USA: ONI Lauded for Leadership in Ship’s Rescue from Pirates


Recognizing the crucial role of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) in the 2009 rescue of the container ship M/V Maersk Alabama and its master from Somali pirates, Maersk Line​s, Ltd., presented ONI with a scale model of the ship in a ceremony at ONI headquarters, Sept. 15.

The four-foot long model is a scale replica of the ship that was seized by armed pirates on April 8, 2009, as it passed through the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia. The incident was a stark example of the threat international piracy poses to the freedom of commercial maritime navigation.

“Seventy percent of the Earth is covered by water. Eighty percent of the world’s population lives near an ocean and 90 percent of all international trade travels by sea,” said Capt. Robert Rupp, commander, ONI. “So what happens on the water, above the water or under the water is the U.S. Navy’s concern, and as the flagship for Naval Intelligence, it is our concern.”

The M/V Maersk Alabama was bound for the port of Mombasa, Kenya with a cargo of food aid for Somalia, Rwanda and Uganda when pirates boarded, seizing the vessel and taking its master, Capt. Richard Phillips, hostage. In Washington, officials activated the maritime operational threat response (MOTR), a multi-agency plan for reacting to maritime emergencies affecting the security of the U.S. ONI was designated to lead the MOTR activity.

“We sit at the nexus between the intelligence community and the U.S. Navy, and our ability to inform the White House at the same time we are informing a cruiser or destroyer commanding officer what threat is happening is truly significant,” said Rupp.

As U.S. Navy ships sped to the incident scene, ONI provided extensive, continuous intelligence on pirate tactics, other pirate vessels in the area, and even the design details of the lifeboat to which the pirates had retreated with their hostage. The ONI analysts’ depth of knowledge is due in large part to the extensive merchant marine background they share, and to long-established lines of communication with the shipping industry.

“I talk to them in my own language and they translate it for the Navy,” said Steven Carmel, senior vice president of Maersk Line, Ltd, the company that owns the M/V Maersk Alabama.

With threats against the life of Phillips escalating aboard the ship’s lifeboat, Navy SEAL snipers killed the three pirates holding him, ending the tense standoff.

“For those five days in April, ONI was the pivot point for the operation to rescue Capt. Phillips and free the ship,” said Capt. William Bray, commanding officer of ONI’s Nimitz Operational Intelligence Center.

Presenting the ship model to ONI, Carmel noted the vital importance of the U.S. Navy in ensuring the free-flow of maritime commerce. “We are very mindful that freedom of the seas upon which we depend to carry the world’s commerce doesn’t happen by accident,” Carmel said.

“You people at ONI are instrumental in making sure that the environment is right for world trade and economic prosperity for everyone.”

Source: navy, September 19, 2011;