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CNN NEWSROOM

Pirates Seize U.S. Cargo Ship, Hold Captain Hostage; Gun Permit Requests Increase in U.S.; Family Member of Hostage-Held Captain Discusses Maersk Alabama Situation

Aired April 8, 2009 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 350 miles off the coast, she was boarded by pirates.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Americans held hostage after pirates seize a U.S. cargo ship. How did they fake out their captures until the Navy could arrive?

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: ... we went down to Cuba to discuss was how we can help push the ball forward.

SANCHEZ: Is there a thaw in U.S. relations with Cuba? How soon before you can go there?

Thirty thousand children stolen by this man. No parent can stop him. Children who cry or complain are mutilated. You must watch the story of Joseph Kony's invisible children.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), DELEGATE, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: The whole world thinks we are gun crazy.

SANCHEZ: Where are Americans being deliberately misinformed about their gun rights, causing sales to skyrocket and a sense of needless panic?

Glenn, Sean, would you know why?

And found alive in the rubble after nearly three days. We're there.

So much news on this, your national conversation, right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: And hello again, everybody. I'm Rick Sanchez coming to you from the world headquarters of CNN.

Today, Americans have been held hostage. This story has changed many times. The latest, there is still an ongoing hostage situation. There is news coming in now, after we were led to believe that the piracy had been thwarted.

Here's a quick version of events as we're looking at it right now. The American captain of this U.S.-flagged cargo ship off the African coast is, as we understand it, right now being held captive by pirates. It's important to recognize that as his crew stays on the main ship.

Listen to this. This is CNN's Kyra Phillips just moments ago. She spoke by phone to an American man on board this ship, one of the crew members. This is the Maersk Alabama. Listen to her conversation with him as he describes what is going on now as they wait for U.S. military vessels to come to their aid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN QUINN, SECOND MATE, MAERSK ALABAMA (via telephone): Right now they want to hold our captain for ransom and we're trying to get him back. We have a coalition warship that will be here in three hours. So, we're just trying to hold them off for three more hours and then we'll have a warship here to help us.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Can you tell me where your captain is in proximity to your cargo ship? Where is the -- who was he with? What type of boat is he on right now?

QUINN: He's in the ship's lifeboat. They sink their boat - when they boarder a ship, they sink their boats. So the captain talked them into getting off the ship with our lifeboat. But we took one of their pirates hostage and we did an exchange.

What? OK. I've got to go.

PHILLIPS: Ken, can you stay with me for just two more seconds?

QUINN: What?

PHILLIPS: Tell me what the - can you tell me about the negotiations, what you've offered these pirates in exchange for your captain?

QUINN: We had one of their hostages. We had a pirate we took and we kept him for 12 hours. We tied him up and he was our prisoner.

PHILLIPS: Did you return him?

QUINN: Yes, we did. But we returned him, but they didn't return the captain. So now we're just trying to offer them whatever we can. Food. But it's not working too good. We're just trying to hold off until...

PHILLIPS: Ken, are you in control of the vessel right now?

QUINN: Yes. Yes. Yes. They are not aboard now.

PHILLIPS: OK.

QUINN: We're controlling the ship now.

PHILLIPS: So, can you see that lifeboat with your captain, with the pirates? Is he OK? Is he still alive? QUINN: Yes. Yes. He talks on the -- he's got one of our ship's radios, yes. We talk to him.

PHILLIPS: So what is it the pirates want now in exchange for your captain?

QUINN: All right. I've got to hang up. I can't - I've got to go right now. I got to...

PHILLIPS: All right. Ken, I don't want to hold you up. Appreciate it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: All right, so that is the scene as it was described to us just a short time ago.

Again, just to underscore some of the points here, as we all watch this drama unfold -- and it does appear that there has been drama on this ship. What he told Kyra is, this crew member, that they're going to waiting. Hopefully within three hours they are going to be getting some help, some assistance, militarily, from the U.S. military.

If they can hold off for three hours, then maybe they are going to get some help. But obviously there was some kind of scuffle on board. You heard him say just moments ago that they had one of the captives, one of the pirates, as we have been referring to them, tied up, and now that the captain of the Maersk, the captain of the American ship, the American captain, is on one of these floating dinghies, we understand, one of these small vessels, where he's being held captive still by the pirates, as they try and negotiate some kind of deal.

There's what the ship looks like. For those of you joining us right now, it is a crisis that is unfolding in this area that we are going to be following you in the Horn of Africa.

Angie, come to me again. We are expecting -- I'm being told now by one of my producers -- as get this information, we're going to be as judicious as possible in bringing you the information as it comes to us.

There's the map of the area that we're talking about, by the way. We're going to be talking to one of the family members of the crew, a sister-in-law.

