The crew of the American cargo ship briefly seized last week by Somali pirates
arrived back in the United States early Thursday morning.
The 19-man crew from the Maersk Alabama arrived at 1 a.m. on a chartered flight at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Family members and representatives from the shipping company Maersk greeted the plane, standing on the tarmac, cheering and waving American flags.
The captain of the Alabama, Richard Phillips, who was freed by U.S. Navy commandos in a dramatic rescue at sea, was not with the returning crew. He remained on board the U.S.S. Bainbridge, which was reportedly making for port in Mombasa, Kenya, after having responded to a distress call on Tuesday from another American merchant ship, the Liberty Sun.
Captain Phillips is expected to return to the United States in the coming days, Maersk officials said.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday announced new diplomatic efforts to deal with the increasing piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the East African coast. She endorsed freezing pirates’ assets and perhaps moving against pirate sanctuaries on land. The United States successfully pressed for the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution last December that authorized such “hot pursuits” by international navies.
Also Wednesday, French naval forces detained 11 people suspected of being pirates during an assault on what they described as a pirate “mother ship” in the Indian Ocean off Somalia. The Liberty Sun was attacked in the same region, but the ship’s evasive maneuvers foiled the hijack attempt. The Liberty Sun, with its cargo of humanitarian food aid, arrived in Mombasa on Wednesday evening.
French forces had freed a yacht, the Tanit, in an operation last week in which two pirates and a hostage were killed; three pirates taken prisoner in that episode have been sent to France.
The French tactics — and the earlier rescue operation by the Bainbridge, which included Navy snipers killing three pirates using night-vision scopes — indicated a new and more muscular approach by governments in battling piracy. It was a change of course broadly outlined in Mrs. Clinton’s remarks.
“The modus operandi,” she said, “for a lot of countries and shipping companies up until now has been, “OK, they hijacked the ship. They get it into port. Nobody’s harmed. We pay a ransom. We’ve done a business calculation, so that’s the way it is.’ “
But then she added: “The United States does not make concessions or ransom payments to pirates.”
The 11 suspects detained Wednesday by the French were being held on board a French frigate, the Nivôse, part of a European Union antipiracy task force patrolling the area, the French Defense Ministry said in a statement.