Father Of Crew Member On Hijacked Ship Weighs In Capt. Shane Murphy is among the 20 Americans aboard the U.S.-flagged vessel Maersk Alabama, which was attacked Wednesday by pirates off the coast of Somalia. His father, Capt. Joseph Murphy, says Shane Murphy has been trained in anti-terrorism tactics.

Father Of Crew Member On Hijacked Ship Weighs In

Father Of Crew Member On Hijacked Ship Weighs In

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Capt. Shane Murphy is among the 20 Americans aboard the U.S.-flagged vessel Maersk Alabama, which was attacked Wednesday by pirates off the coast of Somalia. His father, Capt. Joseph Murphy, says Shane Murphy has been trained in anti-terrorism tactics.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Today, a dramatic story off the coast of Somalia. A group of pirates in small boats attacked and briefly seized control of a US-flagged cargo ship. The Maersk Alabama was carrying food aid to Kenya. The crew of 20 Americans now appears to have turned the tables on the pirates, and several crewmembers have since called family members, using the ship's satellite phone.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Joseph Murphy is an instructor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. He's also the father of the ship's second in command, Shane Murphy. Joseph Murphy joins us now from Massachusetts. Thank you, sir, for talking to us this afternoon.

Captain JOSEPH MURPHY (Professor, Massachusetts Maritime Academy): You're welcome.

NORRIS: What is the latest that you have heard right now?

Capt. MURPHY: Well, at this point my son called his wife and he told her that he was safe and that the crew was safe and - but they - he thought that the process was going to have a favorable ending. I've heard subsequent reports that the captain of the ship is still being held, but that the crew is safe. So, I'm not really sure exactly if it's completed but, you know, there's American military in route and I think that we're going to see this result itself fairly quickly.

NORRIS: Have you had a chance to talk to Shane?

Capt. MURPHY: No, I have not. He called, first call that he made, he made to his wife just to tell her that he was alive and that he was safe. And immediately after that they had apparently over-powered several of the pirates. And he indicated that they were safe and that they had taken one of the pirates into custody. So, that was the extent of his conversation. I tried calling him and I'm afraid that he's out of range. I haven't been able to get a hold of him. And his wife, my daughter-in-law, is of course been inundated with phone calls so, she's not answering her phone.

NORRIS: Now, your son is 34, is that correct?

Capt. MURPHY: 34 years old, yes.

NORRIS: And he was on a 17,000 ton cargo ship.

Capt. MURPHY: That's correct.

NORRIS: And as I understand that he had some training…

Capt. MURPHY: Yes.

NORRIS: …for how to deal with pirates, if something like this happened. What kind of training?

Capt. MURPHY: Yes. He's had terrorism training, which is - piracy is just one element of that training. He's had training in small arms and he's had small arms tactics training. In addition, he's the lead person in the ship security team and he's drilled many times on this very same type of scenario.

NORRIS: Do you do any of this training yourself?

Capt. MURPHY: I do. I teach this course. That's Murphy's Law, isn't it? I teach Maritime Security. I have my son come in and talk about it and then he gets hijacked.

NORRIS: You know, sir, it's actually amazing that you have a sense of humor at a moment like this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Capt. MURPHY: Well, I think he's - I think he's safe. So, I think that it's good. I just - I'm a little concerned about Captain Phillips at this point.

NORRIS: Yeah, yeah. This obviously is of great concern to you, why is this such a difficult problem to get a hold on. There have been so many ships that have been caught particularly in that area, in the Gulf of Aden.

Capt. MURPHY: Yeah. Well, piracy exists in areas around the world where there are weak or corrupt governments and obviously Somalia is - fits that category, that description. They actually make more money in piracy than they do for the gross national product of the country. So, it's not going to go away anytime soon.

NORRIS: Well sir, thank you very much for talking to us.

Capt. MURPHY: Thank you.

NORRIS: You told us that you haven't had a chance to talk with your son but I hope that conversation will take place and soon.

Capt. MURPHY: Yes. Well, we are too. Thank you very much.

NORRIS: That was Captain John Murphy. He is a professor in the Marine Transportation Department at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. His son Shane is the chief officer on board the Maersk Alabama, a vessel that was attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

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Crew Regains Ship; Captain Reportedly Still Held

NPR's Tom Bowman discusses the pirate attack on 'All Things Considered'

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Somali pirates are holding the captain of a U.S.-flagged merchant ship Wednesday after earlier attacking and boarding the vessel in the Indian Ocean, Pentagon officials said.

The American crew has taken back control of the container ship Maersk Alabama after sailors overpowered the pirates, but at least some of the attackers now are on a lifeboat with the captain, news services are reporting.

