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Ship’s seized captain fails in attempt to escape pirates

THE American captain held hostage by four Somali pirates made a desperate escape attempt yesterday but was recaptured, and officials said other pirates sought to reinforce their colleagues by sailing hijacked ships with other captives aboard to the scene of the standoff.

A Somali in contact with a pirate leader said the captors want a ransom and are ready to kill the hostage, Captain Richard Phillips, if attacked.

The US was bolstering its force by dispatching other warships to the site off the Horn of Africa, where a US destroyer shadowed the drifting lifeboat carrying Phillips.

He was taken hostage in the pirates’ failed effort to hijack the cargo ship, Maersk Alabama, on Wednesday.

The pirates’ strategy is to link up with their colleagues, who are holding other hostages, and get Phillips to lawless Somalia, where they could hide the hostage and make it difficult to stage a rescue. It would give them more leverage and a stronger negotiating position to discuss a ransom.

The Somali helped negotiate a ransom last year to pirates after they seized a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks. He says he has spoken with a pirate leader in Somalia who is coordinating action on the lifeboat.

At around midnight local time, Phillips jumped off the lifeboat and began swimming, but was recaptured, according to defence department officials.

Sailors on the USS Bainbridge, which is patrolling nearby, were able to see Phillips moving around and talking after his return to the lifeboat, and the defence department officials think he is unharmed.

Negotiations are taking place between the pirates and the captain of the Bainbridge, who is getting direction from FBI hostage negotiators, the officials said. The captors are also communicating with other pirate vessels by satellite phone, officials said.

US Central Command chief General David Petraeus said US warships also are headed to the area, more than 480km off Somalia’s Indian Ocean coast.

“We want to ensure that we have all the capability that might be needed over the course of the coming days,” he said.

Mohamed Samaw, a resident of the pirate stronghold in Eyl, Somalia, who claims to have a “share” in a British-owned ship hijacked last Monday, said four foreign vessels held by pirates are heading toward the lifeboat. Some 54 hostages are on two of the ships — some of them citizens of China, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, the Philippines and Taiwan.


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