US Navy reaches ship hijacked by Somali pirates (Lead)

April 9th, 2009 - 9:55 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, April 9 (DPA) A US Navy vessel has arrived at a US-flagged cargo ship whose captain was being held captive by pirates off the coast of Somalia.
Crew members earlier retook control of the Maersk Alabama, which was hijacked off the coast of Somalia Wednesday, but the ship’s captain was still being held hostage.

The Navy destroyer USS Bainbridge has arrived to help the crew, a military official told CNN. Navy officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Captain Richard Phillips was being held by the pirates on the ship’s 28-foot lifeboat and was alive, second mate Ken Quinn earlier told CNN.

Quinn confirmed that the crew was in control of the ship.

“We took one of the pirates hostage. We tied him up and kept him for 12 hours. We returned him, but they didn’t return our captain,” Quinn said.

“They’re (pirates) not aboard. We’re in control of the vessel. We can hear our captain - he’s got a ship radio.”

The ship with 20 US citizens on board was hijacked by Somali pirates early Wednesday morning, the first time a US crew has been taken hostage in the volatile waters.

Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers’ Association said that the 17,000-ton vessel, the Maersk Alabama, was taken in the Indian Ocean, around 500 km off the Somali coast.

Four pirates apparently boarded the ship and at least one of them had been taken into custody by the crew, Defence Department officials said according to the American Forces Press Service.

The US State Department would not confirm that the ship was recaptured. Spokesman Robert Wood said there were still a number of “contradictory reports” coming out of the region.

The White House earlier said it was “closely monitoring” the situation. A spokesman for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet stationed in Bahrain said a coalition force off the Somali coast was keeping watch on the vessel.

Somali pirates, who typically seek ransom, have stepped up their attacks on ships operating off the coast in recent weeks. The Danish-US ship is the sixth to be seized since Saturday.

The 32,000-ton British-owned Malaspina Castle, flying a Panama flag, was seized Monday along with its crew of 24 from Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine and the Philippines.

Taiwanese fishing vessel MV Win Far was taken on the same day near the Seychelles. Its crew of 30 is from Taiwan, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.

A French yacht, a Yemeni tugboat and a German container ship were also seized over the weekend.

The pirates do not harm their crew, instead holding out for multi-million dollar ransoms.

Pirate gangs in 2008 seized dozens of ships and earned tens of millions of dollars, prompting the international community to send in a fleet of warships.

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

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