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Ship carrying 20 Americans hijacked by pirates off Somalia's coast

Posted by on Apr. 8, 2009 at 10:41 AM
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Story Highlights

  • U.S.-flagged ship believed hijacked off Somalia's coast
  • At least 20 Americans on board ship en route to Kenya, firm says
  • Ship carrying general cargo, spokesman says
  • Nearest U.S. Navy ship was hundreds of miles away
  • (CNN) -- Pirates near Somalia's coastline attacked a cargo ship Wednesday with a crew of at least 20 U.S. nationals aboard, according to the company that owns the vessel.

    The hijacked ship is the Maersk Alabama, formerly known as the Alva Maersk.

    The hijacked ship is the Maersk Alabama, formerly known as the Alva Maersk.

    Maersk Line Ltd issued a statement saying it believes the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama was hijacked. If so, it would be the sixth hijacking over the past week in the region.

    The container vessel was en route to Mombasa, Kenya, when it was attacked about 500 kilometers (310 miles) off Somalia's coast, the statement said.

    U.S. government sources said the ship was attacked about 7:30 a.m., and the closest U.S. Navy warship was about 300 nautical miles away. On Tuesday, the U.S. Navy warned mariners that pirates were attacking ships hundreds of miles offshore.

    The cargo ship is owned and operated by a Maersk subsidiary in Norfolk, Virginia, Maersk spokesman Michael Storgaard said.

    He would not provide any details about the security arrangements on board the Maersk Alabama, formerly named the Alva Maersk.

    "We have very strict policies on the vessel ... crews are trained to handle these types of situations," Storgaard said from Maersk's headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark.

    He said the company is contacting the crew members' relatives and setting up assistance for them.

    "That is at this moment our primary concern," Storgaard said. Video Watch a Maersk spokesman talk of the hijacking »

    The Maersk Line is one of the Department of Defense's primary shipping contractors, but the Maersk Alabama is not under a Pentagon contract, according to Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the U.S. military's 5th Fleet in Bahrain.

    Storgaard said the Maersk Alabama was carrying general cargo, including, most likely, aid supplies for East Africa.

    No action has been taken so far against the pirates, Christensen said.

    "There is a task force present in the region to deter any type of piracy, but the challenge remains that the area is so big and it is hard to monitor all the time," he said. "The area we patrol is over a million square miles. We can't be everywhere at once."

    He said U.S.-flagged ships are not usually escorted by the U.S. Navy unless they request it.

    Pirates are changing their tactics and taking advantage of tens of thousands of square miles of open water where fewer military ships patrol, according to U.S. military officials, as evidenced by more attacks off the coast of Somalia, south of the seas patrolled by U.S. and coalition ships.

    "They [pirates] are going where we are not, they are looking for targets where there is limited coalition presence," according to a U.S. military briefing document shown to CNN. See how pirate attacks have increased »

    Christensen said the pirates appear to be using larger ships either to attack, or as a base ship from which they launch smaller attack ships.

    "It appears the pirates are operating in a different fashion," he said. "It's a lot like cops on a beat. The criminals will go where they're not."

    Coalition ships mainly patrol in the busy sea lanes of the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and northern Somalia as ships come out of and head toward the mouth of the Red Sea.

    "Despite increased naval presence in the region, ships and aircraft are unlikely to be close enough to provide support to vessels under attack. The scope and magnitude of the problem cannot be understated," according to a news release from the U.S. Navy.


    by on Apr. 8, 2009 at 10:41 AM
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