A cargo ship loaded with humanitarian aid was headed to Kenya under US Navy escort yesterday Wednesday after escaping Somali pirates firing grenades and automatic weapons, the second unsuccessful hijacking attempt of a US freighter in a week, officials said.
In defiance of US President Barack Obama’s vow to halt their banditry, pirates have seized four vessels and about 60 hostages off the Horn of Africa since Sunday’s rescue of a US freighter captain from the drifting lifeboat where he was held hostage. If they had been successful on Tuesday, the MV Liberty Sun would have been the fifth.
The Liberty Sun’s crew was not injured in the attack but the vessel sustained unspecified damage, owner Liberty Maritime Corp said in a statement on Tuesday night.
“We are under attack by pirates, we are being hit by rockets.
Also bullets,” crewman Thomas Urbik, 26, wrote his mother in an e-mail on Tuesday. “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.”
It was not immediately clear what happened next. Urbik sent a follow-up e-mail “that said he was safe and they had a naval escort taking them in,” his mother, Katy Urbik, said.
A US Navy destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, responded to the attack, but the pirates had departed by the time it arrived around six hours later, Navy Captain Jack Hanzlik said.
The Bainbridge is the same destroyer from which Navy SEAL snipers killed three pirates holding Captain Richard Phillips captive aboard the powerless lifeboat. A fourth pirate surrendered. Phillips had been held captive for five days after exchanging himself to safeguard his crew during a thwarted hijacking of the Alabama by the pirates last week.
The Bainbridge was carrying Phillips to Kenya when it was called to respond to the attack on the Liberty Sun. He was to return home to the US yesterday, after reuniting with his 19-man crew in the port city of Mombasa, the shipping company Maersk Line Ltd said.
The Liberty Sun, with its crew of about 20 Americans, was carrying humanitarian aid to Mombasa, Hanzlik said.
“We commend the entire crew for its professionalism and poise under fire,” Liberty Maritime of Lake Success, New York, said in the statement.
Katy Urbik, said she was “very relieved and grateful to God for protecting him and to our Navy, and that we come from a country that can respond like that and protect our citizens.”
The brigands are grabbing more ships and hostages to show they would not be intimidated by Obama’s pledge to confront the high-seas bandits, a pirate based in the Somali coastal town of Harardhere said.
“Our latest hijackings are meant to show that no one can deter us from protecting our waters from the enemy because we believe in dying for our land,” Omar Dahir Idle said by telephone.
After a lull at the beginning of the year because of rough seas, the pirates since the end of February have attacked at least 78 ships, hijacked 19 of them and hold 16 vessels with more than 300 hostages from a dozen or so countries.
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