ship there.] Moreover, I understand the SEALs parachuted into the water (vice *onto* the ship), then got to the ship via Zodiac boat…seems reasonable. [Not to me. Sounds like a bunch of drama queens risking their lives for Hollywood "production values" and to justify the "Air" portion of SEAL training. SEAL stands for SEa Air Land.]
Finally, I agree with your comments about "safety being paramount". A few days before, I was ranting to my wife that they needed to get a SEAL platoon in and shoot these guys full of holes, and if the captain dies, so be it…you need to send a message not to mess with us. [And a message to captains to knock off the Hollywood scriptwriter heroics especially when they depend on the honor of pirates. I would have tried harder to avoid injury to the captain, but we absolutely cannot make the safety of hostages primary because that is what gives the pirates their power and encourages some U.S. citizens to put themselves in dangerous situations.]
On this one, please keep me as an "anonymous coward"…I'd rather not use my name when discussing current ops. [all right but
Click here to read another email I got from a guy with connections to the special ops community about what really happened and why.
And here is another where I know nothing about who wrote it but once again, if the SEALS insist on silence, the blanks will be filled in by anonymous people.
Your "Real" story is not exactly the way I heard it, and probably has a few political twists thrown in to stir the pot. Rather than me trying to correct it, I'll just tell you what I found out from my contacts at NSWC Norfolk and at SOCOM Tampa.
First though, let me orient you to familiarize you with the "terrain."
In Africa from Djibouti at the southern end of the Red Sea eastward through the Gulf of Aden to round Cape Guardafui at the easternmost tip of Africa (also known as "The Horn of Africa") is about a 600 nm transit before you stand out into the Indian Ocean. That transit is comparable in distance to that from the mouth of the Mississippi at New Orleans to the tip of Florida at Key West– except that 600 nm over there is infested with Somalia pirates.
Ships turning southward at the Horn of Africa transit the SLOC (Sea Lane of Commerce) along the east coast of Somalia because of the prevailing southerly currents there. It's about 1,500 nm on to Mombassa, which is just south of the equator in Kenya. Comparably, that's about the transit distance from Portland Maine down the east coast of the US to Miami Florida. In other words, the ocean area being patrolled by our naval forces off the coast of Somalia is comparable to that in the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi River east to Miami then up the eastern seaboard to Maine.
Second, let me globally orient you from our Naval Operating Base in Norfolk, VA, east across the Atlantic to North Africa, thence across the Med to Suez in Egypt, thence southward down the Red Sea to Djibouti at the Gulf of Aden, thence eastward to round Cape Guardafui at the easternmost tip of Africa, and thence southerly some 300 miles down the east cost of Somali out into the high seas of the Indian Ocean to the position of MV ALABAMA is a little more than 7,000 nm, and plus-nine time-zones ahead of EST.
Hold that thought, in that, a C-17 transport averaging a little better than 400 kts (SOG) takes the best part of 18 hours to make that trip. In the evening darkness late Thursday night, a team of Navy SEALs from NSWC (Naval Surface Warfare Center) Norfolk parachuted from such a C-17 into the black waters (no refraction of light) of the Indian Ocean– close-aboard to our 40,000 ton amphibious assault ship, USS BOXER (LHD 4), the flagship of our ESG (Expeditionary Strike Group) in the AOR (Area Of Responsibility, the Gulf of Aden). They not only parachuted in with all of their "equipment," they had their own inflatable boats, RHIB's (Rigid Hull, Inflatable Boats) with them for over-water transport. They went into BOXER's landing dock, debarked, and staged for the rescue– Thursday night.
And, let me comment on time-late: In that the SEAL's quick response– departing ready-alert in less than 4 hours from Norfolk– supposedly surprised POTUS's staff, whereas President Obama was miffed not to get his "cops" there before the Navy. He reportedly questioned his staff, "Will 'my' FBI people get there before the Navy does?" It took the FBI almost 12 hours to put together a team and get them packed-up– for an "at sea" rescue. The FBI was trying to tell him that they are not practiced to do this– Navy SEALs are. But, BHO wanted the FBI there "to help," that is, carry out the Attorney General's (his) orders to negotiate the release of Captain Phillips peacefully– because apparently he doesn't trust GW's military to carry out his "political guidance."
The flight of the FBI's passenger jet took a little less than 14 hours at 500-some knots to get to Djibouti. BOXER'S helos picked them up and transported them out to the ship. The Navy SEALs were already there, staged, and ready to act by the time POTUS's FBI arrived on board latter that evening. Notably, the first request by the OSC (On Scene Commander) that early Friday morning to take them out and save Captain Phillips was denied, to wit: "No, wait until 'my' FBI people get there."
Third, please consider a candid assessment of ability that finds that the FBI snipers had never practiced shooting from a rolling, pitching, yawing, surging, swaying, heaving platform– and, target– such as a ship and a lifeboat on the high seas. Navies have been doing since Admiral Nelson who had trained "Marines" to shoot muskets from the ship's rigging– ironically, he was killed at sea in HMS VICTORY at the Battle of Trafalgar by a French Marine rifleman that shot him from the rigging of the French ship that they were grappling alongside.
