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Somali Pirates Attack Another US Ship

Details are emerging about a failed hijacking of an American cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, Tuesday. The attack came just days after the U.S. Navy rescued an American hostage from pirates off the eastern coast of Somalia.

Crewman's mom gets email alert

A crewman aboard the U.S.-flagged ship MV Liberty Sun sent an e-mail message to his mother, in which he described the attack.

Shortly before noon, Tuesday, he wrote that pirates were firing rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons at the vessel. Crewmembers quickly barricaded themselves in the engine room. The sailor told his mother that no one had been hurt, but a rocket had penetrated the ship's bulkhead causing minor damage.

It is not clear how the 20 American crew members kept the pirates from seizing the ship. By the time a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, arrived at the scene of the attack about six hours later, the hijackers had left.

The Bainbridge was involved in Sunday's rescue of an American ship captain, who had been taken hostage by pirates during another failed hijacking attempt of a U.S. ship, last week.

Rescued captain still aboard warship

The captain of the container vessel Maersk Alabama, Richard Phillips, was freed after Navy snipers aboard the Bainbridge killed three pirates, who had been holding Phillips on an enclosed lifeboat taken from the Maersk.

The Navy warship was transporting Phillips to Kenya when it was called to respond to the attack on Liberty Sun.

Pirates threatened to target US ships

Somali pirates had threatened to target American ships and their crew in revenge for the rescue of the American captain. But maritime monitors in East Africa say there is no evidence to suggest that the Liberty Sun was targeted because it was a U.S.-flagged ship.

UN endorses military action against pirates

The monitors say sunny weather and calm seas along Somalia's coast are largely responsible for the recent spike in pirate activity. Four vessels and about 60 crew members have been seized since Sunday.

United Nations Special Envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdullah issued a statement Wednesday, endorsing the military action taken by the United States and France, who launched a similar operation, last week, to rescue hostages on a yacht. Ould-Abdullah says the operations sent a strong message to pirates. But he says the international community must do more to quickly identify and hold accountable those who are supporting and financing pirate activities.

Who is backing pirates?

Horn of Africa analyst Roger Middleton says that may be a difficult task, because no one knows just how many financial backers there are.

He adds the ransom money from piracy, which is estimated to have exceeded $30 million last year, has now permeated so much of Somali society, it is now virtually impossible to know who is involved in piracy and who is not.

"One of the things that pirates have done really well is to make sure that they are paying many people in different parts of the political network as possible," Middleton said. "Pro-government, anti-government, types of government, armed groups are all getting a kickback."

Overwhelming economic incentive

Middleton says, although military force remains an option to fight pirates on the high seas, he believes it will not deter attacks.

"To be honest, my feeling is that the economic incentive for the pirates is so overwhelming, it is not going to necessarily alter the dynamics of this," Middleton said.

Pirates have already attacked nearly 80 ships in the region since January. About 19 vessels are being held, with an estimated 300 crew members.