Rally to the Captain!!!

December 2009


MutinyIn case you missed it, John Curran at AP reported on the latest chapter of the Maersk Alabama’s first pirate incident. JAGs …. perk up your ears.

Richard Phillips, the ship captain toasted as a hero after he was taken captive by Somali pirates, ignored repeated warnings last spring to keep his freighter at least 600 miles off the African coast because of the heightened risk of attack, some members of his crew now allege.

Records obtained by The Associated Press show that maritime safety groups issued at least seven such warnings in the days before outlaws boarded the Maersk Alabama about 380 miles off the shore of Somalia.

A piracy expert and the captain’s second-in-command say Phillips had the prerogative to heed the warnings or not. But some crew members – including the chief engineer, the helmsman and the navigator – say he was negligent not to change course after learning of the pirate activity.

“If you go to the grocery store and eight people get mugged on that street, wouldn’t you go a different way?” said the ship’s navigator, Ken Quinn, of Tampa, Fla.

Sailing beyond the 600-mile threshold would have added more than a day to the Alabama’s voyage to Mombasa, Kenya, and used extra fuel, according to the ship’s previous captain, who said Phillips had years of experience sailing in those dangerous waters.

Four of the 20 crew members told the AP that they blame Phillips for the hijacking.

The loneliness of Command … but not too lonely if you have, as the Brits like to call him, a good Number 1. In this case, Captain Phillips’s second in command is Captain Shane Murphy.

For your review, quoted in full – is an open letter from a man we should all buy a beer for. Captain Murphy, over to you.

Captain Shane Murphy responds to crew’s allegations against Richard Phillips – an open letter

I understand the Alabama crew’s anger over the events of April 8th. We all went through hell that day, and in the weeks and months to follow it has been a difficult process rebuilding our lives. This event has changed our crew forever and when something this dramatic occurs, people naturally look to assign blame.

As we know, the safest place for a ship is in port, but unfortunately that is not what ships are built for. Just as unfortunately, a crystal ball is not part of the required bridge navigational equipment. We take risks everyday in the course of doing our jobs, and that day was no different.

One of the most common root causes for any marine accident is inherent industry pressure. The Captain of a Merchant Ship is forced to weigh all the risks associated with physically taking a ship from one port to the next and he must do what he feels is best to maintain the safety of his crew, his vessel, the cargo and the environment all while trying to keep schedule satisfy the customer. It’s a tremendous amount of liability to place on one individual.

It is part of the responsibility that comes with taking the job, and the burden of command can be a heavy one. That’s why initially Captain Phillips was hailed as the hero – he (as Captain) is the figurehead and the most easily-identifiable symbol. How the story was portrayed in the media is and was beyond our control. Reporters have a responsibility to get the story right, because once something this big gets into the public consciousness, it is hard to change popular opinion. Seeing Phillips portrayed as a hero, meeting the President, partying with movie stars and signing book deals probably frustrated the crewmembers that have to go back to sea to continue to support their families and live with the fact that they were violently attacked and could not defend themselves. For them, the experience hardly resulted in any glory.

Whether or not Captain Phillips ignored warnings or had other considerations we are not privy to that guided his decisions we can not say without knowing the whole picture. Only he can comment on his rationale, only he was privy to those warnings. What we can look at is history. Captain Phillips had a proven track record as a good seaman, and he ran a safe ship, all things considered. If he feels he made a mistake then I forgive him. He certainly suffered enough in the lifeboat for 4 days, and as his friend I was glad I was there to help him out of a jam – that’s what being a shipmate is all about.

Ultimately however, we can’t take the blame off the people that perpetrated these violent crimes against us. The seas need to be a safe and sovereign area where people of all nations can transport the raw materials and products that sustain our societies. The Somali land is a place of warfare and turmoil where gangs fight for turf from block to block. Now, that way of life has begun to spread unchecked into international waters. Plain and simple, there is not enough food to sustain the life on that continent and it becomes a classic case of survival of the fittest. The people like Abshir Boyah or Abdwali Muse who are resourceful enough to get weapons are able to create their own circle of power and right now they’ve declared war on the high seas – they are winning.

