Ship's Crew Urges U.S. To Thwart Pirate Attacks

The U.S. crew of the Maersk Alabama has been celebrating in Mombasa, Kenya, since their captain was freed on Sunday. Captain Richard Phillips had been held hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia for five days. The crew is imploring President Obama to do even more to curb piracy on the open seas.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now for more on that dramatic rescue at sea. The crew of the Maersk Alabama was celebrating today, in Mombasa, now that their captain has been freed. And they're imploring President Obama to do even more to curb piracy on the open seas. Let's listen to First Officer Shane Murphy at a press conference this morning.

Mr. SHANE MURPHY (First Officer, USS Maersk Alabama): America has to be at the forefront of this. It's time for us to step in and put this to an end - this crisis. This crew was lucky to be out of it with every one of us alive.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Gwen Thompkins is in Mombasa, and she joins us now. Good morning.

GWEN THOMPKINS: Hello, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So you had a chance to see the crew at this press conference.

THOMPKINS: Absolutely. This is the first time that we've been able to take a real look at the whole crew standing there, about 20 gentlemen. It was an interesting sight to see. I mean, these guys, who we've been reporting on for several days now, you know, attached to some of the most dramatic, sort of, hijinks at sea, are extremely ordinary looking guys.

MONTAGNE: Although these guys have just lived through something of a harrowing and dramatic, right-out-of-a-novel sort of experience. Have you learned any more about what it was like during this pirate attack?

THOMPKINS: You know, we didn't learn much by way of new detail on the attack. The crew was very reluctant to share detail. They said that they have a lot of information that they believe is valuable to help the FBI and other security forces combat piracy, and they felt morally bound to keep that information to themselves and within the realm of security investigations at this time. They said that, you know, first and foremost, they were Merchant Marines, and they didn't want to put their fellow Merchant Marines at risk by sharing with the media the details of what happened on the ship. What they did emphasize was that they never fought the pirates for control over the ship, but that they did fight with the pirates to help some of their captured comrades.

MONTAGNE: Did you get any idea of what will happen next with the ship itself, the Maersk Alabama?

THOMPKINS: Yes. You know, there was a spokesman from the Maersk shipping line there who said that the ship is going to undergo several security sweeps before it's going to be allowed to leave the harbor, and it will also be assessed in terms of its seaworthiness. You know, it usually makes sort of a milk run. It comes to this area probably every six weeks or so, carrying a variety of different kinds of cargo. This time, of course, it was carrying food. So the Maersk Shipping Line will either need it continue its work, bringing goods from Djibouti, from Oman to Mombasa to be disseminated across Africa, or it's going to have to find a new ship.

MONTAGNE: Did you get any sense of, say, when the crew will get to see the captain again, or how - you know, where they're all going at this point?

THOMPKINS: Well, the crew has - was not specific. Shane Murphy, the first officer, did most of the talking. But he did say that they spoke with the captain earlier today, Captain Richard Phillips, and he alluded to the fact they are going to be looking forward to seeing him again. At this point, however, the crew has been on the Maersk Alabama since Saturday night. That's when they came into the port of Mombasa. The ship has been declared a crime scene, and so essentially, they have been bound to the ship as FBI investigators and others have debriefed them. They appear to be eager to get off. They appear to be eager to go home. A crew member spoke to reporters earlier today. He's a guy from Alabama living in Florida now. He says the economic crunch in the United States forced him to go back to work, which - and he got a job four months ago on the Maersk Alabama, and now he says he's homesick and he can't wait to see Florida.

MONTAGNE: Gwen, thanks very much.

THOMPKINS: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Gwen Thompkins, speaking to us from Mombasa, Kenya.

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