by Ewen MacAskill in Washington and Xan Rice in Nairobi
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 8 April 2009 21.08 BST
When Somali pirates skimmed across the Indian Ocean and muscled their way aboard a US food aid ship today, it had all the hallmarks of a depressingly familiar scene: a hostage cargo ship, a vulnerable crew and a well-organised team of brigands with the firepower and knowhow to seize a ship and demand a fat ransom.
But as a dramatic tussle on the high seas played out tonight, it became clear this was a startlingly different confrontation to the regular string of hijackings and hostage-takings that have plagued the waters off the Horn of Africa in recent months.
The standoff was apparently defused when the 20-man crew turned on their captors and managed to overpower them, seizing one pirate and sending three others fleeing for their dinghy.
The drama began when the Maersk Alabama, a container vessel owned by the Danish shipping giant, was hijacked 280 miles southeast of Eyl off Somalia’s eastern coast this morning. It was the pirates’ sixth successful strike in the past fortnight. It was also the first US ship, and crew, to be seized by Somali pirates. Although hostages are seldom hurt while ransoms are negotiated, the kidnapping of Americans would pose serious concern in the White House.
Obama and the White House team had only arrived back in Washington at about 3am (EST) after a week-long tour of Europe and Iraq, but they monitored the crisis, facing the prospect of paying millions in ransom money, as other countries have done, or ordering military action.
via Somali pirates overpowered by US crew but captain still held prisoner | World news | guardian.co.uk
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