Pirates seeking hijacked lifeboat turn back

The guided missile frigate USS Halyburton, with helicopter capabilities, is now at the scene.
Pirates holding a German cargo ship returned to port Saturday after failing to reach a lifeboat containing four pirates and their American hostage, a local journalist told CNN.

The German ship Hansa Stavanger was among several hijacked vessels that pirates were using to reach the lifeboat some 300 miles off the Somali coast, a Somali journalist told CNN. The ship had set sail to help the pirates holding Capt. Richard Phillips, but turned back because of the U.S. naval presence, the journalist said. The Hansa Stavanger is now at the Somali port of Eyl, the journalist said. The Hansa Stavanger, with a crew of 24, was hijacked April 4 off the Somali coast. Pirates have been searching the waters off Africa’s coast to try to find the lifeboat, a U.S. military official with knowledge of the situation said Friday. They are using hijacked vessels and skiffs launched from larger ships, the official said. Watch more about the pirates » The USS Halyburton, with helicopter capabilities, has now joined the USS Bainbridge in the area, and a third ship, the USS Boxer — with a medical facility aboard — should be there by the end of the day. Phillips is being held by four gunmen in the covered, fiberglass lifeboat. He jumped overboard at one point to try to escape, but one of the pirates jumped into the water after him and brought him back onboard the 28-foot boat. The pirates fired shots, the military official said, without providing further details. Phillips appeared to be tied up by the pirates after the escape attempt, a Defense Department official told CNN.

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For the U.S. Navy, bringing in more firepower is more than just a means to resolve a hostage situation, said Chris Lawrence, CNN’s Pentagon correspondent. Attacks in the area have picked up so drastically in recent months that the Navy has to reposition some of its fleet to deal with the threats, he said. The pirates have shown no signs of giving in. Phillips’ ship, the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama, was on its way to Mombasa, Kenya, with a cargo of food aid when it was attacked Wednesday. It was the first time in recent history that pirates had targeted an American ship. Watch the latest on the cargo ship » The ship was hijacked about 350 miles off Somalia’s coast, a distance that used to be considered safe for ships navigating in the pirate-infested waters. There were 21 American crew members, including the captain, on board at the time. The American crew regained control of the vessel, but the ship’s owners — the Norfolk, Virginia-based Maersk company — would not say how.

The Maersk Alabama resumed its journey to Mombasa on Thursday, along with an 18-person armed security detail on board. It was due to arrive at its destination Saturday. The U.S. Navy — which is in charge of the situation — requested help from the FBI to resolve the standoff.