Page last updated at 14:52 GMT, Saturday, 11 April 2009 15:52 UK

Pirates caution against US rescue

Capt Richard Phillips
There is rising concern over the fate of Capt Phillips

Somali pirates holding a US captain hostage have warned that using force to rescue him could result in "disaster".

The pirates said they hoped to transfer Capt Richard Phillips from a lifeboat to a bigger vessel, as US and other naval ships made their way to the area.

He is being held by four pirates hundreds of kilometres off Somalia.

Meanwhile in the Gulf of Aden sailors on a Panama-flagged bulk carrier repulsed pirates with hoses, and a US-owned tug was reportedly seized.

The tug's 16 crew are unharmed, a spokesman for the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme said.

In the first of the two incidents, Nato officials on a nearby Portuguese warship said an unexploded rocket-propelled grenade landed in the commanding officer's cabin, Reuters news agency reported.

And on Friday, one Frenchman and two pirates were killed in a rescue operation by French troops on another vessel captured off Somalia.

Four others, including a child, were freed from the yacht, Tanit, which pirates seized last week.

'Rescue tricks'

Earlier reports suggested that a group of Somali elders were preparing to mediate between American officials and the pirates for Capt Phillips' release, but there has been no news of any progress.

This matter is likely to create disaster because it is taking too long and we are getting information that the Americans are planning rescue tricks like the French commandos did
Abdi Garad
Pirate commander

The US seaman was taken hostage on Wednesday after pirates hijacked his ship, the Maersk Alabama, as it sailed towards the Kenyan port of Mombasa carrying food aid.

After a long struggle, the crew members regained control of the ship. It is thought that Capt Phillips offered himself as a hostage in order to save his crew.

The Maersk Alabama is now on its way to Mombasa, where it is expected on Saturday night.

There has been rising concern in the US over the fate of Capt Phillips - Defence Secretary Robert Gates told reporters in Washington on Friday that the safe return of the captain was a "top priority".

FBI experts are helping negotiate his release, but analysts have said the process could be lengthy.

Capt Phillips tried to escape on Friday by jumping overboard and swimming to a nearby US ship, but was recaptured.

Reports in the US say the pirates are demanding a ransom of $2m for his safe release.

The US Navy destroyer, USS Bainbridge, is at the scene of the confrontation with other American warships on the way.

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Saudi tanker Sirius Star held for two months from November 2008; a $3m ransom was negotiated
At least 15 pirate attacks reported to International Maritime Bureau during March 2009
The 32,500-tonne Malaspina Castle, UK-owned but operated by Italians, seized on 6 April 2009.

Stories circulating in Somalia claim that extra pirate ships are also making their way towards the area.

The pirates say they hope to transfer Capt Phillips to a bigger and better-protected vessel.

"We are planning to transfer the hostage on to one of the ships our [pirate] friends are holding around Garacad area so that we can wait," one of the pirate leaders, Abdi Garad, told AFP news agency, adding that negotiations had reached an impasse.

The Pentagon is also said to be considering other options, US sources say.

"One of the options of last resort is for the military to exercise combat force to try and rescue Captain Phillips," retired US commander Kirk Lippold told AFP.

But the Somali pirate commander warned against any forcible intervention.

"I'm afraid this matter is likely to create disaster because it is taking too long and we are getting information that the Americans are planning rescue tricks like the French commandos did," Abdi Garad said.

French ordeal

The attacks on the aid ship and the French yacht have renewed international focus on hijackings in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Florent Lemacon (L) and pirates on board the Tanit on 10 April
Florent Lemacon, left, was killed during the rescue effort

Florent Lemacon, the owner of the French yacht and father of the child who was on board, was killed during the rescue operation.

French Defence Minister Herve Morin said on Saturday that officials "cannot rule out" that Mr Lemacon was killed by French fire.

But he said the raid was "the best possible decision," and that an investigation would determine what happened on board the Tanit.

The four released hostages - Mr Lemacon's wife Chloe, their three-year-old son Colin, and two other adults - are due to arrive in Paris on Sunday, he said.

Somalia has been without an effective government since 1991, fuelling the lawlessness which has allowed the pirates to thrive.

Pirates typically hold the ships and crews until large ransoms are paid by the shipping companies. Last year the firms handed over about $80m (£54m).

Efforts to stop the pirates have so far had only limited success, with international naval patrols struggling to cover the vast areas of ocean where pirates operate.

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