"Thus it is said that one who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be endangered in a hundred engagements."
Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Key Player in Maersk Alabama Hostage Rescue Addresses NPS Students During Guest Lecture
By Kenneth Stewart, Naval Postgraduate School Public
MONTEREY, Calif. (NNS) -- A renowned Naval Postgraduate
School (NPS) alumnus and former USS Bainbridge (DDG-96) commander addressed
students and faculty at NPS' King Auditorium, Oct. 16.
The Bainbridge first caught the public's attention after
it led the dramatic rescue operation that freed Maersk Alabama Captain Richard
Phillips from Somali pirates in 2009.
Ironically, the Bainbridge is named for Commodore William
Bainbridge who fought pirates off the coast of Africa during the Barbary Wars.
Navy Capt. Frank Castellano shared the history of U.S
efforts to combat North African piracy and offered an insiders perspective into
the Phillips rescue, which he referred to as his, "sea story."
"This is a 'sea story,' my sea story," said
Castellano in beginning his recount of the dramatic events. "There are
many perspectives about what happened that day, this is mine.
"My story is about teamwork ... It's a human story
about ordinary people doing extraordinary things," continued Castellano.
The rescue of Phillips took place over several days off
the Somali coast. It involved Sailors, special operations forces and an
alphabet soup list of what Castellano referred to as, "three-named
Castellano was ordered to investigate a distress call April
8, 2009, several hundred miles off the coast of Somalia. His staff immediately
began operations planning as intelligence came in and the Bainbridge closed in
on the distressed vessel.
The Bainbridge arrived after a standoff between Maersk
Alabama crewmembers and Somali pirates. Maersk Alabama crewmen were able to
repel the pirates, but the pirates managed to take Maersk Alabama captain
Richard Phillips hostage and escape in one of the cargo ship's lifeboats.
The lifeboat was a far cry from the dinghies popularized
in movies like "Titanic." It was a covered fiberglass vessel with
enough fuel, food and supplies for nine days. Rescuers had originally hoped
that the vessel would simply run out of fuel, but it proved to be far more
resilient than previously assumed.
"That lifeboat was the bane of my existence. It just
kept going, I should buy stock in that company," said Castellano to
laughter and applause from the audience.
Castellano notes that in the days that led to Phillips'
rescue, he slept no more than four hours. He oversaw the establishment of a
water-landing zone, coordinated rescue efforts and personally negotiated with
the pirates to ensure Phillips' release.
Still, Castellano insists that the rescue was a,
"total team effort."
FBI hostage negotiators, snipers, and USS Bainbridge
Sailors worked together with Castellano to ensure Phillips' rescue. The
lifeboat was repeatedly, "waked" [deliberately hit with the wake of
the Bainbridge] to prevent it from getting too close to the Somali shore. And
the Bainbridge was used to conceal a water landing zone for special operations
teams who parachuted in under the cover of darkness. Snipers were able to
target the pirates from the Bainbridge's fantail, killing three and ending
Castellano credits his NPS education with his ability to
make the tough decisions and to endure the sleepless, high-stress environment
that culminated in Phillips' rescue.
"Intuitive decision making under stress was part of
my thesis research at NPS ... The innovative thought and critical thinking
skills that I gained at NPS helped me to approach the problem in a
non-traditional manner," said Castellano.
The events described by Castellano are the subject of
Phillips' book, "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy Seals and
Dangerous Days." The Phillips rescue is also the subject of a major
Hollywood production starring Tom Hanks slated for release in March 2013.