High-Seas Pirate Hostage Drama Escalates

By: CBS News
By: CBS News

OFF THE HORN OF AFRICA - An American captain held hostage by four Somali pirates tried to swim for his freedom but was recaptured Friday, and officials said the high seas hostage drama escalated as both pirate ships and U.S. warcraft sailed to the scene.

The battle against piracy turned deadly Friday in a separate incident when France's navy freed a sailboat seized last week - one hostage was killed along with two of the bandits. French officials said three pirates were taken into custody.

Pirates threatened to kill their American hostage, Capt. Richard Phillips, if the U.S. attacked them, according to a Somali who has been in contact with the pirates who are in a lifeboat within sight of a U.S. warship about 200 miles off the coast of Somalia.

Phillips is now tied up and no longer able to talk on the radio - but otherwise unharmed, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.

Increasingly it looks as though the pirates may be able to hold him indefinitely, Martin adds. The Navy could starve them out by cutting off food and water but that would also starve Phillips.

"The pirates know that negotiations may take time, that in the past commercial shipping lines have given in and paid ransom and so they may be conditioned to actually wait this out," counterterrorism expert Juan Carlos Zarate told CBS News.

The U.S. was bolstering its force by dispatching other warships to the site off the Horn of Africa, where a U.S. destroyer shadowed the lifeboat carrying Phillips. He was taken hostage in the pirates' failed effort to hijack the cargo ship Maersk Alabama on Wednesday.

Defense officials say the USS Boxer, flag ship for a multination anti-piracy task force, will be nearby soon. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss sensitive ship movements.

The Boxer resembles a small aircraft carrier. It has a crew of more than 1,000, a mobile hospital, missile launchers and about two dozen helicopters and attack planes.

The pirates' strategy is to link up with their colleagues, who are holding Russian, German, Filipino and other hostages, and get Phillips to lawless Somalia, where they could hide the hostage and make it difficult to stage a rescue, the Somali said. That would give the pirates more leverage and a stronger negotiating position to discuss a ransom. Anchoring near shore also means they could get to land quickly if attacked.

Zarate said on CBSNews.com's "Washington Unplugged" Friday that the U.S. cannot stop an outside party from paying the pirates to win the release of Captain Phillips.

The American government, he noted, "does not offer concessions to hostage takers or kidnappers." But "if the shipping company were to want to pay ransom, the U.S. government may not be in a position to actually stop that."

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