pirate lifeboat

(Above: the lifeboat in which the Somali pirates held Captain Phillips.   Image source: U.S. Navy)

I was in awe yesterday at the news of the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips by U.S. Navy SEAL snipers off the coast of Somalia.   At work, a coworker and I discussed how this story could have been from a Hollywood film or a war-themed video game: pirates commandeer a ship, take the captain hostage, hold him for ransom, SEALs parachute in, and under the cover of darkness and on choppy seas, snipe the three pirates and rescue the captain.   Amazing.   Both the USS Bainbridge where the SEALs were shooting from and the pirates’ lifeboat were undulating in the water.   The SEALs had to shoot from a moving target at a moving target into an enclosed lifeboat.

From The New York Times:

The hard part was not the distance, 75 feet, an easy range for an experienced sniper. Far more difficult were all the moving parts: the bobbing lifeboat, the rolling ship, hitting three targets simultaneously in darkness and all without harming the hostage, Capt. Richard Phillips.

That was the consensus on Monday from former members of the Navy Seals who said they were impressed by the skills of three Seal snipers who aimed from the fantail of the destroyer Bainbridge and picked off three Somali pirates holding Captain Phillips in a small lifeboat that was being towed about 75 feet behind the destroyer.

Incredible.   Of course, though, larger questions loom:

Despite the operational precision of the rescue, however, the question of how to deal with the broader issue of piracy still looms large, with 111 incidents reported last year on the east coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, according to the International Chamer [sic] of Commerce.

“Is there a way to deal with this in a systemic way that reduces the risk and brings the international community together in a productive way to deal with the problem?” [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates said. “I think we’re going to end up spending a fair amount of time on this in the administration, seeing if there is a way to try and mitigate this problem of piracy.”

But for now, we can all say with the SEALs, “Hooyah!”