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AMERICAN MORNING

Maersk Alabama Crew Reported Safe, Captain Still Being Held Hostage; The Business of Piracy; Opponents of Gay Marriage Pushing Back Against Legislation; Helicopters Could Help Save Lives in Head Injury Cases; Michelle Obama: Goodwill Ambassador

Aired April 9, 2009 - 07:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: It's 58 minutes past the hour right now, and you are looking at a live picture right now. We're expecting an update any moment from the company Maersk Alabama. They are the ones whose ship's crew members were the victims of the pirate attack off the Coast of Somalia.

Again, as we know, the 19 crew members are safe and accounted for aboard that vessel after they were able to overtake it, but the captain has now been held and has been held over the past day by these pirates. So, they're going to give us an update now on this situation.

First, we want to get you quickly on some of the other top stories this morning.

The number of dead after Monday's devastating earthquake in Italy is now up to 278. Several bodies were pulled out just hours ago from the rubble after it destroyed - they were able to get to a destroyed college dorm. Official say the search for the dead will continue until Sunday.

The State Department is saying this morning that the U.S. will participate in direct talks - six-party talks with Iran over its nuclear program. It's a new effort to try to break the deadlocks in negotiations. Iran hasn't accepted anything yet. It is being looked at, though, as another major shift away from the Bush administration policy, even though it did take in talks last summer.

And President Obama putting another politically volatile issue on his plate. "The New York Times" reporting this morning that he will take on immigration reform this year, including a path to citizenship for people who are in this country illegally.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get back to our breaking news this morning.

The tense pirate standoff off of the coast of Africa. The situation is developing minute-by-minute. We are following it. We have been in contact also with a crew member. Here is what we know right now.

Armed pirates still holding the captain of that American freighter, the Maersk Alabama. The captain's name is Richard Phillips. He's a 53-year-old father of two from Vermont. He's the final bargaining chip of the pirates. Their last hope for any sort of payday. They are currently holding him on a 28-foot lifeboat. We understand that lifeboat now has about ten days of ration, so we could see this thing stretch out for some time.

Now this comes after the unarmed crew somehow got rid of the attackers who were armed with AK-47s. The men onboard, however, were not armed and all those in the Alabama say the 20 men still on board are all doing OK.

Also, right now, a Navy destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, is near the scene and has that lifeboat in its sights. We understand that the Navy is not expected to intervene but will not allow that lifeboat to leave with that hostage to go back to what's called a mothership if you will.

Also, this live picture we can put back up that we are showing - we are waiting for you. You can see them coming out. We're waiting for the CEO of the shipping company to come out for a press conference expected to start right about now.

You see a little activity there.

But John Rinehart is his name, he's the head of that Maersk line out of Norfolk, Virginia. Been monitoring - after trying to rescue the captain from those armed pirates, again, expecting this at any moment. And when it happens we'll bring it to you live.

CHETRY: Right. And they did put out just moments ago actually within the last 30 minutes an update on the current situation as again coming from the company out of Norfolk, Virginia.

They say, again, that the crew members have been accounted for. They're all safely aboard that vessel.

But they go on and say that the ship's captain remains in the custody of the pirates. They say that the pirates were able to get out in of one of these ships' encapsulated lifeboats. They say that the main concern is still the safe return of the captain. He also talked about having the latest communications with the ship, indicating that he is unharmed. So that's certainly good news.

The other interesting thing out of this is they say they're going to be working closely with all involved government agencies, particularly the U.S. Navy which has arrived on the scene and is taking a lead, according to this, in working toward the captain's release.

We had talked earlier about who will be conducting these negotiations for his release.

HOLMES: And that's interesting to hear them say that they're letting the Navy take the lead. But we also have and reportedly that the - that the line, the Maersk line, those folks, have been asking the Navy not to intervene, if you will, asking them not to take action.

Oftentimes, what you see out here in many of these pirate situations they're hijacking these private companies, so oftentimes governments and militaries don't get involved. So it's up to these companies who oftentimes decide to, in fact, pay so that's why this has been a profitable venture for a lot of these pirates and why it does continue.

CHETRY: It sure has. All right. So we've just got another update, this press conference is going to be taking place quite soon starting in the next couple of minutes. So we'll bring you back there live as soon as they get ready to speak.

Meanwhile, we're working a story - we were actually working on a story with a crew member's father when all of this happened. Captain Joe Murphy, he's part of a teaching - a first of its kind course in using weapons and intense security against pirates, who's joining us at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy when he got the call that, in fact, his son - the ship that his son was the first mate on was taken by pirates.

Now earlier on AMERICAN MORNING, he talked about the phone call with his son Shane Murphy and also about the conditions that they could be facing right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Give us an update about the last time you had a chance to speak to your son, Shane?

CAPT. JOE MURPHY, FATHER OF MAERSK ALABAMA SECOND-IN-COMMAND OFFICER: The last communication we had from the ship was actually yesterday. We haven't heard any word from Shane since yesterday afternoon. He did tell us that he was safe and that the crew was safe. And that, of course, the concern is now focused on Captain Phillips who's in a lifeboat with the four pirates.