Would that be the sister-in-law of the captain, Angie, just as you're sharing that information with me? Go ahead. Angie, you got me? Can you hear me? Yes, affirmative. All right. It would be the sister-in-law of the captive who is now being held by those pirates.

By the way, Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent, has briskly hurried to the scene. We understand she's joining us now.

All right, the question I have for you, Barbara, is the following. Given what we have just heard from this crew member that they are going to try and hold these guys off for three hours until they can get a military vessel, a U.S. military vessel there to help them, do you have any indication how far -- how long before that military vessel gets there?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rick, from here in Bahrain, the 5th Fleet headquarters is monitoring this around the clock.

This is a hostage situation. It is a humanitarian situation. So, people are stepping through this very carefully, not offering many details to the news media, as you can well imagine, if there is a hostage rescue situation to be had here.

A U.S. Navy warship is said to be on the way. It's at least three hours away. The question will be what it will be able to do, what it will be able to accomplish once it gets on scene.

Of course, it is dark. First light here in the Persian Gulf will not come for some hours. Now, that may work to advantage if they want to undertake a rescue mission. They may also want to wait until first light.

What we do know, in the hostage rescue situations that have unfolded in recent months in these piracy incidents, the military has generally stepped back. These are private ships with commercial crews on board. The pirates tend to hold the crews for ransom. And the companies are paying those ransoms, multimillion-dollar ransoms in recent weeks for crews that are being held by Somali pirates. That's the way it's been going.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: Let me just stop you real quick.

Part of the personnel on this ship, am I led to understand that they are merchant marines?

STARR: That is our understanding at the moment.

This is a cargo ship that is said to be carrying food supplies into the Horn of Africa. These are manned by civil maritime crews, if you will. These are generally all civilians who hire on to this kind of work. To be clear, we do not know if there are other people on board. That is always a possibility.

SANCHEZ: Let me just back it up just a little bit.

At the onset I asked you if you knew of a ship that was heading to the scene. And I think I just heard you mention that there is in fact a U.S. military vessel heading to the scene. Can you amplify that for us a little bit so our viewers can make sure they grasp that?

STARR: Right.

Well, the U.S. Navy as well as other countries, patrol these waters just to try and control the piracy. This is vast waters, Rick. This is, we're told, something like four times the size of Texas, with perhaps a dozen warships, at best, at any one time.

They cannot escort all the hundreds of cargo ships that move through these waters every year. There is something like 15 ships, some of them very small, but 15 ships right now being held by hijackers off Somalia. So, sadly, this is fairly routine.

It is said that a U.S. Navy ship was about 300 miles away when all of this unfolded earlier today, that warship now making its way. But I would be very cautious about making the link that any assault is going to unfold.

SANCHEZ: Oh, no. We...

STARR: What has happened in the past is, simply, the ships go and they monitor. They try and keep an eye on what is going on. I think that will be the first step...

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: We understand that.

And, again, the reason, the exigency for my question was, this crew member told Kyra, we -- he almost sounded like -- you know, he almost sounded like what he was saying is, we are depending on this ship that seems to be coming our way. It's about three hours away.

And he seems to be, whether it's a misled impression or not, that somehow that's going to be part of their negotiating this thing or perhaps if nothing else getting their captain back.

You are saying there's no reason to believe that that's been nailed down and we certainly understand that.

You know what we're going to do now?

Let me do this.

STARR: You know, let's just be clear, Rick.

SANCHEZ: Yes.

STARR: This is a hostage rescue situation potentially. You want to be careful about going too far on any of this.

SANCHEZ: Exactly.

And I think what you're saying is -- I think what you're telling us now, and just to be clear is, that, as far as you know, there's no hostage negotiation plan in the works as we speak, correct?

STARR: As far as we know, Rick, at this hour here in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf at the headquarters of the 5th Fleet, we know two -- we know one thing for sure. They are monitoring it around the clock. Certainly they are looking at what assets they have in the area, what they can do, what surveillance they could put this under, so they can especially keep an eye on this captain, so they know where this dinghy is at all times that he may be being held on.

That's priority number one, to put eyes on him. Anything beyond that, I think we will have to see at first light here how things unfold.

SANCHEZ: Barbara Starr doing a great job trying to put the pieces together for this story that truly is unfolding as we speak.

And, again, let me just underscore that we want to be as careful as possible in bringing you this information as it comes to us.

Let me share this with you real quick. This possibly could become certainly the first hostage drama for the president of the United States.

Our correspondents have been in contact with the White House. Let me tell you what we understand the White House is releasing to us right now. What they are saying is that they have foreign policy advisers handling and monitoring the situation. They say the president has been briefed, President Obama has been briefed, and that he learned of the incident while he was still on Air Force One, incidentally.

We're going to be joined in just a moment by Tim Crockett. He's an expert in handling this type of situation. He's going to be taking us exactly through what this scenario is and answering many of the questions that I'm sure you have on MySpace, on Facebook, and on Twitter about how this situation might be resolved.

And, again, for those of you now joining us who are now coming home from work, we're in the midst of what appears to be a hostage situation with the captain of a U.S. cargo ship, apparently taken by some pirates. Originally, it was the entire ship. Now it's the captain that is being held. Negotiations are ongoing.

What you're hearing there is three police officers killed by a man who thought President Obama would take away his guns. Who put that thought in his head? And how many more Americans believe that? Could it be 1.2 million Americans? You are going to see why I'm asking that question.

Also, you're going to hear from somebody who can tell you what it's like to suddenly be held hostage by Somalian pirates. What did he do, what did he think when he was in this situation? You're going to hear from him when we come back. Stay with us. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

KEVIN, FLORIDA: Hey, Rick. My name is Kevin. I'm from Melbourne, Florida.

Hey, we need to do something about these pirates. An attack on a U.S. ship carrying a U.S. -- flying a U.S. flag with U.S. citizens on board is as much an attack on U.S. citizens on our soil as it off the soil. We need to retaliate. We need to use military measures and get these pirates under control and show them that they can't screw with the United States, just much like 9/11, but on a smaller scale.

Thanks. Have a good one.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: All right. Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez with some breaking news that we're following for you right now.

Just to set the scene for you as best we can for those of you who perhaps haven't heard, there is a bit of a hostage situation that is taking place right now off the coast of Africa. And this time, it's pirates that have taken the big guys, the U.S., an American cargo ship, 20 people on board. Many if not most are Americans and we understand the captain is right now still being held captive by the pirates.

We have just gotten some information. I'm going to go over here and grab something out of the printer real quick because I just got sent this note from our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence.

He's confirming it is the USS Bainbridge that is now on the way to assist the Alabama. It's -- the Alabama is the ship that has been taken by the pirates, by the way, the Maersk Alabama. It's a Navy destroyer, says Chris, and it's part of the combined Task Force 151 that has been patrolling the area around the Gulf of Aden.

So, from our Pentagon correspondent, that information. We had discussed this in part with Barbara Starr just a little while ago that there is a ship on the way. Exactly what they do, we don't know. Hopefully we will be able to find out throughout the hour.

Let's bring in Tim Crockett. He might be able to share some information with us. He is an international security expert, and one of the best, by the way. It's his company that trains us here at CNN, all of us anchors and correspondents, before we set out into a hostile area like a war.

Tim, so much for being with us.

TIM CROCKETT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AKE SECURITY: Thank you, Rick.

SANCHEZ: What do make of this? In the last 20 minutes or so, we have gotten new information that seems to indicate that there was some kind of scuffle on the board.

We heard from one of the crew members and I will quote him as best I can that they had tied up one of the pirates. We also heard that they have lost their captain, he's off the ship, and he's on one of the dinghies apparently with the pirates. You say what?

Well, it's not one of your typical piracy attacks. And it's not a typical situation from that point forward.

It's unusual that a vessel of this nature is crewed with so many U.S. seaman in the first place. And I think that's probably led to the way the situation has unfolded.

SANCHEZ: What do you mean by that?

CROCKETT: Well, normally basically on cost issues, these sort of vessels, cargo vessels, are crewed by Indians, Filipinos, because obviously it's a lot less expensive to crew a ship with those personnel. So...

SANCHEZ: So you're saying the fact that there are Americans on board is complicating this for the pirates?

CROCKETT: Very much so.

It's certainly led to the dynamic where they felt we're not going to have our ship taken and perhaps an opportunity arose that they felt they could overpower the pirates, which they did, taking one of them hostage, and then enter into a negotiation to try and get them off the ship and get their captain back.

Obviously the details at this stage are very limited. So it's hard to make any real assumptions, but a very fluid situation that it's still unsure how it may end.

SANCHEZ: Can you help us try and figure out how you get to the point when the pirates are on board -- and I think we have got some pictures that might illustrate this somewhat because we have got pictures in the past where you see the pirates next to these giant ships and you begin to wonder how it is that they are able to even do that in the first place.

But how do we get from the pirates getting on board to one of the pirates being captured to suddenly one of the -- the captain of the ship being taken by the pirates? I'm not sure I'm able to connect that.

CROCKETT: Well, Maersk Line and the crew, it's very evident that they have received some form of training on how to prevent attack taking place.

