PENTAGON officials said yesterday that the American crew of a US-flagged cargo ship had retaken control from Somali pirates who hijacked the vessel far off the Horn of Africa.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because information was still preliminary. But they said the hijacked crew had apparently contacted the private company that operates the ship.
At a noon news conference, Maersk Line head, John Reinhart, said the company was working to contact families of the crew.
“Speculation is a dangerous thing when you’re in a fluid environment. I will not confirm that the crew has overtaken this ship,” he said.
A US official said the crew had retaken control and had one pirate in custody.
“The crew is back in control of the ship,” a US official said at midday. “It’s reported that one pirate is on board under crew control — the other three were trying to flee,” the official said. The status of the other pirates was unknown, but they were reported to “be in the water”.
Another US official, citing a readout from an interagency conference call, said: “Multiple reliable sources are now reporting that the Maersk Alabama is now under control of the US crew. The crew reportedly has one pirate in custody. The status of others is unclear, they are believed to be in the water.”
The ship was carrying emergency relief to Mombasa, Kenya, when it was hijacked, said Peter Beck-Bang, spokesman for the Copenhagen-based container shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk.
It was the sixth vessel seized within a week, a rise that analysts attribute to a new strategy by Somali pirates who are operating far from the warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden.
Cmdr Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for the US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said that it was the first pirate attack “involving US nationals and a US-flagged vessel in recent memory.”
She did not give an exact timeframe.
The top two commanders of the ship graduated from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, the Cape Cod Times reported yesterday.
Andrea Phillips, the wife of Capt Richard Phillips of Underhill, Vermont, said her husband has sailed in those waters “for quite some time” and a hijacking was perhaps “inevitable”.
The Cape Cod Times reported his second-in-command, Capt Shane Murphy, was also among the 20 Americans aboard the Maersk Alabama.
Capt Joseph Murphy, a professor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, says his son is a 2001 graduate who recently talked to a class about the dangers of pirates.
The International Maritime Bureau says 260 crew on 14 hijacked ships are being held off the coast of Somalia, including the Maersk Alabama and its crew of 20 US nationals.
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