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Somali Pirates Thwart U.S. Captain’s Escape

BY Admin  April 10, 2009 at 4:50 PM EST

Capt. Richard Phillips; AP photo

In a separate incident, a French hostage was killed Friday when French forces overtook a yacht that had been captured by pirates also off the Somali coast. Two pirates were shot dead during the military assault and three were captured, Reuters reported.

Pirates had seized the sailing boat Tanit, carrying two couples and a 3-year-old boy, on April 4. French Defense Minister Herve Morin said the father of the child, Florent Lemacon, died during Friday’s rescue mission, which lasted a few minutes.

It was unclear if Lemacon had been in the cabin at the time and whether he was killed in the crossfire or deliberately shot by one of his captors.

Also Friday, pirates took a hijacked German ship and its foreign crew toward the lifeboat holding Phillips in an attempt to help their comrades in a standoff with U.S. naval forces.

The pirates have been holding Phillips, a former Boston taxi driver, since Wednesday when they tried to hijack the 17,000-ton merchant ship the Maersk Alabama in the Indian Ocean.

Phillips was said to have thwarted the takeover of the ship by telling his crew of about 20 to lock themselves in a room. The crew later overpowered some of the pirates, but Phillips surrendered himself to the pirates to safeguard his men, and the Somalis fled with him to an enclosed lifeboat, relatives said, according to the Associated Press.

Negotiations had been taking place between the pirates and the captain of the nearby USS Bainbridge, who was receiving directions from FBI hostage negotiators, officials said.

Defense officials told the AP under condition of anonymity that the USS Boxer, the flag ship for a multination anti-piracy task force, will arrive near the standoff site soon. The vessel is equipped with a mobile hospital, missile launchers and about two dozen helicopters and attack planes.

Jeffrey Gettleman from The New York Times, who has been covering the story from east Africa, said the pirates’ motivation is purely profit.

“I’ve interviewed a number of pirates … and they’ve said this isn’t about politics, this isn’t about religion, this isn’t about any beef that we have with anybody out there. This is about money. This is a way to earn income in a state where the economy is in complete tatters,” he said.

Somalia has lacked a functioning central government for 17 years, and a weakened transitional government has opened the door to increasing pirate activity off its coast. Last year, a record 42 hijackings off of Somalia disrupted shipping and food aid to east Africa, according to Reuters.

“Somalia’s problems are becoming the world’s problems,” Gettleman said. “The anarchy and the violence and the criminal enterprise is so engrained in Somalia today — because this country has limped along for 17 plus years with no government — that it’s not going to be an easy fix.”

To listen to his full interview with NewsHour correspondent Ray Suarez, click here: