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Navy Crew Arrives to Assess Pirate Situation

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 9, 2009 – Pirates still hold the captain of the Maersk Alabama on the waters off Somalia, but the Navy destroyer USS Bainbridge has arrived on the scene, a Defense Department spokesman said today.

“There’s intense interest in this, and I appreciate that, but I must ask that you appreciate the fact that this is an on-going and unfolding situation,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said to reporters at the Pentagon today. “For those reasons, I will not talk in any detail of what the military aspect of this may or may not be.”

Somali pirates assaulted the American ship yesterday. They briefly took the vessel, but the 21-member crew took it back and captured one of the pirates in the process. News reports say the remaining pirates kidnapped the American captain of the ship. The American crew reportedly attempted a trade with the pirates, and the effort failed.

U.S. Navy assets have arrived in the vicinity and are assessing the situation, Whitman said. “This is something that more than the United States Defense Department is interested in working on,” he said. Stopping piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden requires interagency and international responses, he said.

Pirate attacks in the region have spiked over the last few weeks. Part of this is because the pirates are responding to pressure placed on them by Task Force 151, a U.S. 5th Fleet unit combating piracy in the region, officials said. Also, officials added, improved weather in the region has allowed pirates to operate farther off shore. The Maersk Alabama was 300 miles off the coast when the pirates boarded.

Task Force 151 operates in a 1.1-million-square-mile region. “That is part of the challenge,” Whitman said. “It is a large area and you can’t be everywhere at once.”

Previously, Whitman cited economic problems as the driving factor for Somali pirates. They live in a failed state, he explained, and piracy is a way to feed their families. While Somalia does have an al-Qaida presence, the ship hijackings do not appear to be part of the terror network, Whitman said.

Defense Department officials are in almost constant contact with officials aboard Maersk Alabama, Whitman said.

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