Two Recent Deaths Puts Captain Phillips Ship Back in the Headlines
The continuing threat of piracy in the Indian Ocean has prompted a global shipping company, The Maersk Group, to place armed security teams on its ships in order to repel potential assaults by Somali pirates. This includes the Maersk Alabama, a container ship made famous by the Oscar nominated film, Captain Phillips, which chronicled events surrounding the pirate hijacking of the Maersk Alabama off the East African coast in 2009.
The Maersk Alabama was back in the headlines in February, when two members of the ship’s security detail were found dead on board while the ship was berthed in Port Victoria, the capital of The Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. The two American citizens, Jeffrey Reynolds and Mark Kennedy, worked for Trident CMG, a United States based global security and crisis management firm. Both men were former Navy SEALs.
Following the discovery of the two men’s bodies and in response to the police investigation, a senior director for Maersk, Kevin N. Speers stated that the deaths of the Trident CMG security officers were "not related to vessel operations or their duties as security personnel." Speers said that Maersk contracted with Trident CMG to safeguard crews and vessels travelling through "persistently high risk areas," like the waters off the east coast of Africa.
The 2013 film Captain Phillips, starred Tom Hanks as Captain Richard Phillips, the American captain at the helm of the Maersk Alabama when she was boarded by Somali pirates in April 2009. The incident marked the first time since the 19th Century that a maritime vessel sailing under the United States flag fell victim to an act of piracy. However, the pirates’ attempt at taking the 500 feet Maersk Alabama failed.
Members of the crew fought back resulting in the pirates abandoning the hijacking and escaping in a boat while taking Captain Phillips with them as a hostage. After three days as a hostage, Captain Phillips was eventually rescued by United States Navy SEALs. The ring leader, an 18 year old Somali, was taken into custody and tried in the United States. He was eventually found guilty and is currently serving a 33 year prison sentence.
Somalia is a failed state, a lawless country, and today most of the vessels seized by pirates worldwide are taken by Somali pirates. In 2010 alone, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), of the 53 ship incidents related to piracy, 39 of the vessels were hijacked off the Somali coast. The shipping lanes through the western Indian Ocean are amongst the most trafficked in the world.
While Captain Phillips came out of the 2009 incident a hero, crew members went on to file a multimillion dollar lawsuit against Maersk and against Waterman Steamship Corp., claiming damages for emotional and physical injuries sustained during the attempted hijacking. The claimants argued that Captain Phillips and the shipping companies named in the lawsuit ignored a maritime warning to stay at least 600 miles off the coast of Somalia to avoid the pirates’ well reported hunting waters.
Since the incident in 2009, security teams placed on the Maersk Alabama have repelled two more assaults by Somali pirates. The three attempted hijackings show the need to have adequate security aboard all ships to mitigate the risks of ship hijacking and hostage taking incidents in pirate infested waters.
As for the two Trident CMG security personnel found dead on board the Maersk Alabama, evidence points to a drug overdose. Maersk believes that this is an isolated event and its spokesman, Kevin N. Speers, says that Trident CMG is stepping up the frequency of drugs screening for its security personnel.