FBI joins US navy to free ship’s captain

FBI hostage negotiators joined US navy efforts yesterday to free an American cargo ship captain held captive on a lifeboat by Somali pirates.

A US destroyer and a spy plane kept close watch in the high-seas standoff near the Horn of Africa.

The pirates took Capt Richard Phillips hostage on Wednesday after they hijacked the US-flagged Maersk Alabama, but the cargo ship’s crew overpowered them and at least four then fled to a covered lifeboat. It was the first such attack on American sailors in about 200 years.

Kevin Speers, spokesman for the Maersk shipping company, said the pirates have made no demands yet to the company. He said the safe return of the captain is its top priority.

The Maersk Alabama is again under way to the Kenyan port of Mombasa — its original destination — with 18 armed guards, according to Capt Joseph Murphy, a professor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy whose son, Shane Murphy, is second-in-command.

A US official said a military team of armed guards was aboard the Maersk Alabama.

Joseph Murphy said he was told about the development by company officials who are briefing families and estimates it will arrive in Kenya tomorrow. The Maersk Alabama, loaded with relief aid, had been en route to Mombasa when it was attacked about 612km east of the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

Earlier yesterday, the USS Bainbridge had arrived near the Maersk Alabama and the lifeboat with the pirates, Speers said, adding that the lifeboat holding the pirates and the captain was out of fuel.

“The boat is dead in the water,” he said. “It’s floating near the Alabama. It’s my understanding that it’s floating freely.”

The US Navy has sent up P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft and has video of the scene.

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko described the bureau’s hostage negotiating team as “fully engaged” with the military in finding ways to retrieve the ship’s captain and secure the Maersk Alabama and its roughly 20-member US crew.

The Bainbridge was among several US ships patrolling in the region when the 17,000-ton Maersk Alabama was captured by the pirates.

It was the sixth vessel seized in a week.

Somali Foreign Minister Mohamed Omaar said the pirates “cannot win” against American forces.

Phillips surrendered himself to the pirates to secure the safety of the crew, said Gina Coggio, 29, half-sister of Phillips’ wife, Andrea. What I understand is that he offered himself as the hostage,” she said.

“That is what he would do. It’s just who he is and his response as a captain.”


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