I think we have already heard that they went through three to five hours worth of evasive movements, would have been zigzagging the ship to prevent the smaller vessel coming alongside, so they could either use grappling hooks and lines to climb on board or ladders.

Again, at this stage, I don't know low the free board was to the pirate ship. But once they are on board, the crews normally is sort taught talk to retreat into the superstructure of the vessel and lock themselves down.

Now, again, depending on the threats used by the pirates, and how well the vessel was prepared to prevent that from happening, the pirates obviously got inside. And at that stage, a scuffle could have broken out straight away or it could have been they dropped their guard, they became relaxed, which is often the case.

A lot of the crews, like I said, just capitulate, sort of are quite happy to go into a hostage or a kidnap situation, because the outcome, normally a ransom is paid and or some other negotiation, and they get released unharmed.

So, this is where the dynamic has changed, that the pirates, first of all, had their vessel sunk during the taking of the Maersk vessel and then at that stage they are now stuck with the dilemma that they are outnumbered, albeit that they are armed, and without a vessel to either -- to retreat. So, again, at this stage, we are trying to guess at what could have happened.

SANCHEZ: You know what is interesting, Tim? I remember when you trained me and several of my producers to go overseas, the first thing -- one of the first things you told us is, when you're faced with a hostage situation, if you're going to be able to do something, you will do it at the very outset. It will happen quick. It will happen early on. Because once you're in that situation, good luck. It may be for the long haul.

It almost seems like these guys recognized that and that's why there may have been this tussle, this confrontation that we have been describing, is it not?

CROCKETT: It could well have been.

That's one of those personal choices that you make or you make as a group. And obviously whether it's successful or not, you have to suffer the consequences. Normally the best chances of effecting an escape or overpowering your captures is earlier on than further down.

But, again, typically, what we have seen is once they have overpowered the crew and they have got control of the vessel, a lot of the time they will let their guard down. They will be fairly sort of relaxed because in the past the crew has just accepted their fate and gone along with the demands of the aggressor.

SANCHEZ: Hey, Tim, hang tight. We understand that we might have a possibility now being able to talk to one of the -- a former hostage in a situation just like this taken by the pirates in the same exact area.

But obviously the story is developing. A lot of the information, new information has been coming to us over the last 20 or 30 minutes, so we will probably be updating it and perhaps needing you back.

Thanks again, though, for that segment.

CROCKETT: Certainly. Any time.

SANCHEZ: The Congressional Black Caucus meets with Fidel Castro in Cuba. Their message is sound, the messengers, not so much. I will tell you why.

And are Americans being fed a pack of lies about President Obama and gun laws? And is it creating a gun-buying panic? We will report. You decide. That's not too obvious, is it?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KORDELL (ph), KENTUCKY: Rick, this is Kordell (ph) from Louisville, Kentucky.

I'm of the opinion that gun control laws should be established because we're having too many police shootings lately and something needs to be done. Thanks. Bye.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez here in the world headquarters of CNN.

Just to catch you up on this story that you may have heard, we're getting new information now about what is going on with the Maersk Alabama. It's a ship, a cargo ship, with 20 people on board, many of them American crew members, who say they're now back in control of their ship, but their captain has been taken hostage, still being held by the pirates.

They say they are depending now on a U.S. military ship, the Bainbridge, to come to their aid. And we're following the story as it develops.

We also have a chance now to talk to somebody who has worked that area, in fact, has felt firsthand what it's like to be a hostage themselves.

Colin Freeman is good enough to join us. He's a reporter with Britain's "Sunday Telegraph."

Colin, are you there?

COLIN FREEMAN, "SUNDAY TELEGRAPH": Yes, hi. How do you do?

SANCHEZ: What happened? What -- how did you end up in a hostage situation, perhaps by some of these very same pirates?

FREEMAN: We were in -- we went to Somalia to the mainland to report on the piracy problem late last November.

We went to the northern Somalia to the coast where a lot of the pirate towns are. And then, while we were there on the last day of our assignment, our own bodyguards, seven armed men who we had hired to keep us at bay from the kidnappers, they kidnapped us and betrayed us, basically.

They then drove us through the desert and took us up into some mountains nearby. And we were briefly held by a pirate gang up in some caves in the mountains in that region.

Obviously, you would normally associate pirates as being guys who operate on the sea. The guys who took us, they told us they were pirates. Basically, it's a case of it's a kidnapping industry, essentially, a ransom, -- hostage-taking industry.

SANCHEZ: And they were paid off? And eventually -- because I understand and I have heard from others who have told stories like this, and as frightening as it sounds, in the end, all they want is money and eventually they let you go.

FREEMAN: Well, we don't really know what happened in our case.

