US ship captain held hostage by pirates

April 9, 2009 12:56:50 AM PDT
For the first time in more than two centuries, pirates have attacked a U.S. ship. That hostile act is getting a powerful response. A U.S. Navy destroyer is off the coast of Somalia. Somali pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama in the Gulf of Aden off of the Horn of Africa. They're holding the captain hostage.

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After more than 24 hours, the pirates' grip on Captain Richard Phillips is getting tighter. The captain of the Maersk Alabama was taken hostage after four Somali pirates attacked the freighter. They fired assault weapons, climbed on board, and took the 20 American crew members captive.

"I think the biggest mistake these pirates have made, the mistake they made today, was they took an American ship," said Captain Joseph Murphy, a crew member's father.

This time the ship pirates took over had a crew that fought back. Everyone got away except for Captain Phillips. The pirates forced him onto a life boat where they're still holding him.

"If I were the admiral out there, the primary purpose would be to bring the captain safely back," said John Bitoff, a retired Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy.

Bitoff says Captain Phillips is a valuable commodity for the pirates who are driven by money, not politics. But now that the Navy has been called in, he says negotiation is key, even though it failed earlier.

"We had a pirate we took and we kept him for 12 hours," said Ken Quinn, the second mate. "We returned him but they didn't return the captain."

"He is in jeopardy because the people dealing with him have no scruples," said Thomas Hendrickson, from the Hoover Institution.

Hendrickson says the number of pirate attacks is growing. There have been 66 in the region since January.

"This thing is going to get out of hand. It's getting worse. It's not diminishing so I think the U.S. should take the lead and really try to put together a comprehensive force to deal with this," said Thomas.

If that doesn't happen, Henrickson says, merchant crews should start arming themselves.

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