After four days of floating at sea on a raft shared with four Somali gunmen, Richard Phillips took matters into his own hands for a second time. With the small inflatable lifeboat in which he was being held captive being towed by the American missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, and Navy Special Warfare (NSWC) snipers on the fantail in position to take their shots at his captors as soon as the command was given, the captive captain of the M.V. Maersk-Alabama took his second leap in three days into the shark-infested waters of the Indian Ocean.
This diversion gave the Navy Special Warfare operators all the opening they needed. Snipers immediately took down the three Somali pirates still on board the life raft, SEAL operators hustled down the tow line connecting the two craft to confirm the kills, and a Navy RIB plucked Phillips from the water and sped him to safety aboard the Bainbridge, thus ending the four-day-and-counting hostage situation.
Phillips’ first leap into the warm, dark water of the Indian Ocean hadn’t worked out as well. With the Bainbridge in range and a rescue by his country’s Navy possible, Phillips threw himself off of his lifeboat prison, enabling Navy shooters onboard the destroyer a clear shot at his captors — and none was taken. The guidance from National Command Authority — the president of the United States, Barack Obama — had been clear: a peaceful solution was the only acceptable outcome to this standoff unless the hostage’s life was in clear, extreme danger.
The next day, a small Navy boat approaching the floating raft was fired on by the Somali pirates — and again no fire was returned and no pirates killed. This was again due to the cautious stance assumed by Navy personnel thanks to the combination of a lack of clear guidance from Washington and a mandate from the commander in chief’s staff not to act until Obama, a man with no background of dealing with such issues and no track record of decisiveness, decided that any outcome other than a “peaceful solution” would be acceptable.