US Marines who took the Magellan Star from the pirates who boarded it the previous day are being roundly and properly congratulated for their professionalism and restraint but without the text-book citadel defence mounted by the master and crew of the vessel itself the ship would have become just another Hobyo Hilton.
A citadel is a system of threat identification, deterrence and defence. The term is often mistakenly applied to the saferooms into which officers and crew lock themselves as a last resort to await rescue.
The pirates managed to overcome the outer layers of the ‘citadel’ and board the dead ship. Their problems started immediately. The system had been so successfully prepared that one of the pirates, irate, telephoned the ship owner. A man speaking broken English demanded fiercely: ‘Where is the crew here? Why is the engine not working?” (Hamburger Abentblat).
A well-written account by Captain Alex Martin, USMC, Force Recon Platoon Commander,”BLUE COLLAR 6″ 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, reveals that after securing the vessel it still took the marines three hours to break through to the citadel’s saferoom:
“The crew rescue, which was Bravo Element’s doing, was a second, equally important story. The recovery amounted to a 3 hour effort. And Blue Collar seemed a fitting call sign as I watched my guys defeat half a dozen obstacles in confined spaces using thermal torches, power saws, and heavy tools. The physical stamina of the Marines cutting the doors and barricades the crew set in as their own defense against the pirates was impressive. I watched as they rotated on the equipment, all the while holding security, and thought: these are some tough ass blue collar pipe hitters.
Despite announcements I was making over the ship’s loudspeaker to the crew (in Russian and English), despite loudspeaker callouts made inside the spaces by the Marines, and despite a pre-planned arrangement between the crew and Captain Bolt (which was briefed to me, Cold War style, at 3 am on the morning of the assault, and involved British maritime shipping and insurance agencies, soviet-bloc code words and authentications, a Polish captain, Russian and a mixed international crew, Somalian pirates with hostages who threatened to “burn her” and a Turkish command vessel) the crew kept falling back to defensive positions, scared and uncertain of what was happening. In classical Murphy fashion, they lost their phone’s battery power the very minute we boarded their ship.
Deep in the engine room, Bravo Element continued to work the problem, as 1st Lt Williams and his trailer Marines rushed to conduct a detailed clearance of all spaces as well as augment the breaching effort. Alpha Element coordinated the entry of the US Coast Guard LEDET (Law Enforcement Detachment), NCIS, the Dubuque’s VBSS team and a constant resupply effort that was underway to bring us water, breaching tools, and the ship’s damage control experts.
They finally cut one last hole, and called in with our loudspeaker that it was safe, the Marines had control of their ship, and to please come out. The ship’s captain peered hesitatingly from behind a steel bulkhead, still unwilling to come forward. Sgt Chesmore ripped an American flag patch from his shooter’s kit and held into the room as a final identification. The captain broke into a huge smile and immediately called his crew from their hiding places. They ran forward, unlocked the final barricaded door in their “citadel” and were escorted topside. Excited. Exhausted. And happy to have their ship back.”
A number of points lay between the lines of this account. The Magellan Star’s crew had several defensive positions within the vessel and were well prepared – it was not just a case of locking themselves into a saferoom.
It was a superb defence that kept the pirates at bay for hours.
The US Marines did a great job, and so did the master and crew of Magellan Star. Give them all a pat on the back.