When the news hits home

This afternoon, I received a sudden and urgent email from a friend
about another pirate incident happening real time that hadn’t even
broken the news yet. Her friend’s son, from my home town, was on the
‘Liberty Sun’. And attached to her email was the message he’d just sent
his mother, asking for prayers for their safety, as they fought to fend
off the attempt by pirates to board their vessel loaded with relief
supplies and headed for the needy of Somalia.

It was startling. I was minutes away from going on the radio
for some scheduled news analysis, and I wanted to ask listeners to take
a moment to keep this young man and his crew in their thoughts and
prayers. But also didn’t want to breach a trust and reveal too much.
The Liberty Sun hadn’t made the news yet. But the friend who sent the
email is a close friend of the young man’s mother, and he was
communicating with her and his family by email as this was going down.
There was a sense of desperation in the moment.

Here was his message to the family in the midst of the attack:

We are under attack by pirates, we are being hit by rockets. Also bullets..
We are barricaded in the engine room and so far no one is hurt. a rocket
penetrated the bulkhead but the hole is small. Small fire too but put out..
Navy is on the way and helos and ships are coming. I’ll try to send you
another message soon. got to go now. I love you mom and dad and all my
brothers and family

His name is Tom Urbik. I’m able and pleased to tell you that now, since this incident had a happy ending.

The Liberty Sun, a U.S.-flagged cargo ship bound for
Mombasa, Kenya, was attacked Tuesday by Somali pirates, according to a
NATO source with direct knowledge of the matter.

“The pirates fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons
at the vessel, which sustained damage,” said a statement from New
York-based Liberty Maritime Corporation, which owns the vessel.

The ship was carrying U.S. food aid for African nations, the statement said.

The pirates never made it onto the ship and the vessel is now being
escorted by a coalition ship, still bound for Mombasa, officials said…

Katy Urbik of Wheaton, Illinois, said her son, Thomas, was aboard
the Liberty Sun at the time of the attack. She shared the e-mails he
sent as the ship came under fire.

I just shared with you one of them, which came in while it was happening.

“My heart stopped after I realized there wasn’t going to be a ‘just kidding’ after his comment,” Katy Urbik said.

About 1½ hours later, Thomas Urbik sent another e-mail to his
mother, which said, “The navy has showed up in full force and we are
now under military escort … all is well. I love you all and thank you
for the prayers.”

A new email turned up this evening from that same friend, with
exuberant thanks to everyone who raised a prayer for Tom and his crew
mates. They are, after all, on a humanitarian mission. He’s a home town
‘boy’. But this is a global issue.

And the Bainbridge, which was carrying Capt. Richard Phillips, newly
rescued head of the last pirate attack, to port and safe return,
assisted in the rescue of this ship under attack.

My town is small, the Urbiks are neighbors who share friends with
me, their son is on a relief mission, and he is enormously relieved and
thankful for everyone who assisted - in temporal and spiritual ways -
to the safety of the mission and those who sacrificed to make it.

President Obama is now tasked with the duty to protect.

The Obama administration has promised to study the issue
and to come up with a plan for dealing with the Somali-based pirates.
But there’s a larger point to all this:

…and of course, it’s political. Everything’s political.

As a friend pointed out to me just this morning, “How is
that Obama deserves credit for the precision and accuracy of the
snipers who took out the pirates, whose training was developed over a
period of years during the Bush administration, but he deserves no
blame for the current economy on the grounds that all factors yielding
the current economy occurred during the Bush years? It can’t be both.”

At this moment, I’m just grateful that all those who are now safe,
are safe. That humanitarian relief efforts remain threatened is a crime
against humanity, much less the international ‘community’.

And a message to Tom Urbik: safe home, neighbor.


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