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April 13th, 2009
09:45 AM ET

Three shots fired, all fatal

Vice Adm. William Gortney describes the rescue of a ship captain held hostage by pirates off the Somali coast.
Vice Adm. William Gortney describes the rescue of a ship captain held hostage by pirates off the Somali coast.

Yesterday, Navy SEALs fired three shots and took out the three pirates holding an American shipping captain hostage. The Commander of the 5th Fleet, Vice Admiral William Gortney, spoke to CNN's John Roberts on Monday.

John Roberts: Can you walk us through what happened yesterday?

Vice Adm. William Gortney: It was an ongoing hostage negotiation attempt to keep the event at as low a level of violence as possible so that we could ensure the safe return of the captain. The activity had got to the point where the lifeboat was out of fuel. One of their pirates had left the life boat, needed medical attention and jumped on to one of our rigid, inflatable boats, so they were down to one.

They're tired. The sea state was picking up. They'd agreed for us to tow them into some little better waters as the ship was bouncing around. It was very tense. The on-scene commander could see that the three remaining pirates were very, very intense. One of them held his AK-47 in the back of the captain. We were always concerned about the imminent danger to the captain.

And because of the tensions and the imminent danger, at one point... they exposed themselves where there was an opportunity, and because of imminent danger to the captain, the on-scene commander saw that one of the pirates still held that AK-47, was very, very concerned for the captain's life and he ordered the shots to be taken. Three shots were fired and all were fatal. And it was a phenomenal shot, 75 feet away, the small boat was moving up and down a couple two to three feet and it was at night. Just remarkable marksmanship.

Roberts: What do you expect is going to be the upshot of this operation? We're hearing threats from pirates to say, okay, America, you've changed the rules here now. We are going after Americans and we're going to take our revenge. Do you expect they could do that or is that just bluster and hollow threats?

Gortney: Well, we would hope that pirates will conclude that they should not attack U.S.-flagged ships or any of the ships out there in the future. We think the shipping companies should conclude that they should consider very strongly following the measures we suggested that they adopt, which include embarking security detachments and we believe armed security detachments.

And we would hope also that the tribal elders in Somali will persuade their young men to look for livelihoods, recognizing unfortunately, that the lack of opportunities in Somali is what drives young men to piracy in the first place.

Roberts: You think these ships should have armed personnel on board, armed security teams to defend off potential hijackings and piracy?

Gortney: Well, you need two things to have a successful piracy attack. You need pirates that are seeking monetary gain and you also need a ship that's able to get pirated. We don't have much of an influence. We're trying to influence the pirates to disincentivize being a pirate but when it comes down to the second part of that, it comes down to the shipping industry itself.

Our statistics do bear out that they are the last line of defense and they are the most effective contributor to an unsuccessful attack and using speed, maneuver, good lookouts, something as simple as putting barbed wire around low approaches on the boats themselves.

Just last week, two vessels were unsuccessfully attacked because the ship had put barbed wire around the ship on the closest avenues of approach. And ultimately, an armed security attachment to protect their property as they do protect their property on the beach.

Filed under: Piracy
soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Roy

    Why the surprise, we have the finest trained men in the world. All of them deserve our thanks.

    April 15, 2009 at 10:01 am |
  2. jack carroll

    Alright it's 01820 on the east coast. I went back and read all the other postings.
    this pirating is getting to be a racket, I understand that these were aid supplies but this was a money maker for somebody. Is there any body else out there. If we want navy seals to shoot people at night why do we not put them down there on the border with Mexico and let them shoot some of the -**– that keep coming into this country illegally.

    April 13, 2009 at 6:29 pm |
  3. jack carroll

    Hey you all,
    Just for a look at the other side, did any of you see the movie with Tommy Lee Jones and Steven Segal where the Missouri was taken over for personal reasons? In a world where SOB's steal 50 Billion dollars and where pirate incidents are increasingly more common how easy would it be for someone to say... my ship is open game for a cut of the ransom. There have been 70+ piratings this year. Cudos to President Obama for pulling the trigger, but let's shoot the right people.

    April 13, 2009 at 5:50 pm |
  4. TW

    WELL DONE US NAVY - my compliments to your marksmen!


    I have to agree with Jorge. On the news it was pointed out that the parties responsible for armed protection of the crew, the ships and cargo are the corporations. They don't want armed people on the ships because it will increase their liability and hence possibly insurance prenmiums. So they risk thier employees and property to save money.

    Just one more case of corporate greed at the expense of the employees and taxpayers.

    The laws that need to be changed are the ones that do not demand that these corporations act responsibly by providing for security for their employees and their property. The American taxpayer should not continue to subsidize corporations like we do in a million ways while the conservatives carp about assistance for the poor and what Obama has now done wrong.

    However, I don't want to waste anymore time on conservatives that want to spend every waking minute being the sore LOOSERS they are.

