American Ship Survives Somali Pirates Hijack Attempt
As America Considers Anti-Piracy Options, Business Keeps Booming for Somali Hijackers
By MARTHA RADDATZ, KIRIT RADIA and LEE FERRAN
April 14, 2009
A U.S. ship carrying food aid foiled an attack by Somali pirates this morning, the latest known attempted hijack by pirates who continue to thumb their noses at the world.
U.S. officials told ABC News station WLS in Chicago that the Liberty Sun evaded the pirates' attack off the coast of Somalia. The ship is said to be heading to its port destination of Mombassa.
The Navy responded to a call for help by the Liberty Sun, which is carrying food aid for CARE and the World Food Program.
The pirates fired rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons at the Liberty Sun which sustained damage, according to a statement from the Liberty Shipping Company.
ABC has obtained the e-mails sent by Liberty Sun crew member Thomas Urbik to his family as his ship was being attacked by Somali pirates.
During the siege, in an e-mail entitled "I love you all," Urbik writes: "We are under attack by pirates, we are being hit by rockets. Also bullets... We are barricaded in the engine room and so far no one is hurt. A rocket penetrated the bulkhead but the hole is small. Small fire too but put out... Navy is on the way and helos and ships are coming. I'll try to send you another message soon. got to go now. I love you mom and dad and all my brothers and family."
Ninety minutes later, Urbik wrote: "The navy has showed up in full force and we are now under military escort.. all is well. I love you all and thank you for the prayers. -Tom."
There have been reports that the the USS Bainbridge, the vessel that rescued the Maersk Alabama, was on site within hours, although the pirates had already left by the time the warship got there.
Pirates Control Four Vessels
Though the Liberty Sun survived the attack, the pirates have seized four ships since Sunday's dramatic rescue of American Capt. Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage during a failed hijacking attempt. America's top military commander told ABC News the United States is reviewing its options, including whether to go into pirate villages.
Just as the cheers were dying down for the rescue of Phillips that left three pirates dead, Somali pirates were swooping down on more victims. This time they struck in the Gulf of Aden along the north coast of Somalia.
Two Egyptian fishing boats were hijacked, according to Egypt's Foreign Ministry, which said the boats carried a total of 18 to 24 Egyptians.
The biggest overnight prize for the pirates was the capture of the Greek freighter M.V. Irene and a Togo-flagged freighter named the Sea Horse, according to NATO officials. The Irene had a crew of 22. There was no immediate information on the Sea Horse crew.
NATO said that pirates in three skiffs attacked a fifth ship today, the Liberian freighter Safmarine Asia, with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, but failed to capture it.
Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, said pirate attacks this year had risen to 78, with at least 19 ships hijacked and more than 300 crew members still in pirates' hands. Each boat carries the potential of a million-dollar ransom.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States can't end Somali piracy by itself and noted that 16 nations have warships in the region, which is roughly four times the size of Texas.
When Mullen was asked today whether the United States had considered attacking the pirate strongholds in Somalia, the admiral told ABC's "Good Morning America": "I've asked and we've been doing this. We've initiated a review on the Joint Staff to look broadly and widely and deeply at the overall strategy." One problem in taking on pirates is what to do with them once they are arrested, Mullen said. There is a deal with Kenya to try pirates in court there, but so far, no pirates have been put on trial.
The United States is holding the lone survivor of the four pirates who took Phillips hostage and is trying to decide how to handle his legal case.
President Obama said Monday that he was determined to defeat piracy.
"I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region and to achieve that goal. We're going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks," Obama said Monday.
Pirates Were Teenagers
After the pirates faced down the U.S. Navy for five days, it was surprising to discover that most were between the ages of 17 and 19.
"Untrained teenagers with heavy weapons," Defense Secretary Robert Gates called them.
Harry Humphries, a former Navy Seal who is the founder of the Global Security Group Inc., said taking on piracy is too big a job for the United States to handle alone.
"We're in a bad situation if we're going to be given the mission of counterpiracy around the world," he told ABCNews.com. "We've got to get serious as an international community."
Humphries said Somali piracy is a very lucrative business run by clans in the Puntland region of Somalia. The clan leaders send out their teenagers to hijack ships, and the leaders keep most of the profits.
"If we start shooting these kids at sea, make it more difficult to get the vessels [it won't stop anything]," he said. "Until we go in there and take out the leadership, it's going to continue."
"The U.N. made it legal to go after pirates last year and to go into Somalia. Until that's done, this thing is going to continue," Humphries said.
Meanwhile, the families of Phillips and his 19 American crew members will have to wait for their reunion.
Phillips was still getting debriefed by the FBI aboard the USS Bainbridge. The rest of the crew members enjoyed beer and a barbecue in Mombasa, Kenya, while waiting for their captain to join them. They will travel home together, officials told ABC News, with a likely meeting with Obama.
The crew is expected to land Wednesday night at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, a spokesman for the Maersk shipping line said today.
One person waiting eagerly is Heather Giardinelli, the fiance of crew member John Cronin, and their two daughters, Sarah and Annie.
Giardinelli, however, said there were two things that Cronin wanted her to make clear to people. First, that the crew didn't have to retake its ship from pirates because the crew never surrendered the ship to the pirates, she said.
"I know that it's important to the crew that people know that," Giardinelli said.
American Crew Says Don't Forget Other Pirate Hostages
"And also that there's 200 other hostages being held, other seamen, with 200 families that have endured what we've endured," she said. "And that can't be allowed to continue."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.