Writers Edmund Sanders and Julian E. Barnes give us more on the attempted seizure.
With a U.S. warship steaming to the scene, Somali pirates and American seamen engaged in a standoff on the high seas early today after the crew of a freighter loaded with food for Africa fought off the hijackers -- who fled in a lifeboat with the captain as a hostage.
The first such attack against a U.S.-flagged vessel off Africa since the days of the Barbary pirates more than 200 years ago began with an attack against the U.S.-registered Maersk Alabama cargo ship far off Somalia's coast.
The 20-member crew, unarmed according to the ship's owner, managed to overpower at least four pirates and regain control, according to U.S. officials. But the captain -- Richard Phillips of Underhill, Vt. -- was being held by the pirates, according to a U.S. defense official.
His wife, Andrea Phillips, told The Associated Press that her husband has sailed in those waters ''for quite some time'' and that a hijacking was perhaps ''inevitable.'' Attempted seizure of the Danish-owned vessel marks the latest chapter in the piracy saga off Somalia. Poverty, civil war and the lack of a functioning government since 1991 have turned the waters around the Horn of Africa nation into the most crime-infested on Earth.
The attack on the cargo ship was the second in two days, U.S. officials said. After rebuffing the first attempt, the ship's crew radioed Wednesday that two skiffs were closing in. Thirty minutes later, the ship told maritime officials that pirates had attached a grappling hook and were climbing aboard.
It remained unclear how the U.S. crew retook control. A crew member told CNN that one of the pirates had been detained, but then was released in an unsuccessful bid to exchange him for the captain.