Negotiations are continuing to free an American cargo ship captain held hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia.
Captain Richard Phillips remains a hostage in a lifeboat manned by four pirates after a failed escape attempt. Phillips jumped into the sea, apparently trying to reach the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Bainbridge, which is following the pirates - but he was recaptured.
In a CBS interview James Staples, who has known Phillips for 30 years, says this is something the captain would do. "I'm sure he's thinking about getting out of this very safely and I'm sure he's got a very positive attitude that he knows he'll get out of this safely. Richie is a stand-up guy and he's the ultimate captain," he said.
On Wednesday, Somali pirates boarded the container ship Maersk Alabama, captained by Phillips, about 500 kilometers off the coast of Somalia. The 20 man crew regained control of the Danish owned, American operated ship. The pirates took Phillips with them as they escaped aboard a lifeboat. The container ship is now on its way to Kenya with much needed emergency food.
The U.S. navy destroyer Bainbridge is monitoring the situation and other American ships are on the way. Reports say several foreign vessels held by pirates are also heading to the area.
J. Peter Pham, a maritime security expert with James Madison University [in Harrisonburg, Virginia] says it's ironic that a ship named Bainbridge is facing Somali pirates. "Most Americans don't recall, but Commodore William Bainbridge, for whom that vessel is named, was a hero of America's two wars against the Barbary pirates in the early 19th century. And I have no doubt that he's probably rolling in his grave at the thought that that we might consider letting the four pirates go free," he said.
Negotiations are continuing in an effort to gain the release of Captain Phillips.
Pham says it will be interesting to see what will be the fate of the four pirates holding Phillips.
"In the sense that if they are allowed to leave unharmed, or are given safe conduct - in a way they haven't lost anything. So it becomes a matter of what level of impunity do they walk away with? We certainly hope that Captain Phillips, a very courageous man, makes it through this safely, but more important and perhaps most important, is the principle of the matter that for 200 years, U.S.-flagged merchant shipping has been inviolate because everyone was certain that justice would be swift and unrelenting for trying to attack U.S.-flagged peaceful commerce, much less a cargo ship carrying relief to people who are suffering," he said.
Pham says this situation is a crucial test for the Obama administration. "If we let these people off with impunity, it might very well signal a great weakness on the part of the new administration, which not just the pirates, but other forces around the world, might take advantage of. In a way, the administration dodged a bullet when the courageous crew of the Maersk Alabama managed to retake the ship - but now it has to face what it is going to do with the four pirates who are currently holding Captain Phillips," he said.
Pham and other experts say to eradicate piracy in that region, the international community must seriously address the power vacuum in Somalia - a country described by many analysts as a failed state.