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FBI will negotiate with Somali pirates

THE United States called in FBI hostage negotiators while a US destroyer kept close watch on a lifeboat on which Somali pirates held an American ship captain yesterday - a day after the bandits hijacked a US-flagged vessel before being overpowered.

The pirates took Captain Richard Phillips as a hostage as they escaped the Maersk Alabama in the covered lifeboat.

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko described the bureau's hostage rescue team as "fully engaged" with the military in working out ways to retrieve the ship's captain and secure the Maersk Alabama and its crew of about 20 Americans.

Kevin Speers, a spokesman for the ship company Maersk, said the pirates have made no demands yet to the company. He said the safe return of the abducted captain is now its top priority. The USS Bainbridge had arrived off the Horn of Africa near where the pirates were floating near the Maersk.

"It's on the scene," Speers said of the Bainbridge, adding that the lifeboat holding the pirates and the captain is out of fuel.

"The boat is dead in the water," he said. "It's my understanding that it's floating freely."

Officials declined to say how close the Bainbridge is to the site, though one official said anonymously of the pirates: "They can see it with their eyes."

The Bainbridge was among several US ships that had been patrolling in the region when the 17,000-ton US-flagged cargo ship and its 20 crew were captured on Wednesday.

Phillips surrendered himself to the pirates to secure the safety of the crew, said Gina Coggio, 29, half-sister of Phillips' wife, Andrea.

The Maersk Alabama, en route to neighboring Kenya and loaded with relief aid, was attacked about 610 kilometers east of the Somali capital of Mogadishu. It was the sixth vessel seized in a week.

Many of the pirates have shifted their operations down the Somali coastline from the Gulf of Aden to escape naval warship patrols, which had some success in preventing attacks last year.


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