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Somali pirates sail German ship to standoff scene

Somali pirates holding foreign sailors on a hijacked German ship are heading towards a lifeboat where they are holding an American captain hostage. It is thought they intend to use the ship as a shield.

Mrs Andrea Phillips holds a photo of her husband Captain Richard Phillips

Phillips' wife holds a photo of the captain on dry land

A pirate source told Reuters that the pirates are counting on the fact that the Americans will not destroy the German ship in any attempt to rescue Captain Richard Phillips.

Four heavily armed pirates holding the US Navy captain hostage in a lifeboat far off the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean since Wednesday have been communicating with other pirate gangs who are now sailing a hijacked German ship to the site to avoid being attacked should US warships launch a rescue attempt.

File picture of the Hansa Stavanger in the water

The German cargo ship "Hansa Stavanger" with 24 crew on board was hijacked a week ago

It's unclear which German ship the pirates are sailing towards the lifeboat. The 20,000 tonne container carrier Hansa Stavanger with 24 crew on board, including five German nationals, was captured on April 4.

Pirates want 2.5 million euros for US captain

The US is sending extra ships to waters off the Somali coast to increase pressure on the Somali pirates to release Phillips. The USS Halyburton, a frigate carrying helicopters and guided missiles, arrived late on Friday to join the USS Bainbridge Destroyer. Another frigate is due to arrive shortly.

Captain Phillips was captured after a failed attempt to hijack the 17,000-tonne Maersk Alabama 500 kilometres (310 miles) off the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday. The pirates are reportedly seeking a 1.5 million euro ($2 million) ransom for his release.

Phillips made a desperate attempt to escape overnight by jumping into the ocean, but he was recaptured after pirates fired gunshots. He is the first American to be taken hostage by Somali pirates.

"We are not afraid," say pirates

Two boats full of heavily-armed fellow pirates have taken up position near lifeboat but are too nervous to come near due to the presence of foreign naval ships including US warships.

German frigate Rheinland-Pfalz next to a small boat with several captured Somali pirates

A German war ship foiled a pirate attack on a German cargo ship on March 3 in the Gulf of Aden

"We are not afraid of the Americans," one of the pirates told Reuters by satellite phone on behalf of the pirates holding Phillips, far off the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean. "We will defend ourselves if attacked."

Somali pirates who have been terrorising ships in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean for years are currently holding around 270 hostages on around 13 ships. Pirate gangs in 2008 seized dozens of vessels and collected tens of millions of dollars in ransom.

International efforts to stop piracy

Around 15 warships from the European Union, Russia, the United States, India and China are patrolling an area of about 2.85 million square kilometres. The pirates however are shifting their target areas further into the Indian Ocean to avoid the international patrols. The pirates can freely return to Somalia since there has been no functioning government in the lawless country since 1991.

Pirates late on Friday released a Norwegian-owned 23,000 MT Bow Asir tanker after receiving a ransom payment believed to be over 1.8 million euros (US$ 2.4 million.)

Hours earlier, French forces freed a private yacht captured by Somali pirates. One hostage and two pirates were killed in the rescue action. Four other hostages, including a child, were saved, while three other pirates were captured.

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