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Pirates Hold American Captain Hostage; Negotiations Continue for Release

BY Admin  April 9, 2009 at 10:05 AM EST

Capt. Richard Phillips; AP photo

U.S. ships and aircraft, including a P-3 Orion surveillance
aircraft sent by the Pentagon, are monitoring the boat. At the request of the
U.S. Navy, the FBI’s hostage rescue team began working with the military to
help Phillips and the rest of the American crew.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the boat holding
Phillips is “apparently” out of gas, according to Reuters. Phillips
is being held by four pirates as negotiations for his release continue.

The Maersk Alabama, a U.S.-flagged container ship owned by a
Danish company, reportedly had 20 American crew members on board as it was
delivering relief food aid to Kenya. The rest of the crew was unharmed in the hijacking.

Maersk Line Ltd., the shipping company that operates the ship,
demanded that Phillips be returned.

“Our main concern remains the safe return of the
captain and our latest communications with the ship indicate that he is
unharmed,” Maersk Line Ltd. spokesman B.J. Talley said.

Somali Foreign Minister Mohamed Omaar told the AP on
Thursday that the pirates off the coast of his country were “playing with
fire” and that there was no way they could win if the situation became a
standoff with the Americans.

The Obama administration is watching the situation closely,
said Clinton and other advisers.

“We have watched with alarm the increasing threat of
piracy,” said Denis McDonough, a senior foreign policy adviser at the
White House, according to the AP. “The administration has an intense
interest in the security of navigation.”

There are several U.S. ships that were patrolling in the
region at the time, but the closest one was about 345 miles away at the time
the Maersk Alabama was overtaken.

The Defense Department would not say would not comment on
how close one of them, the guided-missile destroyer U.S.S. Bainbridge, was to
the lifeboat where Phillips is held though Reuters reported that Maersk Line
Ltd.’s spokesman said the Bainbridge was on the scene Thursday morning.

Reuters contacted one of the pirates aboard the lifeboat by
satellite phone.

“We are surrounded by warships and don’t have time to
talk,” the pirate told Reuters.

The Alabama crew did take one pirate hostage for 12 hours,
according to one crew member Ken Quinn as reported by CNN. They released the
captive in an attempt to swap him for Phillips but the trade did not work.

In Washington, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, chair of the
foreign relations committee said he planned to hold hearings on the
“growing threat of piracy.”

The attack is the 50th so far this year by pirates, who are
generally equipped with weapons that can overtake unarmed ships.

“They are armed with automatic weapons, in some cases
with rocket-propelled grenades, whereas the crews are unarmed,” Brian
Jenkins, an adviser to the RAND Corporation, said Wednesday on the NewsHour.
“So it is more often the case when they are able to board a vessel that
they take the crew hostage, and then we enter into negotiations for a
ransom.”