NAIROBI, Kenya (CBS/AP) The last time the Maersk Alabama was targeted by Somali pirates captain Richard Phillips was taken hostage and held at gunpoint for five days until he was freed in a daring raid.
This time, the U.S. flagged ship was ready to fight back from the first sign of trouble. Somali pirates took on the Maersk Alabama again Tuesday, but they were met by a private security force which repelled the assault with gunfire and a high-decibel noise device.
Four suspected pirates in a skiff staged the latest assault, firing with automatic weapons from about 300 yards away, a statement from the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain said.
In the last raid a team of pirates hijacked the boat and took Phillips hostage, holding him at gunpoint in a lifeboat for five days.
That attack became an international story until Navy SEAL sharpshooters freed Phillips while killing three pirates in a daring nighttime attack.
A U.S. surveillance plane was monitoring the ship as it continued to its destination of Mombassa on the Kenyan coast.
Vice Adm. Bill Gortney of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said the Maersk Alabama had followed the maritime industry's "best practices" in having a security team on board.
"This is a great example of how merchant mariners can take proactive action to prevent being attacked and why we recommend that ships follow industry best practices if they're in high-risk areas," Gortney said in a statement.
Maritime experts said it was unlucky but not unprecedented that the Maersk Alabama had been targeted in a second attack.
"It's not the first vessel to have been attacked twice, and it's a chance that every single ship takes as it passes through the area," Cmdr. John Harbour, a spokesman for the European Union Naval Force. "At least this time they had a vessel protection detachment on board who were able to repel the attack."
However, Roger Middleton, a piracy expert at the London-based think tank Chatham House, said the international maritime community was still "solidly against" armed guards aboard vessels at sea, but that American ships have taken a different line than the rest of the international community.
"Shipping companies are still pretty much overwhelmingly opposed to the idea of armed guards," Middleton said. "Lots of private security companies employee people who don't have maritime experience. Also, there's the idea that it's the responsibility of states and navies to provide security. I would think it's a step backward if we start privatizing security of the shipping trade."
A self-proclaimed pirate told The Associated Press from the Somali pirate haven of Haradhere that colleagues out at sea had called around 9 a.m., 2½ hours after the attack.
"They told us that they got in trouble with an American ship, then we lost them. We have been trying to locate them since," said the self-described pirate who gave his name as Abdi Nor.
Captain Phillips' ordeal last spring galvanized the attention of the U.S. public to the dangers of operating merchant ships in the Horn of Africa, one of the busiest and most precarious sea lanes in the world.
Phillips told the AP last month from his farmhouse in Vermont that he was contemplating retiring from sea life after his ordeal. He's been given a book deal and a movie could be in the works.
Phillips was hailed as a hero for helping his crew thwart April's hijacking before he was taken hostage, but he says he never volunteered, as crew members and his family reported at the time. He says he was already a hostage when he struck a deal with the pirates, trading him for their leader, who was taken by the Maersk Alabama's crew.