The -- there was a lot of different motives that go on, especially on the land, for kidnapping people. Sometimes, it's criminal. Sometimes, it's political. And I'm not really in a position to sort of go into any...

SANCHEZ: I understand. I understand.

FREEMAN: Yes.

SANCHEZ: I understand why you don't want to talk about that.

But let me ask you this, though. When you were being held, what were these guys like? What's their comportment? What can you tell me about these guys who are tussling with these pirates right now on this ship, given what you experienced?

FREEMAN: I would have that they are generally OK.

The guys who we were with treated us generally all right. There was one or two occasions where they threatened us a bit, because I think they wanted to put pressure on our families back home. But in general they were OK. And you got the impression that, when they did (AUDIO GAP) nasty towards you, it was very much a controlled exercise.

These are fairly disciplined people, in general. Otherwise, we were treated well and we had a fairly cordial relationship with them. We didn't really speak -- we didn't speak any Somali. They didn't speak any English.

SANCHEZ: Got it.

FREEMAN: So, communication was limited. But it was pretty cordial, yes.

SANCHEZ: Colin Freeman, correspondent with "The Sunday Telegraph," (INAUDIBLE) a good story. We thank you so much for sharing that with us.

FREEMAN: You're welcome.

SANCHEZ: You need to know about the number of people who are being lied to in this country about President Barack Obama's wanting to take away their guns. I wish I could find a more delicate way of saying it, but why beat around the bush, especially when you consider there may be evidence of a gun-buying panic out there. So, we will report on it for you and tell you the facts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SANCHEZ: Hello again, everybody, I'm Rick Sanchez coming to you from the world headquarters of CNN.

Americans are being held hostage on this day. This story has changed many times. The latest, again, there is still an ongoing hostage situation. We picked up this bit of news with an hour. This news coming now after we had first been led to believe, interestingly enough, that the piracy had been thwarted.

Now, here's a quick version of events. As we understand it now, the American captain, we now have a photo of him. That's what he looks like. This is a captain of a U.S.-flagged cargo ship off the African coast. He is, again, being held captive by the pirates. CNN has independently confirmed this, after talking to one of the crew members on the ship, ship to shore, with Kyra Phillips, just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUINN (via telephone): Right now they want to hold our captain for ransom and we're trying to get him back. We have a coalition warship that will be here in three hours. So, we're just trying to hold them off for three more hours and then we'll have a warship here to help us.

PHILLIPS: Can you tell me where your captain is in proximity to your cargo ship? Where is the -- who was he with? What type of boat is he on right now?

QUINN: He's in the ship's lifeboat. They sink their boat - when they boarder a ship, they sink their boats. So the captain talked them into getting off the ship with our lifeboat. But we took one of their pirates hostage and we did an exchange.

What? OK. I've got to go.

PHILLIPS: Ken, can you stay with me for just two more seconds?

QUINN: What?

PHILLIPS: Tell me what the - can you tell me about the negotiations, what you've offered these pirates in exchange for your captain?

QUINN: We had one of their hostages. We had a pirate we took and we kept him for 12 hours. We tied him up and he was our prisoner.

PHILLIPS: Did you return him?

QUINN: Yes, we did. But we returned him, but they didn't return the captain. So now we're just trying to offer them whatever we can. Food. But it's not working too good. We're just trying to hold off until...

PHILLIPS: Ken, are you in control of the vessel right now?

QUINN: Yes. Yes. Yes. They are not aboard now.

PHILLIPS: OK.

QUINN: We're controlling the ship now.

PHILLIPS: So, can you see that lifeboat with your captain, with the pirates? Is he OK? Is he still alive?

QUINN: Yes. Yes. He talks on the -- he's got one of our ship's radios, yes. We talk to him.

PHILLIPS: So what is it the pirates want now in exchange for your captain?

QUINN: All right. I've got to hang up. I can't - I've got to go right now. I got to...

PHILLIPS: All right. Ken, I don't want to hold you up. Appreciate it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: A couple of points to make after listening to that conversation.

You heard when he says, it's not working too good. He seemed to be implying, if not all out saying, that they tried to capture one of the pirates - in fact, had captured one of the pirates and then tried to exchange him for the release of their captain. But, it looks or sounds like the pirates reneged on the deal and instead they kept the captain even though one of the pirates was let go.

Really a tense situation as it's being described there.

By the way, the man accused of going on a shooting rampage and -- all right. Let's do this. Let me just try and catch you up with what is going on with everything else. We're going to stay on top of this story and as we continue to follow it, we expect to get some new details either from the White House and State Department. We also have our Pentagon correspondent who's standing by on this and as we get that, we'll bring it to you immediately.

Let's just take a break and we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We want to catch you up on some of the other stories that are happening here.

