Pirates issue warning as they prepare to move US hostage

Somali pirates holding a US captain hostage warned Saturday that using force to free him would end in "disaster" as they prepared to move him following a deadly French raid on a separate boat.

Undated handout picture of the Maersk Alabama container ship which was hijacked by Somali pirates.(AFP Photo)

After French commandos stormed a yacht held by pirates in a raid that left one hostage and two gunmen dead, pirate commander Abdi Garad told AFP the American captive would be moved from the lifeboat where he was being held.

Only four pirates have been guarding Captain Richard Phillips on the lifeboat, and transferring him to a larger ship could give them better defences as the US military seeks to free him.

"There are not any developments still on the standoff with the American officials," pirate commander Abdi Garad said by phone from the northern Somali pirate lair of Eyl.

"We are planning to transfer the hostage on to one of the ships our friends are holding around Garacad area so that we can wait," he added, referring to an area along Somalia's coast, though he did not specify which ship.

US Navy forces have been pouring into the region amid the standoff over the American, who was captain of a Danish-operated container ship carrying international aid that pirates tried to take this week.

"I'm afraid this matter is likely to create disaster because it's taking too long and we are getting information that the Americans are planning rescue tricks like the French commandos did," Garad said.

The attacks on the French yacht and the aid ship have further highlighted the hijackings wreaking havoc on one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Phillips has been held since Wednesday, when four pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama, which was carrying 5,000 tonnes of UN aid destined for African refugees. They are demanding a ransom for his release.

The abductors were overpowered by the unarmed American crew, but they bundled Phillips onto the lifeboat.

On Friday, Phillips jumped into the water and tried to swim towards the nearby US destroyer the USS Bainbridge, prompting the pirates to jump in and recapture him.

Somali elders and parents of pirates holding the American were seeking to free the American on Saturday, according to Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme.

"They have already travelled from inland Galkayo to Garacad at the seashore and are ready to travel by boat towards the scene," he said in a statement.

"Under respected local leader Abdi Ali Mohamed the group is determined and promised that they will be able without any guns or ransom to hand over the American captain of MV Alabama safely to the nearby USS Bainbridge."

The French raid came six days after the yacht, the Tanit, was seized in the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden and the operation freed three adults and a three-year-old child.

The owner of the yacht and father of the child was killed.

French Defence Minister Herve Morin said Saturday an autopsy and investigation would determine what happened and "we cannot rule out" that the shot which killed the hostage came from French commandos.

"I believe that it was the best possible decision," Morin said on French radio of the raid. "We did everything to save the hostages' lives."

A French presidential spokesman said earlier that the Tanit had been heading toward the coast and the pirates' threats were "becoming more and more specific."

Somali pirates have defied an international naval presence in the region to carry out hijackings.

Since April 4, pirates have hijacked a US container ship, the French yacht, a British-owned cargo ship, a German container carrier, a Taiwanese fishing vessel and a Yemeni tugboat.

Some of the most spectacular successes came late last year when they seized a Ukrainian cargo loaded with combat tanks and other weaponry, as well as a Saudi super-tanker

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