Skip to main content

Pirates set sights on Maersk Alabama again, maritime group says

By David Fitzpatrick, CNN Special Investigations Unit
The American cargo vessel Maersk Alabama has fended off the latest attack by pirates.
The American cargo vessel Maersk Alabama has fended off the latest attack by pirates.
  • Cargo vessel targeted by "five pirates armed with AK-47s in a skiff," newsletter says
  • Pirates repelled by long-range "sonic cannon" and warning shots, it says
  • September incident was third for vessel: others took place in April 2009, seven months later

New York (CNN) -- The American cargo vessel Maersk Alabama, hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean in the spring of 2009, has again been targeted in roughly the same ocean shipping lanes, according to information provided to CNN.

A newsletter published by the London-based International Maritime Organization says the Alabama was approached by "five pirates armed with AK-47s in a skiff" as the ship was sailing off Somalia on September 29.

In April 2009, the Alabama was attacked and boarded by Somali pirates in an ocean drama that drew headlines around the world. In that incident, U.S. Navy SEALs finally rescued the ship's captain, Richard Phillips, while he was held hostage in a lifeboat not far from the Alabama.

Phillips was initially hailed as a hero for his actions in exchanging himself for the safety of his crew. Later, many of those crew members told CNN that Phillips had ignored several explicit warnings that urged him to stay away from the shipping lanes where the attack took place.

Phillips returned to sea about a year after that attack and was not reassigned to the Alabama.

In the most recent incident, the newsletter says, a private security team on the Alabama activated a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) and fired warning shots as the "skiff approached at 100 meters off the port quarter of the ship."

The LRAD was first acquired by the U.S. Navy and emits constant, extremely loud noises to drive off attackers. It has been described as a "sonic cannon." Sources tell CNN that the security team was from a Virginia-based company called the Trident Group, which on its website says it specializes in marine security.

A Trident Group spokesman told CNN it could not comment on the report without the permission of its client.

The Alabama is owned and operated by Maersk Line Limited, based in Norfolk, Virginia. A company spokesman told CNN in an e-mail: "We can confirm that on September 29 of this year, a highly suspicious skiff approached Maersk Alabama, and the ship was able to stave off the suspected pirates. The location was about 600 nautical miles from the site of the April 2009 attack."

The incident marks the third time the Maersk Alabama has been approached by pirates off the Somali coast. In addition to the April 2009 attack, the Alabama was also approached seven months later, on November 19. News accounts at the time say the LRAD was also used in that attempt, and the Alabama was never boarded.

Several former Alabama crew members have told CNN they have urged owners to discontinue the ship's service along the same shipping lanes where there have now been three attacks in the past 18 months. Instead, the former crew members say, the Alabama should operate in other areas.