(Update: Somali Foreign Minister Mohamed Omaar said Thursday "there is no way" the pirates can win. Officials have said the lifeboat in which the tanker’s American captain is being held has run out of fuel and is being monitored by U.S. ships and aircraft. "The pirates are playing with fire and have got themselves into a situation where they have to extricate themselves because there is no way they can win," Omaar said.)
Nairobi, Kenya (AP) - US Warship Arrives As Pirates' Options Dwindle
A U.S. destroyer on Thursday reached the waters where Somali pirates held the American captain of a hijacked cargo ship that was later retaken by the ship's crew in a riveting high seas drama.
Kevin Speers, a spokesman for the ship company Maersk, told AP Radio that the USS Bainbridge had arrived off the Horn of Africa near where the pirates were floating near the Maersk Alabama.
The Bainbridge was among several U.S. ships that had been patrolling in the region when the 17,000-ton U.S.-flagged cargo ship and its 20 crew were captured Wednesday.
In an hours-long drama, the unarmed sailors managed to capture a pirate and use him as a hostage to secure their own release, but the pirates took Capt. Richard Phillips with them as they escaped into a lifeboat.
Although hundreds of sailors from other nations have been held hostage, sometimes for months, Wednesday was the first pirate attack on American sailors for around 200 years.
Phillips' family gathered in his Vermont farmhouse, anxiously watching news reports and taking telephone calls from the U.S. State Department to learn if he would be freed by the pirates.
"We are on pins and needles," said Gina Coggio, 29, half-sister of Phillips' wife, Andrea, as she stood on the porch of his one-story house Wednesday in a light snow. "I know the crew has been in touch with their own family members, and we're hoping we'll hear from Richard soon."
Phillips surrendered himself to the pirates to secure the safety of the crew, Coggio said.
"What I understand is that he offered himself as the hostage," she said. "That is what he would do. It's just who he is and his response as a captain."
With one warship nearby and more on the way, piracy expert Roger Middleton from London-based think tank Chatham House said the pirates were facing difficult choices.
"The pirates are in a very, very tight corner," Middleton said. "They've got only one guy, they've got nowhere to hide him, they've got no way to defend themselves effectively against the military who are on the way and they are hundreds of miles from Somalia."
The pirates would probably try to get to a mothership, he said, one of the larger vessels that tow the pirates' speedboats out to sea and resupply them as they lie in wait for prey. But they also would be aware that if they try to take Phillips to Somalia, they might be intercepted. And if they hand him over, they would almost certainly be arrested.
"If I was a pirate at this point, I think I'd resign and take up gardening," Middleton said.
Other analysts say the U.S. will be reluctant to use force as long as one of its citizens remains hostage. French commandos, for example, have mounted two military operations against pirates once the ransom had been paid and its citizens were safe.
The Maersk Alabama, en route to neighboring Kenya and loaded with relief aid, was attacked about 380 miles (610 kilometers) east of the Somali capital of Mogadishu. It was the sixth vessel seized in a week.
Many of the pirates have shifted their operations down the Somali coastline from the Gulf of Aden to escape naval warship patrols, which have had some success in preventing attacks in the Gulf of Aden.
The string of attacks follow a lull during a period of bad weather. The Maersk Alabama was the 66th attack on shipping this year so far this year, already an increase on the 111 attacks reported off the Horn of Africa last year.
International attention focused on Somali pirates last year after the audacious hijackings of an arms shipment and a Saudi oil supertanker. Currently warships from over a dozen nations are patrolling off the Somali coast but analysts say the multimillion dollar ransoms paid out by companies ensure piracy in war-ravaged, impoverished Somalia will not disappear.
Associated Press Writer John Curran in Underhill, Vt. contributed to this report.
A family member said Capt. Richard Phillips surrendered himself to the pirates to secure the safety of the crew. President Obama is said to be following the situation closely.