The situation involving four pirates holding an American captain captive in his vessel's stolen life boat off the coast of Somalia has taken a darker, more dangerous turn today when the captain dove into the sea to escape, according to the Times (of London).
Captain Richard Phillips, who has been drifting on a lifeboat with his captors for two days, leapt overboard but was retaken by the gang, which is believed to be seeking a ransom for his safe return.
Captain Phillips had been reported to be unharmed after being taken hostage by the four pirates, who failed to capture his 17,000 tonne US-flagged container ship, the Maersk Alabama, on Wednesday. The ship’s lifeboat has run out of fuel, and although two boats full of heavily-armed fellow pirates have taken to sea in solidarity, their crews are too nervous to come near due to the presence of foreign naval ships - including the USS Bainbridge destroyer.
Earlier today, the pirates asked for a ransom in return for Phillips' safe return. A pirate, not on the life boat, told Reuters by satellite phone that if his comrades are attacked, they will kill Phillips.
Experts, however, believe the situation will be resolved as long as neither side makes any sudden, hostile moves. Negotiations between the pirates and the USS Bainbridge, aided by on-shore FBI hostage negotiators, continue.
"They will release the captain, I think, maybe today or tomorrow, but in exchange for something. Maybe some payment or compensation, and definitely free passage back home." Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program, told Reuters.
The New York Times observes that the situation demonstrates the limits of American military might when four Somali pirates can defy the world's greatest naval power.
Nevertheless, the Department of Defense is adapting, according to the NYTs:
Pentagon planners are beginning to adjust the American arsenal to deal with the threat posed by pirates and other stateless, low-tech foes. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently announced plans to outfit the Navy with more combat vessels for patrolling coastlines and to slash programs building ships designed for open sea battles against traditional rivals.
Currently, Somali pirates hold approximately 270 people captive along with 18 vessels—five of which were taken in the last week.