Cape Town — American merchant ship captains have called for harsh action against Somali pirates, even as an American-owned tug was seized Saturday in the Gulf of Aden.
Further south, off the east coast of Somalia, a French yachtsman was killed on Friday when the French military overwhelmed pirates and rescued his family and friends after they had been hijacked. And the captain of an American-owned and operated container ship, Richard Phillips, remains a hostage of pirates.
In a statement issued this week, Captain Calvin Hunziker, head of the Council of American Master Mariners, urged U.S. President Barack Obama "to put an end to the piracy off the Somalia coast once and for all.
"To allow pirates to continue to operate unchecked undermines any semblance of free trade and free passage of merchant ships on the world's seas," Hunziker said.
"If not dealt with swiftly and harshly, who knows where the next group will spring up, hiding behind a warlord, or sham government as they are doing along the Horn of Africa."
Soon after the statement was publicized, the European Union's Maritime Security Centre reported that the tug, which it did not name, was hijacked Saturday morning. Manned by 16 crew and sailing under the Italian flag, it was towing two barges. The centre said crew members were believed to be unharmed. No further details are available.
The Lloyd's Register-Fairplay shipping news web site reported late Friday that Captain Phillips - whose ship, the Maersk Alabama, was re-taken by its crew after being seized by pirates earlier this week - had tried to escape from the lifeboat in which he is drifting with four Somali pirates, but that the pirates had foiled his bid.
The Pentagon is declining to give updates on the situation. "There will be a point in time where we can be fully forthcoming with what the military role was and our thinking on it, and why we did what we did," Bryan Whitman told reporters. "That time is not right now."
He nevertheless said there was "no information to suggest the ship's captain has been physically harmed."
In Norfolk, Virginia, the owners of the Maersk Alabama announced that the vessel was due to dock in Mombasa late on Saturday, where officers of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation will debrief the 19-strong crew.
The Alabama left the scene of its hijacking on the orders of the U.S. Navy, which has warships keeping watch over the lifeboat in which Phillips is held. The Pentagon has confirmed that the guided-missile frigate, the USS Halyburton,has joined the USS Bainbridge at the scene.
* The French government-funded television news channel, France 24, reported Friday that Florent Lemaçon, owner of the yacht Tanit, died when his boat was stormed by elite French troops.
His wife, child and another couple were freed. Two pirates were killed and three captured. The Lemaçons had ignored warnings from the French navy to avoid sailing in the area.