Negotiators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a US destroyer have been sent to confront Somali pirates holding an American naval captain hostage. The pirates hijacked the Maersk ship on Wednesday and were later overpowered by crew.
AFP - The US navy rushed in FBI negotiators and a destroyer Thursday as Somali pirates holding an American hostage on a lifeboat were drifting on the Indian Ocean with no fuel.
A day after pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama aid ship before being overpowered by the unarmed US crew, the high-seas drama unfolded unabated, with both the pirates and the US navy sending reinforcements.
In a rare admission it was ready to negotiate with pirates suspected of links to terror-listed groups, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was assigning negotiators to help secure the release of the ship's captain.
"FBI negotiators stationed at Quantico (Virginia) have been called by the Navy to assist with negotiations with the Somali pirates and are fully engaged in this matter," spokesman Richard Kolko said in a statement.
When the four pirates were ousted from the 17,500-tonne Danish-operated container ship, they took the captain hostage on a lifeboat.
"Apparently, the lifeboat has run out of gas," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said ahead of a meeting in Washington.
"Most recent contact with the Alabama indicated that the captain remains a hostage but is unharmed at this time," Kevin Speers, a US-based spokesman for Maersk, told reporters on Thursday.
Meanwhile the freighter was boarded by 18 armed guards and was headed to its destination port of Mombasa, in Kenya, with its cargo of aid destined for African refugees, the second in command's father told the CNN network.
The guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge arrived overnight to monitor the situation and prevent the pirates from securing their hostage on a larger ship.
It was believed to be the first US merchant ship hijacked since the North African Barbary Wars in the early 19th century, underlining the anarchy raging off Somalia despite an international naval effort against piracy.
A commander from the group of pirates who took the ship said pirate reinforcements were on their way to try and help those holding the hostage, who are effectively surrounded.
"We are planning to reinforce our colleagues who told us that a navy ship was closing in on them and I hope the matter will soon be solved," Abdi Garad told AFP by phone from the northern pirate lair of Eyl.
"They are closely monitored by a navy ship and I think it will be difficult for us to reach the area promptly," he admitted, with US helicopters swirling the area.
"But we are making final preparations and will try our best to save our friends."
The Maersk Alabama's chief officer, Shane Murphy, told his father that the crew used "brute force" to overpower the pirates, who were armed with AK-47 assault rifles, ABC News reported.
The attack was the latest in a string of incidents in the area, a vital global shipping lane where increasingly brazen pirates on small skiffs have hijacked anything from small sailing yachts to huge super-tankers.
"These waters are infested with pirates that highjack ships daily," Murphy had written on his Facebook page recently. "I feel like it's only a matter of time before my number gets called."
There are upward of 15 foreign naval vessels operating in the area in a bid to deter piracy at any given time.
They include ships from a US anti-piracy task force, a NATO force, a European Union mission as well as from China, India, Japan, Malaysia and Russia.
The Maersk Alabama had been due to dock in the Kenyan port of Mombasa on April 16 to deliver more than 5,000 tonnes of relief food supplies to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).
"This is going to Africa to people in need. We're just bringing relief cargo," Maersk Line chief executive John Reinhart said.
Over the past week, pirates have seized a German vessel, a small French sailing yacht, a British-owned Italian-operated cargo, a Taiwanese fishing vessel and a Yemeni tugboat.
The flurry of attacks, one of the worst ever off the coast of Somalia, shattered a relative lull in hijackings since the start of the year which now appears to have owed more to weather than increased naval presence.
Date created : 2009-04-09