Unidentified copters buzz Somali ‘pirate hub’

The crew of the Maersk Alabama exchange some words with media after the ship docked in Mombasa, Kenya.
Two low-flying helicopters drifted over a suspected pirate base in northeast Somalia on Sunday morning, sending residents into a panic, a local journalist source told CNN.

Residents believed the helicopters were planning an air raid over the port of Harardhere, according to the journalist. “The fishermen decided not to fish in the morning because of the helicopters, they are scared,” the journalist said. The reported sighting comes a day after the FBI announced it is launching a criminal investigation into the hijacking of a U.S.-flagged cargo ship by Somali pirates, two law enforcement officials told CNN. The four pirates took the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips, hostage. The probe will be led by the FBI’s New York field office, which is responsible for looking into cases involving U.S. citizens in the African region. The path of the investigation will be affected by whether any of the pirates are taken into custody, one official said. The vessel, the Maersk Alabama, reached a port in Mombasa, Kenya on Saturday. Meanwhile, crewmembers aboard the freed cargo ship described how some of their colleagues attempted to “jump” their pirate captors. A scuffle ensued and one of the sailors stabbed a pirate in the hand in the battle to retake the container ship, one of the sailors told CNN. Snippets of information are starting to emerge about how the Alabama’s crew managed to retake the ship after it was hijacked by pirates Wednesday about 350 miles off the coast of Somalia in the Indian Ocean.

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Capt. Phillips is being held by pirates in the ship’s lifeboat in the Indian Ocean. Crew members smiled broadly as they stood on the ship’s deck under the watchful eyes of security teams. Although they were kept away from the media, CNN’s Stan Grant got close enough to ask them what happened after the pirates climbed aboard the ship. A crew member said he recalled being woken around 7 a.m. as the hijacking began. View a timeline of the attack and its aftermath » “I was scared,” Grant quoted the man as saying. Some of the crew managed to hide in a secure part of the Alabama as the pirates stormed the ship, the sailor said. As the men described the clash, a crew member pointed to his shipmate and said, “This guy is a hero, he and the chief engineer they took down the pirate… he led him down there to the engine room and then they jumped him.” The fellow shipmate then added that he stabbed the pirate in the man and tied him up. Another crew member shouted, “Captain Phillips is a hero.” Phillips became a captive sometime during the hijacking Wednesday. Since then, the destroyer USS Bainbridge has arrived on the scene to try to free Phillips with the help of the FBI. An attempt to escape from the 28-foot, covered lifeboat was thwarted by a pirate who dove into the Indian Ocean after him. Phillips’ captors appear to have tied him up afterward, Pentagon officials said.

The Alabama left on Thursday for Mombasa, its original destination, carrying food aid and an armed 18-person security detail. Maersk president and CEO John Reinhart told reporters Saturday that the crew will stay on board in Mombasa while the FBI conducts an investigation.