CHETRY: Yes, and can you explain a little bit about - I understand, as we have said just a few moments ago, the crew kept him one of the pirates. They were going to try to have some sort of exchange take place and of course the Somali pirates reneged on that.

What are - what is the situation, what is the situation in that lifeboat? How long can they stay and what condition is the captain likely in?

MURPHY: I would suspect that the captain is in very good condition. The lifeboat is only a 28-foot boat. It's got emergency rations for about 10 days for its capacity. It's a very uncomfortable place. It's very small. There's no toilet facilities or anything like that.

The captain has VHF radio and I'm sure that he's in voice radio with the ship itself. But the problem is, of course, that the radio is going to - the battery is going to die. And I'm not really sure how they'll continue communication after that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: All right, and as we just heard from the company itself, they are allowing the U.S. Navy right now to take the lead in working toward the captain's release. What exactly that entails practically speaking we're not sure. Hopefully we'll get another update.

Again, we're awaiting this press conference, an update from the company that owns this ship.

A U.S. - our Jason Carroll got an exclusive look at Joe Murphy's one of a kind program. Training these sailors to fight back against pirates. It's a side of a story that you'll only see here on CNN.

Jason is live here this morning at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzard's Bay this morning. One of the really ironic things about this is as we were talking, Jason, about being trained and getting some of these crew members are trained in guns. They actually didn't have guns aboard this particular ship.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is the way we understand it. That is what we are hearing. But what they are doing here under Joe Murphy's care is basically training the cadets to use guns to combat pirates as a last resort.

This is, of course, the pilot course that they have here at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. So far, it has been well received by the administration and by the cadets. And they also want to stress that they use this as a last resort when other measures fail. Such as using water hoses, using some of the sound devices to keep some of these pirates at bay if you can't outmaneuver them with the vessel or outrun them with the vessel.

Once you've tried all of these mechanisms first, if those efforts fail, and the pirates do get onboard, they want these cadets trained if they end up in a situation to be able to defend themselves with these small arms. And that is what they're basically teaching them here under Joe Murphy's care.

It's a controversial program, Kiran. Not everyone agrees with it. There are some security experts that basically say, look, if you arm the cadets, then the pirates in turn will just get more armed. And so then what you basically have is this armed race between the two of them.

There are also security experts say liability issues with having armed gunmen onboard these vessels. So there are a lot of issues at play here. But once again, here at the Maritime Academy under Joe Murphy's care, they feel as though this is another way to teach the cadets, armed them the best way that they can.

Also, you know, ironically, just a few weeks ago, Shane Murphy was here. He's a graduate of the Maritime Academy as is Captain Richard Phillips. Graduated back in the early '70s from this very institution. And just a short while ago, Shane was here speaking to the students about defending themselves against pirates and then you see what the situation that he's just found himself in - Kiran.

CHETRY: And so what is their reaction? I mean you've been able to talk with many of them who were there and many of the people who even took this course. How do they see this ending?

CARROLL: Well, you know, I think they're putting their confidence in the men who are out there. They have confidence in Shane Murphy. Confidence in the Navy. It's a wait-and-see approach. Even yesterday when I spoke to Shane Murphy's wife on the phone, and speaking to Serena, she said, you know, I've been married to Shane for a long, long time, you know. I know how it goes in the maritime community.

You really just have to wait it out and see and hope that the training pays off, don't try to predict anything, but just do your best that you can in terms of the training and just wait and see - Kiran.

CHETRY: They're certainly the patience approach right now. But I'm sure that is a little bit of a good news and a good feeling knowing that the USS Bainbridge is there and that that Navy destroyer is going to make sure that this captain can be brought back to the ship safely.

Jason Carroll, thanks. We're going to check in with you throughout the morning, of course.

HOLMES: And we continue to keep an eye on Norfolk, Virginia. A press conference is expected to start there at any moment. We got a warning, a few minute warning, but they haven't started just yet. It doesn't look like much from that scene, just a door there. But we're expecting some of the officials from the Maersk Line, the folks who owned that liner right now that came under attack by those pirates.

They own - expecting to come out and give us an update. They had been working essentially around the clock, also working with U.S. officials, the Navy, the military, trying to resolve this issue. So when they come out you will see that live. Of course these are major developments with this story we have been seen overnight and continue to see and expect to get some more.

So you will want to keep it right here with us on AMERICAN MORNING. We have our global resources of CNN ready to bring you all that breaking news as it happens. We have people following the story at the Pentagon, the White House.

Also, the shipping company's headquarters as you saw there in that live picture in Virginia.

Also, have teams on the ground in Africa, as well as in the Middle East.

Stay with us all morning. You don't want to miss it again. We will have that press conference live when it happens.

CHETRY: We want to update you now on some of the other big stories on our radar.

A member of Pakistan's cabinet saying the U.S. is out to dismantle his country and that President Obama is shooting his own foot by sending more troops to the region. Those comments coming just a day after a visit by the president's chief envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke.

