Pilot spotlights Navy's antipiracy operations
Spike TV is looking for plunder in the world of piracy — the swashbuckling, ship-commandeering kind that made international headlines with Sunday’s rescue of American sea captain Richard Phillips from his Somali captors.The Viacom-owned cabler has greenlit a pilot for “Pirate Hunters: USN,” a docu series from 44 Blue Prods. (“The True Story of Black Hawk Down”) that will focus on the U.S. Navy’s antipiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. That’s the same region where Phillips was freed after a firefight between his captors and Navy snipers, ending a five-day hostage standoff. Phillips had been held hostage in a lifeboat by a group of AK-47 wielding Somali pirates who commandeered his cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama. Three of the pirates were killed Sunday in the brief firefight; a fourth was injured. Several U.S. warships had converged on the scene — including the USS Boxer, which oversees a multination antipirate task force and will be part of “Pirate Hunters: USN.” Spike and 44 Blue (“The True Story of Black Hawk Down”) have struck a deal with the Navy allowing the producers and network to place cameras aboard both the USS Boxer and the USS San Antonio. For 44 Blue president and founder Rasha Drachkovitch, who’s scheduled to board the USS Boxer next week, the timing of the Phillips incident was serendipitous. “We didn’t know whether it would put the kibosh on things or accelerate things,” Drachkovitch said. “But the Navy reps told us, ‘This is incredible timing for you guys. You’re going to get a front-row seat in our response.’ ” The Maersk Alabama became the first vessel under U.S. control to be attacked by pirates in more than two centuries. In response to that incident, as well as the growing threat of pirates in the region, Drachkovitch said the Navy plans to step up its role in combating piracy. “They’re changing the mission to be more proactive,” he said. “In some ways we’re going to capture better action on film than had this not happened.” Producer 44 Blue will employ two crews of three people on the Boxer and the San Antonio. Cameras will be on hand as the warships leave their military base in Djibouti (which borders Somalia and Ethiopia) and head out to patrol 1.1 million square miles of ocean. Drachkovitch will exec produce with Adam Friedman (A&E’s “Biography”).