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US crew urge Obama to end piracy

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Maersk Alabama crew urge President Obama to end "Somali pirate scourge"

American crew members of a ship that was at the centre of a hostage drama have urged US President Barack Obama to end the "crisis" of Somali piracy.

In an emotional news conference in Kenya, second-in-command Shane Murphy also paid tribute to their captain.

Captain Richard Phillips was rescued when American naval snipers opened fire on the pirates holding him in a lifeboat, killing three outright.

Mr Obama directly authorised Sunday's operation off Somalia's coast.

Capt Phillips is now resting after his five days of captivity as he is de-briefed aboard a US navy ship, the USS Boxer.

A fourth pirate, who was on board another American vessel negotiating with US officials when the captain was rescued, is in US custody.

US defence secretary Robert Gates said the pirates were between 17 and 19 years old, describing them as "untrained teenagers with heavy weapons".

Speaking at the Marine Corps War College in Quantico, Mr Gates praised the dramatic rescue as a "textbook" success story, and said piracy would be a top priority for the Obama administration.

Courageous captain

The pirates hijacked Capt Phillips' ship, the Maersk Alabama, which was carrying food aid, in the Indian Ocean last Wednesday.

President Obama 'resolved to confront piracy'

Capt Phillips told his crew to lock themselves in a cabin and surrendered himself to safeguard his men.

He was then taken hostage in an enclosed lifeboat that was soon shadowed by US warships and a helicopter.

At a news conference on Monday in the Kenyan port of Mombasa, the Maersk Alabama's 19 crew thanked the US Navy for rescuing them and paid tribute to the courage of their captain.

Chief mate Mr Murphy, 33, said: "Everyone you see here today has the captain to thank for their lives and their freedom but additionally it was an entire crew-wide effort."

He added: "We'd like to implore President Obama to use all of his resources to increase the commitment to end the Somali pirate scourge… It's a crisis."

Next time we get American citizens... they [should] expect no mercy from us
Abdi Garad
Pirate chief

The BBC's Jonah Fisher in Mombasa says the one remaining question surrounding the Maersk Alabama is how its crew of merchant seamen managed to fight off Somali pirates equipped with AK-47s.

The crew refused to provide an answer because they said the techniques they used were being kept secret to help other ships resist pirate attack.

Earlier Mr Obama said Capt Phillips' courage was a "model for all Americans" and that he was resolved to deal with the threat of piracy in the region.

Capt Phillips has spoken to his wife and family back in the US and is said to be looking forward to celebrating Easter when he gets home.

He tried to escape on Thursday night by diving into the sea but was recaptured by the pirates.

A day after negotiations with the gang broke down, snipers opened fire on Sunday from a nearby warship as a pirate pointed a gun at the captive, the navy said.

MAJOR PIRATE INCIDENTS
Ukrainian ship MV Faina seized on 25 Sep 2008, held till 5 Feb 2009
Saudi tanker Sirius Star released in January after $3m ransom paid
At least 15 pirate attacks reported during March 2009 alone
UK-owned Malaspina Castle seized on 6 April 2009

After the pirates were shot, navy personnel sailed to the lifeboat and released Capt Phillips, whom they found tied up inside.

The ship's owner, Maersk Line Ltd, has also praised the captain's behaviour.

Chief executive John Reinhart said Capt Phillips had told him: "I'm just the byline, the heroes are the Navy Seals who brought me home."

In Eyl, a pirate stronghold on the Somali coast, one pirate chief reportedly threatened revenge against Americans.

"We will intensify our attacks even reaching very far away from Somalia waters, and next time we get American citizens... they [should] expect no mercy from us," Abdi Garad told the Associated Press by telephone.

Four French citizens, including a three-year-old boy, were freed aboard a yacht by French troops on Friday.

The yacht's owner, Florent Lemacon, was killed during the operation by French special forces, along with two pirates.

On Saturday, pirates hijacked a tugboat in the Gulf of Aden. The Buccaneer has 16 crew members on board, 10 of them Italians.

REACTION TO CAPT PHILLIPS' RESCUE

The sniper operation Sunday, with pirate guns aimed at Phillips, was a daring, high-stakes gambit, and it could have easily gone awry. If it had, the fallout would have probably landed hardest on Obama.

Jennifer Loven, Associated Press

The result - a dramatic and successful rescue operation by US Special Operations forces - left Obama with an early victory that could help build confidence in his ability to direct military actions abroad.

Michael D Shear, Washington Post

A spate of attacks on ships off Somalia and the rescue Sunday of an American captain held hostage by pirates have reinvigorated a long-simmering debate over whether the crews of commercial vessels should be armed.

Keith Bradsher, New York Times

For Phillips captaining a ship turned out to mean more than safely manoeuvering around shallow shoals or managing a crew. It meant taking on the pirates who dared for the first time in centuries to attack an American-flagged ship.

Stephanie S Garlow, GlobalPost.com



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