The US skipper freed in a dramatic rescue after being held hostage in a lifeboat off Somalia arrived in Kenya on Thursday, while his crew members made an emotional return home.
Captain Richard Phillips reached the port of Mombasa aboard the USS Bainbridge, the warship involved in his rescue last weekend, as the 19 American crew members from his ship, the Maersk Alabama, flew to an air base near Washington.
Mombasa port police commander Ayub Gitonga confirmed Phillips was on the Bainbridge along with a fourth pirate, who survived the rescue operation in which three of his fellow bandits were killed by snipers.
|Crew members of the US merchant ship Liberty Sun secure a gangway leading off their ship moments after docking in the port of Mombasa.|
Asked whether the surviving pirate would be tried in Kenya, Gitonga said: "The decision is yet to be made."
Family and friends greeted the crew members at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington in the early hours of the Thursday. They had been in Mombasa since the vessel docked there on Saturday.
Pirates had attacked their ship in the Indian Ocean on April 8 and took Phillips hostage on a lifeboat after his crew managed to overpower the bandits.
After the US navy operation that rescued Phillips, pirates pledged to target Americans in revenge for the sniper killings.
On Tuesday, pirates said they attacked an American freighter with rockets to "destroy" the ship as revenge, but the Bainbridge came to the rescue of the freighter, the Liberty Sun, which escaped.
Aided by good weather, Somali pirates have intensified attacks off the lawless country's coast in recent days, with at least 10 ships seized since the beginning of this month.
The pirates have defied an international naval presence in the region to carry out the hijackings, which have wreaked havoc on one of the world's busiest shipping routes and threatened vital food aid deliveries to African nations.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled a plan on Wednesday, calling for prosecution and freezing pirates' assets with the support of Washington's international partners.
The chief US diplomat added that she was also sending an envoy to an April 23 Somali donors' conference in Brussels to improve the situation in lawless Somalia and help implement the plan.
"These pirates are criminals, they are armed gangs on the sea," Clinton told reporters.
Clinton dismissed suggestions that it would be difficult to track the ill-gotten gains of pirates operating out of Somalia, which has seen nearly two decades of conflict and chaos, making piracy one of the few viable businesses.
"We track and freeze and try to disrupt the assets of many stateless groups," including Islamist extremists, Clinton said.
She said there are "ways to crack down on companies that do business with pirates."
The World Food Programme has warned that millions in Africa risk going hungry if pirate hijackings keep aid ships from arriving in Mombasa.
While piracy off Somalia has long been a problem for aid freighters, recent hijackings have marked a new development in the attacks, it said in a statement.
The attack on the Maersk Alabama "was the first case of a Mombasa-bound ship carrying WFP food being hijacked," the agency said.
"If food assistance cannot arrive through Mombasa for Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, southern Sudan and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, millions of people will go hungry and the already high malnutrition rates will rise."
Sources close to the pirates have said French ships are now also a prime target after French commandos recently stormed a yacht on which two French couples and a child were held. One male hostage and two pirates were killed.
The French navy on Wednesday also intercepted a pirate "mother ship" in the Gulf of Aden and detained 11 fighters, the French defence ministry said.
On Thursday, the ministry said the warship will take the suspected pirates to Kenya to be tried.