In southern California, let's start there, a gunman described s an elderly Asian man allegedly shot four people, one fatally at a Korean Christian retreat. Authorities say they have no information or a motive on this.

Also, a horror story out of north Alabama today. A man facing divorce allegedly killed his estranged wife, their daughter, and two other relatives before turning the gun on himself. It was the third mass killing in Alabama in just a month.

And then there's the Pittsburgh shooting. This is not just another horrible crime story as in the past. This is a story with serious political implications. That weekend tragedy involves a man who allegedly shot and killed three police officers in cold blood. Why? Because he was convinced after no doubt watching Fox News and listening to right wing radio that quote, "Our rights were being infringed upon."

That's according to a friend of 22-year-old Richard Poplawski. That friend also said Poplawski was worried about quote, "the Obama gun ban that's on the way."

What ban? Seriously, what ban?

Here's the real issue here. Poplawski may not be alone in this crazy, they're coming to get us, mind set. There is evidence of a gun-buying panic. According to the FBI, there have been 1.2 million more requests for background requests of potential gun buyers from November to February than there were in the same four months last year.

Again, that's an increase of 1.2 million requests for guns. Who is stirring the pot? Who is making people apoplectic? Who is trying to use this to get people to not trust President Obama? And more importantly, is there any truth to the fear of a more restrictive gun ban?

That's what I'm going to tackle, when I come back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY, TEXAS (via telephone): Hi, this is Kelly from Houston, Texas. I don't think they are deliberately misleading anyone. I think they're just trying to encourage us to exercise our rights while we still can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: As we wait for information to come in off the ship with Americans that has been captured off the coast of Africa, let me address another story that we have been talking to you about throughout the course of the day: the failing economy.

The election of Barack Obama, the nation's first minority - minority president and then there's the garden variety, fear and hate mongering provided compliments of Fox News night in and night out.

That's where Glenn Beck is seen night after night, talking about doom's day, about the country coming apart, while his counterpart Sean Hannity calls the president a socialist and worse, implying day in and night out that he's trying to destroy America.

Here's an apparent result. Americans are scarfing up guns and ammunition at an alarming rate. Growing numbers of people appear to believe that the government wants their weapons. Take a look at what we found on YouTube today from some of the people who buy into that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stock up on your guns now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This guy wants to take every weapon you own. You will be left with nothing to protect yourself and your families. Obama means enslavement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look for heavy taxes on firearms. Look for huge taxes on ammunition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Registration is the first step to con confiscation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Load up on ammo now. Don't wait. (INAUDIBLE) Socialist for president. The gun ban is coming. Don't let anybody fuel you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Again, there is an unrelenting message being pushed by the right, far right saying that Obama will mount an assault on the second amendment.

Is it true? Is there anything at all to it? What are the facts?

That's what Jim Acosta looks into.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rick, you would think with a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, gun control bill would be on the way to the White House for the president's signature. But times have changed and so have Democrats on gun rights. As one southern Democrat recently said, the way the votes are shaping up these days, gun control is quote, dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): In Pittsburgh, the man accused of gunning down three police officers was afraid the government would take away his firearms, so says his friend.

EDWARD PERKOVIC, FRIEND OF PITTSBURGH SHOOTING SUSPECT: He believed in his rights to bear arms. He believed that hard economic times were going to put forth the gun bans and that sort of thing.

ACOSTA: But here's the reality. Despite mass shootings that have left more than 40 people dead in five states over the last month, Congress is in no hurry to pass new gun control laws.

NORTON: The whole world thinks we are gun crazy. It's time for some sanity.

ACOSTA: Take Washington, DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton who has a bill that would give the district its first member of Congress with full voting rights. Pro-gun lawmakers are trying to attach a measure to the voting rights bill that could scrap nearly all of the district's tough firearm laws.

NORTON: If this gun bill is attached to it and it's blown back from somebody getting hurt in this city, they are going to look to see who let this get passed.

ACOSTA: And when Attorney General Eric Holder recently dangled the idea of bringing back the Clinton era ban on assault weapons --

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: There are just a few gun- related changes that we would like to make. Among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons.

ACOSTA: The president of the National Rifle Association sounded the alarm.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA CEO: Our divine rights, they might have been endowed by a creator but they are preserved by mortals if we mortals have the means and the will to make it stick.

ACOSTA: Since then, 65 pro-gun House Democrats have fired off a letter to Holder urging him to abandon the assault weapons ban. Many Democrats, like Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb of Virginia, are getting elected with the help of NRA supporters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think if you step back and look at gun control as a political issue, you have to conclude that the NRA and opponents for more gun control have won.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ACOSTA: Gun control advocates say all of the recent shooting show current laws are not stopping gun violence and they are not stopping firearms purchases either. The FBI says instant background checks on gun buyers are way up, an indication weapon sales are soaring across the country - Rick.

