Sunday, April 12, 2009

Somali Pirates Update

How the U.S. Navy ended Somali pirate drama

(Reuters) - U.S. Navy special forces shot dead three Somali pirates on a lifeboat off Somalia and freed American cargo ship captain Richard Phillips on Sunday in a dramatic end to a five-day standoff, officials said.

Here are answers to some key questions about the incident, mainly from information provided to reporters by Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, head of the U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet.


Navy SEALs, elite special operations troops, on the USS Bainbridge shot dead the pirates in the lifeboat after the Bainbridge's captain determined that Phillips' life was in imminent danger because a pirate pointed an AK-47 rifle at him.

Navy sailors then sailed to the lifeboat in a small inflatable craft and rescued Phillips, who was tied up inside the 18-foot-long lifeboat. He was later transferred to the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship.

A U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said special operations forces had tried to approach the lifeboat earlier in the standoff, but the pirates had fired at them.

A fourth pirate who surrendered before the end of the standoff was aboard the Bainbridge when Phillips was freed.

The pirate had sought medical treatment for a stab wound to the hand, inflicted by a member of the Maersk Alabama's crew when the gang tried to hijack the ship, the official said.

The pirate was being transferred to the Boxer.


Conditions were deteriorating and the USS Bainbridge was towing the lifeboat in search of calmer waters at the time of the incident. The lifeboat was about 80 to 100 feet away from the Bainbridge when the Navy SEALs opened fire on the pirates.

The lifeboat was about 20 miles off the coast of Somalia when the standoff ended. U.S. military officials were determined to prevent the lifeboat from reaching the Somali shore.


Phillips is in good health, Gortney said. The former hostage declined an offer of food after his rescue and has called home. President Barack Obama also called the Boxer to speak to him.


The Navy says it is working with the U.S. Department of Justice to determine how to hold the pirate accountable for his crimes. He could be prosecuted in the United States or in Kenya, Gortney said.


U.S. officials insist they did not want the stand-off to end violently. Somali pirates have generally not harmed their hostages and officials fear they could now act more violently.

"This could escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it," Gortney told reporters at the Pentagon on a conference call from his headquarters in Bahrain.

Link to original article: Q&A

Somali pirates vow retaliation after captain freed

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somali pirates on Monday vowed to retaliate for the deaths of three colleagues who were shot dead by U.S. Navy snipers hours before in a daring nighttime assault that freed a 53-year-old American captain.

The Navy Seals late Sunday rescued freighter Capt. Richard Phillips, who had been held by pirates on a lifeboat that drifted in the Indian Ocean for five days.

"Every country will be treated the way it treats us," said Abdullahi Lami, one of the pirates holding a Greek ship anchored in the pirate den of Gaan, a central Somali town.

"In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying," he told The Associated Press by telephone. "We will retaliate for the killings of our men."

He gave no details and it was not clear in what way the pirates could retaliate, though some fear they could take their revenge on the hundreds of other foreign nationals they hold on seized ships.

The rescue dealt a blow to pirates who regularly seize passing ships and hold them captive until multimillion dollar ransoms are paid. But it is unlikely to help quell the region's growing pirate threat, which has turned the Gulf of Aden and the waterways along Somalia's coast into some of the most dangerous shipping lanes on the planet.

Pirates currently hold more than a dozen foreign ships, most moored along the Horn of Africa nation's long coast, with about 230 foreign sailors from Russia to the Philippines.

The American rescue followed a similar operation Friday carried out by French navy commandos, who stormed a pirate-held sailboat, the Tanit, in a shootout at sea that killed two pirates and freed four French hostages. The French owner of the vessel was also killed in the assault.

Residents of the Somali town of Harardhere said tensions were growing there.

Abdullahi Haji Jama, who owns a clothing store in the town, said: "We fear that the pirates may retaliate against the foreign nationals they are holding."

But he also said people feared "any revenge taken by the pirates against foreign nationals could bring more attacks from the foreign navies, perhaps on our villages."

Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said the American operation "could escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it."

Jamac Habeb, a 30-year-old self-proclaimed pirate, told The Associated Press that the three pirates' deaths were "a painful experience." Speaking from the pirate hub, Eyl, he added: "this will be a good lesson for us."

"From now on, if we capture foreign ships and their respective countries try to attack us, we will kill them," Habeb said. "Now they became our number one enemy," he said of U.S. forces.

So far, at least, it has been rare for Somali pirates to harm captive foreign crews.

Several years ago, a crew member of a Taiwanese fishing boat hijacked for six months was killed by pirates, but no reason was given but it appeared to be an isolated incident, according to Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. No reason was given but it appeared to be an isolated incident, he said.

Somalia has been engulfed in fighting and anarchy since the 1991 overthrow of Siad Barre, and remains today a country with no effective government, a nation ruled by tribal clans.

The piracy scourge appears to have evolved partly out of an attempt by Somali fishermen to protect their waters against illegal foreign trawlers who were destroying their livelihoods. Some of the vigilantes morphed into pirates, lured by the large profits they could win in ransoms.

Somalia's prime minister welcomed the U.S. Navy's operation Sunday.

"The Somali government wanted the drama to end in a peaceful way, but anyone who is involved in this latest case had the choice to use violence or other means," Abdulkhadir Walayo, the prime minister's spokesman, told The Associated Press. "Anyway, we see it will be a good lesson for the pirates or anyone else involved in this dirty business."

Pirates were defiant though, vowing the events would not stop them form seizing more ships.

One pirate vowed the events would not stop them from targeting more ships.

"The mere killing of three and capturing one will not make us change our mind," said one pirate holding a German ship anchored in the Somali town of Harardhere who refused to give his name. "We are determined to continue our business regardless of the recent killings and arrests."

Link to original report: Retaliation

Books about Somali and Piracy: Read

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