In a shock to know, North Korea's puppet parliament appointed Kim Jong-Il to a third term as the nation's leader. The world was really watching to see whether Kim would make his first public appearance in months. He reportedly suffered a stroke in August. No sign of him, though, so far.

And so ahead, how do a few - some pirates on these small speedboats manage to take over ships the size of six or seven football fields? We're going to go inside a hijacking, the raids, the demand, the danger, and, in many cases, the cash drop. It's high drama on the high seas. It's 10 minutes past the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

KEVIN SPEERS, SPOKESMAN, MAERSK LINE, LIMITED: ... Senior Director of Marketing with Maersk Line, Limited.

HOLMES: And you're going to be listening in here to this - to John Reinhart. Those are some introductions here but we're expecting to hear an update about the situation with the pirates who are holding that ship. Still holding the captain actually off the coast of Somalia. So let's listen in.

SPEERS: ... to accompany our most recent situational update. Over the course of the night, not much has changed. The crew, with the exception of the captain, is safely aboard and in control of Maersk Alabama. The USS Bainbridge is at the scene and is in command, and the Navy is in command of the situation.

We are grateful that the Navy is there to help us resolve this crisis in the most peaceful manner. We are in regular contact with the Alabama. The remain - the ship remains at a safe distance as instructed by the Navy. We are coordinating with the Navy and all of the government organizations involved in this crisis.

Our most recent contact with the Alabama indicated that the captain remains a hostage but is unharmed at this time. The safe return of the captain is our foremost priority. Everything we've done over the past day has strived to increase the chance of peaceful outcome.

We're encouraged that most of the crew is safe. They have been resilient and courageous throughout this crisis. But we will remain on watch, staffing our situation room and our family hotline until the situation is resolved and the captain is safely returned.

We share the concern for the well being of the crew with the families and we've been in contact with them throughout the night and we provided a hotline and other services to the families.

At this time, we're not going to take any questions because of the - kind of the dynamic situation that is ongoing, but I want to make a note to the media regarding the telephone number that has been available to the Maersk Alabama. We ask you that please do not call the Maersk Alabama when the situation remains dynamic.

The calls distract the crew and increases - and compromises their safety. So please show prudence and refrain from calling the Alabama. Thank you very much.

HOLMES: All right, that is a representative of the Maersk Line in Norfolk, Virginia. We're expecting to hear from the CEO, Mr. Reinhart, but that was not the case but a different representative this morning giving an update. Not too much of one.

CHETRY: No.

HOLMES: This morning - they didn't want to take questions. Again, this is a fluid situation for them and a security situation, as well. They don't want to give up too much. But still saying the ship is under the control of the crew members right now. Everybody is safe.

Also, that the Alabama and also the - the Bainbridge out there keeping a safe distance from these hijackers who's holding the captain. But again, we're expecting more information but they were giving as much as they could give.

CHETRY: Interesting. It's 2:14 in the afternoon out there and they've had, you know, the sun, they've had daylight for a while now. And as we heard, when we - when we spoke to the captain a little bit earlier is that on this lifeboat they have about 10 days of rations. So I guess everyone is sort of taking it easy right now.

The other interesting thing, though, is that Kevin Speers who was just speaking now for Maersk were saying please don't call the ship.

HOLMES: Yes.

CHETRY: After this happened, it was just amazing that they were able to reach out to people at home as well as members of the media using a satellite phone and actually many media organizations have that number as well.

And you can imagine that there's a lot going on in that situation. So he asked to please not call saying that it compromises the safety and distracts the crew as they were trying to figure out where to go from here.

HOLMES: Where to go from here and also like, you mentioned a little earlier, the information we were getting out that, in fact, that the Navy is taking the head right now. The military is going to try to take the head and get this - and get the captain back.

Christine Romans here with us right now. Getting the captain back as we've seen in the past when it comes to hostages usually involves the exchange for some cash and this has been a profitable and lucrative business for these pirates.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. And you know, the industry doesn't like to talk about how much money they're spending because they don't want to set the new high water mark.

HOLMES: Yes.

ROMANS: They don't want to encourage piracy by saying you can get $1 million, $2 million for hijacking a ship. So they're very, very leery about saying how much money is going out the door. And in that press conference, they say the situation is still dynamic. They're trying to figure out what to do here next.

Usually what happens is quietly some money is dumped on to the deck or even wire transferred somewhere and then everyone goes home, no one is hurt. That's what you really hope for in a situation like this. Now you have, you know, a military presence there. So it makes a dynamic situation pretty tricky.

We know there's been a spike in this activity over the past few weeks. They're moving further offshore because there is now more of a presence in the Gulf of Aden. And so you're seeing the pirate - the ship moving offshore further and the pirates moving offshore farther.

You've seen insurance rates rise. Ship - of high-value ships like the chemical and oil tankers, they're paying premiums of several thousands of dollars a day to operate in this area because simply of this risk.

And let's talk about the ransom for a minute. I have seen estimates everywhere from $50 million paid over the past year, year and a half to $150 million paid. We talked to a top piracy expert in Asia this morning who told us, look, a good rule of thumb is maybe $125 million has been paid from the beginning of 2008 until today.

