After being forwarded about a dozen times, this email describing the pirate attack on the MAERSK ALABAMA reached my email inbox. It contains a couple good points to keep in mind if you need to prepare your ship against pirate attack.

I wanted to let you know some of the lessons we learned so you guys can better prepare yourselves for something similar.

The only guys actually captured by the pirates were on the bridge: Capt, 3/M, and 2 AB’s. I don’t really know why they stayed on the bridge until the pirates got up there. Then they had keys to everything and were able to unlock everyone’s rooms.

The pirates got up to the bridge very quickly once they were onboard. We had a locked cage door over the ladder well from main deck, but it only took a second for them to shoot it off. They then got to the bridge up the outside ladders. By that time we had taken control of the engine and steering down below.

xxx stayed in the ECR and the C/M was out on deck tracking the pirates’ movement. We kept swinging the rudder side to side. The pirates’ boat capsized, though I’m not sure exactly when or what caused it. After about 20 minutes the engine was killed, I don’t know by whom. At that point I shut off the air bottles and xxx killed power. He was also able to get outside and trip the fuel shutoff for the EDG. I think this was critical. The pirates were very reluctant to go into the dark. We will be looking at a way to shut off the EDG from the ECR in the future.

All the crew had been mustered and secured in the steering gear. Our pirates didn’t have any grenades, so they would have never been able to break in there. The previous day we had welded a padeye on the inside of the hatch to the fantail so it was secured from the inside. The only problem with the steering gear was the heat and the shortage of water. In the future we will store food and water in various spots for emergency usage. I think we will also run a fresh water line into the steering gear. We were able to make a run from the steering gear to the E/R water fountain and fill up some empty oil sample bottles we had back there. The C/M was also able to get some fruit and sodas from the galley and drop them down the line standpipe.

The pirates sent the 3/M unescorted to go look for crewmembers, so he was able to get away. One of the pirates then went with an AB down to the E/R to look for people. xxx was able to jump him in the dark and we took him prisoner in the steering gear. No one else came down into the E/R.

As the day went on the pirates became desperate to get out of there. There boat was sunk, and they couldn’t get our ship moving. The Captain talked them into taking the MOB boat. The three remaining pirates went down in the MOB boat with Phillips. We were then able to negotiate with them over the radio. We dropped some food, water and diesel to them. We started getting the plant back on line. Unfortunately, the MOB boat wouldn’t start.

A couple of guys got in the lifeboat and dropped it. They motored over and traded the lifeboat for the MOB boat. We were supposed to exchange their guy for the Captain, but they ended up keeping him. They motored off in the lifeboat. They had no way of getting back aboard, so we followed them. The Navy showed up a few hours later. We stayed close by for some time, but then the Navy asked us to head out. I heard that several other pirate vessels were heading our way and the Navy wanted us out of the way. That’s about it. I’ll give you all the details some other time.

Just to reiterate the most important points:
– Have a well fortified location with food and water supply.
– Kill all the lights.
– Leave the alarms going, the noise helped cover our movements through the house.
– Flashlights and radios are very handy, as well as the sound-powered phone.

Anyway, it was a pretty stressful situation. I have to say I am impressed with how the entire crew responded. We didn’t have anybody who wanted to give up. I’m pretty confident that Phillips will end up ok. They have to know that if they kill him they’ll be done….(continues)

Back in the ’90s I took a ship security course and it included a piracy drill. We tried to take the ship back and all ended up dead. In the debriefing, the pirates, who were former-seals, mentioned that the hardest area of the ship to take control of was the engine room…

Cross-posted on my blog here.

Posted by FFry in Homeland Security, Maritime Security, Piracy
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  • Byron

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you want your cargo to go under an American flag: smart, brave, extremely competent Merchant Mariners! BZ Alabama!!

  • Thanks for sharing! Very informative

  • UltimaRatioReg

    FFry; Many thanks for posting. Let’s hope the Lessons Learned portion of our program is well-distributed. And that we don’t assume all future pirate boarding parties are going to be as novice and untrained as these.

  • Hayball

    The most remarkable thing was the initative, determination and daring at every level of the crew. The fact that they had drilled on it, thought it through, and where possible, made modifications to fortify their ship well in advance of the attack certainly helped.

    Their universal determination to evade, reassemble, and counter attack with their limited assets, sinking the attacking vessel and altering the tactical situation decisively in their favor, when most would consider themselves unarmed and helpless, may be unprecedented in the annals of the sea.

    I am in awe. Some men make their own luck by their forehandedness and valor. Some few men, men such as these. In peace they trade, in war…well there it is for all to see.

    If the merchant marine doesn’t have a combat action ribbon, they need to invent one. And a Distinguished Mariner medal with combat V. And a Merchant Mariner Cross. Because these guys rate ’em.