Piracy is not a laughing matter; it’s not a joke or a punch line to us as it is to some politicians or talking heads. Until the combined Navies of the world are willing to blockade the ports these pirates operate out of, they will continue to strike without impunity further and further out. I’m sure world leaders are hesitant to commit such resources to a blockade, because this is how wars get started, and war is never a fun option. Putting that many troops with weapons and itchy trigger fingers in such close proximity to lawless outlaws could be a like igniting a powder keg. Right now, the military machine is focusing on terrorist threats in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to protect the American citizens at home. Imposing a military blockade on African ports and aggressively boarding suspected motherships would be a policy akin to what President Kennedy implemented during the Cuban Missile crisis. It’s a ‘hot zone’ right now, and the problem continues to get swept under the rug by the world at large.

There are over 200 seamen being held captive as of today, and I know of no efforts to rescue them or care for them when and if they are released. Companies are being given guidelines for best security practices that include not paying any ransoms. That leaves the working sailors of the world to fend for themselves, as we did on the Alabama.

If the powers that be say the ocean is too big a place to effectively patrol, then it’s time to arm the ships. We need government support to help streamline the process and make it a requirement that if a vessel flies the U.S. flag and if the shipping company receives a subsidy under the Maritime Security Program to operate the ship – as is the case with the Maersk Alabama – then they must protect their crews. A properly trained and properly armed 4 to 6 man security team can do the job of an entire Navy by defending the ships at the point of attack.

This arming will ensure that another Captain doesn’t have to be put in a situation like Captain Phillips was. Still, today’s shipping companies are reluctant to consider my repeated requests to provide them with qualified American security personal. The second attack on the Maersk Alabama proved that having the option of force protection onboard can be a successful deterrent and ultimately a cost saver.

The industry is changing. Right now it’s pirates, next year it may be maritime terrorist striking in ports around the world. We have to adapt. Captain Phillips was able to maintain his composure throughout a situation where his life was under constant threat for 12 hours and he handled himself like a professional, and with honor. He is just as much a victim of circumstance as any skipper that has the awesome responsibility of guiding a ship through those waters.
I wish my fellow crew members the best of luck in their efforts to pick themselves back up and move forward. I’m grateful to each and every crewmember for their support then and now, and I’m happy we all made it out alive.

And to the sailors from all over the world that are being held still: I commit to you that I will continue to raise the level of debate on this issue until you are brought home safely.

Thank you,
Capt. Shane Murphy

Here, here!

OK you JAG types …. if you’re good, your ears are a’twitch’n. Here you go.

One of the four crew members who spoke to the AP is part of a lawsuit filed against Maersk Line Ltd. alleging the company was negligent in sending the ship into treacherous waters without more protection. The other members are not involved in any legal action related to the hijacking.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Maritime Security

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  • Robbo

    Reminds me of Typhoon, by Conrad, that I read as a MIDN

  • leesea

    go lookup the legal meaning of barratry in admiralty law. In a nutshell it means the Master must follow the orders of the Owner or land in jail. It was not a perogative it was the Master’s leagal obligation.

  • Fouled Anchor

    I’m no admiralty lawyer (or any other kind for that matter), but I don’t think that description of barratry is accurate.

    “In maritime law, barratry is the commission of an act by the master or mariners of a vessel for an UNLAWFUL OR FRAUDELANT (emphasis mine) purpose that is contrary to the duty owed to the owners, by which act the owners sustain injury.”

    “It is essential in barratry that a criminal act or intent exist on the part of the master or mariners which inures to their own benefit and causes injury to the owners of the ship.”

    http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/barratry (They reference West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc)

  • Dan McPherson

    Maersk Ltd gives the Masters of their ships a lot of lee way in regards to running the ship as the Captain is on scene, so to speak and is the eyes and ears for the office. If the captain feels he needs to deviate because current conditions, the office will more than likely oblige them as long as it is explained why and the Captain feels he has good reason to. Maersk as well as other shipping companies also expect the masters to use all the tools available to them to insure a safe arrival of the cargo and crew. Piracy advisaries, like weather advisaries are deciminated for a reason and it is expected that they be used to their fullest advantage. That said, even though those advisaries were not utilized in April and bad things happened. A good thing has resulted that the ship has been hardened and was able to protect itself when not 1 but 4 skiffs approached. It’s funny how the world’s navies have pulled away from their primary mission and why the US Navy was formed – freedom of the seas but it’s a big ocean and thus they send the warnings that they may not be able to get there in time if a ship is attacked. Capt. Murphy is dead on about how to approach the piracy problem – blockade. Placating and enabling the pirates with ransomes hasn’t worked through out history and it will not work now when the world wants to be kinder and gentler towards them.

