| Issue 377
and Regional Affairs
MOGADISHU, April 14, 2009 – The crew of a US ship
attacked off Somalia called on President Barack Obama to lead the battle
to stamp out piracy yesterday, after US forces freed the ship’s captain
to end a five-day hostage drama.
Navy snipers shot dead three Somali pirates holding Captain Richard
Phillips in a drifting lifeboat circled by US warships. Other pirates
vowed revenge on Americans.
More than 250 hostages of many nationalities are still being held along
the Somali coast by pirates who have seized dozens of vessels, from
tankers to yachts, in recent months.
Helicopters once again flew over pirate bases near Eyl on the Somali
coast overnight after Phillips’ rescue.
“They killed our friends on the lifeboat and we thought helicopters
would bomb us in Eyl last night,” a pirate in Eyl, who called himself
Farah, told Reuters.
“We were mourning for dead friends and then roaring planes came — grief
upon grief. America has become our new enemy.”
The US Navy said the decision to shoot Phillips’ kidnappers was a
split-second one, taken because he appeared to be in “imminent danger.”
“They were pointing the AK-47s at the captain,” Vice Admiral William
Gortney, head of the US Naval Central Command, said.
“The on-scene commander took it as the captain was in imminent danger
and then made that decision and he had the authorities to make that
decision and he had seconds to make that decision.” A fourth pirate was
President Obama granted the Pentagon’s request for standing authority to
use appropriate force, Gortney said.
Phillips, captain of the US-flagged Maersk Alabama container ship,
contacted his family after the rescue, received a medical check, and
rested aboard the USS Boxer.
His crew set off flares, hoisted an American flag and jumped for joy at
the news of their captain’s rescue.
They called on Obama to take the lead in combating piracy.
“America has to be in the forefront to put an end to this crisis … This
crew was lucky to be out of it with everyone alive. We are not going to
be that lucky again,” first nautical officer Shane Murphy told reporters
in Kenya’s Mombasa port.
Phillips was the first American taken by pirates who have plundered
ships in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean for years.
An Italian tugboat hijacked in the Gulf of Aden arrived at Las Qoray on
the north Somali coast on Sunday, residents said.
“Well-armed pirates on the tugboat ordered us to keep away from areas
near them. Two of the pirates came down to town to persuade residents to
allow them to stay but I don’t know the outcome,” fisherman Jama Feysal
told Reuters by phone.
The tug, carrying 10 Italians, 5 Romanians and a Croatian, was seized on
Saturday. Mohamed Salah Dubeys, a Somaliland military commander, said
the pirates were also holding two Egyptian ships with 24 other hostages
in the area.
Obama, spared another thorny foreign policy crisis to add to his
problems with the US economic meltdown and the war in Afghanistan, vowed
to curb piracy.
“To achieve that goal, we must continue to work with our partners to
prevent future attacks, be prepared to interdict acts of piracy and
ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for
their crimes,” he said in a statement.
US congressman Donald Payne flew to Mogadishu yesterday, making what is
believed to be the first visit to the Somali capital by a senior
American politician since 1994. Mortars were fired at him as he left by
Somali pirates vowed to avenge the US shootings of their comrades, as
well as a French military assault to rescue a yacht on Friday in which
two pirates were killed and three captured.
“The French and the Americans will regret starting this killing. We do
not kill, but take only ransom. We shall do something to anyone we see
as French or American from now,” Hussein, a pirate, told Reuters by
The Maersk Alabama, carrying food aid for Somalis, was attacked far out
in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday, but its 20 American crew regained
control. Phillips volunteered to go with the pirates in a lifeboat in
exchange for the crew’s safety.
“The actions of Captain Phillips and the civilian mariners of
Maersk-Alabama were heroic,” Gortney said. “Captain Phillips selflessly
put his life in the hands of these armed criminals in order to protect
Friends of the pirates told Reuters they wanted $2 million.
Local elder Ismail Haji Ahmed told Reuters by phone from the coastal
village of Eyl, a notorious pirate base: “Roaring helicopters terrified
us so much that no one slept last night.
“If we could flee from Eyl, the planes could bomb the pirates. We were
confined to our houses and could not even go to latrines.”
So far, pirates have generally treated hostages well, sometimes roasting
goat meat for them and even letting them phone loved ones. The worst
violence has been the occasional beating. No hostages are known to have
been killed by pirates