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Daring High-Seas Rescue of American Captain the Topic at U.Va. Seminar on Somali Piracy

March 15, 2011 — Easter Sunday 2009 was marked by a daring rescue that freed American ship captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates 350 miles off the Horn of Africa. On Thursday, the author of the plan that freed Phillips comes to the University of Virginia to talk about the incident, which captured world attention as it played out live on news channels.

Brad Kieserman, chief counsel of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will join a panel of experts for "Hostage Crisis on the High Seas: Examining Somali Piracy Cases."

"Brad was the person who facilitated the rescue of Capt. Phillips," said Gregory Saathoff, director of U.Va.'s Critical Incident Analysis Group, which is working with the Center for International Studies to present the seminar at 4 p.m. in room 403 of Rouss-Robertson Hall. "Having Brad Kieserman speaking as a central figure will allow the audience to see how these issues played out in the real world."

The discussion is free and open to the public.

Kieserman wrote the Maritime Operational Threat Response Plan, which was enacted when Phillips' U.S.-flagged cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama, was overrun by Somali pirates on April 7. The captain offered himself as a captive to the pirates in exchange for the release of his crew, winning him worldwide admiration during the five-day drama. Phillips was eventually rescued by three U.S. Navy SEAL snipers, who picked off the captors and spirited the captain off the lifeboat where he was held.

"The capture of the remaining pirates and the rescue of Capt. Phillips is an excellent example of interagency collaboration among the FBI, the Department of State, the Department of Defense and Homeland Security working together in real time on a mission that was very public," Saathoff said.

"What makes this interesting is that the panel is composed of not only thinkers, but doers," he added. In addition to Kieserman and Saathoff, panelists are John Flood, unit chief for the FBI's Crisis Negotiations Unit; Christopher Holstege, director of U.Va's Division of Medical Toxicology; and Eric Stern, director of the Swedish National Center for Crisis Management Research and Training.

Piracy off the coast of east Africa remains a threat today, with bandits holding an estimated 30 ships for ransom. In fact, the crew of the Maersk Alabama recently warded off a second piracy attempt, according to news reports.

— By Jane Kelly

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