**THE LATEST** Associated Press is reporting the US Crew is back in control of the Maersk Alabama ... one pirate in custody; read the story here... including details about the ship's second in command, whose dad teaches a course in security and piracy at the Mass. Maritime Academy...
Pirates in the waters off Somalia are at it again, but this time it's game-changing. For the first time anyone can remember, a vessel flying a US flag has been hijacked, and we're hearing the crew of 20 Americans is now held captive. What's more disturbing is that early reports are that this ship is on a relief mission to Kenya.
The first thing I did was Google the ship's name, the Maersk Alabama.
The ship is carrying tons of relief aid with an all American crew. The LA Times story online right now says the last time an American ship was hijacked by African pirates was in 1804:
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According to Andrew Mwangura, head of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program in Nairobi, Kenya, the last pirate attack of an American vessel by African pirates was reported in 1804, off Libya. "It's been a very long time," he said.
I also found some pictures from some earlier relief missions run on this same cargo ship. This story in the SIU "Brotherhood of the Seas" Union Website shows a picture of relief workers on board brightening up the holidays for children in need:
Crew members late last year purchased and donated more than $1,400 worth food, personal hygiene products, disinfectants, laundry and bedding items for the 95 residents of a children’s home in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Alabama Chief Mate Brian Mossman—with the assistance of Tanzania-based Maersk Agents Thomas Odeny and Isaac Mbugi—did much of the groundwork to make the project possible, including contacting officials at the orphanage to ascertain specifically what items were most needed. Among those in demand were rice and beans, cooking oil, vegetables, toothpaste, aspirin, laundry soap and sheets and mosquito nets for more than 50 bunks.
Since the kids rarely have the opportunity to eat meat, the crew also pitched in so that Odeny and Mbugi could buy two goats for the children’s Christmas dinner.
This being a Google search and all, we can't know if these are the same crew members on the same exact type of mission, but it certainly sounds like it, from early news reports.
I found another website that was unfortunately in German, but managed to translate it thanks to Babel-Fish. Does the translated site show up here? Hopefully so. But aside from a lot of gibberish (I can read German almost as well as Babel Fish, come to think of it) it told me that the pictures on this site are of the same types of things likely onboard the Maersk Alabama this time.
(...a sampling of my Babel Fish translation:
"So the 19 „own “protestant municipalities and the 5 „external “again two 40 ' containers with many relief supplies have such as posting and sewing machines, good bicycles 3 wheelchairs, a professional board and a large craftsman table circular saw, a church-bell, unite PCs, school books including Schulranzen and very good (usually prepared) clothes, covers and shoes not to forget the spare parts for the many solar lamps on 6 October bepackt." See what I mean?)
It seems that this ship and crew routinely makes relief runs, and this was one of them, according to this story in the NY Daily News:
"The cargo aboard the ship included containers of food from the U.N.'s World Food Program destined for Kenya, said Peter Beck-Bang, spokesman for the Danish company that owns the vessel."
Last year we heard about dozens of hijackings of ships with valuable cargoes, including an oil tanker which was held for a time until the Saudi Arabian oil company that owned the ship paid a reported $3 million ransom.
Since then, US military ships have stepped up patrols in the Indian Ocean, but it's really like the last frontier out there. A tiny pirate boat is practically invisible on a vast ocean, as the LA times story says:
U.S. warships, joined by several other foreign navies, have been patrolling the region since late last year, attempting to fill the security gap left by Somalia's weak transitional government. The last functioning government was toppled in 1991.
At the time of the attack today, the closest U.S. warship was 300 miles away and unable to respond. "We are covering 1 million square miles," Christensen said. "It's a vast area, four times as big as Texas."
And, as VOA online's story points out, all the pirates have to do is fire a grenade into a ship's living quarters to start a fire. The crew has to focus on putting the fire out rather than fighting off the pirate attack and takeover. They're operating hundreds of miles offshore now, where it's not as choppy as it was a few months ago, and it appears to be open season on the open seas once again.
Right now, there are at least 16 ships and their crews (an estimated 200 people) being held by pirates off the Somali coast. As for the Maersk Alabama, and its relief supplies, I quote one of the comments on the NBCLA.com story. Maybe the Navy Seals should deliver the "ransom."