But they're very, very leery about giving numbers because they don't want to encourage this piracy. We don't know exactly how much has just been quietly spent as a cost of doing business for some of these supertankers.

I mean think of it. A little boat, 60 feet - or 16 feet, 20 feet long, with four, five guys, with an RPG, a rocket-propelled grenade, maybe four, five, you know, semi-automatic weapons, and a supertanker full of oil that is three football fields long. It seems like that wouldn't even be a match, but it's a very quick and easy money for some of these guys to make.

CHETRY: And as we saw in this situation - first of all, no one is armed on these ships for varying reasons. I mean one was a liability purpose as some of these companies don't want to get into that situation and also feel like it probably wouldn't help to have a bunch of people armed and then what are they doing getting into fire fights. But the other interesting thing, as well, is as you said it's been remarkably peaceful in terms of the fact that yes, they do use the threat of weapons but no one's been killed in this recent spat (ph) of increased pirate attacks in this area.

ROMANS: And there' a lot we don't know about this whole trend. I mean - and also this comes at a time in the industry - it's been very secretive because you don't want to promote or flamed - inflamed piracy. But it comes at a difficult time for the shipping industry, quite frankly.

Global - you know global freight volumes are down. I mean there's a credit crisis, insurance rates are going up. I mean, so I would think the credit crisis is a bigger impact on the industry overall than this. This is a part of their doing business. But it has spiked, this activity has spiked in recent weeks in particular.

HOLMES: Yes. The cost of doing business now.

ROMANS: It's true.

HOLMES: All right. Christine Romans, we appreciate the numbers. Thank you.

CHETRY: Also more states make changes to their same-sex marriage laws. There are some uproar over a controversial new commercial. Some say it's a scare tactic. We're going to show what the fuss is all about.

Also do the pirates holding the American captain hostage have ties to al Qaeda? We're checking the connection. You're watching the Most News in the Morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Great news for same-sex couples in New York. And it's already being celebrated with its own ice cream flavor.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: OK. That's his take. But welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

That's Jon Stewart there talking about Vermont's decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Not a laughing matter to a whole lot of other folks who have something vested in this issue. Listen now to some of the heated called we got on our hotline 877-MY-AMFIX about this same-sex marriage issue.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) MARGARET, NEW YORK: And I'm calling about Vermont's newest decision to approve of homosexual marriages and to show my disapproval, I'm banning every product that they send out. That's the only way I can show my contempt.

STEVE, WISCONSIN: State after state is endorsing gay marriage. Fact, it is an abomination against God. He destroyed Sodom and Gomorra because of it. Why are we pushing God's buttons?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

HOLMES: OK, as we know, clearly, many people are passionate about the growing movement of legalized same-sex marriage and the pushback getting a little more intense.

Our Randi Kaye has some of that pushback including a commercial aimed at stopping the momentum.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kiran and T.J.

One way to keep same-sex marriage illegal may be to paint its impact on those who oppose it as dark and scary.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE (voice-over): That's the latest tactic from the National Organization for Marriage, which just released this $1.5 million ad campaign.

(VIDEO CLIP, ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ADVERTISEMENT ACTOR: There's a storm gathering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE ADVERTISEMENT ACTOR: The clouds are dark and the winds are strong.

KAYE (on camera): Do you acknowledge that the ad is dark and scary and paints this picture of this gathering storm?

BRIAN BROWN, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MARRIAGE: Well, I think there is a gathering storm unless we act to protect marriage, we're going to see more and more moves to overturn the role of the people.

KAYE (voice-over): But Evan Wolfson, an advocate for same-sex marriage, calls the ad an assault on gay people that undermines civil rights.

EVAN WOLFSON, FREEDOM TO MARRY: Everything in these ads is phony, from the scary zombie special effects to the actors reading the lines.

(VIDEO CLIP, ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE ADVERTISEMENT ACTOR: But we have hope. KAYE: The ad was supposed to be released late spring. But recent decisions by Vermont and Iowa to legalize same-sex marriage prompted the group to act now. Connecticut and Massachusetts already allow it. But Vermont is the first state whose legislature approves same-sex marriage and not a court. In fact, legislators overrode the governor's veto.

BROWN: The people don't want this. This is being forced by both the courts and by out-of-touch legislators.

KAYE: Brown wants to create an army of marriage activists in every state to put a stop to whatever momentum gay couples are gaining.

(on camera): In California, there's the petition to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage. Governors in both New York and New Jersey say they'll sign same-sex marriage bills. Maine, later this month, will hold hearings on the issue. New Hampshire's House of Representatives has approved it. Even the District of Columbia is moving towards recognizing same-sex marriage performed elsewhere.

WOLFSON: When gay people marry, they don't use up the marriage licenses. And the idea that somehow treating gay people as equal under the civil rights laws of this country is a threat to other people is as bogus as it was when they made these claims in other civil rights chapters in American history.

