A 2006 Bonny Eagle graduate who joined the Navy right out of high school found himself in the midst of a dramatic piracy rescue early last month off the coast of Yemen.

Lucas Alderette, an electronics technician serving aboard the USS Philippine Sea, said a pre-dawn alarm led to the rescue of the crew of the Brilliante Virtuoso, a huge oil tanker that had been attacked by pirates and set ablaze on July 6.

“When we showed up, it was of course still very dark out, but the tanker was easily visible because large sections were on fire, with occasional fireballs — almost like an action movie, but from far away,” Alderette wrote in a recent email.

“The actual pirates had been gone long before we arrived on scene, it’s just a business for them, so if something starts going bad and it’s easier to leave than to try to get what they want, they’ll take the easier route,” he wrote.

Alderette and 13 others from his ship rescued 25 crew members from a lifeboat and one who was still aboard the Brillante Virtuoso, according to Navy spokesman Lt. Frederick Martin.

The pirates posed as authorities when boarding the 900-foot long oil tanker while it was at anchor off the coast of Yemen. The vessel, carrying 1 million barrels of fuel oil from Ukraine to China, had stopped to pick up unarmed guards.

The vessel’s owner, Suez Fortune Investments Ltd., said in a statement describing the attack that the armed gunmen came aboard and ordered the crew to start the engines and sail to Somalia. They then ransacked parts of the boat, including the bridge and the engine room, before leaving amid threats they’d return if there were any moves against them.

The fire broke out in the engine room, but the cause was unknown. Early reports that it was caused by a rocket-propelled grenade turned out to be false, according to a surveyor’s report.

The USS Phillipine Sea took the marooned sailors to a Yemeni coast guard vessel and the Brilliante Virtuoso was towed away by two tugs. None of the fuel was spilled, officials said.

The USS Philippine Sea, built at Maine’s Bath Iron Works, is part of a multi-national anti-piracy armada patrolling the waters off East Africa. Alderette said he volunteered to be part of the anti-piracy crew known as a visit, board, search and seizure team, or VBSS.

“What little kid has watched an action movie and not wanted to be on one of those cool guy teams?” Alderette wrote.

Training was tough but exciting, he said. It included three-week VBSS training, a two-week security course and a two-week basic weapons familiarization course.

Alderette said he knew he was going to join the military when he was still in high school.

Piracy has plagued the shipping channels off East Africa for years, and pirates have collected hundreds of millions of dollars a year by using organized methods to seize large vessels and hold them for ransom.

The situation got wide attention in the United States in 2009 when pirates kidnapped a U.S. citizen during the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, the first pirate attack on a U.S.-flagged vessel in about 200 years.

It ended when Navy sharpshooters killed two pirates and rescued the ship’s captain, who was held hostage five days.

Since then, anti-piracy efforts have expanded, but the attacks have continued. In February, four Americans on a yacht were killed by Somali pirates.

The U.S. Navy, along with navies from dozens of other countries, carry out counter-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the Somali Basin, the Southern Red Sea and the Indian Ocean in an attempt to disrupt the efforts of pirates to hijack merchant ships, Martin said.

“The merchant ships are also given instruction and useful advice to help protect themselves from being hijacked,” Martin wrote in an email. “Part of that advice is to report anything suspicious they see. When a merchant ship reports that they are being followed or approached by what they believe is a suspected pirate skiff the military organizations in the area will try to get a warship to intercept them.”

According to the United Nations, ithere were 286 piracy-related incidents off the coast of Somalia in 2010, resulting in 67 hijacked ships, with 1,130 seafarers on board.

In February 714 sailors were being held for ransomaboard 30 ships along the Somali coast.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.


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