- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 19, 2009

NAIROBI, Kenya | Somali pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama on Wednesday for the second time in seven months and were thwarted by private guards on board the U.S.-flagged ship who fired off guns and a high-decibel noise device.

A U.S. surveillance plane was monitoring the ship as it continued to its destination on the Kenyan coast, while a pirate said that the captain of a ship hijacked Monday with 28 North Korean crew members on board had died of wounds.

Pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama last April and took ship captain Richard Phillips hostage, holding him at gunpoint in a lifeboat for five days. Navy SEAL sharpshooters freed Mr. Phillips while killing three pirates in a daring nighttime attack.

Four suspected pirates in a skiff attacked the ship again on Wednesday about 6:30 a.m. local time, firing on the ship with automatic weapons from about 300 yards away, a statement from the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain said.

An on-board security team repelled the attack by using evasive maneuvers, small-arms fire and a Long Range Acoustic Device, which can beam earsplitting alarm tones, the fleet said.

Vice Adm. Bill Gortney of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said the Maersk Alabama had followed the maritime industry’s “best practices” in having a security team on board.

“This is a great example of how merchant mariners can take proactive action to prevent being attacked and why we recommend that ships follow industry best practices if they’re in high-risk areas,” Adm. Gortney said.

However, Roger Middleton, a piracy specialist at the London-based think tank Chatham House, said that the international maritime community was still “solidly against” armed guards aboard vessels at sea, but that American ships have taken a different line than the rest of the international community.

“Shipping companies are still pretty much overwhelmingly opposed to the idea of armed guards,” Mr. Middleton said. “Lots of private security companies employ people who don’t have maritime experience. Also, there’s the idea that it’s the responsibility of states and navies to provide security. I would think it’s a step backward if we start privatizing security of the shipping trade.”

A Massachusetts Maritime Academy professor, who is also the father of a sailor who was on the Maersk Alabama during the pirate attack in April, said about 20 percent of the ships off East Africa are armed.

“Somali pirates understand one thing and only one thing, and that’s force,” said Capt. Joseph Murphy, who teaches maritime security at the school. “They analyze risk very carefully, and when the risk is too high, they are going to step back. They are not going to jeopardize themselves.”

The wife of the Maersk Alabama’s captain, Paul Rochford, told WBZ-AM radio in Boston that she was “really happy” there were weapons on board for this attack.

“It probably surprised the pirates. They were probably shocked,” Kimberly Rochford said. “I’m really happy at least it didn’t turn out like the last time.”

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