US won t give in to pirate blackmail

April 13, 2009 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, April 13 – The shipping company whose captain is being held hostage by Somali pirates said the US Navy saw him alive Sunday, as a top senator said the United States is "not going to give in to blackmail."

 Maersk Line, operators of the Maersk Alabama which was briefly hijacked by armed pirates this week before its captain was taken captive, said the navy told them they "had sight contact of Captain Richard Phillips" Sunday.

Intense negotiations are ongoing off the coast of Somalia where the small band of pirates have held Phillips in a lifeboat since Wednesday, closely shadowed by two US Navy warships.

The previous night, a small US naval party approached the lifeboat but was forced back when the pirates opened fire, The New York Times reported.

The pirates’ defiance of Western naval powers has highlighted the difficulty in dealing with the pirates wreaking havoc on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, but a US lawmaker warned that Washington was not ready to cave in to the demands of outlaws.

"We’re not going to give in to blackmail, and we’re not going to allow them to continue to do what they’re doing," pledged Republican Senator Tom Coburn on the Fox News Sunday program.

The US approach to the piracy problem is "going to have to be much more aggressive," he added.

The talks — involving Somali elders and negotiators from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation — for the captain’s release broke off Saturday when US authorities insisted the pirates be arrested, while the hijackers reportedly demanded a two-million-dollar ransom and safe passage to Somalia.

Democratic Senator Evan Bayh, speaking alongside Coburn, said the United States has "got to make them pay a price for this kind of activity that is larger than the ransoms they’re extracting," so the pirates will be forced to "discontinue" their activities.

"This shows when you have a failed state — there’s no government in Somalia capable of controlling that coast — that leads to all sorts of problems," he added.

US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen meanwhile noted how ship owners operating in the Gulf of Aden have paid over 40 million dollars in ransom over the past year.

"They seem to have accepted this as a cost of doing business, and they’d rather pay it than confront the pirates," Allen told CNN television.

For that reason, he added, the United States alongside the international community needs to "create a viable, effective, legal mechanism to hold these people accountable so that doesn’t have to be the option."

Four pirates on Wednesday hijacked the US-flagged Maersk Alabama, a freighter carrying 5,000 tonnes of UN aid destined for African refugees.

Its unarmed American crew managed to regain control of the ship, but the pirates bundled Phillips into a lifeboat as they escaped.


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