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Breaking News: Somali Pirates hijack U.S- flagged ship with 20 Americans onboard

The Maersk Alabama, AP Photo

The Maersk Alabama, AP Photo

From the Huffington Post:

Somali pirates on Wednesday hijacked a U.S.-flagged cargo ship with 20 American crew members onboard, hundreds of miles from the nearest American military vessel in some of the most dangerous waters in the world.The 17,000-ton Maersk Alabama was carrying emergency relief to Mombasa, Kenya, when it was hijacked, said Peter Beck-Bang, spokesman for the Copenhagen-based container shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk. It was the sixth ship seized within a week, a rise that analysts attribute to a new strategy by Somali pirates who are operating far from the warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden.

The company confirmed that the U.S.-flagged vessel has 20 U.S. nationals onboard.

Cmdr. Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said that it was the first pirate attack “involving U.S. nationals and a U.S.-flagged vessel in recent memory.” She did not give an exact timeframe.

When asked how the U.S. Navy plans to deal with the hijacking, Campbell said: “It’s fair to say we are closely monitoring the situation, but we will not discuss nor speculate on current and future military operations.”

It was not clear whether the pirates knew they were hijacking a ship with American crew.

“It’s a very significant foreign policy challenge for the Obama administration,” said Graeme Gibbon Brooks, managing director of the British company Dryad Maritime Intelligence Service Ltd. “Their citizens are in the hands of criminals and people are waiting to see what happens.”

Brooks and other analysts interviewed by the AP declined to speculate on whether American military forces might attempt a rescue operation. A senior Navy official in Washington said the Obama administration was talking to the shipping company to learn “the who, what, why, where and when” of the hijacking.

As press reports have indicated, there has been a resurgence of pirate activity recently. It will be interesting to see how the Obama Administration does respond.

(HT: Louis Klarevas)

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.