US Navy Shadows Somali Pirates Holding American Captain

US Navy file photo of Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) (US Navy file photo of Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96))

SOMALIA (RPRN) 04/09/09-The U.S. Navy is keeping close watch on a tense situation off the coast of Somalia, where pirates are holding the captain of a U.S. cargo ship hostage.

U.S. warship, the USS Bainbridge, arrived at the scene early Thursday. Pirates briefly hijacked the cargo ship Wednesday, before the Americans crew retook control. The crew members say four pirates are still holding the American captain hostage on a lifeboat.

The shipping company Maersk says the safe return of the captain is its top priority.

The 17,000-ton container vessel Maersk Alabama was seized off the coast of Somalia’s northern Puntland region, about 450 kilometers southeast of the town of Eyl.

Clinton: US following developments very closely

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States is deeply concerned about the hijacking and is following it very closely. She said the world must come together to end what she called “the scourge of piracy.”

The U.S. company Maersk Line which owns and operates the ship is a subsidiary of Denmark’s A.P. Moller-Maersk.

The ship was the sixth vessel seized in the region within a week but it was the first American-registered vessel to be hijacked by the pirates operating off the coast of East Africa.

Ship was carrying emergency food aid to Kenya

This undated image made available in London, Wednesday April 8, 2009 by Maersk Line, shows the 17,000-ton container ship Maersk Alabama
This undated image made available in London, Wednesday April 8, 2009 by Maersk Line, shows the 17,000-ton container ship Maersk Alabama

The ship was carrying emergency food aid to Mombasa, Kenya.  A spokesman for the U.N. food agency, Nairobi-based Peter Smerdon, said the cargo includes 990-tons of vegetable oil and more than 4,000 metric tons of corn-soya blend.

The United States and other nations deployed warships near Somalia late last year in an effort to stop pirates from seizing ships, but pirates appear to be venturing further out to sea to avoid the naval patrols.

Somali pirates have seized more than 50 ships over the past 18 months, sometimes receiving multi-million dollar payments for their release.

The pirates, who operate from bases on Somalia’s east coast, are currently holding more than a dozen ships and their crews.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.