Somali pirates rushing to help comrades in face-off with US Navy

April 11th, 2009 - 2:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Nairobi/Washington, April 11 (DPA) Somali pirates were Saturday rushing to the aid of their comrades, who are holding the captain of a US-flagged ship hostage on a lifeboat surrounded by US Navy forces, media reports said.
Pirates have been holding Captain Richard Phillips hostage 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 Thursday morning and was joined Friday by the USS Halyburton, Commander Peter Schneider, a spokesman for the US Defence Department, said.

Now, a separate pirate group is sailing the 20,000-tonne Hansa Stavanger - a German-owned container ship hijacked one week ago - to help the embattled group of pirates, media reports said.

Other pirate-captured vessels were reportedly on their way to the scene in a show of solidarity, carrying guns and hostages taken from previous seizures.

The pirates are 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.

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

Observers said the hostage drama could drag on for days. US Navy forces are generally reluctant to storm ships to free crew members being held hostage.

However, 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.

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.

French naval forces Friday stormed one of those vessels - a yacht 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.

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 US, India and China patrol an area of about 2.85 million sq km.

However, the pirates are now venturing farther into the Indian Ocean off the south-east coast of Somalia to avoid the international patrols.

Observers have said they feel piracy can only be stopped by dealing with insecurity on the ground in Somalia. A bloody insurgency is ongoing in south and central Somalia, which has not had a functioning government since 1991.

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