That was confirmed by the ship's second mate, Ken Quinn, in a brief satellite phone interview with CNN. Quinn said the ship's crew managed to overpower one of the pirates and tried to exchange him for the captain. He said the pirates apparently took back their man without freeing the captain.

The attack took place early Wednesday morning some 400 miles east of the Somali capital of Mogadishu. The container ship, carrying humanitarian food aid, was en route to the Kenyan port of Mombasa. The Danish-owned freighter had an American crew of 22, who reportedly tried to evade as many as three pirate speedboats that gave chase.

Defense Department officials say the ship's crew disabled the vessel when four pirates got aboard. The pirates, unable to force the disabled ship into a Somali port, then took the captain hostage and left in one of the ship's lifeboats.

The U.S. Navy says P-3 planes and unmanned drones in the area have spotted the lifeboat with the captain and the pirates aboard. A Navy ship, the USS Bainbridge, is now steaming toward the scene but is reported to be hours away. Officials say that by as early as 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. EDT they could be in range to launch Seahawk helicopters to visit the ship and monitor the lifeboat.

The Associated Press quoted a crew member reached by satellite phone, who said that pirates initially took the whole crew hostage but that crew members managed to overpower one pirate and free themselves. The remaining pirates apparently escaped with the captain.

Earlier, at a noon news conference, Maersk Line Ltd. CEO John Reinhart was reluctant to give details of the drama.

"Speculation is a dangerous thing when you're in a fluid environment. I will not confirm that the crew has overtaken this ship," he said.

Reinhart said that the company was working to contact families of the crew.

The company identified the captain as Richard Phillips of Underhill, Vt. The second officer is Shane Murphy, a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where his father, Joseph Murphy, is a professor. Murphy told the AP that he had received a telephone call from his son, saying that the crew was safe.

In Washington, Pentagon officials scrambled to figure out what was happening on the ship, which was hundreds of miles away from the nearest American warship. They declined to comment on what action might be taken to deal with a hijacking. Maritime experts point out that once gunmen have boarded a ship, there's very little that can be done militarily, for fear that crew members might be harmed.

The stakes are high for successful pirate gangs. The average ransom for ships captured off the Somali coast is estimated to be about $2 million, an enormous sum in a country where many people cannot survive without foreign food aid.

Shipping companies don't like to reveal how much they and their insurance companies pay in ransoms, but some experts believe the pirates extorted more than $100 million last year.

Action to evade pirates usually consists of steaming the ship under attack at full speed, making quick and unpredictable course changes, and blasting the ship's fire hoses at points on the hull where the pirates might try to throw grappling hooks and ladders.

The pirates, who often operate in speedboats deployed from a mother ship, have become increasingly well-armed, wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. Their most effective threat against merchant vessels is the danger that a grenade or rocket could touch off explosions and fire aboard ship.

The pirates typically force the crews of captured ships to anchor them close to pirate havens, such as the port of Eyl in the Somali region of Puntland on the Horn of Africa. There they are kept while the pirates negotiate a ransom for the crew, the vessel and its cargo.

One of the highest-profile attacks last year was the seizure of the MV Faina, a Ukrainian-owned cargo ship that was loaded with more than 30 Soviet-made tanks and other weapons, including anti-aircraft guns. Pirates also captured the Saudi-owned supertanker Sirius Star, which was carrying some 2 million barrels of crude oil. Both ships were later ransomed.

Pirate attacks declined sharply in the first two months of this year, in part because the U.S., the countries of the European Union, Russia, India and China all sent warships to patrol the Gulf of Aden, where most of last year's attacks took place.

The gulf is one of the busiest trade routes in the world, funneling ships between Asia and Europe. It's an enormous area, but the international warships were able to confine shipping to fairly narrow lanes where they could escort ships in protected convoys.

Piracy tends to subside during winter months, when rough seas make it difficult for small boats to chase and board large merchant ships. But at least 15 ships were hijacked last month, according to monitoring agencies, as weather in the region improved.

The pirates also have moved their operations away from the heavily guarded sea lanes of the gulf and out into the Indian Ocean.

Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, U.S. commander of the Combined Maritime Forces, said the total area threatened by piracy now amounts to more than 1 million square miles — roughly four times as large as Texas. The length of the Somali coastline is roughly the same length as the eastern seaboard of the United States, Gortney said in a statement before the latest attack took place.

Experts say the real problem is that Somalia has not had an effective central government for nearly two decades, making it impossible to enforce its own laws or police its coastline.

As Gortney put it, "international naval forces alone will not be able to solve the problem of piracy at sea. Piracy is a problem that starts ashore."