On April 8, 2009, four pirates armed with AK-47s clambered up the side of the U.S.-flagged container ship Maersk Alabama, sailing off the coast of Somalia. But after a brief scuffle with some of the 20 crewmembers, the pirates opted to abandon the 508-foot long ship, sailing off in one of its motorized lifeboats. They may not have captured the Maersk Alabama, nor looted its millions of dollars’ worth of food and humanitarian aid bound for Kenya, but they didn’t leave empty handed. The pirates had a captive: Maersk Alabama‘s captain, Richard Phillips.
Four days later, three of the four pirates were dead — each from a single .30-caliber rifle bullet to his brain, courtesy of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six. The fourth pirate, just 16 years old, was in Navy custody. And Phillips was on his way home, unharmed but for the psychological strain from four days in captivity in a sweltering lifeboat, unsure whether he would live or die.
The precision killing of the three pirates by six members of SEAL Team Six, the same unit that would later kill Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout, has rarely been described in detail. Retired Rear Adm. Terry McKnight, who commanded U.S. naval forces off Somalia during the Maersk Alabama standoff, devotes 45 pages of his new book Pirate Alley to the people, methods, equipment and even politics behind Phillips’ daring rescue.
McKnight’s book, published by the Naval Institute Press, shines new light on the SEALs’ role — and, by extension, the rarely mentioned skills the secretive and lethal warriors bring to bear on battlefields across the globe. To be fair, some of these details are mentioned in passing in No Easy Day, the controversial memoir by former SEAL Matt Bissonnette that was published last month. But McKnight’s book also reveals new information about the vital role that intelligence specialists — and particularly a Somali interpreter — played in the raid.