SANCHEZ: Thanks so much, Jim.

So those are the facts, again, emphasis on facts. But despite all that, consider this again. According to the FBI, there have been 1.2 million more requests for background checks at potential gun buyers from November to February than there were in the same four months last year.

What happened from November to February? Again, that's 1.2 million. What's going on here?

Joining me now from Seattle, Washington, Allan Gottlieb. He's the founder of gun rights group, The Second Amendment Foundation and from New York, Eric Boehlert. He's a senior fellow at the media watchdog group Media Matters for America. Thanks to both of you gentlemen for being with us.

Alan, what makes you believe that President Obama is coming for your guns?

ALLAN GOTTLIEB, FOUNDER, SECOND AMENDMENT FOUNDATION: Well, first of all, you have to look at his record. It started when he was state senator in Illinois and supported banning handguns. During campaign, he talked about how gun owners cling to their guns in a derogatory way.

SANCHEZ: So that's all you got is the record, the past? That's where you're going to start your argument in that...

GOTTLIEB: Obviously the historical records mean something. Also, as a U.S. senator he supported every gun control measure that was before him and in addition to that, you've got Eric Holder, who is the attorney general, who just the other day said I'm not going to let the second amendment stand in the way of any gun control that they want to put forth.

SANCHEZ: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. I'm going to read to you now the message from the attorney general. This is Eric Holder's confirmation hearing. I'm taking you back to...

GOTTLIEB: But I'm talking about yesterday.

SANCHEZ: I'm talking back to January 15th and I want you to hear this first. Are you ready? Here's what he told Senator Tom Coleman (ph). This administration has no intention of doing anything that would affect a state's regulation of firearms, who can carry a firearm. There is nothing that we have discussed, nothing that is in planning, nothing that I can imagine that we're going to be doing in that regard. Those are the man's words.

GOTTLIEB: OK. But if you'd notice, he referenced state regulation. He didn't say Federal laws. He didn't say new Federal laws. Yesterday he came out and said that the second amount wouldn't stand in their way from passing gun control measures and when the DC gun ban was being argued in the Supreme Court, he filed a brief on his own stating that the second amendment didn't give anybody the right to even own a gun.

SANCHEZ: So, you're convinced that this is going to happen.

Eric, help us out.

ERIC BOEHLERT, SENIOR FELLOW, MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA: Well, I think people on the right and the single issue, passionate people are desperate to find some sort of opening so they can push this narrative.

Glenn Beck yesterday on his radio show said Barack Obama will take away your gun one way or another, he's going to take away your gun. This message has been on Fox News for weeks and months and it's not just the gun control issue. They are painting, as you mentioned, the doom's day scenario, almost mainstreaming this militia idea of tyranny, a totalitarian state in America.

SANCHEZ: Allan, what do you think about that? Because you know just about any independent person that looks at some of this coverage that we've been seeing, not just on Fox News but on other places as well, it seems alarmish. It almost seems like ...

GOTTLIEB: I think the alarming thing is that not that it's a doom's day scenario but there's no doubt that nobody can argue that the government isn't growing at an alarming rates, at record levels of spending, record levels...

SANCHEZ: It grew during the Bush administration. Where were your concerns then?

GOTTLIEB: I had concerns then, too, but they are not growing at the alarming rate that they are right now. Government relations, controls, everything on individuals in this country is significantly going in the direction of more and more government. Nobody can deny that. And, of course, that goes right into the argument of more and more gun control as well when government wants to regulate people.

SANCHEZ: Eric?

BOEHLERT: Well, the saying that government is growing in size is a lot different than saying they are going to come knock on your door and take your guns, that democracy in America is on the wane and that we're going to turn into a socialist or Marxist or fascist, depending on what week it is with Glenn Beck.

That's quite a leap and again that's incredibly irresponsible. We have never seen a television news outfit sort of exploit these kind of fears before and they're doing it on a daily basis. And again they're basically mainstreaming this militia movement and this militia rhetoric.

GOTTLIEB: You're trying to label everything as militia as being evil, crazy people out there. There are 90 million gun owners in America and they're not members of militias. The bottom line is, the Pew Research Center just did a survey that shows Barack Obama is the most polarizing president we have had in four decades. The reason why people are buying guns is that he's polarizing them.

SANCHEZ: Allan, Allan, how could he not be polarizing when people are saying those messages that we have been talking about? If I was to get on the air and start saying horrible things about anyone day in and day out and scaring the bejesus (ph) out of you and telling you that the world is going to end as a result of this particular politician, whether he's on the right or on the left or in the middle, don't you think he would be polarizing?

