Mike Perry and the pirates of Somalia

Special to The Log
Ed Armbruster, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (left), spoke with Mike Perry and his wife Hannah at the presentation. [SPECIAL TO THE LOG]

The Maersk Alabama hijacking was a series of maritime events that began April 8, 2009, with four pirates in the Indian Ocean seizing the cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama 240 nautical miles southeast of Eyl, Somalia. The siege ended after a rescue effort by the U.S. Navy on April 12, 2009.

The film “Captain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks, was inspired by the true story of the hijacking, an incident during which merchant mariner Captain Richard Phillips was taken hostage by pirates, led by Abduwali Muse.

Mike Perry, chief engineer for the Maersk Alabama, shared his thoughts about his amazing escape and his subduing of the pirate leader on board Captain Phillips' ship when he spoke Nov. 19 at the Niceville Chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Perry's talk clarified a lot of behind the scenes happenings.

Perry, who spent 45 years on the sea, became a merchant marine after retiring from the US Navy as a lieutenant commander.

In this famous incident of piracy on the high seas, Perry risked his life in subduing one of the pirates and disarming him.

His experience took place off the coast of Africa while sailing on the cargo ship. To explain why they took the risks they did, so close to Somalia, he shared that ships of this type use 30,000 to 40,000 gallons of gasoline a day, so they take all the short cuts they can.

On this day Perry was impressed to prepare in case they were attacked by these ever-present pirates in this region. He designated an armored room off the main engine room in which the crew could hide and evade capture. He secured the doors as well as he could and gathered zip ties and placed his only weapon, a pocket knife, in his pocket. No one had guns.

The crew consisted of many new men, some who did not even speak adequate English, so these plans were a somewhat lonely endeavor. They all knew only too well that the pirates lurking in these waters would strip the ship and take the crew hostage. Ironically, the very next day, a pirate crew on a small fishing boat approached and demanded to board. This prompted Perry to pull the switch to plunge the ship into darkness.

With the power cut off there was also no means of cooling the ship. The pirates were armed with AK-47s and following the ship closely. Perry heard the captain say he would zig zag to evade boarding but soon he heard the ominous words “the bridge is compromised.”

Although it was totally dark, Perry was very familiar with his engine room and could find his way with little trouble. He could hear the pirates demanding their surrender and searching the ship for the crew, going to each section of the ship accompanied by Captain Phillips. It was very hot and his men were sweating and becoming ill from the heat and close quarters, but their silence was vital.

Now they were playing a deadly game of hide and seek in the pitch blackness with the stakes a lot higher than they all wanted to think about. Perry kept praying for inspiration and ideas to keep him and his men safe. Finally he realized that one of the pirates was close at hand. Perry, who was telling his story to the LDS, used a Power Point presentation and reminded members of the audience that he was not a warrior, but an engineer.

He had no idea what the pirates looked like, or how big they were. He counted his steps in which he moved in his engine room; he could hear them closing in. Suddenly there was a blinding light from the pirate's flashlight and Perry launched himself at the pirate and held his pocket knife at his throat. He called for help from his engine room crew and instead of just holding the pirate, they were about to murder him, but Perry restrained them.

Ultimately, they decided to trade the pirate leader for the captain who was taken hostage. Instead of honoring the terms of agreement, they took off with the pirate hostage and the captain in the small fishing boat. It was left to the Navy and the Navy Seals to dispatch the pirates and take the leader into custody and rescue Captain Phillips. The pirate leader was later tried and sentenced to 33 years in prison.

“This crew battled for 33 hours with the pirates,” Perry said. “Everyone in the crew was a hero.”

Perry retired from his sea-going career, and he and his wife Hannah are now living in Tampa. They travel to Orlando to work in the temple there for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.