- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

MOBILE, ALA. (AP) - A multinational coalition must stand up against Somali pirates like the ones who raided an American cargo ship this week, the president of the company that manages the ship said Monday.

One country cannot stand alone against pirates like the ones who tried to hijack the M/V Maersk Alabama and held its American captain hostage, said Erik L. Johnsen, president of Mobile-based International Shipholding Corp., which manages the Alabama for owner Maersk Line Limited, based in Norfolk, Va. He said many seafaring nations must team to battle the problem.

“There’s a risk out there and we have to address it,” Johnsen told The Associated Press in an interview in his office overlooking Mobile’s harbor.

Johnsen said “vital trade lanes” must be protected, but declined to comment on whether the coast of Somalia should be avoided completely. Johnsen said he had not had time to put any recommendations for dealing with piracy in writing to any government or industry group because the hostage-taking had just ended Sunday.

“It was a very remarkable outcome,” he said. “I can’t tell you how pleased we are.”

Johnsen said his firm was happy for the safe return of Maersk Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips. Johnsen said he spoke to Phillips’ wife on Sunday.

“She’s a very brave woman who has a very brave husband,” Johnsen said.

U.S. Navy snipers killed three Somali pirates with single shots to free Phillips and captured a fourth. Johnsen declined to comment on pirate threats of retaliation.

He said his company was part of the crisis team led by ship owner Maersk.

The vessel is managed by International Shipholding under what is known as a bareboat charter. That means the company handles provisioning and crewing the vessel and then leases it back to Maersk.

World Shipping Council President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Koch said a multinational naval force representing 23 countries already is attempting to curtail piracy around the Horn of Africa. The Washington, D.C.-based council represents container vessels.

“It’s not that nations haven’t dedicated resources to it. It’s just a big challenge,” Koch said.

He said changing routes and procedures is complicated and procedures will be up to each operator, noting piracy was not the only factor.

Koch cautioned that giving ship crews weapons could further escalate a situation and claim innocent lives.

ISH’s Johnsen said, “It’s more involved than simply arming the crew.”

Johnsen said a replacement crew will be sent to the U.S.-flagged Maersk where it’s docked in Kenya. For security reasons, he declined to comment on the ship’s destination.

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