Not Again! U.S. Ship Fends Off Pirate Attack

New York based vessel was damaged, but crew was unhurt

By Tamer El-Ghobashy
|  Wednesday, Apr 15, 2009  |  Updated 8:53 AM EDT
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The Week that Was: Obama in Iraq, Pirates Attack...

Liberty Maritime Corp.

The attack on the Liberty Sun occurred about 300 miles off the coast of Somalia.

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Heavily armed Somali pirates attacked a U.S. cargo ship Tuesday, lobbing grenades and firing automatic weapons towards the vessel, but failed to seize the ship before a Navy destroyer showed up to provide assistance.

No one in the 20 man crew was injured during the brazen attack, but the New York based ship was damaged, officials from Liberty Maritime Corporation of Lake Success said in a statement.

"We are grateful and pleased that no one was injured and the crew and the ship are safe," the statement from the Long Island based company said. "We have communicated with the families of the crew to inform them of these developments. We commend the entire crew for its professionalism and poise under fire."

The attack on the Liberty Sun occurred about 300 miles off the coast of Somalia at about 11:30 a.m., U.S. officials told NBC News.

It came just days after U.S. Navy SEALs were able to rescue Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates who had taken him hostage after the bandits failed to capture his cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama.

In the attack, the pirates were not able to board the Liberty Sun despite being heavily armed.

"The pirates pretty much shot up the bridge, but no one was hurt," according to one source.

The crew immediately requested assistance from the Navy, which dispatched forces that were able to thwart the pirates. Navy spokesman Captain Jack Hanzlik said the USS Bainbridge, a destroyer, had arrived to the scene at 5:30 p.m. and that the pirates had left.

The crew of the ship barricaded themselves in the engine room as they came under fire and waited for help to arrive, CNN.com reported.

"We are under attack by pirates, we are being hit by rockets. Also bullets," sailor Thomas Urbik of Illinois, wrote in e-mails to his mother, Katy, according to CNN. "We are barricaded in the engine room and so far no one is hurt. [A] rocket penetrated the bulkhead but the hole is small. Small fire, too, but put out."

"Navy is on the way and helos and ships are coming," the e-mail said. "I'll try to send you another message soon. [G]ot to go now. I love you mom and dad and all my brothers and family."

A little more than an hour later, the sailor sent another e-mail to his mother telling her that the Navy had arrived and that the ship and its crew were safe.

"The navy has showed up in full force and we are now under military escort ... all is well. I love you all and thank you for the prayers," Urbik wrote.

Hours before the attack, Urbik had e-mailed his mother saying the U.S. Navy was forcing the vessel to update its position every six hours and that the crew had conducted several drills, where they "secure" themselves in the engine room. "We can do it pretty quick by now," he wrote.

The Liberty Sun was bound for Mombasa, Kenya carrying thousands of tons of humanitarian aid to African nations, shipping officials said. The vessel will continue to its destination with an escort.

"We want to especially thank the United States Navy for its prompt response to our request for assistance," Liberty said in its statement. "We also wish to thank the U.S. Government for its cooperation in responding to this attack."

Sunday's rescue of Phillips, where three pirates holding the skipper in a lifeboat were shot dead by Navy snipers, has not slowed down the pace of the hijackings.

In defiance of President Barack Obama's vow to halt their banditry, pirates have seized four vessels and over 75 hostages off the Horn of Africa since Sunday's dramatic rescue.

"Our latest hijackings are meant to show that no one can deter us from protecting our waters from the enemy because we believe in dying for our land," Omar Dahir Idle told The Associated Press by telephone. "Our guns do not fire water. I am sure we will avenge."

The attack on the Liberty Sun foiled the reunion between the American sea captain rescued by Navy snipers and the 19-man crew he had saved with his heroism.

Capt. Richard Phillips was planning to meet his crew in the Kenyan port of Mombasa and fly home with them Wednesday to the United States. But Phillips was on the USS Bainbridge, the destroyer diverted to escort the Liberty Sun after it evaded attack.

Instead, the crew was at Mombasa airport Wednesday preparing to return home alone.

"We are very happy to be going home," crewman William Rios of New York City said. "(But) we are disappointed to not be reuniting with the captain in Mombasa. He is a very brave man."

Phillips had offered himself up as a hostage to save his men from the pirates.

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