Captain Of Hijacked Vessel Still Hostage
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. A dramatic pirate standoff today in the high seas off the coast of Somalia. Four pirates managed to board the American-flagged cargo ship, Maersk Alabama, as it sailed some 275 miles off the coast. There were reports the pirates had captured the ship. Then word came that the ship's crew had outmaneuvered them by disabling the vessel and capturing one of the pirates. Now, the latest reports have the pirates in the ship's lifeboat with one hostage, the U.S. captain.
Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been following the story all day long and joins us now. Tom, can you tell us how the pirates managed to board the ship and what happened afterward?
TOM BOWMAN: Well, Michele, what we're told is that this all happened around 7 AM local time. The crew of the ship radioed that the - four small boats were heading toward them. And then within minutes, four pirates using grappling hooks climbed aboard the ship. They were heavily armed. They took the crew hostage. And then what happened next is murky. Some officials say that the crew disabled the ship. It was essentially dead in the water. And at that point, that's when the pirates left in one of the cargo ship's lifeboats with the captain.
NORRIS: And what are the latest reports about the captain? Is he believed to still be in that lifeboat?
BOWMAN: Yes he is. We're told that U.S. Navy planes, patrol aircraft, there are also unmanned drones out there in the area, that they have spotted the captain in the lifeboat with the pirates. And it seems that, you know, he's in pretty good shape and that's the latest we have from Pentagon officials.
NORRIS: So they spotted the captain. Are there U.S. warships or vessels from other nations heading in that direction?
BOWMAN: Yes, there are a number of ships from other nations in the area and there's also an American ship, the USS Bainbridge. It's a destroyer. It's probably about ten hours away from the lifeboat with the captain in it. And it's steaming toward that direction now. And we're told that maybe within four or five hours, the Bainbridge could possibly launch its helicopters. There are two helicopters aboard. It's called the Seahawk helicopters, essentially the Navy's version of the Army's Blackhawk helicopter. So that could get - be launched within, you know, four or five hours.
NORRIS: Now, we understand the crew has been able to reach out to some of their family members and others back in the U.S., what do we know about the crew?
BOWMAN: Well, as far as we know, the crew is safe. There are no injuries aboard. And you're right, a number of crew members have been talking with family members. So - but one concern with Pentagon officials is if the pirates decide to head back to the ship with the captain, and again, they're heavily armed, we're not sure if anyone aboard the ship has any sort of armament. So that's one concern you're hearing from Pentagon officials. But right now, as far as we know, they're away from the ship in the lifeboat with the captain.
NORRIS: There has been quite a lot of pirate activity in this area, particularly in the Gulf of Aden. Is this the first time that a U.S. flagship has been taken in this recent wave?
BOWMAN: Yes it is. It's - a number of ships have been taken over the past several months from - ships from countries. This is the first time that an American ship with an American crew has been taken. So this is something different. There's a great concern about this at the Pentagon. A lot of meetings have been going on among other government agencies about this latest development, about an American ship being taken. And a number of the ships from other nations have been taken, again, over the past several months. And the owners have generally paid a ransom of millions of dollars, in some cases.
NORRIS: Quickly remind us what kind of mission there were on.
BOWMAN: Well, it was carrying American food aid from Oman to Mombasa, Kenya. It had cooking oil aboard, some other types of food stuffs. And, again, they were heading to Kenya with this food aid from U.S. Agency for International Development, when they were taken by the pirates.
NORRIS: Tom, thank you.
BOWMAN: You're welcome.
NORRIS: That was NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.
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