GOTTLIEB: Well I think maybe the media did that to George Bush. One could make a very good argument what you're saying is true. Maybe it wasn't Fox News, maybe it was CNN and MSNBC.

SANCHEZ: We'll leave it at that. I suppose that's fair.

And I thank you, sir, for taking time to talk to us. Allan, my thanks to you. And Eric my thanks to you as well. American hostages overwhelm their captors on the high seas, but the American captain of this ship is still being held. Coming up, I'll speak with his sister-in-law.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: This is a story that's been developing all day long. Breaking news to you coming now. Here's what we know.

Pirates off the African coast are holding an American ship captain hostage. That's what we're told by another American crewman on board the cargo ship Maersk Alabama. It's off the coast of Somalia. We're told the captain is not hurt, but he's on a lifeboat with one or more Somali pirates who earlier took control of the ship.

On the phone, we're going to be talking shortly with Lea Coggio. She is the sister-in-law of Captain Richard. He's been following this or he's been in contact with his crew members there on the ship. We hope to be able to make -- there's the picture that we were waiting on.

Again, this is the picture of the captain.

His sister-in-law had contacted us and told us that she was going to be talking to us momentarily. We are continuing to try and make contact with her and as soon as we do, we are going to be bringing you those comments.

Stay with us, we'll be right back with more on the story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: As promised, we now have Lea Coggio on the line with us. She is the sister-in-law of Richard Phillips. He's the captain of that ship which we are saddened to report is apparently being held captive by some of the pirates there off the coast of Africa. Lee, are you there?

LEA COGGIO, SISTER-IN-LAW TO MAERSK ALABAMA CAPTAIN RICHARD PHILLIPS (via telephone): Hello?

SANCHEZ: Are you there, Lea? This is Rick Sanchez.

COGGIO: Yes, I am.

SANCHEZ: Can you hear me? First of all, sorry to report that your brother-in-law is in that situation. What are your thoughts?

COGGIO: Well, we're all concerned. You know, he's been in those waters before.

SANCHEZ: Has he ever been in a situation like this?

COGGIO: No.

SANCHEZ: Have you been hearing anything that we haven't? Have you been in contact with the State Department?

COGGIO: I haven't. It's possible my sister has.

SANCHEZ: Have you talked to her?

COGGIO: Yes, I'm with her at their residence.

SANCHEZ: And what is she saying?

COGGIO: She's a little overwhelmed right now. She wants to hear from Richard.

SANCHEZ: She hasn't though, right?

COGGIO: Right.

SANCHEZ: Has she heard from the company Maersk?

COGGIO: Yes.

SANCHEZ: What have they said?

COGGIO: Just what you have been reporting and with your reporter earlier about talking with the second mate and that they actually had Richard in one of the ship's lifeboats. So...

SANCHEZ: This must be a very difficult time for her and for you as well.

COGGIO: Oh, yes. We're both from large families so there's a big concern and a big connection, an extended family.

SANCHEZ: Pardon me for interrupting. Has she or you ever had a conversation with Richard about sailing these waters and the threat that often captains face when they go through that particular area?

COGGIO: Yes, he's talked about it. I mean he's been doing this for a long time and he's very experienced and they go for training, updates. They're in contact, you know, obviously with...

SANCHEZ: My best to you, Lea, and my best to your sister as well.

COGGIO: Thanks very much.

SANCHEZ: I hope everything works out. We'll be following it for you.

COGGIO: Thanks very much.

SANCHEZ: In the meantime, Jason Carroll had a chance to talk to also a family member or a crewmember who's on the ship. I want you to listen now to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE MURPHY, FATHER OF MAERSK ALABAMA CHIEF OFFICER SHANE MURPHY: I think the biggest mistake these pirates have made, the mistake they made today, they took an American ship.

This is the first one, they took an American ship. I think they're going to regret it. The American people are not going to tolerate, they will not tolerate this type of crime. We're not a people that take being threatened easily.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: So there you have the situation we have been following it for you for the better part of the last hour. We're going to obviously stay on top of it as we will as well, getting your comments.

Man, I'll tell you, the response has been unbelievable today. A lot of information coming in on the gun control segment we did just moments ago. Let me share something with you that came in just a little while ago, because that one's been coming in hot and heavy on both sides.

Let's go to Kevin Weiner (ph) or Weiner (ph) I suppose, "Great reporting on the fear of gun control laws, the media needs to get their facts straight."

And that is what we try and do here, playing it right down the middle despite what some would say.

Don Lemon is going to be filling in today for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Let's take it over to Don. He's going to continue to follow the situation with the Maersk Alabama as well.

Don, over to you.