KAYE (voice-over): In the last CNN Opinion Research Poll, 55 percent did not want to legalize same-sex marriage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: Wolfson hopes the more time people have to think about it, the more they'll be able to ignore what he calls the scary ad campaign. Kiran, T.J.?

CHETRY: Randi Kaye for us this morning, thanks.

Well, as pirates terrorize the high seas, there are new worries. Is there a terrorist connection? We'll show you why some think al Qaeda could be involved.

And also we are the only network live at the naval base that sent the destroyer to the scene. A lifeboat with an American hostage and four armed pirates in its sight. So what is the next move? It's 25 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS.

CHETRY: Twenty-seven minutes past the hour right now. The latest on our breaking news story.

Brazen pirates still holding American captain Richard Phillips hostage while a Navy destroyer stands by. Just moments ago, the shipping company's representative said that the ship's crew is safe and that the situation is changing by the second. So stay with us.

There are also new concerns this morning about pirates possibly having ties to international terrorism. In other words, could these outlaws be backed by al Qaeda?

In a disturbing twist on the pirate attack, our Nic Robertson found out that the political climate in Somalia may be right for ties to terror.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Four months ago, this port in Oman was one of the only safe havens in seas infested with pirates. Major warships are on patrol. The winters are cold and seas were rougher, hijackings that claimed more than 100 ships last year slowed.

But now the pirates, many in tiny fishing boats equipped with powerful engines, are back. Six ships off the coast of Somalia hijacked this week, the latest, the U.S. flag Maersk Alabama, reawakening last year's fears that terrorists might follow the hijackers' lead.

ROGER MIDDLETON, TERRORISM EXPERT: Most people know how the pirates operate. Most people know what you need to do if you want to capture something successfully and terrorists could easily adapt those tactics. We haven't seen evidence of this happening yet. But the worry is that it could happen in the future.

ROBERTSON: But if it hasn't happened, why worry? Quite simply, according to experts, because the climate is now right. Somalia, where the pirates are based, is riddled with internal conflict.

ADAMA GAYE, SOMALIA EXPERT: It's already a failed state. It has been a failed state for so many years. I think that maybe apart from Afghanistan, this is the country that can be considered as the longest failed state in the world.

ROBERTSON: One of the groups at the heart of the Somali power struggle is Al Shebab, which has long ties to al Qaeda and has Afghan- Pakistan training camps.

MIDDLETON: Some of the leaders there seemed to have been trained in those camps and some of them have voiced publicly their desires to be part of a global network including al Qaeda.

ROBERTSON: For their part, al Qaeda leaders talk of Somalia and covered a closer alliance with Al Shebab.

(on camera): Until now, the best guesswork is that if Al Shebab is making money out of privacy, it's doing so by extortion, forcing the pirates to pay it off. But what may be ringing alarm bells now is that most of these recent attacks, unlike last year, are off Somalia's southern shores, where al-Shebab is strongest.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: And continuing to update you on our breaking news story this morning, that intense pirate standoff off the coast of Africa. Situation is a minute-by-minute one. CNN has been in contact with a crew member onboard the Alabama.

But here is what we know right now. Armed pilots - pirates, I should say, pirates still holding the captain of the American freighter, the Maersk Alabama. His name is Richard Phillips. He's a 53-year-old father of two from Vermont. He's their final bargaining chip. The pirates are currently holding him on a 28-foot lifeboat.

This comes after the unarmed crew, someway, somehow, got rid of the hijackers armed with AK-47s. The officer on the Alabama says the 20 men still onboard are OK. They're all doing just fine.

Also, we know right now the Navy destroyer the USS Bainbridge is near the scene and has that lifeboat in its sights. Still not sure what acts they may take.

The shipping company gave us an update on the situation just a few minutes ago. Take a quick listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPEERS: The safe return of the captain is our foremost priority. Everything we've done over the past day has strived to increase the chance of peaceful - peaceful outcome. We encouraged that most of the crew is safe. They've been resilient and courageous throughout this crisis. But we will remain on watch, staffing our situation room and our family hotline until this situation resolved and the captain is safely returned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Well, CNN's Barbara Starr, the only reporter live at the Navy's headquarters in Bahrain.

Barbara, everybody has this question now. Hopefully you can answer this for us. What, exactly, is the Navy's role? What are they trying to do? What do they want to do?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Very difficult question, T.J. and even more difficult the answer. In the building behind me, this is the headquarters of the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet and the International Maritime Coalition here in the Persian Gulf. And Vice Admiral William Fortney (ph) inside that building right now monitoring the situation 24/7.

Now the USS Bainbridge is on station, the Navy warship. They, basically, right now are conducting surveillance. Trying to keep a direct eye on this whole situation - pardon me - on the Maersk Alabama, the crew onboard, and of course, the hostage, the captain being held by four pirates on this lifeboat nearby. Their main job right now as we understand it is going to make sure that the captain is not moved by the pirates back into Somalia. Also, to make sure no additional pirates come out to the ship and try to board it and start this whole crisis all over again.

Also, communications - the crew of the Maersk in touch by radio call with the U.S. Navy keeping them up to date.