    Instead I prefer to be proud to be an American proud of our military.

    April 13, 2009 at 2:22 pm |
  5. Ace

    Let the order go out to all US ships of war that ALL vessels, once positively identified as pirate vessels, are to be used as gunnery/target practice!...that's excellent live-fire training! Piracy on the high seas has plagued our nation since before the Revolution; but we've never been better trained/equipped to deal with it, as evidenced by this event. These pirates, Somali or any other nationality, don't represent any legitimate government; so what's the issue?...Kill them all.

    April 13, 2009 at 2:06 pm |
  6. Indian Delhi

    Jihadis unfortunately breed like Flies.
    After littering the earth with Islamic Trash now pollute the Oceans.
    Good Job USA.
    God bless George Bush who kept the Jihadi butchers down for 8 Years.
    Obama Should take down Iran

    April 13, 2009 at 2:01 pm |
  7. jack phoenix, az

    US Navy Seals are the BEST. About time the US and other nations kicked Somalians asses, and keep kicking them back to the stone age where they belong.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:55 pm |
  8. Tom

    There seems to be a business case here for Pirate Hunting Cruises. You know, when the deer (pirates) get too thick, you thin the herd. Maybe even connect the rifles via the internet?

    April 13, 2009 at 1:52 pm |
  9. Rod Hall

    Excellent Demonstration of the kind of actions that will more than likely be required for future confrontations with these Pirates/Terrorists. Unless people start realizing that this is not some game that we can all play and then go on home for dinner, these individuals will probably continue doing what they are doing and now they are making it sound as if we have hurt their feelings by taking action against them.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:49 pm |
  10. Tom

    Hey Fn You don't need to know what the Navy did or didn't. this was a top secret mission completed by professionals end of story

    Tom USMC

    April 13, 2009 at 1:49 pm |
  11. Margie Louis

    Great Job by Navy and USA. But probably the USA will probably be sued by the Somalia families... Wait for it.....

    April 13, 2009 at 1:47 pm |
  12. Bubba

    I doubt if President Bush, or President Clinton, would have handled this situation successfully. Obama has done a good job, and a great job by the U.S. Navy and the SEALS!

    April 13, 2009 at 1:45 pm |
  13. Steve

    Walk softly but carry a big stick... sometimes you have to swing that stick

    April 13, 2009 at 1:45 pm |
  14. tim

    These pirates live in villages right on the water ;a few unmanned drones should make a little pitstop to deliver some hellfire missles

    April 13, 2009 at 1:44 pm |
  15. Ahab

    Isn't the captain suppose to go down with his ship? So now all the other sailors from the ship must suffer. What happened to the captain caring for his men? I guess his attitude was to hell with this ship.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:41 pm |
  16. devils advocate

    I think that we look towards killing as the easiest means of dealing with any situation. (Three deaths for the price of one life) The pirates were wrong no doubt, but they did not kill any one so far so why spill first blood? If those SEALS were as trained marksmen like they say that they are they should have shot to wond. Now in the future they would be less likely to cooperate in any way with us. By wounding them also we could have gathered intel from them that could have helped us to learn more about their organization. All we need now is more countries wanting to kill American civilians any chance that they get. Blood always equals more blood we might have won that fight but a new war has just begun

    April 13, 2009 at 1:41 pm |
  17. Bill Mergler

    I agree with the admirial but one other thing that we should do and should have a long time ago is world governments should make a coalition and go into Somalia itself and place a stable and secure government there
    and yes even if this means that this ends in armed conflict.
    The only way to end the violance and lawlessness in this country is to place responsible people there

    April 13, 2009 at 1:40 pm |
  18. rayray

    How about putting a 'motivated' Marine or SEAL on board ships traveling in the troubled areas? Like an Air Marshall on flights?

    Put him behind glass labeled "Break Glass In Case Of Emergency".

    April 13, 2009 at 1:39 pm |
  19. Tom

    And people said Obama wouldn't act fast enough

    April 13, 2009 at 1:37 pm |
  20. crossbow

    Good job done, am proud of the seals. Doing what they are trained to do in times pf peril.....

    April 13, 2009 at 1:34 pm |
  21. Cliff

    Johnny, here is what you do.
    You have a Navy ship escort U.S. flagged ships through the area.
    The "pirates" get one warning....a shot across their bow.
    The second shot is a "hole in one!"
    Let them complain to the U.N. (ungold nimkumpoops) all they want. After all, we are ONLY protecting the interest and citizens of the UNITED STATES!
    GOD BLESS OUR NAVY. Just too bad a "fourth shot" didn't somehow manage to get fired!

    April 13, 2009 at 1:33 pm |
  22. TONY

    GREAT JOB ! I'm as proud as I have been for awhile about America! We are a great country, with awesome military personel and we seek peace wherever we can, sometimes, we have to take action.

