MOGADISHU, April 11 (Reuters) – Somali elders sought to mediate on Saturday between the U.S. navy and pirates holding an American hostage in a high-seas standoff that presents President Barack Obama with a nasty new dilemma.
Four pirates adrift in a lifeboat far out in the Indian Ocean with Richard Phillips, the 53-year-old American captain of a cargo ship they tried to seize on Wednesday, have demanded $2 million for his release and a guarantee of their own safety.
With three U.S. warships in the area, the elders and relatives of the pirates holding Phillips, a father-of-two from rural Vermont, are planning a mediation mission to try to avoid bloodshed, a regional maritime group said.
“They are just looking to arrange safe passage for the pirates, no ransom,” group coordinator Andrew Mwangura said.
French special forces stormed a yacht held by pirates elsewhere in the lawless stretch of the Indian Ocean on Friday in an assault that killed one hostage, but freed four.
Two pirates were killed and three captured.
On Saturday pirates seized another vessel, a U.S.-owned, Italian-flagged tugboat with 10 Italians among its 16-member crew, NATO alliance officials on a warship in the region said….
At one point, Phillips tried to escape the lifeboat by jumping overboard, but was quickly recaptured….
Somalia’s Islamist insurgent movement al Shabaab, which is on Washington’s list of terrorist organisations, lambasted the international naval patrols and said no money should be paid.
“You are the ones who are the pirates. Leave our waters. You will be defeated, whatever you can do. And you will regret anything you pay as a ransom,” al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Muktar Robow Mansoor told reporters.
Al Shabaab has denied any links with the pirates.
In France, the government stood by its raid to free the yacht, which was hijacked en route to Zanzibar last weekend with two couples and a 3-year-old child aboard.
“During the operation, a hostage sadly died,” said French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office. But it said the president “confirms France’s determination not to give in to blackmail and to defeat the pirates.”…
Does the U.S. have such determination?