Five Days In The Clutches Of Pirates
As the captain of the Maersk Alabama returns to the United States for a hero's welcome, we look back on five days he was held captive by pirates.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Captain Richard Phillips arrived home in Vermont this afternoon. Phillips is captain of the Maersk Alabama. He captured the world's attention after being taken hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia. He was rescued after three of the pirates were killed by Navy sharpshooters. In a brief statement to reporters, Phillips thanked the Navy SEALs who came to his rescue.
Captain RICHARD PHILLIPS (Maersk Alabama): I'm not a hero. The military is. Thank them whenever you see them.
(Soundbite of applause and cheering)
Captain PHILLIPS: The military did it. Thank you. God bless America.
SIEGEL: Phillips return home marks the end of an ordeal that began nine days ago when the pirates first boarded the cargo ship.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: The Maersk Alabama was bound for the Port of Mombasa, Kenya Wednesday, April 8th. Loaded with a cargo of humanitarian aid, the Alabama was steaming some 350 miles off the coast of Somalia, far off shore to thwart the frequent pirate attacks in the region. The crew was aware of the threat.
Crewmember Miguel Ruiz told reporters the four pirates who attempted to hijack the Alabama were not the first to approach the ship.
Mr. MIGUEL RUIZ (Crewmember, Maersk Alabama): That day we was attacked three times. Different pirates was trying to attack us on that stretch.
Unidentified Woman #1: So you think they were working together?
Mr. RUIZ: They're all working together.
NAYLOR: Somehow four young Somalis, armed with automatic weapons, finally managed to board the Alabama.
(Soundbite of news clip)
Unidentified Woman #2: Somali pirates took over a U.S. flag, Danish owned cargo ship. There were 20...
NAYLOR: It was the first time in the recent outbreak of piracy that a ship with an American crew had been seized. The crew, led by the 53-year-old Captain Phillips, knew what to do in such a situation. Several crewmembers hid in locked compartments. The ship's engineer, A.T.M. Zahid Reza, said he had lured one of the pirates, identified as Abdul, to the engine room.
Mr. A.T.M. ZAHID REZA (Engineer, Maersk Alabama): Told him trust me. You are Muslim. I am Muslim, trust me, Abdul. I'm from Bangladesh. You're from Somalia. We are brothers.
NAYLOR: Zahid said he stabbed Abdul in the hand and neck. While the crew of the Alabama was struggling to retain control of the ship, the Navy dispatched a destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, to the scene. It was part of an international task force operating to the north in the Gulf of Aden to deter pirates.
The White House swung into action, too. Spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters an interagency group on maritime safety had met and President Obama had been briefed.
Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (Spokesman, White House ): President has followed this situation closely, has got updates throughout yesterday and today.
NAYLOR: On board the Alabama, the pirates, who crewmembers say never had control of the ship, decided to leave the vessel with the wounded Abdul in its covered lifeboat. They took with them Captain Phillips who had offered himself as a hostage.
The Bainbridge arrived on the scene early Thursday along with an array of other military assets, including an unmanned drone, which beamed back live pictures of the lifeboat. There were also Navy SEALs on board the destroyer. The Bainbridge's commander, Frank Castellano, said the Navy attempted negotiations with the pirates.
Commander FRANK CASTELLANO (USS Bainbridge): Sometimes they were calm and there was progress being made, and other times they were angry and seemed to be vengeful. They had their ups and downs. But when all is said and done, they are criminals.
NAYLOR: Captain Phillips tried to escape from the lifeboat but was recaptured. Abdul, the wounded pirate, asked to be brought aboard the Bainbridge to continue the negotiations. By Easter Sunday night, it was determined that Captain Phillip's life was in imminent danger. And seeing an opportunity, Navy snipers on the Bainbridge shot and killed the three remaining pirates.
Commander CASTELLANO: Basically, ultimately I believed that the pirates were about to kill the captain and that's what was the decision point.
NAYLOR: President Obama praised the efforts of the Navy and said his administration is resolved to halt the rise of piracy. White House spokesman Gibbs told reporters that the president had authorized the use of force against the pirates.
Mr. GIBBS: There was a lawlessness, pervasive lawlessness that threatened the life of an American. And the president and this administration, working with some very brave men and women in the military, acted accordingly.
NAYLOR: The sole surviving pirate, Abdul Wali Muse is expected to be tried in federal court in New York. The charges are yet to be determined.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.