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At this time of year the well to do of Kenya decamp to the beautiful sandy beaches around Mombasa. The beachside hotels are full, the restaurants booked up, the bars and clubs packed every night of this long Easter weekend.
The crew of the Maersk Alabama arrived at this bacchanalian resort on Saturday night and although they are now safe, they will not be celebrating as their captain is still being held by a gang of Somali pirates. Nor will they be leaving their cargo ship as FBI investigators interview the sailors and undertake a forensic examination of a boat they call a "crime scene".
A few of the 19 crew gave brief answers to shouted questions from a gang of journalists on the quayside — they called their captain, Richard Phillips, a hero.
The pirates are asking for $2m and safe passage back to Somalia and negotiations are still going on between the U.S. Navy, advised by the FBI, and the pirates.
So far the threat of a backup pirate flotilla has not materialized; apparently the pilots of the hijacked German ship loaded with some of the estimated 260 hostages currently held by Somali pirates couldn’t find the small lifeboat that is being watched over by two U.S. warships, with another on the way.
Other pirates seem undaunted by either the huge international naval presence in the region or last week’s deadly assault on a hijacked yacht by French commandos that killed two pirates and led to the arrest of three more.
Yesterday, as the negotiations continued over the fate of Richard Phillips a tugboat with 16 crew — mostly Italians — was hijacked. The tugboat is owned by an American company but it is flying an Italian flag. Another ship narrowly avoided capture after being shot at with guns and rocket-propelled grenades and fighting back with water canons. These incidents underline that while the kidnapping of the Captain Phillips of the Maersk Alabama has grabbed the world’s attention, solving his case alone will not solve the wider problem of the piracy along the Somalian coast.