Right now, it is a monitoring situation. There's no indication that the Navy plans really any military action here. There's little that they can actually do. Everyone wants to see this peacefully resolved. And as we have been explaining all morning long, of course, in these previous hijackings, what happens is the ship's owners basically take charge as a commercial transaction to pay those multimillion dollar ransom to get these people back. The U.S. military doesn't want to get involved in ransom negotiation, of course - T.J.

HOLMES: All right. Barbara Starr for us there again live at the Navy's headquarters in Bahrain. Barbara, we appreciate you this morning.

CHETRY: And still ahead, could the first lady be getting an important new role? Her popularity has never been higher. So, we want to take her inside the movement to have Michelle Obama become a goodwill ambassador.

Thirty-three minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Just into us here at CNN.

Kim Jong-Il is -- who you're seeing there, new video of the North Korean leader. This is in front of the parliament there in North Korea which just appointed him to another term, third term in power there. This comes as the day after North Korean TV showed what it calls exclusive footage of the reclusive leader, Kim Jong-Il. Of course, reportedly. We haven't seen him a whole lot because he reportedly suffered a stroke this past August. The new video just in to us and we wanted to share it with you.

CHETRY: T.J., thanks.

Welcome to the first lady's whirlwind trip abroad. It seems the world just can't get enough of Michelle Obama. Her ability to connect with children became especially apparent with this emotional moment at a London's girl's school.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: There are diamonds like this all over the world, all of you are jewels. You are precious and you touched my heart. And it's important for the world to know that there are wonderful girls like you all over the world? All over the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHETRY: Joining me now for reaction is the Politico's White House reporter Nia-Malica Henderson.

Some are even suggesting that the first lady could become a goodwill ambassador. What are you learning about that?

NIA-MALICA HENDERSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Well, you're right. There are calls for her to become kind of an official goodwill ambassador. But one of the things about the role of first lady is they're unofficially goodwill ambassadors anyway.

We saw these poll numbers come out after the first lady's trip that essentially say something like 80 percent of Americans thought that she really helped kind of change the face of America abroad and you know kind of helped to rebrand the American, you know, command age abroad. So there's that.

One of the things that is happening in the East Wing is that they are trying to figure out what the role of the first lady will be on the global stage. In other words, what sort of issues is she going to take on as first lady? One of the things they're thinking about is maybe she'll have some sort of role in HIV and AIDS policy. She certainly talked with Carla Bruni Sarkozy about that.

So that certainly is something that's under consideration. They also see the issues that she's already taking on here like mentoring to young girls and encouraging them to do well in school are certainly transferable to the global stage. We certainly saw that when she was at that London school and got very choked up.

CHETRY: Yes. It really was an emotional moment. It really was a very powerful moment as well.

But I thought this was interesting. The international organization UNICEF saying to CNN, "Mrs. Obama is a powerful and poignant voice for American children and mothers. UNICEF would benefit greatly from her attention and advocacy. Mrs. Obama has a place at our table."

And you alluded to that, you're almost an informal or unspoken goodwill ambassador as it is. But it was interesting they said that a poignant voice for American children and that UNICEF, which is, of course, a global organization can benefit from that voice as well.

HENDERSON: Yes, definitely that's true. So far the East Wing hasn't responded to this statement.

But, again, I mean I think they see her as having this kind of unofficial role. Today, she'll be out in the - in the White House on the South Lawn with a number of elementary school children from the D.C. area planting this garden and vegetables and so they'll be out there.

And, again, she's going to take on this role. You know, she talked about being mom-in-chief. And in some ways, she's America's mom-in-chief. She tells the school children, you know, to eat your vegetables and do your homework. So that's part of the role.

I mean, going forward, the question for Mrs. Obama will be what sort of other issues she takes on that are a little more difficult for her. She talks so far about, you know, some of the issues being kind of easy and not as challenging, going forward, it will be interesting to see if she takes on a more controversial issue.

CHETRY: And you know, the interesting thing and we talked about this, you know, as long as we've been talking about first ladies. Should they take on a traditional role? Should they take on a more independent role? I mean, are we past that discussion where you can be both? You don't have to pretend you're not a mother and that your children aren't your first concern, but you can also take on other issues the way that she's sort of shown that you can do more than just be a mom.

HENDERSON: It's true. I mean, in some ways, she's functioning. I think the initial discussion is would she be Laura? Would she be Hillary Clinton? Is she like Jackie O? In some ways, she's all of those. But at the same time, she kind of invented this role herself and thrown out the playbook for these traditional first ladies.

So she's doing it all. I mean, she's on the cover of "Vogue." She's talking to military families. She's overseas encouraging young girls to do well in school. So she has kind of expanded the role of first lady and she's kind of in this you know global icon status almost.

CHETRY: Nia-Malica Henderson, always good to talk to you. Thanks for being with us this morning.

HENDERSON: Thanks, Kiran.

HOLMES: All right, Kiran. It's the interview you do not want to miss this morning. A crew member's father speaks out after his son's ship is attacked by pirates.

And, of course, this man knows a thing or two about fending them off. Don't want to miss that.

