Thursday, April 9, 2009

On the Maersk Alabama Hostage Situation: President Obama Declines to Comment; Secretary Clinton Speaks Out

The Huffington Post reports on the Maersk Alabama hostage situation, the first of its kind in US history (emphases mine):

WASHINGTON — The piracy crisis over a lone hostage in the Indian Ocean took on the familiar air of a cops-and-robbers standoff, with the U.S. Navy seeking advice Thursday from seasoned FBI negotiators.

Their goal: Resolve the incident without military force.

As the FBI joined the delicate negotiations, President Barack Obama, facing one of his first national security tests, declined comment when asked about the standoff. Vice President Joe Biden said the administration was working "round the clock" on the problem.

The incident epitomizes the limits of U.S. power in an age of increasing threat from violence-minded, faceless groups and individuals.

Attorney General Eric Holder said "we'll obviously do what we have to do to make sure that the maritime life of this nation is protected."

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said the bureau's hostage negotiating team as "fully engaged" with the military in strategizing ways to retrieve the ship's captain and secure the Maersk Alabama and its roughly 20-person U.S. crew.

The FBI was summoned as the Pentagon substantially stepped up its monitoring of the hostage standoff, sending in P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft and other equipment and securing video footage of the scene.

The pirates were still holding the 55-year-old Phillips, from Underhill, Vt., after the American crew retook the ship Wednesday and the hostage-takers fled into the lifeboat. Hostage negotiators and military officials have been working around the clock to free Phillips.

The FBI is considered the negotiating arm of the U.S. government for international incidents. The crisis negotiation team has been dispatched to more than 100 incidents worldwide since 1990, according to the bureau. The unit, whose motto is "resolution through dialogue" is based at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., about 40 miles south of Washington.

"We're deeply concerned and we're following it very closely," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. "More generally, the world must come together to end the scourge of piracy."

The pirate-hostage drama was the first of its kind in modern history involving a U.S. crew.

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