Navy SEALs' Simultaneous Headshots on Somali Pirates Were Procedure

Towing the lifeboat gave shooters advantage, pirates provided opportunity.

ByABC News
April 13, 2009, 1:53 PM

April 13, 2009 — -- At least one former SEAL was not surprised that each of the three Somali pirates was killed with just one shot, despite the fact that they were on a rolling sea and the Navy snipers had to make a successful "head shot," something he said is "extremely difficult."

Their job was made easier by the pirates' willingness to allow their boat to be towed, smoothing out the sea and settling them into an even keel.

SEAL sharpshooters are trained to hit targets "under a minute," meaning they are able to hit within an inch of a target from 100 yards, former Navy SEAL Harry Humphries told

For the snipers who killed the three Somali pirates, it had to be a "head shot," Humphries said, because one of the pirates was holding an AK-47 pointed at the back of American freighter captain Richard Phllips.

"There's only one way to be assured no involuntary trigger squeeze, and that is a head shot," Humphries said. "If you hit the central nervous system, the probability [of an involuntary trigger squeeze] is greatly reduced."

"The shot's extremely difficult to make depending on equipment that shooters have," he said. "If the sea was flat, the shot would be relatively simple."

During the five day standoff, the Navy worked to get close to the pirates, but as their patience wore thin, the seas became rougher. The waves turned the lifeboat into a moving target, and the rear of the U.S.S. Bainbridge where the snipers were deployed was also heaving with the waves.

The Bainbridge convinced one pirate to come aboard the Bainbridge to seek medical attention and the other pirates allowed their lifeboat to be towed out of rough seas to a calmer area.

During the towing, the boat was pulled to within 40 yards of the Bainbridge, and the act of towing made the snipers' jobs easier by putting their lifeboat in the middle of the large ship's wake which calmed the unruly waves and steadied the pirates as targets.

The combination of the one less pirate and the others on steadier water would have "put the sniper team in excellent condition," Humphries said.