NEW YORK — Somali pirates attacked and damaged an American ship carrying humanitarian aid Tuesday, but the ship and crew were safe under Navy escort, the military and shipping company said.
The pirates also defiantly seized four more ships with 60 hostages. "No one can deter us," one bandit boasted.
The pirates fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons at the Liberty Sun as it carried food for African nations, said the vessel's owner, Liberty Maritime Corp. The ship was en route from Houston to Mombasa, Kenya, with a roughly 20-member crew, officials said.
After the ship reported being attacked, the USS Bainbridge — the destroyer that assisted in the rescue of the hijacked Maersk Alabama last week — sailed to its aid, said Navy Capt. Jack Hanzlik, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Tampa.
The Bainbridge arrived about five hours later to find that the pirates had left, and there were no injuries, Hanzlik said.
The ship was continuing on its way to Mombasa late Tuesday, he said.
Crew member Thomas Urbik, 26, had been e-mailing regular updates on the voyage to his mother, Katy, in Wheaton, Ill.
She was nervous as he told her Sunday that the vessel was heading into pirate-patrolled waters but somewhat relieved to hear the crew was reporting its position to the Navy regularly.
Then, Tuesday, came another message: "The one that stopped my heart — that said 'We're under attack,' " she said in an interview.
But then there was a followup e-mail "that said he was safe and they had a Naval escort taking them in," she said.
Urbik said she was "very relieved and grateful to God for protecting him and to our Navy, and that we come from a country that can respond like that and protect our citizens."
The freed skipper of the Alabama, Richard Phillips, is to return home to the United States today, after reuniting with his 19-man crew in Mombasa, according to the shipping company Maersk Line Ltd.
On Monday, Obama vowed to "halt the rise of piracy" without saying exactly how the United States and allies would do it.
The pirates have vowed vengeance for five colleagues slain by U.S. and French forces in two hostage rescues since Friday.
The pirates seized a Lebanese-owned cargo ship, a Greek-managed bulk carrier with at least 21 Filipino seamen aboard and two Egyptian fishing boats with a total of 36 crew, at least 24 of them Egyptian.