Belmont Club

Icepick vs AK-47

The AP describes your average Bangladeshi-American seaman from Connecticut, who happened to be sailing on the Maersk Alabama, who’s now thinking of quitting as a result of a certain unpleasantness off Somalia.

Reza, who’s from Bangladesh, began working as a Merchant Marine in 1989. Over the years, he’s logged about 15 years on the high seas. His call home on Sunday came shortly after Phillips was freed, unharmed. Elizabeth Reza said her husband learned of the news from an all-hands announcement aboard the ship … The Rezas moved to Connecticut from western Massachusetts in October 2006. They live in the top apartment of a neatly kept, gray clapboard home, which sits on a quiet, tree-lined street. Jonathan Daigle, a downstairs neighbor and friend, said he and his wife often baby-sit Isa and had agreed to take him to school on Wednesdays while ATM “Zahid” Reza was at sea. Reza, whose wife said his birth name had multiple parts formally shortened to ATM, originally was expected to return home from this latest voyage in late May.

The Times Online describes the role Reza played in retaking the ship. Had the pirates kept their word, three of them would be alive today. Ironically, the wound that Reza inflicted on the pirate ringleader allowed him to be the only pirate to survive the onslaught of the Navy SEALs.

The crew had scrambled into a safe room once they realised the ship was being boarded. The ship’s chief engineer, A.T.M. Reza, said that he volunteered to show one of the pirates around the engine room. There he used an ice-pick to overpower the Somali, who turned out to be the gang leader.

Other crew members bound the captive’s hands and feet with rope before using him as a bargaining chip to negotiate the release of the ship. But the pirates had scuttled their own boat and demanded another vessel and fuel. Captain Phillips offered himself as a hostage on the understanding that the prisoners would be exchanged as the pirate left. However, when the pirates got into the cargo ship’s lifeboat, they went back on their word, insisting that the Maersk Alabama follow them into Somali waters.

The man who Reza stuck with the icepick is probably the fourth pirate, who sought medical attention aboard the Bainbridge as part of their demands. He alone of the four survived after the SEALs gunned down his companions. Reuters reported that “A fourth pirate who surrendered before the end of the standoff was aboard the Bainbridge when Phillips was freed. The pirate had sought medical treatment for a stab wound to the hand, inflicted by a member of the Maersk Alabama’s crew when the gang tried to hijack the ship, the official said.” The SEALs themselves had apparently dropped in by parachuting into the nearby sea during the hours of darkness so that they could board the Bainbridge undetected, according to the Washington Post.

The human factor is often the deciding one in a crisis. Airline pilot Captain Sullenberger, like his nautical counterpart Captain Phillips and men like the SEALs and Reza can make extraordinary acts seem effortless, which often conceals the fact of their actual difficulty. Although we see the deed, we often forget the background; and what is unseen above all is the inner decision, the crossing of the point of no return that so many approach and so few traverse that makes it possible for someone to land a plane on the Hudson, offer himself as a hostage, parachute into a dark sea or take on a man with an automatic rifle armed with an icepick. In the end it isn’t the airplane, the ship, the parachute or the icepick but the man behind it that makes the difference.