SOMALI pirates vowed to hunt down American ships and kill their sailors, and French forces detained 11 other brigands in a high-seas raid as tensions ratcheted up yesterday off Africa’s volatile eastern coast.
Pirates fired grenades and automatic weapons at a US freighter loaded with food aid, but the ship escaped and was heading to Kenya under US navy guard.
The Liberty Sun’s American crew successfully blockaded themselves inside the engine room, the same tactic the Maersk Alabama crew used to thwart last week’s attack on their ship. They were not injured in the attack on Tuesday night, but the vessel sustained some damage, said owner Liberty Maritime Corp.
One of the pirates whose gang attacked the Liberty Sun said yesterday his group was specifically targeting American ships and sailors.
“We will seek out the Americans and if we capture them we will slaughter them,” said a 25-year-old pirate based in the port of Harardhere who gave only his first name, Ismail.
“We will target their ships because we know their flags. Last night, an American-flagged ship escaped us by a whisker. We have showered them with rocket-propelled grenades,” said Ismail.
Meanwhile, the French forces launched an early morning attack on a pirate “mother ship” after spotting the boat on Tuesday with a surveillance helicopter and observing the pirates overnight.
A “mother ship” is usually a seized foreign vessel that pirates use to transport speedboats far out to sea and resupply them as they plot their attacks. The ship was intercepted 885 kilometres east of the Kenyan city of Mombasa.
The French Defence Ministry said the raid thwarted the sea bandits’ planned attack on the Liberian cargo ship, the Safmarine Asia.
The detained pirates were being held on the Nivose, a French frigate.
Meanwhile, Captain Richard Phillips, the hijacked American sea captain rescued by navy snipers, had planned to meet his crew in Mombasa and fly home with them last night, but he was stuck on the USS Bainbridge when it was diverted to help the Liberty Sun.
His 19-man crew left without him, flying to Andrews Air Force base in Maryland.
Despite President Barack Obama’s vow to take action against the rise in banditry and the deaths of five pirates in French and US hostage rescues, brigands seized four vessels and more than 75 hostages since Sunday’s dramatic rescue of Phillips.
That brought the total number of sailors being held by Somali pirates to more than 300 on 16 different ships.
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