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US ship escapes attack by pirates

SOMALI pirates fired grenades and automatic weapons at an American freighter loaded with food aid but the ship managed to escape the attack and was on its way yesterday to Kenya under United States Navy guard, officials said.

The Liberty Sun's American crew was not injured in the latest attack but the vessel sustained some damage, owner Liberty Maritime Corp said.

Despite United States President Barack Obama's vow to take action against the rise in banditry and the deaths of five pirates in French and US hostage rescues, brigands seized four vessels and more than 75 hostages since Sunday's dramatic rescue of an American freighter captain.

The sailors of the Liberty Sun successfully blockaded themselves inside the engine room - the same tactic the Maersk Alabama crew used to thwart last week's attack on their ship.

Still, the attack delayed the reunion between the Maersk Alabama captain who offered himself as a hostage to save his 19-man crew from the pirates.

Captain Richard Phillips was planning to meet his crew in the Kenyan port of Mombasa and fly home with them yesterday, but he was stuck on the USS Bainbridge when it was diverted to help the Liberty Sun.

"We are under attack by pirates, we are being hit by rockets. Also bullets," Liberty Sun crewman Thomas Urbik, 26, wrote his mother in an e-mail. "We are barricaded in the engine room and so far no one is hurt. (A) rocket penetrated the bulkhead but the hole is small. Small fire, too, but put out."

The Liberty Sun "conducted evasive maneuvers" to ward off the pirates, said US Navy Lieutenant Nathan Christensen, spokesman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet.

"That could be anything from zigzagging to speeding up to all kinds of things," he said. "We've seen in the past that that can be very effective in deterring a pirate attack."

Pirates had left the Liberty Sun by the time the Bainbridge arrived five hours later, Navy Captain Jack Hanzlik said.

A small detachment of armed US sailors are now on the Liberty Sun as it continued its journey to Mombasa. The ship, with 20 American mariners, had left Houston with a load of humanitarian food aid for the UN World Food Program.

Some of that food was destined for Somalia, where nearly half the country's 7 million people depend on aid.

Pirates may extort US$1 million or more for each ship and crew seized off the Horn of Africa - and authorities estimate they raked in US$150 million last year.

Elsewhere, French forces detained 11 other brigands in a raid on a pirate "mother ship" 900 kilometers east of Mombasa. The French Defense Ministry said the raid thwarted the sea bandits' planned attack on the Liberian cargo ship Safmarine Asia.


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