Another U.S. Cargo Ship Escapes Somali Pirate Attack

The wife of sea Capt. Richard Phillips says her husband praised the military for rescuing him and called them the 'real heroes' of his ordeal. Video by AP
By Stephanie McCrummen and William Branigin
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 15, 2009; 5:26 PM

MOMBASA, Kenya, April 15 -- Somali pirates Wednesday attempted to commandeer another U.S. cargo ship, the Liberty Sun, but the attack was thwarted, and the ship is headed toward port here with naval guards, U.S. Navy officials said.

In a separate incident Wednesday, French naval forces captured 11 pirates in the Indian Ocean after foiling their attempt to hijack a Liberian-flagged cargo ship, the French Defense Ministry announced.

In retaliation for U.S. naval operations against them, Somali pirates threatened to hunt down American-flagged ships and kill their crew members, the Associated Press reported.

Faced with escalating pirate attacks, the U.S. government Wednesday announced a series of steps aimed at cracking down on pirate bases on the Somali coast, expanding the international response to piracy and freezing the pirates' assets.

Lt. Nathan Christensen, the deputy spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet in Bahrain, said the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, which had led the rescue of the U.S. cargo ship Maersk Alabama last week, was five hours away from the Liberty Sun but responded when the alert of the attack was received.

The pirate attack occurred about 285 nautical miles southeast of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, Christensen said. The pirates had departed by the time the Bainbridge arrived. It was not immediately clear how the Liberty Sun, which reportedly carried a cargo of food aid, thwarted the assault.

The pirates fired grenades and automatic weapons at the freighter, which sustained some damage, according to its owner, Liberty Maritime Corp.

The cargo ship carries a crew of about 20, and all were reported safe. Crew members barricaded themselves inside the ship's engine room, the same tactic used by the Maersk Alabama crew, AP said.

"We are under attack by pirates, we are being hit by rockets. Also bullets," Liberty Sun crewman Thomas Urbik, 26, wrote his mother in an e-mail during the pirate assault, the news agency reported. "We are barricaded in the engine room and so far no one is hurt. [A] rocket penetrated the bulkhead but the hole is small. Small fire, too, but put out."

A security contingent from the Bainbridge boarded the Liberty Sun and will provide a guard until it reaches the port of Mombasa.

The Bainbridge is also on the way to Mombasa, where it will drop off Capt. Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama, who was held captive by pirates for several days. Navy officials said the two ships are not sailing together but are traveling along the same path.

The diversion to help the Liberty Sun apparently will slow Phillips's reunion with his crew. Most of them flew back to the United States earlier in the day and are expected to arrive late Wednesday night at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County.

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