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Pirates demand ransom for hostage

Posted April 10, 2009

— The pirates holding a U.S. sea captain have demanded a ransom for his release, a Somali negotiator said Friday.

The Somali, who helped negotiate a ransom paid last year to pirates who seized a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks, said the pirates are prepared to kill Capt. Richard Phillips if their demands are not met.

The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said he has spoken with a pirate leader in Somalia who is coordinating action on the lifeboat adrift in the Indian Ocean. He said the pirates plan to bring Phillips to shore to negotiate from a better position.

Phillips made an escape attempt early Friday but was recaptured, and officials said other pirates sought to reinforce their colleagues by sailing hijacked ships with other captives aboard to the scene of the standoff.

The U.S. also was bolstering its force by dispatching other warships to the site off the Horn of Africa, where a U.S. destroyer shadowed the drifting lifeboat carrying  Phillips.

The pirates on the lifeboat apparently fear being shot or arrested if they hand over Phillips – who was taken hostage in their failed effort to hijack the cargo ship Maersk Alabama on Wednesday – and they hope to link up with their colleagues who are using Russian, German, Filipino and other hostages captured in recent days as human shields.

Around midnight local time, Phillips jumped off the lifeboat and began swimming, but was recaptured by the pirates, according to Defense Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about unfolding operations.

Sailors on the USS Bainbridge, which is patrolling nearby, were able to see Phillips moving around and talking after his return to the lifeboat, and the Defense Department officials think he is unharmed.

Negotiations are taking place between the pirates and the captain of the Bainbridge, who is getting direction from FBI hostage negotiators, the officials said. The captors are also communicating with other pirate vessels by satellite phone, officials said.

U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus said U.S. warships also are headed to the area, more than 300 miles off Somalia's Indian Ocean coast.

"We want to ensure that we have all the capability that might be needed over the course of the coming days," he said.

Mohamed Samaw, a resident of the pirate stronghold in Eyl, Somalia, who claims to have a "share" in a British-owned ship hijacked Monday, said four foreign vessels held by pirates are heading toward the lifeboat. A total of 54 hostages are on two of the ships – citizens of China, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, the Philippines, Tuvalu, Indonesia and Taiwan.

"The pirates have summoned assistance – skiffs and mother ships are heading towards the area from the coast," said a Nairobi-based diplomat, who spoke on condition on anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media. "We knew they were gathering yesterday."

Samaw said two ships left Eyl on Wednesday. A third sailed from Haradhere, another pirate base in Somalia, and the fourth was a Taiwanese fishing vessel seized Monday that was already only 30 miles from the lifeboat.

He said the ships include the German cargo ship Hansa Stavanger, seized earlier this month. The ship's crew of 24 is made up of five Germans, three Russians, two Ukrainians, two Filipinos and 12 from Tuvalu.

Another man identified as a pirate by three different residents of Haradhere also said the captured German ship had been sent.

"They had asked us for reinforcement, and we have already sent a good number of well-equipped colleagues, who were holding a German cargo ship," said the man, who asked that only his first name, Badow, be used to protect him from reprisals.

"We are not intending to harm the captain, so that we hope our colleagues would not be harmed as long as they hold him," Badow said. "All we need, first, is a safe route to escape with the captain, and then (negotiate) ransom later."

Jack Cloonan, a former FBI agent whose Virginia-based firm Clayton Consultants Inc. handles hostage negotiations, told The Associated Press that the presence of other hijacked vessels in the area "could complicate the negotiation strategy under way."

Negotiators are sure that various pirate groups are in contact, he said.

"We know for certain that they share information. We know they talk to each other. They're not stupid. They can be very smart," Cloonan said.

Phillips, 53, thwarted the takeover of the 17,000-ton U.S.-flagged Alabama 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 surrendered himself to the bandits to safeguard his men, and the Somalis fled with him to an enclosed lifeboat, the relatives said.

At Phillips' home in Underhill, Vt., family members nervously awaited word on his fate. Sister-in-law Lea Coggio said Thursday a representative of Maersk called to let Phillips' wife know that food and water had been delivered to the lifeboat.

"I think he's coping, knowing Richard," she said. "He's a smart guy, and he's in control. "

Officials at Maersk Line Ltd. offices in Norfolk, Va., did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment Friday.

The Alabama sailed away from the lifeboat Thursday, Maersk shipping line said, and a team of armed Navy SEALs is on board, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.

It was 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.

Company spokesman Kevin Speers told AP Radio on Thursday the lifeboat carrying Phillips and the pirates was out of fuel and "dead in the water."

Most of the lifeboats are about 28 feet long and carry water and food for 34 people for 10 days, Joseph Murphy said.

The lifeboats are covered and Murphy, speaking after a briefing by the shipping company, said he suspects the pirates have closed the ports to avoid sniper fire.

Petraeus said the other warships would arrive shortly. U.S. officials said the guided-missile frigate USS Halyburton was among them.

