American Captain 'Unharmed' in Lifeboat

Shipping company statement: "Radio contact" with ship, Navy indicates he's OK.

ByABC News
April 8, 2009, 7:55 AM

NAIROBI, Kenya, April 9, 2009 — -- The American ship captain who remained held hostage by pirates for a second day on a disabled lifeboat bobbing in the Indian Ocean apparently is unharmed, according to the shipping company for which he works.

"The captain remains with the pirates on the lifeboat within full visibility of the USS Bainbridge," a U.S. destroyer, the shipping company Maersk said in a statement released Thursday at 5 p.m. ET.

"The captain has been in touch with the crew [of his ship] and with the USS Bainbridge," the statement added. "He has radio contact and has been provided with additional batteries and provisions. The most recent communication indicates that the captain is unharmed."

The Maersk statement didn't say when Capt. Richard Phillips or the pirates holding him had last communicated.

The update about Phillips' condition came as the Department of Defense mulled releasing photos of the lifeboat taken during the standoff, sources said.

The four brazen pirates in the lifeboat with Phillips have indicated they intend to take Phillips to Somalia and hold him for ransom, despite the fact that their 28-foot boat is in need of gas, 300 miles from the Somalia coast, and in the shadow of the USS Bainbridge.

The stress of having her husband in such a perilous situation was clearly taking a toll on Phillips' wife. With a large number of reporters camped outside Phillips' Vermont home, Andrea Phillips asked a neighbor to plead with the press to leave.

"She's done very well under the circumstances, but right now she's just under enormous strain," said neighbor Michael Willard. He said Andrea Phillips was "overwhelmed" and "upset enough about her husband and his situation."

The high seas drama settled into a standoff after the pirates boarded the container ship Maersk Alabama Wednesday while firing AK-47 assault rifles, but were forced off the ship a short time later by the unarmed 20-member American crew who captured one of the pirates.

Phillips, 53, of Underhill, Vt., apparently prevented a bloody counterattack by the pirates by offering himself as a hostage. A prisoner exchange was arranged, but the pirates didn't keep their part of the bargain and refused to let the captain go free.

The U.S. government has mobilized, sending another warship, the Halyburton, to the area, and Gen. David Petreaus said the American military will increase its presence near the Horn of Africa within 48 hours. In addition, an FBI hostage negotiator team was mobilized to help deal with the delicate situation.

In its Thursday evening statement, Maersk declined to elaborate on what is already known about the incident.

"There have been many questions about how the crew re-captured the ship and how the captain came to leave the ship," the company's statement said. "Our immediate focus has been to bring the current situation to a safe resolution. There will be time for due diligence and retrospective review once we have the safe return of all parties and the opportunity for a full de-briefing.

"With regard to our involvement with federal agencies, we are in direct contact with all related agencies," the Maersk statement added. "In order to honor our commitment to the safety of all parties concerned, we have to refrain from commenting on specific activities."

Publicly, the Obama administration also has been restrained in its public comments. The president has declined to make any statement about the attack on an American crew and Attorney General Eric Holder said he didn't know whether the U.S. would prosecute the pirates if they are captured.

"It is a little early to tell at this point," Holder said. "There has not been an act of piracy, I think, against a United States vessel in hundreds of years. So I'm not sure exactly what would happen."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today that she was closely watching the situation and noted that, "Apparently, the lifeboat has run out of gas." Officials also said one of the pirates in the lifeboat was "seriously injured."

Meanwhile, Maersk officials have ordered the Alabama to leave the area and sail for Mombasa, Kenya. The Navy has put an 18-man security force on the Alabama for its trip to Mombasa. Officials said they believe other pirates are in the "general area."

A P-3 surveillance plane has been replaced with a drone keeping watch for the pirates' mother ship. A Defense official said the Bainbridge is not expected to take any action on the pirates in the lifeboat, but may take action if the mother ship shows up.

The stranded pirates demanded fuel, food supplies and radio batteries for a trip back to Somalia, but all they were given was extra batteries for their radio, officials said.