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8 Apr, 2009 20:16

US crew repels Somali pirates, captain remains hostage

The crew of a US-flagged cargo ship with 20 Americans onboard, hijacked earlier by Somali pirates, have retaken control of the vessel, the Associated Press reports.

The AP reached a crew member aboard the Maersk Alabama by satellite phone who said pirates continue to hold the captain hostage in a lifeboat in nearby waters.

US officials say an American destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, and half a dozen other ships are heading to the scene.

The 17,000-ton Maersk Alabama was carrying emergency relief to Mombassa, Kenya when it was hijacked, said Peter Beck-Bang, spokesman for the Copenhagen-based container shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk.

The US Navy confirmed that the ship was hijacked on Wednesday at 0430GMT about 280 miles (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 345 miles away.

“The area the ship was taken in is not where the focus of our ships have been. The area we're patrolling is more than a million miles in size. Our ships cannot be everywhere at every time,” AP quotes Christensen as saying.

When asked how the US Navy plans to deal with the situation, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, Cmdr. Jane Campbell, said the situation was being monitored.

This is the second time that Somali pirates have seized a ship belonging to the privately held shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk.

In February 2008, the towing vessel Svitzer Korsakov from the A.P. Moller-Maersk company Svitzer was briefly seized by pirates.

Prior to this latest hijacking, Somali pirates were holding 14 vessels and about 200 crew members, according to the International Maritime Bureau.