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PIRATES: WE'LL KILL ESCAPE BID CAPTAIN; America sends in warships.

Byline: ANDREW GREGORY

THE life of a US captain held by pirates hung in the balance last night after his captors threatened to kill him if they are attacked.

More American gunboats were rushing to the area to try to rescue Richard Phillips, who offered himself up as a hostage to free his crew.

The move comes hours after he staged a dramatic escape bid from his Somalian captors by leaping from the lifeboat they were in.

Captain Phillips managed to get within sight of a US destroyer before the pirates dragged him back.

The thugs have demanded a EUR1.8million ransom to free the skipper of the Maersk Alabama.

And as President Obama tried to use talk - not force - to resolve the stand-off, the pirates warned the US navy they are prepared to fight to the death if attacked.

One said: "We are not afraid. The captain might be harmed." The pirates raised the ante by steering a German ship to the scene. The area is notorious for pirate attacks and kidnappings, with the German vessel being captured last month.

The pirates are banking on the US being reluctant to risk harming it in any use of force and sparking a row.

But while Obama chose to hold back, President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered his navy to storm a French boat being held in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia. One hostage and two pirates were killed as four hostages were freed.

The move came after the pirates threatened to execute the hostages.

Defence Minister Herve Morin said last night: "Negotiations were leading nowhere and the boat was approachingthe coast."

It is the French government's policy not to allow its citizens to be taken ashore as hostages.

Meanwhile, another gang of Somalian pirates last night freed Norwegian tanker MT Bow Asir after receiving a EUR1.8million ransom.

CAPTION(S):

FORCE German gunboat captures pirates last month HOSTAGE Phillips
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 11, 2009
Words:321
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