    We have the best military in the world, I don't think it would be wise for any counrty or any so called "pirates" to forget that, EVER!!!!

    April 13, 2009 at 1:32 pm |
  23. jorge


    your conservative repub STUPIDITY is shouting out loud and clear. the shipping companies should use their profits to invest in the security as clearly suggested by the Vice Admiral in this article. The owners of the ship recently commandeered and the captain held hostage should reimburse the USA government (Navy) for the expense incurred to make the rescue in the same way citizens are charged when rescues are made in the mountains and on the seas when it is determined that they did not take all precautionary measures as clearly stated. It is obvious that the shipping company put their employees at risk by not adopting the measures that have been recommended

    April 13, 2009 at 1:30 pm |
  24. FN

    I applaud the operation but to me it seems like the Navy is trying to spin this.

    The Admiral is quoted as saying the head and shoulders of 2 pirates were exposed and a 3rd was visible in the pilot's chair. Assuming the hostage was below deck then it's not possible for the SEALs to view any of the pirates pointing an AK47 at his back as has been also reported.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:29 pm |
  25. Arthur Rogers

    We've just given the pirates another new lesson to improve their tactics! No more than one pirate observing at a time.

    While we have a right to know...we don't need to know everything from a tactical standpoint. I'm just sick everytime we give out operational information that helps the bad guys get better at what they do.

    Regardless, well done SEALS!

    Art Rogers

    April 13, 2009 at 1:25 pm |
  26. cohwmein

    I say nuke somalia!!!! We need a big garbage dump in Africa.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:25 pm |
  27. Citizen from NY

    Natrually, I woiuld never want to be in a position for my country to come and get me but....if I am, I hope and pray it would be the SEALs. God bless them, and all of our armed, air force, marines, army...every one of them!

    April 13, 2009 at 1:25 pm |
  28. Max Vanguard

    GO NAVY!

    The pirates met a perfect end in this scenario: their brain matter splattered across the water, providing food for the fish below.

    To the pirates threatening retaliation, I say this: "Bring it on." Just make sure to attack the U.S. Navy, instead of attempting cowardly attacks on unarmed civilians. Our Navy would be more than happy to oblige you in open seas combat anytime, anywhere. Show us what you're made of out on the water, Somalia. We can settle this once and for all. Besides, I hear the fish in the Indian Ocean love to feed on Somali brain matter....

    April 13, 2009 at 1:21 pm |
  29. Charles A. Bishop

    I agree fully with Vice Admiral Gortney. Until the issue of piracy can be solved, ships sailing waters near Somalia should be required to hire qualified, armed security guards. It would be a lot cheaper than paying millions to retrieve a stolen ship. Once the pirates realize that stealing ships can be a dangerous business, they may stop.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:20 pm |
  30. Tim

    Shouldn't the pirates be claiming that those killed were handicapped children on their way to a wedding in a mosque hospital any minute?
    It seems these may be the first "Good" kills our media has reported in years.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:17 pm |
  31. bob berbowski

    Obviously Hector is anti-Obama.
    I'm not sure what that has to do with these hero SEALs.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:17 pm |
  32. Robin

    These pirates are considered heroes in their country and have vowed retaliation as a result of the outcome of this incident. Why isn't the rest of the world, including their immediate neighbors launching a public outcry against these men? Not only do they confinscate crew members but, in this instance, they withheld cargo from their neighbors that included food supplies for starving people. How many people died waiting on this cargo? They say that we now deserve any mistreatment they want to dish out but how on earth can they possibly justify their actions in these illegal activities?

    April 13, 2009 at 1:15 pm |
  33. joe Roe

    Kill them all. That is all the pirates will ever understand. Good Job USA

    April 13, 2009 at 1:15 pm |
  34. Carl

    To the 3 seal snipers who saved Capt. Phillips life–God bless you and yours–always–you will remembered by a greatful nation forever

    April 13, 2009 at 1:13 pm |
  35. JimBob

    There is no point in killing a hostage, then you have nothing to leverage. I don't think they will resort to killing a single hostage. Now, on the other hand is whenever they have a whole boat full of hostages, and if they too revenge upon a few of those, they would still have bargaining tools.

    I think that in that situation, they might potentially be able to take revenge without risking their monetary adventure.

    Also, these boats are reluctant to fight off the pirates becuase many of hte pirates are equipped with small arms, and if you look at the risk of losing a couple million dollars versus a very expensive shipping boat, you just don't take the chance. Also, since whenw as it the USA's job to patrol the ocean? Last time I saw, everyone was complaining that the US was helping a little too much, such as with Iraq. Make up your mind, do you want us to help or not.

