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Crew Retakes Ship Hijacked by Somali Pirates

U.S. defense officials say the crew of the U.S.-flagged cargo shipped hijacked Wednesday off the coast of Somalia has retaken control of the ship.

Officials say the crew captured one pirate and three others are believed to be in the water.

The 17,000-ton Danish-owned container vessel 'Maersk Alabama' was seized early Wednesday about 450 kilometers southeast of Eyl, a town in the northern Puntland region of Somalia. It has a crew of 20 U.S. nationals aboard.

The ship was carrying emergency food aid to Mombasa, Kenya. A spokesman for the U.N. food agency (Nairobi-based Peter Smerdon) said the cargo includes 990-tons of vegetable oil and more than 4,000 metric tons of corn-soya blend.

The incident marks the first time an American-registered ship has been hijacked by the pirates operating off the coast of East Africa.

The ship was the sixth vessel seized in the region within a week.

The United States and other nations deployed warships near Somalia late last year in an effort to stop pirates from seizing ships, but pirates appear to be venturing further out to sea to avoid the naval patrols.

Bahrain-based U.S. Navy Spokesman Nate Christensen said the closest ship was more than 550 kilometers away.

Somali pirates have seized more than 50 ships over the past 18 months, sometimes receiving multi-million dollar payments for their release.

The pirates, who operate from bases on Somalia's east coast, are currently holding more than a dozen ships and their crews.