international pirates, Somali pirates
U.S. Navy/AP
Maersk-Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips, right, stands alongside Cmdr. Frank Castellano,
commanding officer of the USS Bainbridge, after being rescued by U.S. Naval Forces off the
coast of Somalia.

US Captain Escapes, Somali Pirates Killed by Navy Seals

April 12, 2009 03:39 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Capt. Richard Phillips escaped from the ship on which he was held hostage by Somali pirates, who were killed by Navy Seals.

American Crew Latest Victims

A tense hostage drama ended today when US cargo ship captain Richard Phillips escaped the covered lifeboat on which he was held.  The Associated Press is reporting that a US Navy official told it that, in an ensuing firefight, Navy Seals killed the three pirates onboard the lifeboat, and that a fourth pirate had been attempting to negotiate a settlement aboard the USS Bainbridge, and was taken into custody.

The Miami Herald is reporting that one of the pirates' relatives told the paper they had run out of ammunition and fuel.  Increasingly desperate, they proposed to release Captain Phillips in exchange for safe passage away from the area, but the US Navy refused the offer.

The Burlington Free Press, a newspaper from Phillip's home state of Vermont, has been providing almost hourly updates of the situation, and reports a jubilant celebration by residents of Vermont.

Maersk Limited, owner of the cargo ship, has issued a press release confirming the captain's rescue, and the U.S. Navy has posted a photo of Captain Phillips safely aboard the USS Bainbridge.

The USS Bainbridge, a cruise-missile carrying ship, trailed Phillips and his captors in their boat until it ran out of fuel. The Bainbridge kept watch from a safe distance as the FBI continued negotiations with the pirates via two-way radios.

The cargo ship had been captured on Wednesday and was the latest in a recent spate of attacks in the Gulf of Aden. According to CNN, there were 20 other American crew members on board the ship, which was loaded with relief supplies for USAID.

Somali pirates crept onto the ship, the Maersk Alabama, around 7:30 a.m. local time Wednesday, CNN reported.  The captain radioed the crew and told them to lock themselves into a room. The crew reportedly at some point even took one of the pirates hostage. However, the pirates had also taken the captain hostage.
The seizure of the cargo ship reflected a change in tactics by the pirates, attacking ships south of the Gulf of Aden, outside the zone that a multi-national force has been patrolling.

This week MSNBC reported that Somali pirates are "targeting ships coming out of the Mozambique Channel, an area of the Indian Ocean further south between the southeastern Africa coast and Madagascar."

There were only two attacks reported in January and February, CNN reported, but in March the pirates regrouped and attacked 15 ships.

"Pirates in the region have taken more ships in the past four days than in the first three months of the year," Bloomberg reported earlier this week.

Because the most recent round of attacks are occurring hundreds of nautical miles off shore, Pentagon officials told CNN that the pirates are using more large "mother ships," which tow smaller, faster boats into the middle of the ocean. Attacks are launched from those smaller boats.

Background: Navy captures pirates

In March, Reuters reported that the United States had captured and turned over “seven suspected Somali pirates” to Kenya, marking the first time that the U.S. Navy has acted under its bilateral agreement with Kenya. The agreement, which was reached in January, permits Kenya to try pirates captured by the United States in its own courts.

Steven Mull, the acting undersecretary of state for international security and arms control, told Reuters that the U.S. Navy's capture “shows the agreement works.” Still at issue, however, is whether other countries will help Kenya by taking on prosecution of pirates. Washington “has carefully avoided” the possibility, Reuters reports.

In addition to its pact with Kenya, the U.S. Navy has a pirate-hunting venture called Combined Task Force 151, which is led by Capt. Mark Genung and the flaghip USS Vella Gulf. Genung told ABC News that Somali “piracy is a direct result of a lack of a functioning government in Somalia.”

The arrest of eight Somali pirates and the seizure of two ships in December by French authorities spotlighted the success of international efforts to curb the surge of piracy that plagued the Somali coast throughout 2008.

Capping a year that saw over 100 vessels, large and small, overtaken by Somali pirates and held for a total of $120 million worth of ransom, December witnessed only two ships seized.

The drop came after weeks of efforts by international forces, working alone or as a part of a larger United Nations flotilla, to halt the actions of the pirates.

However, international law enforcement agencies still faced the challenge of retrieving the 15 ships held, as well as establishing legal proceedings to prosecute pirates that are acceptable to all countries affected by the attacks.

It was not until September that the pirates achieved international notoriety after taking control of a Ukrainian ship carrying 30 tanks to Kenya. The payload made international headlines for its value and potential for harm.

Context: The international response

Attracting ships from Russia, the EU and the United States, the capture of nine piracy suspects in October 2007 moved the United Nations to announce a multi-national flotilla of vessels that would move into waters off Somalia to fight and capture pirates.

Unfortunately, the flotilla and private security efforts failed to halt the pirates from capturing their largest treasure: a Saudi oil tanker the size of six football fields and worth over $100 million.

This lucrative bounty further clouded the international cast of characters when al-Shabab—a militant Somali group designated a terrorist organization just months before—pledged to fight the pirates and recapture the ship.

Hesitant to risk both their cargo and the lives of their crews, most companies have been quick to pay the pirates off, while some have turned to the aid of private companies in hopes of offering the protection the international community had so far been unable to provide.

The United States introduced a resolution to the UN Security Council that would allow those in pursuit of pirates to follow them into their hideouts, located within Somali territory.

Further, an agreement to try those pirates captured at sea in an official court setting in Kenya presents a replacement for Somalia’s current, inactive judicial system. The first group of pirates was presented and officially charged in a courtroom in Mombasa, Kenya, after a push from the British government led to the country hosting the proceedings.

While further actions were delayed until January, the introduction of law into a previously lawless situation gave some hope that the pirates might finally face justice.

The legal system applied to the Somali pirates was a point of contention as their actions affected victims and ships from so many different nations, few of which were able to agree on the judicial guidelines they should face if captured.

Out on the high seas, ships have grown increasingly confident and successful in their efforts to stave off attacks, while offensive measures have proven to be equally effective.

With the exception of an Indian naval attack on a ship that turned out to be an occupied Thai fishing vessel, foreign navy attacks proved successful in fending off attempts and even capturing 23 pirates earlier in the year.

It remains to be seen whether these new efforts will curb the rise of piracy in the region or simply quell it for the time being. Intelligence services also continue to search for who has been funding the pirates’ efforts.

In November, The Daily Beast’s Gerald Posner cited an internal memo from the U.S. Treasury that traced payments and ransom bank accounts to expat Somalis residing in Dubai, though no firm proof of the connection has been offered to the public.

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