- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Defense officials say that one of the pirates holding an American captive fired an automatic weapon when the hostage tried to swim to safety.

Defense officials say it’s not clear whether the pirate fired at the fleeing hostage, or into the air. The officials spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the sensitive, unfolding operation.

American cargo ship captain Richard Phillips jumped overboard overnight. He was apparently hoping to reach a U.S. warship standing guard several hundred yards away. The destroyer USS Bainbridge has rescue helicopters aboard, as well as lifeboats. The Bainbridge is keeping its distance, in part to stay out of the pirates’ range of fire.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An American sea captain held hostage by pirates jumped into the ocean and tried to swim away, but he was retaken by the Somali bandits, military officials said.

Capt. Richard Phillips, taken hostage when pirates tried to seize his ship on Wednesday, appeared to be unharmed after his escape attempt around midnight local time in the open ocean off the Somali coast, Defense Department officials said Friday.

The pirates are holding Phillips aboard a drifting lifeboat, with U.S. officials trying to negotiate his release.

After his recapture, Phillips could be seen aboard moving around and talking aboard the lifeboat, from the vantage point of a U.S. Navy ship patrolling nearby, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the sensitive, unfolding operation.

Phillips, 53, was taken hostage aboard the enclosed lifeboat with four pirates who fled when his crew overpowered pirates trying to take their U.S.-flagged ship, the Maersk Alabama.

Negotiations are taking place between the pirates and the captain of the USS Bainbridge, who is taking direction from the FBI, the defense officials said. The destroyer arrived on the scene Thursday and is within sight of the lifeboat.

The bandits are communicating with other pirate vessels by satellite phone, officials said. Pirate vessels apparently were also heading to the scene to provide them backup.

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