WASHINGTON, April 8, 2009 – A ship taken by pirates off the coast of Somalia this morning is now presumed to be under the control of its crew again, Defense Department officials said.

The cargo ship Maersk Alabama was attacked by pirates early this morning and presumed hijacked, according to information provided by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. The vessel was en route to Mombasa, Kenya, when it was assaulted about 300 miles off Somalia’s coast, officials said.

The Maersk Alabama is home-ported in Norfolk, Va., and has a crew of about 20 U.S. nationals, John Reinhart, president and CEO of the ship’s owner, Maersk Line Ltd., told reporters today.

Reinhart said his company is contacting the crew’s family members. He declined to confirm the ship’s retaking by its crew, or to release the names of crew members.

The Maersk Alabama’s crewmembers were trained to deal with pirate attacks, Reinhart said.

Pentagon officials noted there were four would-be hijackers, at least one of whom was captured by the ship’s crew.

Pirates who attack merchant ships traveling off the coast of Somalia are difficult to deter because of the large area in which they operate, according to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters today that he didn’t want to comment on possible actions that could be taken in response to the Maersk Alabama’s apparent hijacking.

However, Whitman said the piracy issue “is not going to be something that is solved in a purely military way or in international waters.”

“This is going to have to be something that is addressed broadly by the international community,” Whitman continued, “It’s going to have to be addressed diplomatically, militarily (and) legally.”

The complexity of the piracy issue requires taking “a very broad approach to addressing it,” Whitman added.

Pirates operating off the coast of Somalia have attacked five vessels over the past week, according to news reports, not including today’s attack on the Maersk Alabama.

Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, commander of Combined Maritime Forces based in Bahrain that oversees anti-piracy efforts in the region, provided an updated advisory notice to regional merchant shipping in a news release issued yesterday.

“We synchronize the efforts of the naval forces deployed to the region,” Gortney said in the release. “However, as we have often stated, international naval forces alone will not be able to solve the problem of piracy at sea.”

Piracy “is a problem that starts ashore,” Gortney added.

And, despite the increased naval presence in the region, Gortney’s notice said, because of an area of water that’s four times the size of Texas, ships and aircraft are unlikely to be close enough to provide support to vessels under attack.

In view of the pirates’ activity, merchant mariners should be highly vigilant when traveling through Somalia’s coastal region, the release stated.

The release noted that a number of merchant vessels transiting the waters off Somalia have successfully employed evasive maneuvers and other defensive tactics to thwart attempted pirate attacks.

For example, a Panamanian-flagged vessel employed evasive maneuvers and fire hoses to thwart an attempted pirate attack, according to the release.

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