The American sea captain held hostage by Somali pirates for five days was rescued by members of the U.S. special ops unit Navy SEALS in a daring made-for-Hollywod firefight which left three kidnappers dead and another captured. Captain Richard Phillips of the U.S.-flagged Maesk Alabama was saved from captivity and possible execution by a surgical strike which resulted in zero casualties on the rescuers’ side. Per CNN, one of the pirates “had an AK-47 leveled at the captain’s back”, prompting SEAL snipers to immediately open fire on the Somalis. Phillips was unharmed.
This was certainly a stirring victory for the Americans, who were trying to negotiate for Phillips’ release but who sensed that he was in “imminent danger”. The on-scene commander then gave the shooters approval to open fire.
Five days previously, Somali pirates tried to hijack the 17,000-ton cargo ship, but Phillips thwarted the takeover by telling his crew to lock themselves in a room.The crew later overpowered some of the pirates, but Phillips surrendered himself to the bandits to safeguard his men, and four of the Somalis fled with him on a lifeboat in an attempt to bring him to the pirates’ haven along the coast of Somalia.
At the White House, President Obama issued a statement saying he is “very pleased that Capt. Phillips has been rescued and is safely on board the USS Boxer” and that his administration remains “resolved to halt the rise of piracy in this region.”
Per reports, pirates operating off Somalia earned $30 million in ransom through the seizure of 42 vessels in 2008. Other estimates put the figure at $80 million. Since January, pirates have staged at least 66 assaults and currently hold more than a dozen ships and more than 200 foreign crew members.
This ups the ante in the ongoing fight against the Somali pirates. The pirates will be less willing to negotiate and more ready to pull the trigger on their captives. The Americans have committed themselves to a more agressive stance in dealing with the pirates. But while the U.S. has the resources and military clout to counter such attacks, other countries like the Philippines have no such capability. We have the largest number of actively deployed seafarers in the world and more than 100 of the 200 remaining victims of Somali kidnappings are Filipinos. Heightened tensions have now placed them in grave danger. The Somalis have been humiliated and are in the mood for revenge. And the pirates’ misplaced anger will literally place our countrymen in the line of fire.
The sad reality is Filipinos are more expendable than sailors of other nationalities, one reason why they usually remain in custody for months at a time before being ransomed. They have become pawns in the struggle to control the shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden. With the present situation, the prospect of their early release just became dimmer.