Pirates commandeered a United States-flagged container ship with 20 American crew members off the coast of Somalia on Wednesday, the first time an American-crewed ship was seized by pirates in the area.

The container ship, the Maersk Alabama, was carrying thousands of tons of relief aid to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, the company that owns the ship said.

The ship was taken by pirates at about 7:30 a.m. local time, 280 miles southeast of the Somali city of Eyl, a known haven for pirates, a spokesman for the United States Navy said. It is owned and operated by Maersk Line Limited, a United States subsidiary of A.P. Moller – Maersk Group, the Danish shipping giant.

The Maersk Alabama was at least the sixth commercial ship commandeered by pirates this week off the Horn of Africa, one of the most notoriously lawless zones on the high seas, where pirates have been operating with near impunity despite efforts by many nations, including the United States, to intimidate them with naval warship patrols.

Via New York Times.  Arrrr.  Obviously, we hope our American crew and all aboard are allowed to return home unharmed.

I have an idea about a way to curtail these activities:  send them ships filled with reality TV stars, one after another after another.  Imagine a ship filled with Real World/Road Rules alumni, or perhaps another one with the contestants from a new series of Survivor, “Survivor: Somalia.”  When the pirates find themselves unable to collect ransom on them, they’ll soon grow weary of the whole venture.  Then perhaps they’ll retire to dry land and fall into Internet scamming, or another less violent hobby.

UPDATE, from the New York TimesAt about noon Eastern time, some twelve hours after the hijacking, a Pentagon official speaking on condition of anonymity said that “it is our understanding that the crew has taken back control of the vessel.”