Maersk Alabama crew shares hostage drama

April 15, 2009 10:16:30 AM PDT
The U.S. crew that fought off Somali pirates last week told "Good Morning America" in an exclusive interview Wednesday that they had no regrets about the pirates' deaths because they got greedy and took the ship's captain.

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"I gave these guys 100 chances to take what they want and go," said Shane Murphy, the Maersk Alabama's second-in-command. "People ask did they get what they deserve. Human life is human life but these people had so many opportunities."

"But they got greedy ... at the last second, they changed on us," he said of the pirates, three of whom, seen in pictures provided exclusively to "Good Morning America," were shot to death by Navy snipers.

Murphy and third mate Colin Wright said the barefoot Somali pirates were given a "million chances" to leave. But, instead, in a moment that was not planned or calculated by any of the Americans on board, the four Somali pirates took Capt. Richard Phillips instead.

"They meant business, very scary," Wright said. "I was told that the color went from my face and I'm sure it did."

Murphy and Wright told "GMA" that when the crew managed to capture one of the pirates in all the confusion early on, they planned on being able to offer him as incentive for the other pirates to leave the ship.

The pirates, who took food and fuel that the crew had diluted, seemed to be agreeable to the plan, the men said. But at the moment the exchange was supposed to take place, disaster struck -- Phillips was still on the lifeboat. And the crew, thinking of their families and children, had no idea what was to come next.

"They didn't indicate anything was up," Murphy said of the pirates. "They were going to go."

Maersk Ship Pirate Attack and Captain Rescue

The captain was even taking the time to show them how to run the boat, he said, but "it kind of slowly deteriorated and something started not to feel right and suddenly reality set in."

Murphy of Seekonk, Mass., took command of the ship when the pirates seized Phillips.

But despite what has been reported in the media, it was not Phillips' plan to go willingly with the pirates, who had him trapped on the lifeboat.

"That was something that didn't go as planned," Murphy said. "You have to realize, this was after a 13-hour ordeal. There was physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion."

So for the next four days, the crew waited along with the rest of the world.

"It was terrible," Wright of Galveston, Texas, said. "We wanted our captain back and didn't feel right until we had our captain, until we found out he was safe aboard the navy vessel."

After a five-day standoff, three Navy snipers took advantage of the pirates' momentary carelessness and shot all three dead simultaneously. A fourth had left the boat before the shooting.

Wright said the experience won't keep him off the water, but hopes action will be taken to stop it from happening again.

"I hope to be able to sail all of the waters of the world in safety," he said. "And we've got to do something about pirates."

Now on their way home to the United States, both men said the first thing they want to do is hug their families.

"I'll just love to hug my mother," Wright said. "Everybody out there give your mother a hug. Yeah, don't wait. Life is precious. And what a beautiful world."

As the Maersk crew spoke to "Good Morning America," another group of Americans were fending off the latest pirate attack, this time on the Liberty Sun, also off the coast of Somalia. The Navy has responded to the Liberty Sun's call for help and the ship is now heading toward it's scheduled stop in Kenya to deliver aid supplies.

After news of Phillip's release Sunday, the crew members celebrated with beer and a barbecue Monday night.

"This crew was lucky to be out of it with every one of us alive," Murphy said in a brief news conference last week. "We're not going to be that lucky again.

"And just for the record, we never had to fight to take our ship back. We never surrendered our ship."

Phillips refused the title of hero and said his Navy rescuers are "the real heroes."

The Maersk Alabama was in Somali waters because it was carrying food aid to hungry people in Africa, including Somalia.

Somali Pirates Vow Revenge

Undeterred, Somali pirates attempted to hijack another U.S. ship Tuesday morning, but the ship evaded the attack. The Navy responded to a call for help by the Liberty Sun, which was carrying food aid for CARE and the World Food Programme. The USS Bainbridge, which had rescued the Maersk Alabama, was on site within hours, although the pirates had already left by the time the warship got there.

ABC New obtained e-mails sent by Liberty Sun crew member Thomas Urbik to his family the ship was being attacked.

During the siege, in an e-mail entitled, "I love you all," Urbik wrote, "We are under attack by pirates, we are being hit by rockets. Also bullets.. We are barricaded in the engine room and so far no one is hurt. a rocket penetrated the bulkhead but the hole is small. Small fire too but put out.. Navy is on the way and helos and ships are coming. I'll try to send you another message soon. got to go now. I love you mom and dad and all my brothers and family."

The pirates fired rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons at the Liberty Su , which sustained damage, according to a statement from the Liberty Shipping Co.

Although the Liberty Sun survived the attack, pirates have seized four ships since Sunday's dramatic rescue of Phillips.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States can't end Somali piracy by itself and noted that 16 nations have warships in the region, which is roughly four times the size of Texas.

When Mullen was asked whether the United States had considered attacking the pirate strongholds in Somalia, the admiral told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday, "I've asked and we've been doing this. We've initiated a review on the Joint Staff to look broadly and widely and deeply at the overall strategy."

One problem in taking on pirates is what to do with them once they are arrested, Mullen said. There is a deal with Kenya to try pirates in court there but, so far, no pirates have been put on trial.

Does Incentive Outweigh the Risk?

As Americans celebrated, however, pirates along Somalia's coast simmered with anger and vowed revenge.

"From now on, if we capture foreign ships and their respective countries try to attack us, we will kill them [the hostages]," Jamac Habeb, a 30-year-old pirate, told the Associated Press from one of Somalia's piracy hubs, Eyl. "[U.S. forces have] become our No. 1 enemy."

Kaj Larsen, a former Navy SEAL who has made documentaries on pirates in Indonesia and arms sales in Mogadishu, told ABC News the problem of piracy will not be easily solved.

"I don't think, in this particular case, unfortunately, you're going to see a deterrent effect," he said. "The sums that these pirates are making are just extraordinary. So the incentive is too great even if they lose a few of their foot soldiers in the process."

ABC News' Martha Raddatz, John Hendren, Jake Tapper and Jason Ryan contributed to this report, as did The Associated Press

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