Crew tells of ordeal with pirates

Maersk sailors arrive safely in United States

Members of the Maersk Alabama crew debarked a plane yesterday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Members of the Maersk Alabama crew debarked a plane yesterday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. (Win Mcnamee/Getty Images)
By Larry Margasak and Calvin Woodward
Associated Press / April 17, 2009
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OXON HILL, Md. - "If I die I'm going to take someone else with me," one seaman vowed, grabbing a knife as alarms pierced the Maersk Alabama and pirates with assault weapons clambered aboard.

Home with their families yesterday, the cargo ship's crew described a harrowing contest of wits and mismatched weapons for control of the vessel.

The crew cut power. One bandit was led to the dark engine room, where two mariners struggled to tie him up and one stabbed him.

The crew prevailed, at the cost of seeing their skipper taken hostage on a lifeboat for five days. Freed by Navy SEAL marksmen who killed his captors, Captain Richard Phillips now has his own homecoming ahead. A second chartered flight was ready to fly Phillips home to his family in Vermont, probably today.

The Somali pirate who held Phillips hostage will be brought to New York to face trial, a US official said yesterday. The suspect, identified as Abduhl Wal-i-Musi, was taken aboard a Navy ship shortly before Navy SEAL snipers killed the three pirates holding Phillips hostage on a lifeboat launched from his cargo vessel, the Maersk Alabama.

"I'm just so relieved and overwhelmed that it's over," said third engineer John Cronan of Merion, Pa. "I'm home now. The greatest country in the world."

A chartered flight delivered the men to their exuberant families early yesterday. Everyone was spirited off to Gaylord National Resort, outside Washington, to celebrate and recuperate.

Electrician John White of Lake Helen, Fla., was having coffee in the galley before breakfast when the alarms went off and he was told to secure two doors and hide.

"The ship was totally dark," he said. "It was 130 degrees in the place. We were hiding for 12 hours. I laid down on the floor to keep from passing out."

Crewman ATM "Zahid" Reza, of West Hartford, Conn., said he and his mates led the pirate leader, Abdul, to the darkened engine room.

"I held him, I tied his hands and tied his legs," said Reza, originally from Bangladesh. I told him, 'You're a Muslim and I'm a Muslim.'

"He was fighting me. There was a lot of yelling, shouting, and screaming. I was attempting to kill him. He was scared. He said he was planning to ask for $3 million."

During the struggle, Reza said, he stabbed the pirate in the hand. It probably saved the bandit's life. Days later, his wound festering, he went on the destroyer USS Bainbridge to get his hand treated and to negotiate over Phillips's fate. While he was aboard the destroyer, US snipers shot and killed the three pirates still on the lifeboat, freeing the Maersk Alabama captain unharmed.

Crewman Miguel Ruiz of New York City said that when the pirates boarded the ship he grabbed a flashlight and a knife, went to a secure area and thought, "If I die I'm going to take someone else with me."

Phillips tried to keep his men calm as they gathered in designated parts of the ship. "We got orders to do nothing," Ruiz said.

Yet several crewmen had the wounded pirate bound up. They gave him water and food. "We are merchant marines," Ruiz said. "We are not killers."

He recalled an exchange with one of the pirates, who were age17 to 19: "I said to him, why do you do that?" The pirate, Ruiz said, responded: "We've got 20 million people in Somalia who are poor, that don't have education. We don't have no food."

Added seaman William Rios, also from New York, "We had control of the ship."