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Pirate Interdiction and the U.S. Navy

The Watch Stander


The Watch Stander. Painting, oil on canvas; by Morgan Ian Wilbur; 2014; framed dimension 20HX24W. Accession#: 2014-051-07.


Pirate interdiction and the U.S. Navy have a long history that goes all the way back to the early years of the nation when President Thomas Jefferson found himself involved in one of the first conflicts overseas known as the First Barbary War. Algerine (Barbary) pirates were attacking American merchant ships in full force. Jefferson had no choice but to deploy forces to protect American interests and the free flow of commerce. Commodores Stephen Decatur and Edward Preble would emerge as some of the names synonymous with American counterpiracy operations for years to come.  

In the summer of 2007, modern-day piracy off the coast of Somalia became a real issue for the United States. Somali pirates hijacked M/V Danica White—a Danish cargo ship—in June and spent 83 days in captivity until the Danish Foreign Ministry paid a ransom of 753,000 pounds ($1.5 million) for the release of the ship and crew. Not only did the pirates hit it rich, but they also started increasing the number of attacks and hijackings off the Horn of Africa. 

Probably the most well-known incident in recent history with the U.S. and pirates was on April 7, 2009, when M/V Maersk-Alabama, under Capt. Richard Phillips, was hijacked 250 nautical miles off the Somali coast. USS Bainbridge was quickly deployed and a SEAL team carried out a daring rescue on April 12 after it was determined that Phillips life was in danger. The incident would leave three pirates killed and Phillips and his crew rescued. The incident made the big screen in the 2013 film “Captain Phillips.” 

Below are a number of resources related to U.S. Navy anti-piracy operations that are located on Naval History and Heritage Command’s website and blog. There is also information from other sources such as the U.S. Navy and the National Archives. As more information becomes available, it will be added to this webpage.  



Additional Resources


Selected Imagery

"Stephen Decatur's Conflict with the Algerine at Tripoli"

Stephen Decatur's Conflict with the Algerine at Tripoli, during the boarding of a Tripolitan gunboat on 3 August 1804. Oil over print on canvas, 30 by 25, by an unidentified artist, after Alonzo Chappell (1829-1887). Painting in the U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection. Gift of Chester Dale, 1942. Official U.S. Navy photograph. Assession#: KN-10949.

Burning USS Philadelphia

Diorama of the “Burning USS Philadelphia" 16 February 1804.

Japanese Pirates

Japanese pirates. Copyright owner: Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog#: NH 121971. 

USS Vella Gulf (CG-72) VBSS team members

GULF OF ADEN (12 February 2009) Visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team members from the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG-72) closed in on rigid-hulled inflatable boats to apprehend suspected pirates. Nine suspected pirates were apprehended and brought aboard Vella Gulf. This was the second group of suspected pirates apprehended in a 24-hour period by Vella Gulf. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky) 090212-N-1082Z-066

USS Bainbridge (DDG-96)

INDIAN OCEAN (13 April 2009) The guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG-96) tows the lifeboat from the Maersk-Alabama to the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD-4), in background, to be processed for evidence after the successful rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips.  (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Megan E. Sindelar) 090413-M-3079S-081

U.S. Marine Corps snipers

GULF OF ADEN (9 September 2010) U.S. Marine Corps snipers provided cover and observation during a boarding and sezure operation to retake M/V Magellan Star from suspected pirates. Nine pirates were taken into custody and transferred to the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG-59). (U.S. Navy photo by Cryptological Technician 1st Class Gregory Tate) 100909-N-1552T-397


USS Constitution bombarding Tripoli on 3 August 1804. Courtesy of U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland, 1938. Copyright owner: Naval History and Heritage Command. Original creator: Gordon Grant, artist. Catalog#: NH 54587. 

David Porter, USN

Biographical vignette featuring a portrait of David Porter and a view of USS Experiment in action with West Indian pirates in 1800. Courtesy of the artist, 1978. Released by the artist for non-commercial use only. Commercial users must obtain the artist's permission before publishing photo. Audie Bransford 1978, artist. Copyright owner: Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog#: NH 86521-KN.  

USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81)

The U.S. Navy's Arleigh Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyer Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81) (right) followed a suspected pirate vessel in the Indian Ocean, 20 January 2006. National Archives identifier: 6669617.

Maersk-Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips

SOMALI BASIN (April 12, 2009) Maersk-Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips, right, stands alongside Lt. Cmdr. David Fowler, executive officer of USS Bainbridge (DDG-96) after being rescued by U.S Naval Forces off the coast of Somalia. Phillips was held hostage for four days by pirates. (Official U.S. Navy photo) 090412-N-XXXXN-003

Somali pirates

U.S. 5th FLEET AOR (26 August 2009) Somali pirates aboard Motor Vessel (M/V) Win Far fire upon a U.S. Navy SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the Scorpions of Light Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HSL) 49. (U.S. Navy Photo from Video) 090826-N-0000F-003

USS Pinckney (DDG-91) VBSS team

GULF OF ADEN (Dec. 19, 2011) A visit, board, search and seizure team from the guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG-91) approached a suspected pirate vessel after M/V Nordic Apollo reported being under attack and fired upon by pirates. (U.S. Navy photo) 111219-N-ZZ999-076

Published: Fri Sep 13 09:53:00 EDT 2019