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Pirates Demand Ransom for Phillips - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Pirates Demand Ransom for Phillips

Capt. Richard Phillips Capt. Richard Phillips
Mohamed Abdi Mohamed Abdi
Julian Portilla Julian Portilla

Mombasa, Kenya - April 10, 2009

Defense officials say Captain Richard Phillips, 55, jumped in the water during the night and tried to swim to a U.S. military ship hundreds of yards away. But the pirates were able to pull him back into the lifeboat where he is being held.  They then tied him up. The Navy is blocking access to the lifeboat while other pirates are trying to intervene.

There's word that the bandits are now asking for $2 million in exchange for Captain Phillips.

The Phillips family is hunkered down and holding out hope in Underhill.  The incident is highlighting an international problem many did not know existed.

"They are very dangerous people," says Mohamed Abdi, a Somali immigrant now living in Vermont.

While pirates have existed for hundreds, if not thousands of years, the problem has increased recently.

Abdi is the leader of a group of 700 Somali Bantu tribe members, who relocated to Vermont, after being chased out of their own country by violent gangs.  He believes those gangs took their criminal activity to sea, after a crackdown on land by the Ethiopian military.

"Before that there was not more pirates in the ocean but what I think is that's what caused the pirates to shift from land and go to the sea," say Abdi.

Dealing with the pirates can be a tricky situation.  Experts in hostage negotiation say it takes time to build a rapport with the captors.  They must build trust with the hijackers and guarantee their safety.

Then there is the question of whether or not using force is a better approach.

"You know the question is do we negotiate? Because if you negotiate with one are you just rewarding bad behavior and encouraging other hostage takers to do the same," says Champlain College Professor Julian Portilla, who focuses on the topic of mediation.

That could be a major factor in this current situation.

Just last year pirates hijacked a Saudi oil tanker and netted $3 million in ransom money.

"I'd want to know who's in charge of that network, where they are, what they want and what kind of pressure you can put on them," says Portilla.

Finding those at the top of the pirate network may be an easy task for the U-S Navy and the FBI negotiators working to free Phillips.

His captors have apparently called in backup, and a fleet of pirates with more hostages are on their way.

At the same time, more Navy forces are speeding to the area.

Bianca Slota - WCAX News

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