    Where I do disagree with Shane and to repeat myself, it is not okay for a master to ignore advisaries whether they be for weather or pirate incidents. The advisaries are there for a reason and the company pays to have them sent out to help the ship in it’s voyage planning and crew safety. Perhaps nothing would have been said if Captain Phillips had made an attempt to go further out and still get boarded? At least he made an attempt. To stay on the same old penned in course he always took after coming back from an exstended vacation and even being told at his turnover that things had really heated up in the region is not the mark of a good seaman in my book. Luckily, he wasn’t a US Navy Captain. At least everyone came home safe and his mistake caused the ship to be hardened which prevented a much worse situation last month and finally the world knows all the facts.

    I’ve seen those pictures you took from the crain, Shane. If only that camera of yours had been a .45 but we all must remember that everything happens for a reason.

    Capt. D. McPherson

  • leesea

    I am not any kind of a lawyer, I just had to testify in such a case.

  • Very well put Capt. Murphy! Full of common sense, especially this:

    “If the powers that be say the ocean is too big a place to effectively patrol, then it’s time to arm the ships.”

    The powers that be consider the ocean too big because they only view it from a handful of high end warships which can’t be in many places at once. The much maligned corvettes and small patrol vessels which the richer powers don’t want might just be their salvation, turning around their slow extinction in numbers as well as not forcing merchant seamen to fend for themselves. Why even have a Navy if you can’t contend with even the least of threats on the high seas? It is easy to mock and ignore, but as you say, some day these same pirates far-off may be the terrorists on our door-steps.

  • Grandpa Bluewater


    Well. Said. Shane. Murphy.

    As a professional (albeit long retired) naval officer I find our lack of frigates graven upon my heart.

    As a professional (albeit somewhat more recently retired) merchant marine officer, I am in complete agreement with Captain Murphy.

    To those who oppose honest seaman defending themselves when the Navy can’t (why it can’t, set aside for another post), and their employers are disinclined to take any effective action to preserve them and punish their captors or murderers, (due in part to the advice of damnfool lawyers, safe in walnut paneled leather upholstered offices, also another post) I say: You won’t lead, get out of the way.

    Alternatively, follow Captains such as those who served in Maersk Alabama the day in question, if you have what it takes.

    Small arms operation and ship security tactics training and qualification, or recent experience with same, required.

  • Spade


    Galrahn has a good couple maps up showing hijackings in the area of the Maersk Alabama. It’s good information. I think it puts the Capt in a good light, especially the 2 week map.

  • Captain Shane Murphy

    Thank you Gentlemen for your input. @ Capt. MacPherson, I thought the same thing. You don’t know until your put in that position and talking about it is foolish, but on that day, I had many such moments where I could have taken the shot, and I would have. And there are plenty of guys like me sailing out there. As far as the advisory aspect of it, thats a whole other debate you could discuss in a classroom setting for hours. I’m trying to focus on the problem from a deckplates perspective, and letting the legality of it all sort itself out. I mean come on guys, if we really want to get letigis about this, I have a pretty f’ng good salvage claim going. I’d be intrested to hear what the Jag’s have to say about that. I just want to keep the focus and the blame on the people purpotrating the acts. Check my story, they had ample oppurtunity to get out with there lives and they just wouldn’t take it.
    @ Grandpa Bluewater, I don’t want come off as overly critical of the Navy. I have a lot of respect for that organization. If they need more vessels, fire up the shipyards, there are plenty of out of work people right here at home. They can weld, they can machine, and turn out a ship that you don’t need a thousand page online manual to operate. But the number one excuse I hear in my travels is, the ocean is too big to patrol. Sorry I just can’t except that.

