Somali Pirates Foil Escape, Threaten to Kill American Captain

Somali pirates recaptured an American captain who tried a daring escape from their lifeboat during the night and then threatened to kill him if the U.S. Navy attempted to rescue him.

The pirates, marooned on a small boat in the Indian Ocean and stalked by a U.S. warship, demanded a ransom today for the safe release of Capt. Richard Phillips.

VIDEO: Hostage Tries To Flee Pirates Grasp
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Phillips, the captain of the freighter Maersk Alabama that was hijacked by pirates and then retaken by his American crew, tried single-handedly to end the standoff during the night.

He and four pirates have been bobbing in the water for three days. The boat can hold 76 people, so there is room for them to move around, at times.

Around midnight, Phillips leaped off and began swimming for freedom, officials told ABC News. The U.S. destroyer Bainbridge is anchored a few hundred yards away.

Almost immediately, a pirate jumped in after Phillips and dragged him back to the boat, officials said. Defense officials said one of the pirates fired his automatic weapon during Phillips' escape attempt, but it wasn't clear whether it was fired towards Phillips or into the air, officials told the Associated Press.

VIDEO: Somali Pirates Hold American Captain
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The entire drama was captured by a drone flying overhead that sent back live color video to the Bainbridge, officials said.

Once recaptured, Phillips was back with four pirates in the 28-foot lifeboat. The pirates, out of gas but armed with AK-47 rifles, insisted on taking Phillips back to Somalia to hold him for ransom. They are about 300 miles from shore.

There's been no sight of Phillips since he was taken back on the boat, but the Navy has attempted contact. Aided by FBI negotiators, Bainbridge's commander called the pirates at least once via radio. But, when he asked the pirates to put Phillips on the phone, they refused.

VIDEO: Navy, FBI Monitor Pirate Hostage Crisis
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Hours after Phillips' failed escape, the pirates' leader in Somalia let it be known that they want a ransom for Phillips and that they will kill him if the Navy uses force against them.

Former FBI agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said that when it comes to hostage negotiations, patience is key.

"Keep in mind that in most hostage barricade situations, time tends to be on your side because you can gain more intelligence," he told ABC News. "The problem is there are game changers, and game changers would be other people showing up."

Are 'Game Changers' on the Way?

VIDEO: Why Arent Ship Crews Armed?
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In fact, both the pirates and the U.S. Navy are sending reinforcements around the lifeboat where Phillips is being held hostage.

The Bainbridge has been keeping an eye on the four pirates in recent days and has been joined by another U.S. warship, the Halyburton, which carries two helicopters. En route to the area is the U.S.S. Boxer, which carries about 20 helicopters and attack planes, and, according to a U.S. official, will move "within helicopter range."

The pirates also claim to be sending reinforcements, hijacked ships that use captured crews as human shields. One of the ships has hostages on board.

VIDEO: Mutiny on the Alabama
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"The pirates have summoned assistance -- skiffs and mother ships are heading toward the area from the coast," a Nairobi-based diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, told the AP. "We knew they were gathering yesterday."

A U.S. official told ABC News Friday evening that the pirate reinforcement ships had not yet arrived, but the United States is tracking their movements from the sky.

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