Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pirates get backup

Captain Phillips said the pirate leader had been in direct contact with the lifeboat via a satellite phone but lost contact after Phillips' captors threw the phone - and a two-way radio dropped to them by the US Navy - into the ocean, fearing the Americans were somehow using the equipment to give instructions to the captain. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MOGADISHU - PIRATES sailed a hijacked German freighter toward a lifeboat off Somalia early on Saturday to help four comrades holding an American ship captain hostage under the gaze of a US destroyer.

Separately, French special forces stormed a yacht held by pirates elsewhere in the lawless stretch of the Indian Ocean in an assault that killed one hostage, but freed four others.

Two pirates were killed and three were captured.

More US warships have been sent toward the lifeboat drifting in international waters off Somalia, where pirates have been holding American captain Richard Phillips since an attempt to hijack his ship, the 17,000-tonne, Danish-owned Maersk Alabama, on Wednesday.

Capt Phillips apparently volunteered to get in the lifeboat with the pirates in exchange for the safety of his crew, who regained control of the ship, which is carrying food relief to Kenya.

Capt Phillips leapt into the sea during the night and tried to swim away but at least one pirate quickly followed and he was hauled back onto the lifeboat, a US official said.

'He didn't get very far,' the official told Reuters.

Close by, the destroyer USS Bainbridge launched drones that monitored the incident and kept radio contact with the pirates.

The Bainbridge, which is leading negotiations for Philips' release, is seeking a peaceful outcome to the standoff with the assistance of FBI experts, a US official said.

The pirate gang holding Capt Phillips remained defiant despite the arrival of US and other naval ships in the area.

'We are not afraid of the Americans,' one of the pirates told Reuters by satellite phone. 'We will defend ourselves if attacked.' -- REUTERS

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