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U.S. Cargo Ship Reaches Kenya

"Hey! This guy's a hero," said another sailor, pointing to the ship's chief engineer, A.T.M. Reza, who apparently lured one of the pirates into the engine room, where he or the captain subdued him. The captive pirate was used as a bargaining chip in an attempt to get the attackers to release the captain, who had given himself up to lure the pirates off the ship. But the plan went awry.

"He led 'em down into the engine room," said the sailor, smiling at Reza. "It was hot down there."

Other sketchy details spilled out -- that the pirates scaled up the side of the ship with a rope and began firing into the air. Asked how he felt when he saw the pirates, one sailor replied, "Scared." The first thing he will do when he gets home, he said, is "hug my wife and my kids -- my two boys."

The seizure of the Maersk Alabama was the first such incident involving a U.S. ship in recent memory, but piracy off Somalia's coast has been escalating for years. Experts said the pirates began attacking small fishing trawlers, saying it was in retaliation for the widespread illegal fishing in waters near Somalia. These days, the pirates use Global Positioning System devices and other sophisticated equipment to snag bigger, faster ships. Their more spectacular booty has included the Ukrainian MV Faina, which was hauling tanks and other heavy weapons, and the Sirius Star, a Saudi oil tanker that is the largest ship ever seized.

The pirates rarely harm their hostages, trading them for millions in ransom.

On Saturday, pirates seized an Italian tugboat pulling barges off Somalia's northern coast in the Gulf of Aden.

"The pirates are now becoming more daring every day," said Twalib Khamis, the Kenya Ports Authority's harbor master here, who said Mombasa receives smaller ships every week whose crews have fended off Somali pirates.

"They are, of course, traumatized," he said, referring to the other crews. "A number of crews refused to sail again because of these attacks."

Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson in Washington contributed to this report.

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