For a limited time only, because some of you were kind enough to be interested, here is the last writing exercise I did for my online course. The passage in italics is the bulk of the information I was given, a newspaper story from the Guardian, from which I admit I lopped off the end because it repeated the same story with a few more details. So, I had to read through this and retell what happened from the perspectives of the captain, the pirates and the sharpshooters.
I feel at this point an overwhelming urge to grovel and justify. Last week I wasn’t sure I could do this at all, it’s so far outside my comfort zone. Do bear in mind that I’ve only written non-fiction for about twenty years. I’m sure all you talented fiction-writing bloggers out there would manage to produce far more vivid and distinct voices than I did, and include much better bits of the story. There’s something about not writing in my own voice that makes me feel so terribly vulnerable, let alone trying to write from a male perspective to a 250 word limit. But anyway, for better or worse, here it is:
The three Somali pirates thought the American warship was doing them a favour when it offered to tow the drifting lifeboat in which they were holding captain Richard Phillips after it ran out of fuel.
The USS Bainbridge fed out a 200-foot line but as the seas grew more choppy the American sailors hauled the rope in and brought the lifeboat much closer. Sitting in the wake of the US warship’s broad beam riding on the tiny craft would have been a lot less rough.
But it also brought pirates within range of three snipers perched on the Bainbridge’s stern and made the Somalis more stable targets. When the order came, it took just one shot each from the three sharpshooters to end the five-day stand off and rescue Phillips after he was seized from an American-registered container ship, the Maersk Alabama.
Vice admiral William Gortney, commander of the US fifth fleet, told reporters that US navy special forces were dropped by parachute in to the sea at night close to the Bainbridge and brought on board under cover of dark after President Obama authorised the use of force to free Phillips if his life was in danger.
Gortney said that one of the pirates was seen to be pointing a weapon at the captain’s back and the snipers “took it that the pirate was ready to use that weapon”. He said that when all three pirates where in their sights “with their heads and shoulders exposed” – two of them emerging from the covered lifeboat while the third could be seen through a window guarding the bound hostage – the sharpshooters opened fire simultaneously hitting each of the pirates in the head.
The navy special forces then hauled themselves along the tow rope to the lifeboat to rescue Phillips.
The Bainbridge would have been relatively stable but the lifeboat was still moving around, and the snipers fired in darkness using night sights. Gortney said that the sharpshooters were able to pick off their targets with a single shot because they were “extremely, extremely well-trained”.
The pirates had accepted the US warship’s invitation to take a tow as their situation grew increasingly desperate after the Americans refused to discuss paying a $2m ransom for Phillips. The lifeboat ran out of fuel and was adrift in the searing heat. The pirates said they would drop the demand for money and release the US captain in return for their own freedom. The Americans refused that too.
One US official told the Associated Press that negotiations for Phillips release had been “going up and down”.
“Discussions would be going well, and then they would get discouraged and real angry,” the official said.
The Somalis used a satellite phone to appeal for other pirates to use one of 17 other captured ships to come and rescue them but the presence of the US warship apparently scared them off. Phillips’s captors were on their own.
We had been drifting at sea for four days and my captors were becoming increasingly agitated. Our conditions were cramped, the heat of the day was intense, and we had no food and almost no water. From what I could make out, the Somalis had stalled in their negotiations. And then we ran out of fuel. That was the point when I thought they might kill me out of sheer frustration. It seemed a good sign that they didn’t. The loss of one of their men who had jumped ship had demoralized them, and I thought their nerve was failing. Towards dawn there was more agitation, and I saw them out on deck, hauling in a rope from an American warship. For a brief moment I thought they had surrendered, but no, it was just a tow to get us out of the main channel. The sea swell was severe at this point and the warship shortened the rope, bringing us almost alongside. The mood amongst my captors suddenly turned jubilant, and one of them rushed into the hold and put his gun against my head. Then I knew I would be killed, as a sacrifice, witnessed by my countrymen who had refused to release me. When the retort came I’ll admit it took me quite some time to figure out why a window was broken and why the pirate was lying slumped over my feet. I put it down to dehydration. But I’d never for a moment lost faith in the American government.
At 01:00 hours we were dropped by parachute near the USS Bainbridge and taken on board under the cover of darkness. This was accomplished swiftly and silently, as we have been trained to do. Once on board we acquainted ourselves with the details of the lifeboat in question, its size, design and location. We checked our equipment, chose appropriate weaponry and set up an observation point. The captain of the Bainbridge set course for the lifeboat, which was without fuel and drifting dangerously. Contact was established with the boat and an offer of a towline was accepted. At 03:00 the lifeboat was in tow but choppy conditions meant she was yawing dangerously. At 03:30 the decision was taken to shorten the line, bringing the boat into the calmer wake of the Bainbridge. So far, everything had gone without a hitch. We took up our positions and awaited further developments. At 03:51 we suddenly noted an increased level of activity on board. Our orders were to protect the life of Captain Phillips if it should be in danger. At 03:55 one pirate entered the cabin where the captain was being held and pointed his gun against said captain’s back in such a way that we took it the pirate was ready to use that weapon. So we did the job we were sent to do. We are professionals. Visibility was poor and the boat unstable, but I’ve taken men down under worse conditions; I had absolute confidence in my training.
We almost felt that God had forsaken us, but we knew that could not be, because He knows our duty is to protect our territory. Unfortunate things had happened. Due to the brutal avarice of those Americans we had no money, and due to the cowardice, the fickleness, of those around we had no support. It was not our fault that we ran out of fuel. Just as we felt He had betrayed us, God came to our rescue. We were drifting in darkness in the ocean when we were offered a towline. We would have taken it from anyone, but when it came from an American warship we understood we had a last chance. At first we thought we would be drawn to port where we could find supplies, reinforcements. Then when we had to come nearer the ship for safe passage, we realized we had more than that. What man could bear to see his brother in mortal peril and not respond? We would bring these heartless Americans down, we would get our money. I took my gun and entered the hold, and I pointed it at that man’s groin. I wouldn’t kill him, but I could stop him having children who would plunder and trespass my land in their turn. And I turned and cursed the black bulk of that warship, look what I dared do, if our demands were not met! This time we would not fail. I always kept faith that God was on our side.