Thursday, April 09, 2009

Somalia News Bulletin: US Warship Reaches Coast

US warship reaches Somali coast

Pirates are believed to be holding Capt Richard Phillips hostage

An American warship, the USS Bainbridge, has reached the area off the coast of Somalia where a cargo ship was seized by pirates a day earlier.

US crew members have recaptured their ship but the captain is still being held hostage by the attackers.

The pirates' boat is floating near the Maersk Alabama, its owners told the Associated Press. Officials are waiting for sunrise to see what happens.

The ship was taken about 500km (311 miles) off Somalia's coast.

Other US vessels are speeding towards the scene.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the government was following the situation very closely and urged the world to act to end the "scourge" of piracy.


Earlier, US media organisations telephoned members of the ship's crew to get details of their struggle against the pirates.

Second mate Ken Quinn told US TV network CNN how the crew had captured one of the pirates and kept him tied up for 12 hours.

As they attempted to negotiate the release of their captain, who has been named as Richard Phillips, they freed the captive attacker.

But the gang refused to free Capt Phillips.

"Right now they want to hold our captain for ransom, and we are trying to get him back," second mate Quinn told CNN.

"So now we're just trying to offer them whatever we can - food. But it's not working too good."

He said the attackers had fled in a lifeboat and crew members were using radios to keep in contact with Capt Phillips.

Family members said Capt Phillips had offered himself to the pirates to secure the safety of his crew.

"What I understand is that he offered himself as the hostage," Gina Coggio, his wife's half-sister, told the AP news agency. "That is what he would do. It's just who he is and his response as a captain."

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the ship's owners, Maersk, confirmed much of second mate Quinn's account.

"The armed hijackers who boarded this ship earlier today have departed, however they are currently holding one member of the ship's crew as a hostage," Maersk said.

"The other members of the crew are safe and no injuries have been reported."

Surge in hijackings

The ship was first attacked by several pirate boats in the early hours of Wednesday.

It is not clear how many attackers were involved, but accounts from the sailors on the Maersk Alabama suggest that four boarded the vessel.

Maritime officials said the ship had taken all possible evasive action before it reported that the pirates had boarded.

Pirate attacks have been increasing rapidly in recent years - more than 130 incidents were reported in 2008, including almost 50 successful hijacks.

Pirates typically hold the ships and crews until large ransoms are paid by the shipping companies - last year the firms handed over about $80m (£54m).

After a lull earlier this year, this was the sixth ship seized off Somalia in the past week.

The attacks are threatening to destabilise one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Captain held as US crew battles Somali pirates

MOMBASA, Kenya (AFP) - - A US cargo ship's crew ferrying food to African refugees battled against Somali pirates, pleading for the return of their captive captain and desperately holding out for military help.

A senior US defence official told AFP that a US Navy warship arrived in the lawless shipping channel off war-torn Somalia where the high-seas drama erupted, but provided no further details about any possible action.

It was believed to be the first US merchant ship hijacked since the North African Barbary Wars in the early 19th century, underlining the anarchy raging off Somalia despite an international naval effort against piracy.

The ordeal began around 7:30 am (0430 GMT) in the Gulf of Aden, after pirates seized the US-flagged Maersk Alabama, a 17,500-tonne vessel based in Norfolk, Virginia.

The 20 unarmed crew members fought back against the four pirates and hours later regained control of their vessel, according to second mate Ken Quinn, describing the sixth hijacking off Somalia in the past five days alone.

Quinn, sounding harried in a terse mobile phone call to CNN, said the crew had released one of the pirates they had tied up for 12 hours. But the hijackers were refusing to return Captain Richard Phillips.

"Right now, they want to hold our captain for ransom and we're trying to get him back," Quinn told the US network.

"He's in the ship's lifeboat," he said, explaining the four pirates had taken the lifeboat off the Maersk Alabama and that Phillips was in touch with his crew via the ship's radio.

"So now we're just trying to offer them whatever we can. Food. But it's not working too good."

The ship's chief officer, Shane Murphy, told his father that the crew used "brute force" to overpower the pirates, who were armed with AK-47 assault rifles, ABC News reported.

Quinn added: "We have a coalition (vessel) that will be here in three hours. So we're just trying to hold them off for three more hours and then we'll have a warship here to help us."

The US Navy ship, named as the guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, arrived several hours after Pentagon officials said it was en route, a senior defence official told AFP without providing further details.

