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'US captain fails in attempt to escape from pirates'

world Updated: Apr 10, 2009 21:19 IST
AFP
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The US ship captain being held hostage by pirates off Somalia jumped off the lifeboat where he was being held early on Friday but failed to escape his captors, US networks reported.

Captain Richard Phillips jumped into the water during the night and tried to swim towards the nearby US destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, but pirates jumped in and recaptured him, three US television networks reported.

US military officials told CNN that Phillips was in good condition and that the pirates did not hurt him.

The Bainbridge, accompanied by a P-3 Orion surveillance plane, was preventing the pirates from moving their hostage to a larger ship.

Meanwhile Vice Admiral William Gortney, the commander of the US 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, told CNN that negotiations between officers on the Bainbridge backed by FBI experts and the pirates were continuing.

“We have the USS Bainbridge on station currently negotiating with the pirates to get our American citizen back,” Gortney told CNN.

Gortney said a key concern was that the pirates were in touch with clan members on the mainland and could try to draw reinforcements to the standoff.

“They are communicating. With communication possibly comes coordination, cooperation with each other,” Gortney said.

Somali pirates have attacked numerous ships in the area in recent months, but this was the first attempted hijacking of a US-crewed vessel -- an act Gortney said represented a new stage in the piracy crisis.

“We always thought that one of the potential game changers out there was the US flag -- with US citizens onboard. And we’re there and that’s where we are right now,” he said.

The pirates are demanding a ransom to free Phillips, a pirate commander Abdi Garad told AFP by telephone Friday from Somalia’s northern pirate lair of Eyl, without specifying the amount.

Garad also said their men were negotiating with the US navy “not to be arrested if they release the captain.”

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