Navy versus Piracy
All Hands Magazine Feature Presentation

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Three Regions your Navy
combats piracy around the globe


The U.S. Navy is forward deployed across the globe working with its international partners protecting international shipping, and deterring, disrupting and suppressing piracy.

There are three main regions the Navy focuses its efforts to combat piracy.

Horn of Africa

Motivated by escalating ransom payments that grew to millions of dollars, Somali men turned to piracy in the mid-2000s. As a result, piracy evolved from a fairly ad hoc, disorganized effort to a highly developed criminal enterprise that focused on hijacking entire merchant vessels in demand for ransom.

Gulf of Guinea

The majority of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea occur within 12 nautical miles of the coast. More often, armed robbery and piracy in this region are focused on kidnapping crew for ransom and stealing cargo.

Southeast Asia

Nearly one quarter of the world’s commerce and half its oil pass through the Strait of Malacca and South China Sea. The majority of piracy incidents are quickly executed, non-confrontational “smash and grab” operations that take place within territorial waters while ships are at anchor or berthed.

Somali Piracy

  • 2008

    84 incidents

  • 2009

    181 incidents

  • 2010

    182 incidents

  • 2011

    166 incidents

  • 2012

    32 incidents

Gulf of Guinea Piracy

  • 2011

    104 incidents

  • 2012

    86 incidents

SE Asian Piracy

  • 2011

    178 incidents

  • 2012

    126 incidents

Source: Rear Adm. Joseph Kuzmick's testimony to Congress on counter-piracy operations (April 2013)

M/V Maersk

One of the most high-profile piracy incidents was the 2009 hijacking and kidnapping from the U.S.-flagged M/V Maersk Alabama container ship off the Somali coast. The ship's master, Captain Richard Phillips, was taken off the ship and held hostage in a lifeboat. U.S. Navy ships and assets present in the region responded to the incident.

Setting the Scene

Several U.S. and international units worked to rescue Captain Phillips and the M/V Maersk Alabama.

The region was very active in the spring of 2009. At least six pirate attacks occurred in the area during the week of the Maersk Alabama incident. Combined Task Force 151 and the U.S. Navy worked together to end the flurry of attacks and also encouraged merchant shipping companies to develop new means of self-defense.

M/V Maersk Alabama
M/V Maersk Alabama is a container ship owned by Maersk Line Limited. She was steaming 280 miles off the coast southeast of the Somali port of Eyl and carrying 5,000 metric tons of relief supplies for Somalia, Kenya and Uganda when the pirate attack occurred. The crew fought back against the pirates, eventually capturing one of them while the pirates themselves took Captain Phillips hostage. With 18 USS Bainbridge Sailors on board as a security force, Alabama left the area and headed south to the Kenyan port of Mombasa while the Navy pursued the pirates. From 2005 to 2007, Somali piracy incidents typically occurred with 200 nautical miles of the Somali coast. After 2007 though, Somali pirates had expanded their operating range to up to 1,200 nautical miles. MAP
Patrol and Reconnaisance Squadron Eight (VP-8)
P-3C aircraft from VP-8 were already deployed to the region, conducting anti-piracy operations. They were the first U.S. Navy asset on the scene and during the operation, flew overhead providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and searching for pirate mother ships.
Combined Task Force 151 / USS Boxer
Combined Task Force 151 was operating in the area aboard USS Boxer (LHD-4). CTF 151 took charge of the situation and used all Navy assets in the region to bring the hostage situation to a close.
Watch an interview with Vice Adm. Michelle Howard, the CTF-151 commander at the time of the Maersk Alabama incident.
USS Bainbridge
USS Bainbridge (DDG-96) Sailors played the most active role early on. They were the direct Navy communication with the pirates and ultimately made several trips in rigid-hull inflatable boats to pull alongside the lifeboat and directly negotiate with the pirates. When the lifeboat ran out of fuel, the pirates agreed to let Bainbridge tow them to safety - a decision that proved fatal to the pirates.
Watch an interview with Capt. Frank Castellano, the USS Bainbridge commanding officer at the time of the Maersk Alabama hijacking.
USS Halyburton
USS Halyburton (FFG-40) provided essential support to the rescue effort by providing extra security to the area.
The Lifeboat
The 28-foot, five-ton lifeboat from Maersk Alabama became a sweltering prison for the captive AND the captors after four days at sea. The boat was designed to provide emergency transportantion for a short period of time. It carried only enough fuel for 143 nautical miles, which meant the pirates would not have been able to reach the shore as they had hoped.
a map showing the locations of the units involved with the rescue and the location of Alabama and the lifeboat