  • I just wanted to comment on the entries by Captain Shane Murphy and Captain D. McPherson. I agree and disagree on many of the excellent points brought forward. As Captain Murphy stated in his blog entry, the ship’s Captain has an enormous responsibility and often it is easy for others to play Monday afternoon quarterback, not realizing the complexities of commanding a ship. However, if a thorough after action review and corrective actions report were conducted, I am sure there may have been some things that perhaps could have been done differently or better. A thorough critique and “lessons learned” report could possibly help other Captains and crew members from repeating any unnecessary or costly mistakes. Also, maintaining the morale of the crew members is absolutely essential. Generally, a Ship’s Captain should refrain from receiving a personal award or special accolades unless the entire crew is allowed to receive the award or participate in a special event after the incident. I think it is quite understandable for some crew members to express frustration if it appears that one individual is hailed from the White House all the way to Hollywood. If I recall correctly, it was a team effort with support from Navy ships, snipers from Seal Team Six, and especially the crew members. Basically, it is a cast of many or an overall team effort that brought closure to the event.

    On a more serious matter, I absolutely agree that the piracy issue needs to be handled better or simply just handled. However, I do not believe a naval blockade is the proper course of action. Blockades have rarely been used and for good reason because they are either considered an act of war or they are used as a last resort to bring a war to an end. During the American Civil War, the Union used 500 ships in an attempt to control 3500 miles of coastline and was marginally successful. More recent examples include the U.S. blockade of Japan during World War II and the blockade that occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Generally, it is a harsh and often desperate act of war based on dire necessity or designed to bring closure by cutting off lines of communication and ultimately and adversely affecting the civilian population. In addition to the enormous and permanent resources needed to form a blockade, it would only serve as a local solution off the enormous coastline of northeastern Africa and it would not address the international problem of piracy. Most importantly, piracy affects international trade and is an international problem.

    Also, sea control and power projection continue to remain as two of the main objectives of the Navy. Also, it is part of their mission to also maintain, train, and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars and deterring aggression. Humanitarian assistance is yet another role.

    I believe the solution lies in the ability of ships to be able to protect themselves. I understand that ships are using crowd control devices such as the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) to direct loud noise at the pirates. I suppose they could also use some version of an Active Denial System (ADS) which uses nonlethal, nonionizing radiation to make the perpetrators uncomfortable. However, I believe the best ideas include the mounted .50 cal guns and a trained security force others have suggested and are proven to be effective methods. For those that argue that seafarers are civilians at sea and do not warrant the need or have the authority to safely use firearms is absurd. They are professionals who will train, qualify, and when necessary use the appropriate level of force dependent upon the circumstances. It is inconceivable that some individuals reject the concept that crew members have an inherent responsibility to protect themselves, each other, the cargo, and the ship. Alternatively, I understand that many port facilities will not allow ships to pull into their ports if these vessels have guns or weapons or at least must allow the host nation the ability to secure the weapon. It is also interesting to note that many of the individuals who work at the various ports are also pirates or have criminal/terrorist connections according to some experts in the field.



  • Capt. Shane Murphy

    Very good points LCDR GB. I want very much to train people on the lessons learned from our incident. I believe you can dance around this stuff all you want, the proof is in the event, something went wrong. A blockade may be considered an act of war, but my question I guess is to who? Is there a functioning Somali government, or is it a tribal land. Thats what people in America don’t get about Africa. I understand it I see it in my day to day travels. Who is it America is afraid of declaring war on exactly. It’s a group of criminals with guns, akin to the taliban, or al qaeda in Iraq. Why tolerate it. I can also attest to the corruption in the ports, particulaly Djibouti. I caught one guys twice and turned him over to security. He had documentation, paperwork and everything, but what are you gonna do. Those other devices you mentioned are hokey ideas, just level the playing field and we will win I can assure you that. Look at the photo, Captain MacPherson mentioned, I didn’t need to wait 5 days to get a clear shot, end of story right there. Takes President of the hook. And it was a giant group wide effort you are correct. That is as I believe I stated it from my first press conference on, many heroes, many tales of bravery. Maintaining Morale has never been Captain Richard Phillips stock and trade. Thats why he needs someone like me whether he wants to admit that or not.