Also, this was the sixth pirate attack off of Somalia just this week. How did piracy turn into a big problem there? We'll get some answers. It is 7:41 on this AMERICAN MORNING.

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HOLMES: Welcome back, Kiran. It's 7:44 here on this AMERICAN MORNING. Let's fast forward you through some of the stories that are going to be making some news a little later today.

Vice President Biden will hold an economic recovery meeting with the cabinet this morning. It happens at 11:30 Eastern time. He'll be speaking to the press just before that meeting. And you can see that here live on CNN as well as seeing it on CNN.com.

Also, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates meet with their Australian counterparts today at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time. The topics of discussion expected to be Australia's role in Afghanistan and the renewed focus on nuclear nonproliferation.

Also, all day long today, the team of 15 people from the Obama administration will be meeting in Detroit with a new management team for General Motors. Their goal is to, "accelerate the process that the president laid out last Monday."

Part of their process, of course, was asking the former GM CEO Rick Wagoner to step down. The team will be in Detroit through the end of the week.

And that's what we're following this morning, Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. T.J., thanks so much.

And we're updating our breaking story right now. Four armed Somali pirates still holding an American captain hostage at sea on a lifeboat. The shipping company CEO says that the rest of the crew that was on that ship is now safe. A Navy warship is also at the scene and they say the pirates are in their sights.

Early on AMERICAN MORNING, we talked to a crew member's father. He's been in contact with the ship and he's an expert on fighting off pirates. We talked about his phone call with his son, Shane Murphy, and also about the conditions that the crew and the captain could be facing right now.

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CHETRY: Give us an update about the last time you had a chance to speak to your son, Shane.

MURPHY: Well, the last communication we had from the ship was actually yesterday. We haven't heard any word from Shane since yesterday afternoon. He did tell us that he was safe and that the crew was safe and that of course the concern is now focused on Captain Phillips who's in a lifeboat with the four pirates.

CHETRY: Yes, and could you explain a little bit about - I understand as we had said just a few moments ago that the crew kept one of the pirates. They were going to try to have some sort of exchange take place and of course the Somali pirates reneged on that. What is the situation? What is the situation in that lifeboat? How long can they stay? And what condition is the captain likely in?

MURPHY: I would suspect that the captain is in very good condition. The lifeboat is only 28-foot boat. It's got emergency rations for about ten days for its capacity. It's a very uncomfortable place. It's very small. There's no toilet facilities or anything like that. The captain has VHF radio and I'm sure he is in communication with the ship itself.

The problem is, of course, that the radio - the battery is going to die. And I'm not really sure how they'll continue communication after that.

CHETRY: How do you see this situation developing? What should we be looking for in terms of when they're going to release this captain?

MURPHY: Well, I think what's going to happen is very quickly is they've been boxed in. They've removed 19 other crew members in to a safe environment. They're in a lifeboat. You know, let's be careful what you ask for, you just might get it. They have few options. They don't have enough fuel to go anywhere. And they're not going to be allowed to move. So they're going to sit in that lifeboat until they run out of water and food and they're going to have to make a decision.

And if the weather should become bad, there's going to be a considerable amount of seasickness as well. So we'll see what happens.

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CHETRY: Yes, we will see what happens. It's very interesting, in the official release by the company, by the Maerck Corporation. They said that the U.S. Navy is now taking a lead on working toward the captain's release.

HOLMES: And again, that's our Barbara Starr reported as well, it doesn't look like any type of necessarily military action going to be taken but they're taking the lead trying to get him out of there. Hopefully, this will end peacefully like the others have.

CHETRY: Exactly.

Well, there are also new questions at the death of actress Natasha Richardson. Could access to a chopper have saved her life? A sneak peek at what Dr. Sanjay Gupta uncovered.

It's 49 minutes after the hour.

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HOLMES: Well, the death of actress Natasha Richardson after a tumble in a ski slope in Canada raised a lot of questions, some still waiting to be answered.

Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta launched his own investigation. He is live for us this morning in Atlanta.

Sanjay, good morning to you.

So, this is a strange, strange story and so many questions surrounding not just the injury but also the treatment she got or should have gotten right after she was injured.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We really stumbled into what I think is a controversial area and this particular area of Canada for some time.

And a lot of this sort of came about as we started to look at the timeline of what happened to her and specifically analyzing the 911 calls that came in. We got transcripts of all of these 911 calls. We really got an idea that after the time of her injury trying to piece together how long in the best of circumstances it would have taken to get her to a trauma hospital where she could have been treated. That was the question we are trying to answer.

Now, to take a step back with these type of injuries, you're going to get varied responses as we were walking around the slope, talking to neurosurgeons, talking to doctors. We asked at the outer stretch, how long does someone have before they need to be in a hospital, getting some sort of treatment. You will get varied answers, but the outer limit was around 90 minutes.

The problem here , T.J., is you're on the ski slopes and if you have some sort of head injury, the closest trauma hospital was over two hours away. It's not just close enough to be able to take care of any head injury, Natasha Richardson or anybody else who gets a head injury there.

