(For more coverage of the pirate crisis, click on [nPIRATES])
* Crew hails captain for 'giving himself up'
* Pirates seize Italian-flagged tugboat
* Attack on another ship repelled by water hoses
* Obama getting multiple updates daily
(Adds radio reports of pirate lifeboat drifting toward coast)
By Celestine Achieng
MOMBASA, Kenya, April 11 A U.S.-flagged ship
that was seized by Somali pirates arrived safely in the Kenyan
port of Mombasa on Saturday, as a Somali mediator headed to sea
to try to secure the release of the ship's American captain.
"The captain is a hero," one crew member shouted from the
17,000-ton Maersk Alabama container ship as it docked. "He
saved our lives by giving himself up." [ID:nLB081916]
The ship, under the command of Richard Phillips, was
attacked by gunmen far out in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday but
its 20 American crew apparently fought off the hijackers and
regained control of the freighter.
Phillips was taken hostage and is being held captive on a
drifting lifeboat by the gang of four pirates who want $2
million ransom for him, as well as safe passage.
Relatives said Phillips had volunteered to join the pirates
in their lifeboat in exchange for the safety of his crew. At
one point, he tried to escape by jumping overboard but "didn't
get very far," a U.S. official said.
Three U.S. warships were in the area around the lifeboat. A
U.S. military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said
crew members on the destroyer USS Bainbridge saw Phillips on
Friday from a distance of several hundred yards (meters),
moving and talking aboard the boat after his failed escape.
CNN said on Saturday the Bainbridge sent a small boat to
approach the lifeboat to open communication, but the pirates
responded with gunfire. The Navy personnel then retreated.
NBC television and CBS radio said the lifeboat had drifted
to within 20 miles (32 km) of the Somali coast, and that U.S.
military officials feared that if the craft reached the shore,
the pirates might escape with their hostage on land.
Somalia has suffered 18 years of civil war and the
international waters off the Horn of Africa have become some of
the most dangerous in the world.
Phillips is just one of about 270 hostages from a variety
of countries being held by Somali pirates preying on the busy
sea-lanes of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Yet the
Maersk Alabama has captured world attention because Phillips is
the first U.S. citizen seized and his crew was able to regain
control of the ship.
"Once again, it has taken American involvement to get world
powers really interested," said a diplomat who tracks Somalia
The standoff has forced U.S. President Barack Obama to
focus on a place most Americans would rather forget. A U.S.
intervention in Somalia in the early 1990s was a disaster,
including the "Black Hawk Down" battle in 1993 that killed 18
U.S. troops and inspired a book and a movie.
A White House spokesman said Obama received multiple
updates on the piracy situation on Saturday.
John Reinhart, president and chief executive of Maersk Line
Ltd, said the FBI was investigating the hijacking in Kenya.
"Because of the pirate attack, the FBI has informed us that
this ship is a crime scene," he told reporters, adding that the
crew will have to stay on board the vessel.
As it docked, a U.S. crewman shouted to reporters a message
that he wanted relayed to his family -- "I'm happy, I'm safe."
It was still not clear how the crew retook control of their
vessel, which was carrying thousands of tons of food aid for
Somalia, Uganda and Kenya.
Somali elders sent a mediator on Saturday in hopes of
resolving a standoff between the U.S. Navy and the four pirates
holding Phillips, a 53-year-old Vermont father of two.
"They are just looking to arrange safe passage for the
pirates, no ransom," said Andrew Mwangura, the coordinator of a
regional group that monitors piracy.
The mediator took to sea in a boat but it was unclear how
he would reach the pirates. He speaks English and aimed to
bridge the language gap between the pirates and the U.S. side.
"The man took a boat but how he will spot the lifeboat is
the question," said Aweys Ali Said, head of the local Galkayo
region's local authority. "The elders want the captain to be
released and the pirates to come home safely. But I understand,
the pirates need a ransom, come what may." [ID:nLA593382]
The gang holding Phillips remained defiant. "We will defend
ourselves if attacked," one told Reuters by satellite phone.
Another band of pirates seized an Italian-flagged tugboat
with 10 Italians and six others aboard on Saturday, NATO
officials on a warship in the region said.
Earlier, attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade and
guns at another ship in the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and
Yemen. The grenade did not explode and the ship's crew managed
to repel the attackers with water hoses, the officials said.
French special forces on Friday 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. Two of the
pirates were killed and three captured.
Filipinos make up the largest contingent of hostages in the
region. Pirates are keeping about 17 captured vessels on
Somalia's eastern coast -- six taken in the last week alone.
In Somalia's semi-autonomous northern Puntland region,
which prides itself on its relative stability, a court
sentenced 10 pirates to 20 years in prison on Saturday for
attacking a Syrian-registered ship in October 2008. But piracy
seems sure to go on while Somalia stays in chaos.
Insurance premiums have risen and some shippers just avoid
the area, sending cargoes round South Africa to Europe instead
of through the Gulf of Aden into the Suez Canal.
Piracy has been growing for years but hit headlines in 2008
when there were 42 hijackings including the world's largest sea
hijack of a Saudi tanker carrying $100 million of oil.
(Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Mohamed Ahmed in
Mogadishu, Abdiqani Hassan in Bosasso, Abdiaziz Hassan in
Nairobi, Daniel Wallis and Celestine Achieng in Mombasa, Alison
Bevege on board the NRB Corte-Real, Todd Eastham, Andrew Gray,
Anthony Boadle, David Morgan and Bill Trott in Washington,
William Maclean in London and Andrew Cawthorne in Nairobi;
writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Bill Trott; editing by Kieran
Murray and Philip Barbara)