LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Liane Hansen is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Negotiations are continuing in the effort to free the captain of an American cargo ship, who's being held captive on a lifeboat by Somali pirates. The Maersk Alabama is now in the port of Mombasa. The ship was headed there when it was waylaid by pirates.
NPR's Gwen Thompkins joins us from Mombasa in Kenya. Good morning, Gwen.
GWEN THOMPKINS: Good morning, Linda. How are you?
WERTHEIMER: I'm good. I hope you're well. Have you been able to see anything of these negotiations?
THOMPKINS: No, no. Those negotiations are not taking place in the Mombasa area. As you might've heard, the USS Bainbridge, which is a Navy destroyer is - has the pirates and the U.S. captain, Richard Phillips in sight. And there's an FBI - present on that ship. And it's believed that, you know, the U.S. Navy force and the FBI are working together to try to free the captain as quickly as possible and, you know, and nab the pirates who've taken him.
Here in Mombasa, what's happening is that the Maersk Alabama arrived last night at the port of Mombasa, which was its original destination before all this pirate story began. You know, the ship was actually coming down to Mombasa to bring food relief to some African nations, including Somalia. So what happened is that the ship arrived last night and came in the dark.
THOMPKINS: It was a quite a dramatic and elegant scene, actually. And then the crew was asked to remain on the ship while FBI investigators came onto the ship to debrief them. And that debriefing is ongoing.
WERTHEIMER: So you have not been able to hear anything from members of the crew?
THOMPKINS: No, I couldn't…
(Soundbite of laughter)
THOMPKINS: I certainly have. I just - I was just saying that the FBI negotiations are not going on here.
THOMPKINS: But certainly I was there last night when the ship came in and the crew members are not allowed to leave the vessel, but they are standing on the deck and near the area where reporters can speak to them. Not many crew members want to give their names, but they - when they came into the port, many of them seemed awfully pleased and relieved to be there.
You know, one fellow, you know, gave the sort of thumbs-up sign and a woo-woo when he arrived, and he was, you know, he seemed thrilled. He said he was really looking forward to going home and hugging his wife and his two sons. There are other - excuse me - there were other crew members aboard to - were very quick to praise their captain, Captain Richard Phillips, who ostensibly offered himself to the Somali pirates as a hostage in order to secure the well-being of the crew and allow the crew to leave the area on the vessel, you know, heading down toward Mombasa.
More than one crew member, you know, called this man a hero. They said that he saved their lives, and said that he looked out for them. They looked awfully grateful to him, but they also seemed quite worried about his well-being.
THOMPKINS: And how he was fairing out there in the Indian Ocean.
WERTHEIMER: Of course. Gwen, this is the first time an American flag vessel has been hit. Very quickly, is this a very different sort of act by the pirates?
THOMPKINS: Well, it certainly appears to be. I mean, you know, this - the Somali pirates have been active for years now. And progressively their prizes have gotten larger and larger. And this seems to be the most ambitious reach yet for a prize, you know, a U.S.-flagged vessel. They gave up the vessel, of course, they gave up the crew, but they are hoping to get something out of the captain. They want a ransom.
WERTHEIMER: All right.
THOMPKINS: And the pirates are awfully tenacious.
WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much. NPR's Gwen Thompson reporting from Mombasa. Gwen, thank you.
THOMPKINS: Thank you, Linda.
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