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April 10, 2009

Pirates' parents plan to intercede at hostage stand-off scene

As Captain Richard Phillips remained the captive of four pirates aboard the lifeboat of the Maersk Alabama, Ecoterra International says that the pirates' parents and a group of Somali elders are preparing to travel to the scene by boat.

They hope to negotiate the release of Captain Philliips to the USS Bainbridge "without any guns or ransom," in return for taking the four pirates home unharmed.

Ecoterra International describes itself as "the last international environmental organization still working in Somalia" and also appears to have an affiliation with Andrew Mwangura's East African Seafarers Assistance Program.

The Ecoterra report is in sharp contrast to mass media reports that say pirates are sending hijacked ships for a showdown with the U.S. Navy.

Here's the Ecoterra International release unedited:

Somali Elders and parents of the four pirates, who are holding the captain of a American merchant vessel hostage in a life-boat entangled in the stand-off with the US-American Navy, have vowed to solve the problem peacefully. They travelled already from inland Galkayo to Garacad at the seashore and are ready to travel at first light by boat towards the scene. The group of respected local leader Abdi Ali Mohamed is determined and promised that they will be able "without any guns or ransom" to hand over the American captain of MV ALABAMA safely to the nearby USS Bainbridge. The elders demand only that they get a written guarantee for their safe and free return to Somalia together with the young pirate-boys hailing from their community. They started to insist on the written guarantee signed by a senior US naval officer only after their offer to the US was responded to by a call to their known mobile phone number from a Somali - presumably from the naval destroyer that arrived on the scene earlier Thursday-, who -according to the elders - speaks very poor, Americanized Somali language and whom they do not trust. Already earlier in the day it was reported that first negotiations by the FBI-- presumably with the help of this Somali translator -- failed miserably. Thereafter an escape attempt by the captain was quickly averted by the Somali youngsters, who recaptured him and still hold him on the lifeboat, reportedly unharmed. The elder are reachable by their mobile phone and only await the consent and go-ahead from the Americans.

Rather differently, Reuters is quoting what it calls "pirate sources" as saying that the four holding Captain Phillips are demanding $2 million for his release--along with safe passage out of the area.

On Thursday night, Captain Phillips jumped from the lifeboat and tried to swim for the USS Bainbridge. Some of the pirates jumped into the water and recaptured him. Another fired shots, but Captain Phillips was reportedly unharmed. However, he was apparently tied up by the pirates.

Earlier today, Maersk Line, Limited issued the following statement from Mrs. Andrea Phillips, wife of Captain Phillips:

"My family and I would like to thank our neighbors, our community, and the nation for the outpouring of support. We have felt the compassion of the world through your concern for Richard. My husband is a strong man and we will remain strong for him. We ask that you do the same."

The USS Bainbridge has now been joined by the USS Halyburton, which has helicopter capabilities. The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer is headed for the area

Meantime, Reuters quotes a pirate source as saying that the pirates who seized the German containership Hansa Stavanger is sailing it towards the area, with its hostages aboard. CNN is reporting much the same story, but quotes its source as a U.S. official who says the U.S. military is monitoring communications between the pirates.

As this situation was playing out, Florent Lemacon, the owner of the hijacked French yacht Tanit, died along with two pirates in a Friday rescue bid by French special forces that saved four other hostages, including Mr. Lemarcon's wife and three year old child. Three other pirates were taken prisoner.

In yet another development, the Norwegian-owned, tanker Bow Asir, held since the end of March, was released today after a ransom of a reported $2.4 million was paid.

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