U.S. Pursues Pirates Into Somali Waters

The USS Arleigh Burke, a guided-missile destroyer, is chasing a Japanese-owned ship captured by pirates.

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LUKE BURBANK, host:

Welcome back to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News. We are always available online: npr.org/bryantpark. I'm Luke Burbank.

ALISON STEWART, host:

And I'm Alison Stewart.

Coming up, I love Tuesdays. I get to hear all the new music.

But first, let's hear today's top stories from Rachel Martin.

BILL WOLFF (Announcer): This is NPR.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Hey, good morning, everyone.

There's a new fallout in the investigation into the private security firm Blackwater USA, and it doesn't reflect well on the U.S. State Department. According to the Associated Press, State Department investigators offered Blackwater guards immunity during an inquiry into last month's deadly shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.

Yesterday, government officials said the guards spoke only after receiving the immunity protection, which says their statement can only be used internally, not for criminal prosecutions. But apparently, these State Department investigators didn't have the authority to grant such immunity. The closed-door deal has delayed a criminal inquiry into the shooting and could undermine future efforts to prosecute Blackwater guards who were involved in the incident.

Meanwhile, Iraq's government is taking its own steps to crackdown on Blackwater and other firms. Iraq's cabinet today has approved a law that would remove the immunity previously granted to private security firms working in Iraq, and instead make these foreign security firms accountable under Iraqi laws.

In other news, a U.S. destroyer ship has entered Somali waters in pursuit of a Japanese boat that was captured by pirates earlier this week. CNN is reporting that the guided missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burge entered Somali waters with the permission of the Somali government. Maritime officials say armed pirates hijacked a chemical tanker off the coast of Somalia. Twenty-three people were onboard. Four other boats are also being held by armed groups. U.S. and NATO warships have been controlling off the Horn of Africa for several years in an attempt to crackdown piracy off Somalia. The East African country has not had a central government since 1991, and its waters have been plagued by pirates since then.

Finally today, there's a big storm making its way through the Caribbean today. Tropical Storm Noel is heading towards the Bahamas after ravaging the Dominican Republic. Officials say flooding and mudslides has killed at least 20 people in the Dominican Republic and left another 20 missing. The storm temporarily knocked out the small country's entire power system, putting more than 9 million people in the dark for about two hours. International aid workers say the death toll is certain to rise in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic as recovery efforts kick off. Forecasters say a tropical storm watch could be issued for southeast Florida later in the day.

That's the news. It's always online at npr.org.

BILL WOLFF (Announcer): This is NPR.

BURBANK: Thank you very much, Rachel.

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