U.S. captain held by pirates arrives safe in Kenya

MOMBASA, Kenya Fri Apr 17, 2009 3:27am BST

1 of 5. U.S Navy personnel stand on the bow of U.S. Navy destroyer USS Bainbridge upon its arrival at the Kenyan port of Mombasa April 16, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Antony Njuguna

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MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - A U.S. ship's captain captured by Somali pirates last week arrived in Kenya on Thursday on a U.S. destroyer.

With Somali pirates showing no sign of halting their hijackings in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, a South Korean warship joined other navies combating the sea gangs, and more ships from Europe are due to join in from next month.

The South Korean ship arrived off Somalia's coast where the hijackers have captured dozens of ships, taken hundreds of sailors prisoner and made off with millions of dollars in ransoms.

Sweden will send two frigates and a refuelling vessel to bolster the EU's anti-piracy mission in May, while the Netherlands and Norway will each deploy a vessel in the area in August, a European Union source told Reuters.

On Thursday, U.S. forces closely guarded the U.S. warship Bainbridge after it docked at Kenya's Mombasa port, carrying Captain Richard Phillips.

U.S. Navy snipers on the warship killed three pirates on Sunday who had held Phillips, a 53-year-old father of two, on a lifeboat far out at sea.

Local police said a fourth pirate captured in the raid was likely to be taken to the United States for trial.

"It seems like there was no agreement between the two countries, so (the Americans) are most probably taking him away with them," said Ayub Gitonga, the port's police chief.

CBS News cited authorities as saying the pirate had been tentatively identified as 19-year-old Abdulwali Muse and was believed to be the suspected ringleader.

Muse will be brought to New York to face charges in the Southern District federal court, which has been the centre of terrorism cases in the United States, CBS reported.

Phillips' huge container ship, the Maersk Alabama, was attacked by Somali pirates last week, but his crew fought off the gunmen. The captain apparently volunteered to board the lifeboat in return for the safety of his 19 crew members.

On Thursday, their relatives waved tiny American flags and burst into cheers and applause as the sailors returned safely to Andrews Air Force base near Washington.

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Wednesday for more international coordination to fight piracy off Somalia, where foreign navies have struggled to stem a wave of attacks on commercial shipping.

Clinton said the pirates were criminals and that she would send an envoy to a major April 22 donors' conference on Somalia in Brussels to push for new anti-piracy steps.

Early this week, pirates captured two more ships and opened fire on two others.

A French naval frigate seized 11 buccaneers on Wednesday, foiling another attack, and said it would hand the 11 to authorities in Kenya, where they would face trial as part of a new agreement with the EU signed in March.

South Korea said it sent a destroyer to escort vessels through the region in its first foreign naval mission.

The Gulf of Aden, which links Europe to Asia via the Suez Canal, is a key route for South Korean vessels sailing from the Middle East with crude oil for the world's fifth largest buyer.

Speaking at a news conference in Nairobi, Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke said some of the funds spent on the foreign military patrols should be diverted to help his government tackle piracy onshore.

"If at least 5 percent of that money was allocated to building up the Somali national security forces, we can actually tackle this issue and stop attacks before they happen," he said.

"I think we need a home-grown solution to this home-grown problem. ... We need to build security forces capable of preventing these men from going out to sea, and also create economic opportunities for the people of the coastal areas."

(Additional reporting by Sophie Hardach in Paris, John Whitesides and JoAnne Allen in Washington, Jack Kim in Seoul and Abdiaziz Hassan in Nairobi; Writing by Jack Kimball; Editing by Richard Meares and Peter Cooney)

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