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Pirates attack 2 more ships, 3d freed after payment

Abduhl Wali-i-Musi arrived in New York City last night to face charges in the attempted hijacking of the Maersk Alabama. Abduhl Wali-i-Musi arrived in New York City last night to face charges in the attempted hijacking of the Maersk Alabama. (Rick Ayer/ AFP/ Getty Images)
By Todd Pitman
Associated Press / April 21, 2009
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NAIROBI - Somali pirates in speedboats opened fire yesterday on two cargo ships in the latest hijacking attempts in the Gulf of Aden, while another band of brigands freed a food aid freighter but only after receiving a $100,000 payment from Somali businessmen.

The latest attack occurred at midday when pirates fired shots at a Chinese-owned, Panama-flagged cargo ship, the MV New Legend Honor, said Commander Chris Davies, from NATO's maritime headquarters in England.

Two NATO warships - one Canadian, the other British - scrambled helicopters in defense, Davies said. No damage was reported to the cargo ship and the pirates escaped.

Also yesterday, in a separate predawn attack, pirates fired rockets at the Maltese-flagged MV Atlantica about 30 miles off Yemen's coast, a NATO spokesman said.

In Washington, meanwhile, US officials said the sole surviving Somali pirate from the hostage-taking of Captain Richard Phillips was en route to New York for a court appearance set for today.

NATO forces have helped fend off several attacks in recent days, but have released the culprits because they had no jurisdiction to arrest them. In some cases, neither the pirates nor their targets were nationals of NATO countries.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen met yesterday and said they will seek authority for NATO to arrest pirates.

The UN announced yesterday that pirates had released one ship, the Lebanese-owned MV Sea Horse. The Togo-flagged ship was captured April 14 with 19 crew members as it headed to India to pick up more than 7,000 tons of UN food destined for hungry Somalis.

But the release was not just a humanitarian gesture.

Pirates let the Sea Horse go after two Dubai-based Somali businessmen intervened and paid off the pirates, said Somali clan elder Abdisalan Khalif Ahmed.

A man who identified himself as Muhidin Abdulle Nur and claimed to be part of the gang that seized the freighter said the businessmen had paid "a reward" of $100,000 on Sunday.

The UN's World Food Program denied knowledge of a ransom being paid, but ships are often freed only their owners pay substantial ransoms.