"This was an incredible team effort... of all the men and women
who made this rescue possible. The actions of Captain Phillips
and the civilian mariners of the Maersk Alabamawere heroic."
Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, U.S. Naval Central Command / U.S. 5th Fleet / Combined Maritime Forces, April 12, 2009

News as it Broke

As the events unfolded, regular updates on kept the public up to speed on the unfolding situation.

U.S. concerned about piracy before Maersk Alabama
In February 2009, just two months before M/V Maersk Alabama was attacked, All Hands Magazine detailed U.S. Navy and international efforts to combat piracy in the region. Click HERE to download the issue
April 8, 2009 - Pirates repelled, but the story wasn't over
With information at a minimum, we learned that a pirate attack had been stopped by the Alabama's crew. It was the sixth such attack in a week. We covered the story, with no idea how much bigger it would become in the coming hours. Read our initial report HERE.
April 9, 2009 - Pirates at the helm, U.S. Navy on the scene
Less than 24 hours after the attack, with Maersk Alabama master Captain Phillips being held hostage in a lifeboat, USS Bainbridge arrived on the scene. Click HERE to read the official news as it was known at the time.
April 12, 2009 - "An incredible team effort."
After four days in the lifeboat, Captain Phillips was rescued by the U.S. Navy. Get the facts from our initial press release here.
April 13, 2009 - "Textbook"
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called the rescue "textbook", but acknowledged the ongoing issue of piracy in the region. Get additional details of the operation and the piracy situation in our post-action report HERE.
April 15, 2009 - Bainbridge responds to another attack
A mere three days after the Mearsk Alabama conclusion, pirates attacked another ship in the region. USS Bainbridge was again at the scene to respond. Read about it HERE.
November 18, 2009 - Applying the lessons learned
M/V Maersk Alabama employed new anti-piracy measures folloing the April attack. Just seven months later, they were attacked again. Read about what happened HERE.

Flight of the ScanEagle

A ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle launched by the Navy kept an eye on the action. Information from the UAV was critical to the rescue.

graphic picture of the rescue scene

M/V Maersk Alabama incident made into Hollywood movie

The Department of Defense approved assistance in filming the "Captain Phillips" script in May 2012. The assistance consisted primarily of filming aboard USS Truxton, USS Wasp and USS Halyburton while underway in the vicinity of Norfolk, Va., June 15-30, 2012. The movie, released Oct. 11, 2013, is based on the true story of Captain Phillips and the Alabama hijacking. Navy Petty Officer Danielle Albert appeared in the film and All Hands Magazine discussed her role in the movie. Watch the interview here.


My Sea Story

Former Commanding Officer of USS Bainbridge, Captain Castellano, tells his sea story about piracy in the waters near Somalia.

Video interview with Admiral Howard

VADM Howard

Interview with former commander of CTF-151

photo of the lifeboat from the scan eagle drone

Bird's Eye View

Always Under the Eye of the Eagle

interview with captain bainbridge

Captain Castellano

Interview with the former commander of USS Bainbridge

photo of captain phillips meeting CMDR frank castellano

Captain to Captain

A Handshake Between Sea-going Heroes

Video of shots being fired


Raw Video of a Tense Moment

Raw video following rescue

Finally Safe

Finally safe on board Boxer

photo of phillips and Lt Cmdr David Fowler

A Personal Thank You

Glad to be Safely Aboard

photo of boxer crew working on lifeboat

Team Boxer in Action

Securing the Evidence

photo of the lifeboat being towed by bainbridge

In Tow

A Floating Prison

Photo of Captain Phillips thanking Sailors

A Personal Message

Captain Phillips on Bainbridge

Photo of Captain Phillips thanking Sailors

Face to Face

Capt. Phillips Thanks Sailors aboard USS Bainbridge.

Photo of life raft at Nauticus Museum

Life Raft at Nauticus

The lifeboat visited Nauticus in Norfolk, VA.

photo of lifeboat on display

For All to See

Lifeboat Makes Home in Florida

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