Not that anybody except law geeks like me care, but the national and international laws regarding piracy is remarkably well-developed. Of course, it all stems from the 18th century, but it's still good valid law.
Also, this account of the pirate takedown is kind of, well, movie-like. The setting is the small craft (the main ship's "lifeboat") where three pirates held the cargo ship skipper (Captain Phillips) hostage, floating near the U.S. Naval vessel, the USS Bainbridge:
The on-scene U.S. commander of the USS Bainbridge, which had come to try to negotiate the captain's release, could see the three remaining pirates "were very, very intense. One of them held his AK-47 in the back of the captain. We were always concerned about the imminent danger to the captain."
The pirates had repeatedly threatened to kill Phillips, Gortney said.
A Navy SEAL team had parachuted in and taken up positions on the Bainbridge's back deck.
The military had orders from President Obama authorizing lethal force if there was imminent danger.
"At one point, as uncomfortable as the pirates were, they exposed themselves where there was an opportunity," Gortney said.
He gave details of that "exposure" at a news conference Sunday. He said two of the pirates had their heads and shoulders exposed, while the third was visible in the boat's pilot house, through a window.
"The on-scene commander saw that one of the pirates still held that AK-47, was very, very concerned for the captain's life — and he ordered the shots to be taken," Gortney told CNN on Monday.
Even with the small boat "moving up and down a couple of feet," the SEALs hit their targets. "Remarkable marksmanship," Gortney said.
The moment came at 7:19 p.m. (12:19 p.m. ET) Sunday — after sundown, military officials say.
In the minutes after, a special operations team shimmied along the tow rope to the lifeboat, confirmed that three pirates had been killed, and took Phillips back to the Navy ships that had gathered nearby.
That's how you do it.
UPDATE: Pirates avow revenge.