The show of force follows an increase in the number of attacks and the first on a U.S.-flagged ship. The vessels strengthen surveillance of the area and may dissuade pirates from seizing another ship, but there are not enough for a blockade in the danger zone that sprawls across 1.1 million square miles, said a senior U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss operational matters.

The Alabama was the sixth vessel in a week to be hit by pirates who have extorted tens of millions of dollars in ransoms.

President Barack Obama is getting regular updates on the situation, said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the United States will take whatever steps are needed to protect U.S. shipping interests against pirates.

Steve Romano, a retired head of the FBI hostage negotiation team, said he doesn't recall the FBI ever negotiating with pirates before, but he said this situation is similar to other standoffs. Although pirates release most of their hostages unharmed, the difficulty will be negotiating with people who clearly have no way out, he said.

"There's always a potential for tragedy here, and when people feel their options are limited, they sometimes react in more unpredictable and violent ways," Romano said.


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  • NE Raleigh Apr 10, 2009

    If it were up to me this would have been over. No negotiations and the pirates would have met their maker already. If we blew them up when this started I'd bet they would think twice before trying to take another Amercan ship.

  • Sumo Vita Apr 10, 2009

    "I think given 3 days, W would have brought this to a conclusion! and McCain would too!"

    And this must be true, because the tooth fairy told you so!

    Dubya couldn't bring another fake "mission Accomplished" styled photo-op to a conclusion in 3 days, much less hostage negotiations.. it would likely take all of 3 days for him to spell it. But carry on with your deranged projections - why let reality kick in now?

  • TheLibertine Apr 10, 2009

    This is a straight forward situation. No negotiation. No paying of ransoms. You simply set up a team of crack shots and kill them all. These Somali pirates have something many Americans have lost: pride. They're thieves and bandits and deserve to die to be sure, but they are not cowards. Let them die with dignity, but do let them die. As for the American captain, he knew the risks of his mission. I honor that he let himself be taken instead of his people, but alas, he still allowed himself to be taken.

  • Nancy Apr 10, 2009

    Due to character limitations, the links for the two prior posts I made are here: IzYuMgXRh1mktOg

  • Nancy Apr 10, 2009

    "While we sought authority in negotiations for the UN Security Council resolution to any country willing to take it, we do not plan at this time to conduct counter-piracy operations on land," said US Ambassador Stephen Mull, acting under secretary of state for international security.
    Mull told the House Armed Services Committee that the rate of successful pirate attacks off Somalia, which soared to 64 percent in October, has plummeted to 17 percent this year.
    "Today there are only six ships held hostage, compared to 14 ships held hostage toward the end of last year," he said.
    Bad weather and the pay-out of ransoms to pirates contributed to the decline, but Mull said coordinated diplomatic and military efforts also played an important role.

    But Vice Admiral William Gortney, commander of the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet, said that although successful attacks have dropped, there has been little let up in attempts by pirates to seize ships.

  • Nancy Apr 10, 2009

    The number of attacks in the Gulf of Aden with 111 incidents reported on the east coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden. The rise peaked in September with 19 attacks. In October and November there were 15 and 16 vessels attacked respectively. This is an increase of nearly 200% from 2007. In addition, 2008 saw the largest tanker ever being hijacked by Somali pirates, and successful attacks being carried out at greater distances from land than in previous years. All types of vessels with varying freeboards and speeds were targeted. The pirates boarding the vessels were also better armed than in previous years and prepared to assault and injure the crew.

    In 2008 there was a worldwide total of 293 incidents of piracy against ships. In 2008, 49 vessels were hijacked, 889 crew taken hostage and a further 46 vessels reported being fired upon. A total of 32 crew members were injured, 11 killed and 21 missing – presumed dead. Guns were used in 139 incidents, up from 72 in 2007

  • Nancy Apr 10, 2009


    I would rather have a President who knew what he was doing and speaks with intelligance. If you tell your kids fighting is not the answer and wont solve anything then should that not be the case for the country HMMMMMMMMM"

    Right, terrorists, despot leaders, pirates are all people easily negotiated with under every circumstance.

    Yessirree, logic tells us otherwise but logic would be wrong :)

  • Go GT Apr 10, 2009

    "Do you guys want action at the expense of the lives of the hostages...?" Blackdog

    absolutely!!! If we give in and give these cowards anything- they will continue to attack US flagged ships because we are now a paycheck to them. If they kill him and we light them up like the 4th, it will send a clear message to other pirates that we do not tolerate this. If we dont- how many more will face the same fate as him?

  • blackdog Apr 10, 2009

    Do you guys want action at the expense of the lives of the hostages...?

  • ObamaMustGo aka NCcarguy Apr 10, 2009

    hey SUMO VITA....In case you're slow with readin' These pirates took this man HOSTAGE 3 days ago, and your puppet president didn't even have the guts to address the question when he was asked about it during a press conference!!! I think given 3 days, W would have brought this to a conclusion! and McCain would too!