Standoff Continues as Somali Pirates Lose US Ship, Capture Captain

US Ship Briefly Held by Pirates - a First in Africa in Over 200 Years

A small crew of Somali pirates armed with automatic weapons briefly seized control of a US-flagged container ship, the Maersk Alabama, earlier today; holding the unarmed crew of Americans captive before they somehow managed to retake the ship and drive the pirates off.

At one point the crew held one of the pirates captive, but attempted to trade him in return for their own captured captain, Richard Phillips, who had surrendered himself to guarantee the safety of his crew. He was not released however, and the pirates fled in one of the Alabama’s lifeboats.

The crew had reportedly disabled the ship when it was boarded, which perhaps precipitated the pirates’ retreat, but at this point the captain remains captive and the ship adrift off the coast of Somalia with a Navy warship en route.

Piracy has dramatically escalated along the Somali coast since the US-backed 2006 Ethiopian invasion. Despite several high profile incidents along the heavily traveled area, this is the first time a US ship was captured by pirates in Africa (however briefly) since an 1804 incident along the Barbary Coast.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.