Somali pirates fail to reinforce embattled comrades (Lead)

April 12th, 2009 - 12:15 am ICT by IANS  

Nairobi/Washington, April 11 (DPA) Somali pirates seeking to help their comrades, who are holding the captain of a US-flagged ship hostage on a lifeboat in the Indian Ocean, have had to turn back due to a US Navy presence, media reports said Saturday.
Pirates have been holding Captain Richard Phillips hostage on the lifeboat since Wednesday, following a failed attempt to hijack his ship, the 17,000-tonne Maersk Alabama, in the Indian Ocean near the coast of Somalia.

The USS Bainbridge, part of a coalition force based in the Gulf of Aden, arrived on the scene on Thursday morning and was joined Friday by the USS Halyburton, Commander Peter Schneider, a spokesan for the US Defence Department, said.

The USS Boxer is expected to arrive later Saturday.

A separate pirate group had reportedly been sailing the 20,000-tonne Hansa Stavanger - a German-owned container ship hijacked one week ago - to help the embattled group of pirates.

However, a local journalist told CNN that the reinforcing pirates had failed in their mission and had anchored off the coast of Somalia.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said it was working hard to obtain the release of the German vessel, whose crew of 24 includes four Germans, among them the captain.

Media reports said the government dropped ideas to launch a commando raid to retake the Hansa Stavanger after the pirates sailed it to their base in Harardere, Somalia, quicker than anticipated.

Other pirate-captured vessels had also been reported as hurrying to the scene, carrying guns and hostages taken from previous seizures. It is not clear if this is still the case.

Nonetheless, a pirate spokesman said that the four men holding Phillips hostage planned to move him to another ship at some point.

The pirates are reportedly seeking ransom and safe passage for the release of Phillips, who unsuccessfully tried to flee Thursday, leaping from the lifeboat in a daring attempt to swim to the Bainbridge.

US Defence Department officials said that Phillips has been tied up to prevent further escape attempts.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation is helping in the negotiations.

Andrew Mwangura, of the East African Seafarers’ Association, said that Somali elders were planning to travel out to the lifeboat in an attempt to persuade the pirates to release Phillips.

The pirates are in a weak bargaining position with no fuel for the lifeboat and only one hostage. The lifeboat has about 10 days’ supplies of food and water, media reports said.

The Alabama, a cargo vessel carrying food aid, was boarded by the pirates Wednesday morning, the first time US sailors have been seized in the treacherous waters near the Horn of Africa.

The unarmed crew quickly retook the ship, but Phillips ended up being held on the Alabama’s lifeboat.

The Alabama has since steamed away from the area and is due to arrive at its original destination, the Kenyan port of Mombasa, Saturday.

Somali pirates have stepped up their attacks in recent weeks after a brief lull. The Alabama was the sixth ship to have been seized since last Saturday.

While US Navy forces are generally reluctant to storm ships to free crew members being held hostage, France has shown no such hesitation.

French naval forces Friday stormed a yacht that was taken last weekend - killing two pirates and one hostage in the process.

Four other hostages were freed successfully and three pirates taken into custody, Defence Minister Herve Morin told journalists in Paris late Friday.

An investigation into the operation is underway, and Morin said Saturday it could not be ruled out that the bullet that killed Florent Lemacon, the captain of the yacht, was fired by the attacking French forces.

In 2008, pirates seized dozens of vessels in and around the Gulf of Aden and collected tens of millions of dollars in ransom, prompting the international community to send warships to the region.

Around 15 warships from the European Union, a coalition task force and individual countries such as Russia, the United States, India and China patrol an area of about 2.85 million sq km.

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