Everything You Need to Know About What Went Down With the Pirates Yesterday

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Captain Richard Phillips, right, with the commander of the USS Bainbridge. Photo: Getty Images

After the heroic rescue of Maersk Alabama captain Richard Phillips yesterday, much of our afternoon was spent wandering around humming old-timey patriotic anthems to ourselves. And the rest of our time was spent wondering "WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO TELL US EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED?" Luckily, by the evening, we had been overwhelmed with coverage. Turns out, one of the pirates had surrendered in order to receive medical attention for an injury he'd sustained while originally boarding the cargo ship. That left three pirates on the lifeboat with Captain Phillips, which was being towed behind the warship USS Bainbridge. Here's the key bit, from the Times:

At first, the towline was 200 feet long, but as darkness gathered and seas became rough, the towline was shortened to 100 feet, the officials said. It was unclear if this was done with the pirates’ knowledge. At dusk, a single tracer bullet was seen fired from the lifeboat. The intent was unclear, but it ratcheted up the tension and Seal snipers at the stern rail of the Bainbridge fixed night-vision scopes to their high-powered rifles, getting ready for action.

Yes! This is the stuff we wanted to read. The stuff they're going to use when they make the movie starring Ed Harris.

The president, after being asked twice to authorize deadly force in the rescue of the hostage captain, on Saturday morning had given his consent if it was perceived that Phillips's life was in danger. Though the light was fading, it seemed as though the moment was at hand:

What they saw was the head and shoulders of two of the pirates emerging from the rear hatch of the lifeboat. Through the window of the front hatch they saw the third pirate, pointing his AK-47 at the back of Captain Phillips, who was seen to be tied up. That was it: the provocation that fulfilled the president’s order to act only if the captain’s life was in imminent danger, and the opportunity of having clear shots at each captor. The order was given. Senior defense officials, themselves marveling at the skill of the snipers, said each took a target and fired one shot.

That was enough. Phillips was quickly recovered and examined for injuries. In the above picture, he's showered and wearing a new set of clothes, and looks to be in great condition, though some reports claim he was beaten while captive. "I'm just the byline," Phillips said soon after his rescue. "The heroes are the Navy, the Seals and those that have brought me home." He's expected to be sent home to Vermont by the end of the week.

The Times reports that this conflict has reawakened the debate over whether crews on boats like the Maersk Alabama should carry weapons. The worry is that crews run a higher risk of getting injured or killed if they begin fighting back against pirates. As it is, the pirates have vowed to avenge themselves on the next American ship they come across.

The Post has a little basic history of Somali pirating, which is a helpful catch-up. It sounds like this story is very far from over, and there are a lot of important decisions to be made over how to resolve it. But for now, we think it's probably safe to keep walking around singing that song. Maybe just quietly, to yourself. It is Monday, after all.

In Rescue of Captain, Navy Kills 3 Pirates [NYT]