MOMBASA – The lifeboat containing the tied-up hostage captain of the Maersk Alabama had been bobbing in the water for five days, stalked by a small flotilla of American warships.
‘There was no end in sight to the standoff between a small band of pirates and the U.S. Navy. Talks between the two sides to negotiate the hostage’s release were getting nowhere.Quietly, the White House had laid down rules of engagement for officers on the destroyer USS Bainbridge: If the captain’s life is in imminent danger, attack.At the end of the fifth day, the waters in the Gulf of Aden dark and choppy, the Americans on the Bainbridge peered at the lifeboat and saw something new happening. One of the pirates had an AK-47 aimed at the captain’s back.Navy snipers on the destroyer’s fantail took aim at the pirates’ heads and shoulders. The commander gave the split-second order: Fire. All three pirates were picked off. The captain was safe.It was the culmination of five days of international tension and gamesmanship on the high seas. At stake was the life of a 53-year-old, no-nonsense sea captain from Vermont who volunteered himself as a hostage to save his crew.Richard Phillips said goodbye to his wife, Andrea, left their home in the small Vermont town of Underhill at the end of March and made his way halfway around the world to join the ship.His task was to pilot the Alabama, which at 500 feet (152 meters) long is relatively small for a container ship, on its trip from Oman and Djibouti to Mombasa, Kenya, to deliver 401 containers of food as aid.