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FBI Hostage Negotiators Helping Navy With Ship Captain's Rescue

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The shipping company Maersk is focused on the safe return of Capt. Richard Phillips, who was abducted by Somali pirates. Company officials are working with the Navy and other government agencies.

The businessman, who said he has not dealt with this particular network of pirates, asked not to be named for security reasons. In the past, companies that have decided to pay ransom -- usually up to several million dollars -- have wired the money to Nairobi bank accounts, the businessman said. Typically, the cash has been withdrawn and often literally stuffed in suitcases that were then handed over to the pirates, sometimes at sea. At other times, the cash was stuffed in sacks and airdropped to the pirates in the ocean.

Asked about the possibility of the USS Bainbridge backing off, a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, said: "We're not going to comment on current operations and what we may and may not be doing." He added: "It's obviously a sensitive situation, and you don't want to compromise the operation or the outcome. We're not going to speculate. . . . We're monitoring the situation and assessing the options available to us."

But a Defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the United States would not allow another pirate ship to get close to the lifeboat.

"That's not going to happen," he said. So far, no other vessels have been seen coming into the area, the official said.

Independent U.S. military experts said they doubted the pirate group would actually attempt a rescue.

The pirates took over the Maersk Alabama early Wednesday, but the American crew managed to regain control of the ship after overpowering one of the pirates. According to U.S. officials and crew members who spoke with relatives and reporters by telephone, the remaining pirates got onto the lifeboat with Phillips, who had offered himself as a hostage to save his crew. Negotiations ensued, and the Americans turned over their Somali prisoner in exchange for Phillips, but the Somalis reneged on the deal and kept the captain anyway.

In a statement posted on its Web site at 6 a.m. EDT Thursday, Maersk Line, the U.S. subsidiary of a Danish shipping firm, said it has received information suggesting that the captain is unharmed.

"We are working closely with all involved government agencies, particularly the U.S. Navy, which has arrived on the scene and is taking the lead in working toward the captain's release," the statement said. FBI hostage negotiators are assisting, officials said.

The FBI specialists were called in by the Navy to help with the negotiations with the Somali pirates and are "fully engaged in this matter," said Denise Ballew, an FBI spokeswoman.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the FBI hostage negotiators are working out of their headquarters at the FBI training facility in Quantico, Va. He said they are "using telecommunications means" to conduct the negotiations.

Phillips, the captain, has a line-of-sight radio that allows him to communicate from the lifeboat, officials said.

Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, said the Bainbridge reached the scene Wednesday nightHe said he had no information about personnel on board the Maersk and would not discuss any military forces that may be providing protection for the ship. He said the Bainbridge is near the lifeboat, but he declined to provide details on any other ships or aircraft in the area.


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