U.S. Cargo Ship Reaches Kenya

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, April 12, 2009

MOMBASA, Kenya, April 11 -- The Maersk Alabama cargo ship docked at this Kenyan port city Saturday night, its American crew appearing tired but in high spirits, with some sailors leaning over the ship's railing to wave, ask for a beer and tell how they thwarted an attack by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.

Facing a sea of reporters on the dock below, the sailors seemed most eager to identify their heroes, especially Capt. Richard Phillips, whom the pirates are still holding hostage in a lifeboat adrift in the ocean.

"He's very brave," one crew member shouted from the ship's deck as he went about his work. "Very, very brave."

As the 17,000-ton, blue-hulled ship motored to port -- appearing first as a collection of lights against a black sea and starry sky -- the pirates holding Phillips remained in a tense standoff with a growing collection of U.S. warships.

The USS Halyburton, a guided-missile frigate equipped with helicopters, joined the destroyer USS Bainbridge on Friday; the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer was on the way with missile launchers, attack planes and a crew of 1,000. The floating arsenal is facing down pirates thought to be armed with pistols and a few machine guns.

The FBI and the U.S. Navy are leading efforts to secure Phillips's release. "We continue to focus on negotiations and the number one priority of the safe and peaceful return of the captain," said Maj. Stewart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman.

Investigators and officials from Maersk Line, the ship's owner, were at hand as the vessel docked Saturday night.

John Reinhart, president of the company, described the ship as "a crime scene" and said investigators would debrief the sailors before they head home to their families in the United States. But they "won't consider it done when they board the plane and come home," Reinhart said at a news conference in Norfolk, Va.

"They won't consider it done until the captain is back, nor will we," he said.

A replacement crew will take over the Maersk Alabama, which arrived here with little apparent damage from the pirate attack other than some broken winches. Other ships attacked by pirates have arrived with unexploded grenades in their cargo and bullet holes in their hulls.

As the Maersk Alabama docked, crew members in blue coveralls tied ropes and radioed commands while Navy SEALs who escorted the ship to port hurried up and down the decks in camouflage and black Maersk Alabama baseball caps. Despite the gravity of the situation, there was an air of exuberance among some of the crew members.

"Give me a Tusker!" one of the sailors shouted to reporters, referring to a Kenyan beer.

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