On April 29, Halgan Media, which describes itself as “providing in-depth coverage on the Somali Peninsula,” posted a thread on Twitter marking 11 years since the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship off the coast of Somalia in 2009.
The ship’s captain, Richard Phillips, was held hostage in a lifeboat before being rescued by the U.S. Navy. The Halgan Media thread focuses on one of the surviving hijackers, Abdiweli Abdulkadir, who was tried in a U.S. court and sentenced to 33 years in prison.
Phillips’ saga was made into a 2013 movie, “Captain Phillips,” starring actor Tom Hanks.
Haglan’s first tweet reads:
“Never forget the story of Abdiweli Abdulkadir. He was just 16 and vilified in the press as a pirate. His only crime was taking up arms and defending his seas from Foreign vessels and trawlers looting Somali waters.”
“When Abdiweli was arrested in 2009, his face was plastered on television like he was some sort of big criminal when in reality he was just a 16-year-old kid from the Somali coast that was forced to take up arms after his livelihood was destroyed due to illegal Foreign fishing.”
Although poverty, illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping in Somali waters are real issues, they had little to do with the Maersk Alabama incident. The portrayal of the ship’s hijackers as “defending” Somali waters is false.
There is conflicting information about Abdiweli Abdulkadir’s age. (His full name is Abdiweli Abdulkadir Muse.)
U.S. authorities claimed Muse gave them several different ages at different times, but the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons lists his age as 31, which would have made him about 19 at the time of the hijacking.
His mother and father gave different years for his birth — 1992 and 1993, respectively. In any case, Abdulkadir told a New York court that he was 18 before pleading guilty to hijacking, kidnapping and hostage taking.
But the bigger distortion is the characterization of the Maersk Alabama hijacking as a legitimate response to illegal fishing and dumping in Somali waters.
In fact, the Maersk Alabama was attacked in international waters, 240 nautical miles (440 km) from the coast of Somalia. It was obviously a cargo ship flying a U.S. flag, not a fishing trawler, and it was carrying mostly humanitarian aid bound for the Kenyan port of Mombasa.
The boat the pirates used to attack the Maersk Alabama was a Taiwanese fishing vessel that had been hijacked by pirates near the Seychelles, also not within Somali territorial waters. The Taiwanese boat’s owners paid the pirates’ ransom demand to release the crew, but three of the 30 crew members died of malnutrition while in captivity.
Since 2010, Somali authorities and international governments have implemented a wide array of anti-piracy measures in the region, rapidly reducing pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa. In 2013, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence reported no vessels had been hijacked that year; piracy has not recurred since.
During the Maersk Alabama hostage taking, which lasted four days, Abdiweli Muse was one of four young men who boarded the cargo ship and demanded ransom. A crew member who’d escaped capture by the pirates managed to stab Muse with a knife, and the other crew members took him as a hostage to exchange for Phillips.
Phillips offered the pirates money to leave the ship and showed them how to escape in a lifeboat. However, the pirates forced Phillips into the boat and continued to hold him hostage.
Later, Muse was allowed to come aboard the U.S. naval vessel USS Bainbridge to negotiate on behalf of the other hijackers. While aboard the Bainbridge, U.S. Navy SEAL snipers killed the three remaining armed pirates. Phillips was found uninjured.
The film “Captain Phillips” was nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture, and Somali-American actor Barkhad Abdi, who played Abduwali Muse in the film, was nominated for best supporting actor.