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Obama Commends Military, Other Agencies for Maersk-Alabama Captain Rescue

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 13, 2009 – President Barack Obama today praised the U.S. military for the Navy’s successful efforts over the weekend to rescue the kidnapped captain of the Maersk-Alabama cargo ship from Somali pirates.

“I am very proud of the efforts of the U.S. military and the many other departments and agencies that worked tirelessly to resolve this situation,” Obama said during a visit to the Transportation Department here.

Capt. Richard Phillips was rescued by Navy SEALS aboard the USS Bainbridge yesterday after being held hostage for a reported $2 million ransom in a lifeboat about 18 miles from the Somali coast for five days. SEAL snipers shot and killed the three pirates holding Phillips captive.

Phillips and his 20-member crew were about 300 miles from the coast, when the pirates engaged. He offered himself to the pirates as a hostage to deter aggression toward his ship and crew, who eventually regained control of the ship.

“I share our nation’s admiration for Captain Phillips’ courage and leadership and selfless concern for his crew,” the president said. “His safety has been our principal concern. And I know [the rescue] came as a welcome relief to his family and his crew.”

Obama said the United States is “resolved to halt the rise of piracy” off the Somali coast and in the Gulf of Aden, where pirates have become more defiant and regular in their attacks against unarmed vessels.

“We're going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks,” he said. “We have to continue to be prepared to confront them when they arise. And we have to ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes.”

Piracy is a growing concern for the United States and internationally, but the issue may worsen without a solid solution, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters here today.

“If that last couple of days have taught us anything, it reinforces the fact that [piracy] is a complicated and international problem that needs to be addressed broadly,” Whitman said. “I am fairly certain in the days ahead that this will be an issue that not only this department, but the government at large … could be doing as a national [effort] and with other international organizations, and with allies in the region as well.

Whether it’s humanitarian aide to Somalia or possible military training to Somalis, Whitman said, there’s no shortage in ways and means the United States and international partners could approach the piracy issue and Somalia’s lack of a legitimate government. The pure size of the region presents difficulties, he added.

“Clearly, it’s a big challenge when you’re talking about a coastline and body of water as large as it is, and you’re dealing with a country that is largely ungoverned -- that certainly is a complicating situation,” Whitman said.

“We’ll just have to see in the days ahead,” he added. “There are going to be a lot of smart people in this government that examine [the piracy issue] closely and see what else we might be able to do to prevent things like this from happening in the future, at least mitigate the number [of attacks] and seriousness.”

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