Now, the question is, should they have helicopters, some sort of air transport, medical air transport to the hospitals. And this is where the controversy starts. A lot of people in Canada say we need to have these air ambulance, the only way save someone's life who is injured there. Other people say it's a cost-benefit issue and they don't think it's worth the cost.

But this idea that if you get a head injury on the slope, you simply cannot get to the hospital fast enough and something that seems to be true if you just do the math, T.J.

HOLMES: We think there will be maybe a movement now towards trying to possibly get these helicopters, as you say, because - you know what, unfortunately, this happened. But still, this is a high- profile case, at least now. And maybe, some of those proponents of those helicopters will seize on this and try to get changes.

GUPTA: I think you're starting to see a little bit of that movement. As you say, T.J., one of the doctors said to us there could be up to 200 to 250 cases like Natasha Richardson happening on these ski slopes. We heard about Natasha Richardson because she is high profile, but how is this happening to other skiers. It's one of those things that just sort of faded.

And also, this idea that it doesn't make a difference if you have a helicopter versus not having a helicopter. Now the data that I want to show you here are just really quickly, looks at the mortality rates, for example, in Canada. This is across all traumatic brain injuries. And 22 percent if you have a brain injury the likelihood that you're going to die, compared to places in the United States where you have helicopters 3.6 percent so difference.

Let me just be careful here. Because first of all, there are a lot of places in Canada that do have helicopters. This was a specific area near Quebec that we're talking about and there are some places in the United States that don't have helicopters. But I think it brings up this issue, you ski, you take risks and what are your expectations of being able to get to helicopter and quickly should you have a problem.

HOLMES: All right. Looking forward to hearing more. Dr. Sanjay Gupta for us, in Atlanta. Thanks as always, buddy.

Well, don't forget you can tune in tonight to see Sanjay on "AC 360," and he has that fascinating look at what happens to actress Natasha Richardson, her fall on the ski slope and the crucial moment afterwards tonight right here on CNN 10:00 Eastern time -- Kiran.

CHETRY: And the eyes on the world, certainly, on the waters off Somalia. How do outlaws in these tiny boats manage to overtake these giant cargo ships? It's a question that we've been asking, our viewers have been asking it as well. We're going to show you step-by- step how pirates have done this in the past.

Also, what it feels like to go one-on-one with pirates. A man who was attacked tells us how he survived. He joins us live.

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CHETRY: Well, welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

We're continuing to follow breaking news. The Americans attacked by Somali pirates. The captain of the ship still being held hostage this morning on a lifeboat with four of those pirates on board. And President Obama is following this situation intensely and so is Secretary of state Clinton who is now calling for a crackdown on piracy.

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HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We're deeply concerned and we're following it very closely. You know, specifically, we are now focused on this particular act of piracy and the seizure of a ship that carries 21 American citizens. More generally, we think the world must come together to end the scourge of piracy.

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CHETRY: And for Somali pirates, hijacking ships is a big business and it's often worth the risk. Last year, private shipping companies paid roughly $150 million. Those are the best estimates. It could be much more, in ransom to pirates.

How did piracy turn into such a problem? Here is CNN's Joe Johns.

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JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The numbers are staggering. More than 100 attacks last year, about 40 ships hijacked off the coast of Somalia; six vessels just since Saturday. The pirates plunder is ransom. Hold a ship and its crew hostage until someone pays. Estimates range from $80 million to $100 million paid so far. Sometimes the money comes as a wire transfer or even, in one case, air-dropping the loot on to the deck of the ship.

JOHN BURNETT, AUTHOR "DANGEROUS WATERS": These aren't just out- of-work fishermen. These are attacking with military discipline. I mean, what we have out there right now today is a war at sea.

JOHNS: And so how do they do it? Some attacks are random and can go badly, others are carefully planned.

More sophisticated pirates identify and target ships by staking them out, assessing the crew, security measures, the value of the cargo.

Then, so-called motherships carry pirates on speedboats out into the water. The men on board the speedboats are heavily armed, typically carrying rifles and RPGs, rocket propelled grenade.

So, it may seem a little absurd for a small band of outlaws in tiny boats to take over a supertanker the size of a couple of football fields, but remember the crews of the commercial ships are unarmed.

BURNETT: The threat is to damage a ship. If a RPG is fired at a tanker or any ship that is carrying volatile cargo, then there's a good chance that the ship will catch fire and burn and - or explode and sink.

JOHNS: And cargo sometimes worth as much as $100 million is lost. So if waters off Somalia are so dangerous why not take another route?

(on camera): Here's why. These dots represent where attacks occurred just last year. A merchant's ship choices for getting to this part of the world are either going around the northern tip of Africa through the Suez Canal or south, which by the way is a much longer, slower and more expensive trip. But nowadays, pirates have demonstrated the capacity to board commercial vessels, hundreds of miles off the coast of Africa. So even if the ship started coming from the south, the result might very well be the same.

(voice-over): In fact, it's already happening. The pirates have started moving south and attempts to stop them simply haven't worked.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

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CHETRY: Fascinating. Joe, thank you.