    We have to attack the pirates at their bases to cut them off. Killing three pirates won't make a dent. Piracy is so profitable, and the people are so poor, that there will always be more pirates. We have to stop the organized side of it, the leadership that is putting together the raids. Bomb them, and take care of the problem.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:10 pm |
  36. RS

    Empty threats by the pirates. They are theives not warriors. They have stolen from unarmed ships. You can bet they will think twice about which ships they attack.

    They are in the business for money, not for fights. Just like any other thief, they will seek out easier targets first. Same reason they changed their hunting grounds when international pressure was applied to their main hunting grounds.

    Take a ship and seek for money, you might get it. Take lives, and raise yourselves as a threat to a major U.S. naval will get a fight. Pirates have been regarded as insignificant and the U.S. has dedicated very little resources to dealing with them mostly because all had ended peacefully and U.S. lives were not at stake. The problem these pirates had was that the "only" thing they had was a hostage, instead of aship. Killing people, is the last thing they want, because it will take away their low hanging fruit.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:10 pm |
  37. Josh

    don't mess with navy seals!

    April 13, 2009 at 1:09 pm |
  38. Jason

    They should bait these pirates with some kind of navy vessel disguised as a merchant ship...then blow them out of the water when they get within range.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:08 pm |
  39. mark

    All we've heard of late is the incompetence, greed and selfishness of Wall Streeter s earning exorbinant salaries; people who deal in smoke and mirrors and produce nothing. It's reassuring to hear a tale of those who are remarkably proficient at truly vital jobs and whose work is tangible and meaningful.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:08 pm |
  40. pablo

    It is not the United States' responsibility to protect the whole world. Simple fixes are usually the best...i.e. barbed wire, lookouts. A couple of people who know how to use a machine gun couldn't hurt, though. The U.S. can't do it alone. Other countries need to step up, also.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:07 pm |
  41. britney

    I think all of the ships should have armed personnel on board and armed security teams to defend off potential hijackings and piracy.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:07 pm |
  42. Phildozer

    Hektor, I don't mean to inject facts into this but piracy in this region was rampant long before our elections were held last November. Our leadership can't be too weak since the USA took-action rather than just pay-off the pirates.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:06 pm |
  43. Jim

    If hijacking ships is this lucrative, and laws only apply to merchant vessels, why would anyone keep their day job?

    April 13, 2009 at 1:05 pm |
  44. Susan

    Congratulations on a superb job, well done and beautifully executed, one made necessary by the ongoing insanity of pirates willfully overtaking international boats and crews.

    It is tragically probable that hostages will be murdered over this action, but there seemed to have been little or no recourse. More than time that the international shipping community armed their vessels with specifically trained defense squads, as the military has suggested. This ridiculous situation really must come to a close prior to any further escalation.

    April 13, 2009 at 1:00 pm |
  45. Sam

    Well the current laws allow any nation to intervene legally in a pirate attack. The issue of protection is discussed above by the admiral. It's up to the shipping companies to take appropriate action. If they are trying to save money and won't install safeguards and armed guards then the attacks will continue. The US fleet is already there since it's close to Iraq. But it's a big ocean and there is a lot of shipping traffic there. And the pirates are apparently going out farther now since boats have tried to take routes farther away from the coast. I doubt we'll do what was done a few hundred years ago and attack the mainland bases. We've already had a bad experience on the ground in Somalia during the Reagan administration.

    April 13, 2009 at 12:59 pm |
  46. Paul S Lunsford

    These snipers are hero's, along with the captain who gave up his freedom (and possible life) for his crew. The thing is, we will never learn who the shooters were, and shouldn't. They will live in the shadows and be ready to shoot-to-kill again! Remember that Somali Pirates!

    April 13, 2009 at 12:46 pm |
  47. hektor

    The reality is, enemies of the United States be they rogue, inept khat-heads like the Somali pirates, or nation states seeking to levereage the threat of nuclear blackmail, know the truth, and smell the "blood in the water". We have weak, effette leadership, and "CHANGE" is inevitable!

    April 13, 2009 at 12:19 pm |
  48. Johnny

    Now.. The BIG question is.. What will USA do to prevent this in the near future? We all have to know, that if or when the next ship is hijacked by the pirates (Yes,there are plenty more pirates), the pirates will without a doubt, kill the next hostage(s) because of the fact that we (USA) just killed 3 of their pirates.. So Obama and the U.S. government better get off their butts right away and change the laws about what we can do when pirates come after any ship again..We need to be able to have armed crew members on EVERY ship no matter what, and U.S. war ships need to stay out there all the time..
    Good Job USA...

    April 13, 2009 at 10:16 am |
  49. Johnny

    We did not even have to call in Hancock or the X Men.. Impressive.

    April 13, 2009 at 10:12 am |
  50. pointofview

    this is what happens when you give people the opportunity to work hard and get good at what you do. Congratulations USA!

    April 13, 2009 at 10:02 am |