Jim Kouri
FBI responds to pirate attack off Somali Coast
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By Jim Kouri
April 10, 2009

A US Navy ship is transporting negotiators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation one day after a U.S.-flagged cargo ship was attacked by marauders off the coast of Somalia.

The Defense Department announced today that the US Navy, the USS Bainbridge arrived on the scene and was conducting an intense surveillance of the situation involving the abduction of the cargo ship's captain.

FBI negotiators were called in to help facilitate the release of the hostage captain still being held by pirates, according to the FBI.

Captain Richard Phillips is believed being held on a lifeboat near the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, which suffered an attack by the Somali pirates.

Kevin Speers, a spokesman for the ship's owner, the Norfolk, Virginia-based Maersk Line Ltd, a subsidiary of Denmark's AP Moller-Maersk, told reporters during a press conference that Captain Phillips had not been harmed.

Speers told reporters, "The safe return of the captain is our foremost priority." He also said the US Navy "is in command of the situation."

"We are in regular contact with the Maersk Alabama. The ship remains at a safe distance as instructed by the Navy," Speers said," And we are coordinating with the US Navy and the government agencies involved in this crisis."

The Maersk Alabama, with 20 crew members aboard, was on its way to Kenya with relief food and supplies when the Somali pirates attacked it Wednesday.

Following the attack, the ship's crew managed to retake control of the ship and forced the attacking pirates off of the vessel. According to the US Navy, four of the pirates actually boarded the ship with automatic weapons.

The Maersk Alabama crew managed to capture one of the pirates while three of them fled.

The ship's executive officer, Ken Quinn, told the CNN today in a telephone interview that the crew had tried to swap the captured pirate for their captain but other pirates continued to hold Phillips after the prisoner freed.

"So now we're just trying to offer them whatever we can, food, but it's not working too good," Quinn told CNN.

The pirates were armed with fully-automatic Kalashnikov rifles, but the Maersk Alabama crew carried no weapons. It was the first time in recent history that pirates targeted a US-flag ship.

The ship was about 400 miles off the coast of Somalia, a distance that was once believed to be safe from pirate attacks. The closest U.S. warship at the time of the hijacking was over 500 miles away and could not immediately respond.

Just days before this attack, the US Navy had warned ships traveling in that area that pirates were targeting ships farther and farther out to sea.

FBI NEGOIATORS

In the US, FBI negotiators work closely with tactical teams, like SWAT and Hostage Rescue, in barricade situations. Unlike what you might see on TV, one group doesn't trump the other; they work on a continuum.

In fact, most barricades and hostage situations in the US are resolved through negotiations or a combination of negotiation and tactical force. Less than one in five incidents are resolved strictly through tactical means, according to the FBI . The unit's Latin motto is "Pax per Conloquium," which means "resolution through dialogue."

The FBI maintains the only database on barricade situations in the United States. The Hostage Barricade Database System contains information on about 5,000 incidents, most from state and local jurisdictions. The database is a service for law enforcement to learn from other incidents — how they were resolved, weapons used, how long they incidents lasted, and how communications were handled.

FBI agents must pass a rigorous two-week National Crisis Negotiation Course, held a few times a year at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, to become negotiators. The course puts students in real-life scenarios and tests their mettle, because there are no second chances when called to help.

© Jim Kouri

 

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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)

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