11 Apr 2009

Mediation bid in Indian Ocean pirate hostage standoff

8:51 pm on 11 April 2009

Somali elders and relatives of pirates holding an American hostage on the high seas are planning a mediation mission.

Richard Phillips has been held on a lifeboat since Wednesday, when pirates briefly hijacked the ship he was captaining in the Indian Ocean.

The group of elders and relatives is hoping to secure Mr Phillips's release and safe passage home.

Earlier, pirates on a German ship with 24 hostages returned to the Somali coast after failing to reach the scene of the standoff involving Mr Phillips.

The pirates had hoped to use the hijacked container vessel Hansa Stavanger as a shield to reach fellow pirates holding the American far out in the Indian Ocean.

The US destroyer Bainbridge is close to the lifeboat, aboard which four pirates are demanding $US2 million for Mr Phillips's release and a guarantee of their own safety. It is the first time Somali pirates have captured an American.

Captain volunteered to be hostage for sake of crew

They have been holding him since a foiled attempt on Wednesday to hijack the 17,000-tonne, Danish-owned Maersk Alabama in the Indian Ocean. Mr Phillips apparently volunteered to be a hostage for the sake of his crew.

At one point he jumped off the lifeboat in a bid to escape but was swiftly recaptured. It happened too fast for the US ship to come to his aid.

According to the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme in Kenya, pirates are currently holding 18 vessels with a total of 267 hostages.