A Navy aircraft was providing surveillance information to military officials at the scene, CNN said citing an unnamed defense source.

Earlier, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her deep concern.

"More generally, we think the world must come together to end the scourge of piracy," she told reporters, after the White House said it was "closely monitoring" the ship's fate.

The hijacked vessel is run out of the huge merchant and naval base of Norfolk by Maersk Line Ltd, a division of Denmark's A.P. Moller-Maersk Group.

Maersk Line confirmed the pirates were no longer on board but were still holding one crew member.

"The other members of the crew are safe and no injuries have been reported," it said in a statement.

"We are working closely with the US military and other government agencies to continue to respond to this situation as it develops further."

A multinational naval task force has been trying to stamp out the rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's most important shipping arteries situated between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

About 12 to 16 warships are operating in the region at any given time, according to the US Navy, covering a vast area of about 2.8 million square kilometres (1.1 million square miles).

As recently as Tuesday, the task force warned merchant ships to increase their vigilance off Somalia.

The 155-metre (511-foot) Maersk Alabama was 240 nautical miles (450 kilometres) southeast of the Somali town of Eyl when it was attacked, according to the US Navy.

It had been due to dock in the Kenyan port of Mombasa on April 16 to deliver more than 5,000 tonnes of relief food supplies to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

"This is going to Africa to people in need. We're just bringing relief cargo," Maersk Line chief executive John Reinhart told reporters in Norfolk.

He insisted that while the crew was trained in how to fend off pirates, "as merchant vessels, we do not carry arms."

Peter Smerdon, a WFP spokesman in Nairobi, said the cargo included 4,097 tonnes of corn-soya blend which was destined for Somalia and Uganda and 990 tonnes of vegetable oil for refugees in Kenya.

Up to 3.25 million people -- almost half of the population -- are in need of humanitarian aid in shattered Somalia, which has had no effective central authority since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre.

Navy warship arrives where captain held off Somalia

Wed Apr 8, 2009 11:15pm EDT
By Daniel Wallis and JoAnne Allen

NAIROBI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy warship arrived on Thursday off the Somali coast, where the captain of a U.S.-flagged freighter has been taken hostage by pirates, the shipping line said.

The ship was briefly hijacked by pirates on Wednesday but the crew of 20 Americans had retaken control of the vessel and were trying to negotiate their captain's release, second mate Ken Quinn told CNN. The captain was being held on a lifeboat.

The Danish-owned freighter's operator, Maersk Line Ltd, said the U.S. Navy destroyer Bainbridge arrived on the scene before dawn on Thursday. Spokesman B.J. Talley said the company was in touch with its ship and was also talking with the Navy.

Talley declined comment on what action, if any, the Navy might take.

CNN reported the lifeboat where the captain was being held was very near the Maersk Alabama. The Alabama crew can see the Navy destroyer and has been in contact with the Navy, CNN said. A U.S. defense official in Washington would say only that there were U.S. assets in the area.

Maersk earlier confirmed that the U.S. crew had regained control of the 17,000-tonne Maersk Alabama after the pirates left the ship with one hostage.

The seizure was the latest in an escalation in pirate attacks off the lawless Horn of Africa country of Somalia.

A spokesman for the company said no injuries had been reported for the rest of the crew left aboard.

"We are just trying to offer them whatever we can, food, but it is not working too good," Quinn told CNN of efforts to secure the freedom of the captain. He said the four pirates were holding the captain hostage on the ship's lifeboat.

Maritime officials said the Maersk Alabama was carrying food aid for Somalia and Uganda from Djibouti to Mombasa, a Kenyan port, when it was seized far out in the Indian Ocean.

"We can confirm that our crew has control of the ship. The pirates have departed the ship and they have taken one crew member with them as a hostage," the Maersk Line spokesman said, but could not confirm whether the hostage was the captain.

The ship seizure, about 300 miles off Somalia, was the first time Somali pirates have seized U.S. citizens.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was very worried by the hijacking and called for world action to end the "scourge" of piracy.

"We are deeply concerned and we are following it very closely," Clinton told reporters in Washington.

"Specifically, we are now focused on this particular act of piracy and the seizure of the ship that carries 21 American citizens. More generally, we think the world must come together to end the scourge of piracy."