Notably, when I was first training at USNA in 1955, the Navy was doing it with a SATU, Small Arms Training Unit, based at our Little Creek amphib base. Now, Navy SEAL's, in particular SEAL Team SIX (The "DevGru") based at NSWC (Naval Surface Warfare Center) at Little Creek do that training now, and hone their skills professionally– daily. Shooting small arms from a ship is more of an accomplished "Art Form" than it is a practiced skill. When you are "in the bubble" and "in tune" with the harmonic motion you find, through practice, that you are "able to put three .308 slugs inside the head of a quarter at 100 meters, in day or night– or, behind a camouflaged net or a thin enclosure, such as a superstructure bulkhead. Yes, we have the monocular scopes that can "see" heat– and, draw a bead on it. SEALs are absolutely expert at it– with the movie clips to prove it.
Okay, now try to imagine patrolling among the boats fishing everyday out on the Grand Banks off our New England coast, and then responding to a distress call from down around the waters between Florida and the Bahamas. Three points for you to consider here: (1) Time-Distance-Speed relationships for ships on the high seas, for instance, at a 25-knot SOA (Speed Of Advance) it takes 24 hours to make good 600 nm– BAINBRIDGE did. (2) Fishermen work on the high seas, and (3) The best place to hide as a "fisherman" pirate is among other fishermen
Early Wednesday morning, 4/8/2009, MV ALABAMA is at sea in the IO about 300 miles off the (east) coast of Somalia en route to Mombassa Kenya. Pirates in small boat start harassing her, and threatening her with weapons. MV ALABAMA's captain sent out the distress call by radio, and ordered his Engineer to shut down the engines as well as the ship-service electrical generators– in our lingo, "Go dark and cold." He informed his crew by radio what was happening, and ordered them to go to an out-of-the-way compartment and lock themselves in it– from the inside. He would stay in the pilot house to "negotiate" with the pirates.
The pirates boarded, captured the Captain, and ordered him to start the engines. He said he would order his Engineer to do so, and he called down to Engine Control on the internal communication system, but got no answer. The lead pirate ordered two of his four men to go down and find him and get the engines started.
Inside a ship without any lights is like the definition of dark. The advantage goes to the people who work and live there. They jumped the two pirates in a dark passageway. Both pirates lost their weapons, but one managed to scramble and get away. The other they tied up, put tape over his mouth and a knife at his throat.
Other members of the crew opened the drain cocks on the pirates boat and cast it adrift. It foundered and sunk. The scrambling pirate made it back to the pilot house and told of his demise. The pirates took the Captain at gun point, and told him to launch one of his rescue boats (not a life boat, per se). As he was lowering the boat for them, the crew appeared with the other pirate to negotiate a trade. The crew let their hostage go too soon, and the pirates kept the captain. But, he purposefully had lowered the boat so it would jam.
With the rescue boat jammed, the pirates jumped over to a lifeboat and released it as the captain jumped in the water. They fired at him, made him stop, and grabbed him out of the water. Now, as night falls in the vastness of the Indian Ocean, we have the classic "Mexican" standoff, to wit: A life-boat that is just that, a life-boat adrift without any means of propulsion except oars and paddles; and, a huge (by comparison) Motor Vessel Container Ship adrift with a crew that is not going to leave their captain behind. The pirates are enclosed under its shelter-covering, holding the captain as their hostage. The crew is hunkered down in their ship waiting for the "posse" to arrive.
After receiving MV ALABAMA'S distress call, USS BAINBRIDGE (DDG 96) was dispatched by the ESG commander to respond to ALABAMA's distress call. At best sustainable speed, she arrived on scene the day after– that is, in the dark of that early Thursday morning. As BAINBRIDGE quietly and slowly, at darkened-ship without any lights to give her away, arrived on scene, please consider a recorded interview with the Chief Engineer of MV ALABAMA describing BAINBRIDGE's arrival. He said it was something else "… to see the Navy slide in there like a greyhound!" He then said as she slipped in closer he could see the "Stars and Stripes" flying from her masthead. He got choked up saying it was the "…proudest moment of my life."
Phew! Let that sink in.
Earlier in the day, one of the U.S. Navy's Maritime Patrol Aircraft, a fixed wing P3C, flew over to recon the scene. They dropped a buoy with a radio to the pirates so that the Navy's interpreter could talk with the pirates. When BAINBRIDGE arrived, the pirates thought the radio to be a beaconing device, and threw it overboard. They wanted a satellite telephone so that they could call home for help. Remember now, they are fishermen, not "Rocket Scientists," in that, they don't know that we can intercept the phone transmission also.
MV ALABAMA provided them with a satellite phone. They called home back to "somebody" in Eyl Somalia (so that we now know where you live) to come out and get them. The "somebody" in Eyl said they would be out right away with other hostages, like 54 of them from other countries, and that they would be coming out in two of their pirated ships. Right– and, the tooth fairy will let you have sex with her. Yea, in paradise. The "somebody" in Eyl just chalked up four more expendables as overhead for "the cost of operation." Next page.
Anyway, ESG will continue to "watch" Eyl for any ships standing out.