There's maybe a reason why the American crew of the U.S. cargo ship Maersk Alabama was able to retake the ship from pirates in the Indian Ocean yesterday: Captain Richard Phillips and his second-in-command, Shane Murphy, were both trained in antipiracy tactics, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Phillips and Murphy are both graduates of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where Murphy's father teaches a course in anti-piracy tactics. The academy has been training cadets for two years in these tactics in anticipation of the time -- almost inevitable, academy leaders said -- when a U.S. vessel would be boarded by pirates. Officials there said the incident illustrates the importance of such work.
"Today the issue of how to protect that oceangoing commerce went from the academic course we teach here to reality TV for America," said Adm. Rick Gurnon, a former Navy pilot who serves as the academy's president.
Among the mysteries of Wednesday's assault was how the crew managed to regain control of the vessel. There's only so much an unarmed commercial ship can do. Measures include forming convoys under naval escort, steaming at high speed, and stationing crew members on deck to make it appear that the vessel is ready to repel boarders.
It's believed the crew thwarted the pirates' attempt to commandeer the ship by disabling it.
Sometime during the crews' retaking of the ship, Phillips was taken hostage by the pirates, who fled in the cargo ship's lifeboat, leaving Murphy the ship's skipper. Phillips' sister-in-law, Lea Coggio, told the Associated Press that he surrendered himself to the pirates to secure the safety of his crew. The pirates holding Phillips are currently in a standoff with a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, reports the LATs. FBI hostage negotiators have also joined the effort to help the Navy negotiate Phillips' release, the AP reports.
By all reports, Phillips is unharmed.
Coggio described Phillips as "smart, easygoing, laid-back," telling the LATs that she "wouldn't be a bit surprised if he's having a relaxed conversation right now with the pirates."
Wired.com's "Danger Room" blog reports that the Maersk Alabama is the first U.S. ship to be attacked by pirates in over 200 years.