Second mate Quinn said the four pirates sank their own boat when they boarded the container ship. However, the captain talked them into getting off the freighter and into the ship's lifeboat with him.

The crew then overpowered one of the pirates and sought to exchange him for the captain, Quinn told CNN.

"We kept him for 12 hours. We tied him up," Quinn said. The crew released their captive to the other pirates, but the exchange did not work and the captain was still being held by the pirates on the lifeboat, he told CNN.

"They are not aboard. We are controlling" the ship, he said.

Maersk Line president and chief executive John Reinhart told reporters he had received a cell phone call from the crew at about 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) saying they were all safe.

He said company protocol advised the U.S. sailors not to attempt to retake the ship once hijackers were on board.

"Once boarded, the crew has safe rooms and they are not to take on active engagement because they have no weapons. It would be a risk to their lives," Reinhart said.

Maersk Line is a Norfolk, Virginia-based subsidiary of Denmark's A.P. Moller-Maersk, the world's biggest container shipper.

Among the ship's cargo were 400 containers of food aid, including 232 containers belonging to the U.N.'s World Food Program that were destined for Somalia and Uganda.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry said a thorough policy debate on piracy off Somalia is long overdue.

"I plan to hold hearings to further examine the growing threat of piracy and all the policy options that need to be on the table before the next fire drill becomes an international incident with big implications," Kerry said in a statement.

The seizure was the latest in a wave of pirate attacks. Gunmen from Somalia seized a British-owned ship on Monday after hijacking another three vessels over the weekend.

In the first three months of 2009 just eight ships were hijacked in the strategic Gulf of Aden, which links Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea to Europe via the Suez Canal.

Last year, heavily armed Somali pirates hijacked dozens of vessels, took hundreds of sailors hostage -- often for weeks -- and extracted millions of dollars in ransoms.

Foreign navies sent warships to the area in response and reduced the number of successful attacks.

The Seafarers International Union, which has 12 members aboard, said the Maersk Alabama was enrolled in the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP), a fleet of militarily useful, privately owned vessels.

(Additional reporting by Edward McAllister, Anthony Boadle, Jim Wolf, JoAnne Allen and Sue Pleming in Washington and Rasmus Jorgensen in Copenhagen; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Anthony Boadle; editing by Todd Eastham)

SOMALIA: Hundreds flee inter-clan clashes in Somaliland

HARGEISA, 8 April 2009 (IRIN) - Hundreds of families in Somalia's self-declared republic of Somaliland have fled inter-clan fighting in the mid-west Satiile area in Gabiley region, officials said.

The fighting, the second flare-up in three months, started on 7 April after a group of men drove into Satiile settlement area and shot dead a local farmer and wounded his brother.

Ahmed-Bare Sa’id Kibar, a village elder in Satiile, said at least 200 families had fled from Xar-Makahiil, Dacawalay, Laaca, Maslayaha, Jaldhaabta and Satiile farmland settlements to Adado Dhaadheeray, Kalabaid. Some of the families had fled to Gabiley, the region's capital, he added.

Elabe Mohamoud Hufane, the deputy mayor of Dilla District in Awdal region, said: "We received reports mid-morning yesterday that a man, identified as Ahmed Yasin Kule, had been shot dead on his farm while his brother survived and managed to flee.

"We went there to calm the situation with the district police; we were told the men who shot dead Ahmed Yasin were from Elberdale area in the north, where a land-based conflict had started some time ago."

In late February, two men were shot dead following inter-clan fighting between the Reer Hared of Gabiley region and the Reer Nour of Awdal region. The conflict dates back to 1998 when the clans confronted each other over the war between the Somali National Movement (Somaliland's liberation organisation in 1981-1991) and the army, which was loyal to the late Mohamed Siyad Barre, then Somali president. At the time, the Reer Nour supported Barre while Reer Hared supported the liberation movement.

Over the past two decades, attempts to reconcile the two were made and a ceasefire agreed but the issue has since transformed into a land conflict, focusing on a farming development project founded by Sheikh Muhumed Rage in the late 1950s.

After the February clashes, a committee from Somaliland's upper house of parliament, the Guurti, toured the region. The committee was also in the area when the latest clashes erupted, according to Hufane.

"We met several dozen families fleeing to Dilla District, and we spoke to them urging them not to flee but they went ahead saying they feared for their security," Hufane said.

Report can be found online at:

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