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Pentagon says crew took control of ship from pirates

PENTAGON officials said yesterday that the American crew of a US-flagged cargo ship had retaken control from Somali pirates who hijacked the vessel far off the Horn of Africa.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because information was still preliminary, said the hijacked crew had apparently contacted the private company that operates the ship.

At a noon news conference, John Reinhart, chief executive officer of Maersk Line Ltd, said the company was working to contact families of the crew.

"Speculation is a dangerous thing when you're in a fluid environment. I will not confirm that the crew has overtaken this ship," he told reporters.

A US official said the crew had retaken control and had one pirate in custody.

The official said the status of the other pirates was unknown, but they were reported to "be in the water."

The ship was carrying emergency relief to Mombasa, Kenya, when it was hijacked, said Peter Beck-Bang, spokesman for the Copenhagen-based container shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk.

It was the sixth vessel seized within a week, a rise that analysts attribute to a new strategy by Somali pirates who are operating far from the warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden.

Commander Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for the US Navy's Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, said it was the first pirate attack "involving US nationals and a US-flagged vessel in recent memory."

Andrea Phillips, the wife of Captain Richard Phillips of Underhill, Vermont, said her husband has sailed in those waters "for quite some time" and that a hijacking was perhaps "inevitable."

The Cape Cod Times reported that his second in command, Captain Shane Murphy, was also among the 20 Americans aboard the Maersk Alabama.

Captain Joseph Murphy, a professor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, said his son is a 2001 graduate who recently talked to a class about the dangers of pirates. The newspaper reported the 33-year-old Murphy had phoned his mother to say he was safe.

Somali pirates are trained fighters who frequently dress in military fatigues and use speedboats equipped with satellite phones and global positioning system equipment.

They are typically armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rocket launchers and various types of grenades. Far out to sea, their speedboats operate from larger mother ships.

The US Navy said that the ship was hijacked early yesterday about 450 kilometers southeast of Eyl, a town in the northern Puntland region of Somalia.

US Navy spokesman Lieutenant Nathan Christensen said the closest US ship at the time of the hijacking was 555 kilometers away.


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