An email was sent to me by a college classmate of mine who I saw at a wedding last week. He is friends with one of the engineers who was aboard the Maersk Alabama when it was taken hostage by pirates a couple of weeks ago. The message is from the Maersk Alabama to the Maersk Arkansas, which is on the same run to Africa.
This email was written during the middle of the hostage crisis when Captain Phillips was still in the lifeboat with the pirates. It gives a first-hand account of the efforts the ship’s crew took to fight off the initial boarding attempts by the pirates and how they protected themselves.
Working in dangerous areas of the world is nothing new to commercial diving, but this information may be able to help some of you keep yourselves from being held hostage by lawless people of the sea.
To: Maersk Arkansas – 1st Engineer
Subject: from Matt Fisher
Everyone on here is okay. We’re on our way to Mombasa with Navy protection on board. Captain Phillips is still hostage in the lifeboat with the 4 pirates. I hear they’re flying out reliefs for everyone, but I’m not sure what all’s going to happen once we get to Mombasa.
Supposedly the FBI is coming out to investigate the crime. Maybe we’ll be on the next CSI Somalia.
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.
Mike 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 Mike 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 odas 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. Mike 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. I assume the company will be forced into taking some kind of action to assure our security from now on. Hope everything is going well there. I’ll talk to you later.