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Negotiations resume to free US captain

world Updated: Apr 12, 2009 14:28 IST

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Negotiations to free an American captain held captive by Somali pirates resumed on Sunday after talks failed the previous day when US authorities insisted the pirates be arrested, officials said. "Efforts to end the matter did not succeed Saturday and elders have left the village of Garacad Saturday midnight to resume the negotiations again," Mohamoud Jama, a Somali elder in Garacad, told AFP by phone.

"We have been told the pirates need a free passage after they release the captain and the American officials told them they are handing them over to the local authorities in Puntland," he added, referring to the northern Somali breakaway region that is a main hub for piracy.

The negotiations broke down over the issue, he said. An official in the Puntland town of Bossaso also said negotiations resumed Sunday. "We heard that a team of elders have been taken from Garacad overnight to negotiate the release of the captain," he told AFP by phone on condition of anonymity. "But things are still murky and we don't know how this matter will be ending."

US Navy forces have poured into the region since the attack on Captain Richard Phillips' Danish-operated container ship, the Maersk Alabama, but the pirates have warned against using force to rescue him. He has been held aboard a lifeboat since the attack on Wednesday. The ship's unarmed crew managed to regain control of the ship, but the pirates bundled Phillips into the lifeboat as they escaped.

They have demanded a ransom and said on Saturday they planned to move Phillips to another ship held by their "friends."The New York Times, citing unnamed Somali officials, also reported Sunday that negotiations had broken down after US officials insisted the pirates be arrested after Phillips's return.

It said the breakdown occurred hours after the pirates had fired on a small US Navy vessel that tried to approach the lifeboat in the Indian Ocean.

The Maersk Alabama was transporting 5,000 tonnes of UN aid destined for African refugees when it was attacked.Pirates have intensified their attacks over the past week and seized another ship on Saturday, an Italian vessel with 16 people aboard.

The announcement of the capture of the 75-metre (250-foot) Buccaneer was made in an email to the boat's owners Micoperi Marine Contrators, spokesman Claudio Bartolotti told AFP from the company's headquarters in Ravenna, northern Italy. He said 10 Italians, five Romanians and a Croat were on board.