Friday , April 10, 2009
A Somali negotiator said Friday pirates holding American ship captain Richard Phillips hostage want a $2 million ransom and are ready to kill Phillips if attacked.
The Navy is moving a huge amphibious ship closer to the scene of the standoff. Defense officials say the USS Boxer, the flag ship for a multination anti-piracy task force, will be nearby soon.
The ransom announcement by the unidentified Somali, who helped negotiate a ransom paid last year to pirates who seized a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks, comes the same day Phillips was recaptured after he made an escape attempt from the life boat where he is being held hostage.
The negotiator said he has spoken with a pirate leader on the ground in Somalia who is coordinating action on the lifeboat adrift in the Indian Ocean. He says the plan is to get the hostage to shore to negotiate from a better position.
Sometime overnight, captain Phillips got away for a short period, and jumped off the lifeboat in an attempt to swim away, probably managing to escape through the lifeboat's backdoor. The drama was witnessed at some distance by the U.S. Navy, but it reportedly happened so quickly they could not provide assistance.
Defense officials said that one of the pirates fired an automatic weapon when Phillips tried to swim to safet, but it was not clear whether the pirate fired at the fleeing hostage, or into the air.
Also on Friday 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.
Shipping company Maersk said Thursday, prior to the escape attempt, that Phillips had a radio and contacted the Navy and the crew of the Alabama to say was unharmed.
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Pirate Hijacking Resolutions at a Glance.
But the pirate gang said they won't back down from signs of U.S. pressure. One of the pirates told Reuters Friday they would fight if attacked by the U.S. naval forces near them.
"We are safe and we are not afraid of the Americans," the pirates told Reuters by satellite phone. "We will defend ourselves if attacked."
The pirate was speaking on behalf of the four men holding Capt. Richard Phillips hostage.
The U.S. brought in FBI hostage negotiators Thursday to work with the military in trying to secure the release of Phillips. An official said the bandits were in talks with the Navy about resolving the standoff peacefully.
The freighter that was the target of the pirates steamed away Thursday from the lifeboat under armed U.S. Navy guard, with all of its crew safe — except for the captive captain.
The pirates tried to hijack the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama on Wednesday, but Phillips thwarted the takeover 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, 53, surrendered himself to the bandits to safeguard his men, and four of the Somalis fled with him to an enclosed lifeboat, the relatives said.
Phillips contacted the Navy and the crew of the Alabama to say he is unharmed, the Maersk shipping company said in a statement, adding that the lifeboat is within sight of the USS Bainbridge, the naval destroyer that arrived on the scene earlier Thursday.
The Alabama began sailing toward the Kenyan port of Mombassa — 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. The elder Murphy said he was briefed by the shipping company.
A U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, said a Navy team of armed guards was aboard the Alabama.
The Bainbridge had arrived earlier Thursday near the Alabama and the lifeboat. Maersk shipping company spokesman Kevin Speers told AP Radio the lifeboat was out of fuel and "dead in the water."
The U.S. Navy sent up P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft and had video of the scene.
Gen. David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, said more ships would be sent to the area because "we want to ensure that we have all the capability that might be needed over the course of the coming days." U.S. officials said the guided-missile frigate USS Halyburton was among the ships en route.
The additional ships will serve as a show of force following an increase in the number of attacks and the first one on a U.S.-flagged ship. The vessels would give the U.S. military more eyes on the threatened area and make the pirates think twice before trying to seize another ship, but it was not enough to mount a blockade, according to a senior U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss operational matters.
"These people are nothing more than criminals and we are bringing to bear a number of our assets, including naval and FBI, in order to resolve the hostage situation and bring the pirates to justice," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
President Barack Obama was getting regular updates on the situation, said spokesman Robert Gibbs. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says the United States will take whatever steps are needed to protect U.S. shipping interests against pirates.
FBI spokesman Richard Kolko described the bureau's hostage negotiating team as "fully engaged" with the military on ways to retrieve Phillips.
The pirates were holding talks with the Navy about a peaceful resolution, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
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 ships 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 one 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 pirate 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," he added.
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. "
Most of the lifeboats are about 28 feet long and carry water and food for 34 people for 10 days, said Joseph Murphy.
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.
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 the vast majority 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.