It was a high seas drama that rivaled a Hollywood movie script -- pirates seized a ship navigating dangerous waters.
Terrified crewmembers, hidden in a secret room, waited and wondered if they would live or die, until a U.S. military special ops team was called in to save the day.
This wasn’t a work of fiction.
This real life saga unfolded in the Gulf of Aden Thursday when San Diego based Marines and Sailors assigned to USS Dubuque staged a daring raid of Magellan Star, a German ship attacked by suspected Somali pirates.
"They repeatedly waved us away, told us unless we owned the ship or we had money for them that we were to go away,” said LtCol. J.R. Clearfield, Commanding Officer of Camp Pendleton based 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s 1st Battalion 4th Marines Battalion Landing Team.
According to Clearfield, a Del Mar resident, the suspected pirates armed with AK-47 assault rifles didn't seem fazed by the considerable military muscle they faced.
"Their defiance and their posturing and their actions amazed me,” Clearfield said. “I can't imagine what my mindset would be if I had nine men, five weapons and I was surrounded by three warships.”
Once the first wave of Marines stormed the Magellan Star, bravado quickly gave way to surrender. Captain Alexander Martin was on the lead boat in the assault. The La Jolla native described how one suspect reacted when the heavily armed Marines advanced.
“He saw the aircraft, he saw the twenty-four, six-foot, 250 pound Marines rushing towards him and I could see the change in his eyes from initially being one of cautious observing to throwing his hands up,” Martin said.
Without a single shot fired, Marines captured the suspected pirates and gained control of the ship in ten minutes. Convincing the frightened crewmembers of the Magellan Star they were safe proved to be a lot more difficult.
“We ended up cutting a hole in the bulkhead of the ship and giving our authentication codes to the crew,” Sgt. Timothy Hartrick said.
It took three hours to get the eleven men out of the tiny engineering control room they’d barricaded themselves in.
“A man who ended up being the captain of the vessel poked his head around the corner, we showed him an American flag and they unlocked the door and led us out,” Hartrick said.
The entire ordeal was over in seven hours and the Marines headed back to USS Dubuque to prepare for their next mission, whatever it may be.
USS Dubuque and the 15th Marine Expeditionary group left San Diego in late May for a scheduled deployment with the USS Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group. Peleliu and Dubuque were the first two U.S. Navy ships sent to Pakistan to lead flood relief efforts. USS Peleliu was expected to remain in the area for several weeks.