U.S. warships tracked a boatload of gunmen holding a U.S. ship’s captain hostage off the Somali coast on Sunday and unidentified military helicopters flew over the pirate lair of Haradheere.
The gunmen were in a lifeboat out of fuel and drifting toward land, U.S. military officials said. If it reached shore, they might try to escape with their hostage, the officials said.
The U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama container ship was attacked far out in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday but its 20 American crew apparently fought off the pirates and regained control.
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Relatives said merchant marine Captain Richard Phillips, 53, volunteered to go with the pirates in a Maersk Alabama lifeboat in exchange for the safety of his ship and its crew.
The four Somali pirates holding him want $2 million ransom and a guarantee of safe passage.
The incident has sharpened international attention on the growing problem of piracy in the busy sea lanes of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.