NAIROBI, Kenya – Somali pirates and their hostage American sea captain were adrift in a lifeboat Thursday off the Horn of Africa, shadowed by a US destroyer with more warships on the way in a US show of force. The US brought in FBI hostage negotiators to work with the military in trying to secure the release of Capt. Richard Phillips of Underhill, Vt. An official said the bandits were in talks with the Navy about resolving the standoff peacefully.
This undated photo provided by Maersk Line Ltd. shows the Maersk Alabama. Somali pirates are holding the captain of the ship hostage, a day after bandits hijacked the US-flagged vessel for several hours before 20 crew members overpowered them. The hijacking took place Wednesday April 8, 2009 several hundred miles off the coast of Somalia. [Agencies]
As the high-seas drama stretched into a second day, the freighter that was the target of the pirates steamed away from the lifeboat under armed US Navy guard, with all of its crew safe — except for the captive captain.
The pirates tried to hijack the US-flagged Maersk Alabama on Wednesday, but Phillips thwarted the takeover by telling his crew of about 20 to lock themselves in a room, the crew told stateside relatives.
The crew later overpowered some of the pirates, but Phillips, 53, surrendered himself to the bandits to safeguard his men, and four of the Somalis fled with him to an enclosed lifeboat, the relatives said.
Phillips has a radio and contacted the Navy and the crew of the Alabama to say he is unharmed, the Maersk shipping company said in a statement, adding that the lifeboat is within sight of the USS Bainbridge, the naval destroyer that arrived on the scene earlier Thursday.
The Alabama began sailing toward the Kenyan port of Mombasa — its original destination — and was expected to arrive Saturday night, said Joseph Murphy, a professor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy whose son, Shane Murphy, is second in command of the vessel. The elder Murphy said he was briefed by the shipping company.
A US official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, said a Navy team of armed guards was aboard the Alabama.
The Bainbridge had arrived earlier in the day near the Alabama and the lifeboat. Maersk shipping company spokesman Kevin Speers told AP Radio the lifeboat was out of fuel and "dead in the water."
The US Navy sent up P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft and had video of the scene.
Gen. David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, said more ships would be sent to the area because "we want to ensure that we have all the capability that might be needed over the course of the coming days."
The additional ships are a show of force in response to a rise in the number of attacks and the first one on a US-flagged ship, according to a senior US defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss operational matters. He said they would give the US military more eyes on the threatened area and make the pirates think twice before trying to seize another ship, but it was not enough to mount a blockade.