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Maersk Alabama’s first mate implores Obama to defeat pirates

The first mate of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, whose crew last week defeated an attempted hijacking, urged President Obama on Monday to defeat the Somali pirates plaguing one of the world’s busiest shipping channels.

Shane Murphy said crew members had vowed to use their experience to help other seafarers defeat pirates.

In the jubilation that followed Sunday’s rescue of the ship’s skipper, Murphy said the U.S. Navy’s efforts to save Capt. Richard Phillips offered inspiration to the nation at a difficult juncture.

“In America now, things are down. It’s not the best of times. Hopefully everybody in America can latch on to this maybe and use it as a sign of hope to show what being American is about,” he said in Mombasa, Kenya, where the ship docked.

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Murphy, 33, called for strong American action against Somali pirates, who typically base themselves in the ocean in “mother ships” and launch their attacks using powerful speedboats, boarding their targeted vessels with grappling hooks or ladders.

“We would like to implore President Obama to use all his resources and increase his commitment to end this Somali pirate scourge,” he said, reading from a statement. “Right now there are still ships being taken, right now as we are standing here. America has got to be at the forefront of this. It’s time for us to step up and put an end to this crisis.

“It is a crisis. Wake up!” he said. “This crew was lucky to be out of this with every one of us alive. We won’t be that lucky again.”

In Washington, Obama pledged to take action. He praised the U.S. sailors who freed Phillips and said the United States was prepared to act against such piracy.

A crew of 16 on an Italian ship was the most recent to be taken hostage. The ship was seized Saturday and arrived the following day in Somalia, where a ransom will probably be negotiated. Some estimates put the number of seafarers being held hostage in the region at about 270.

Somali piracy has increased since 2007, but the assault last week on an American crew galvanized U.S. attention.

Murphy said the crew members of the Maersk Alabama, which is U.S.-flagged but Danish-owned, wouldn’t release the details of what happened in the attack on their cargo ship. Instead, they planned to use the information to help other crews evade or repel pirates.

“This group here has a lot of valuable knowledge that’s going to save lives, and that’s what we’re doing here,” he said. “That’s why we haven’t been able to talk to you. We’re trying to gather this knowledge and put it in a package.”

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Murphy spoke to Phillips on Sunday after U.S. military snipers killed the three pirates holding the skipper. A fourth pirate, who was aboard a U.S. Navy vessel after seeking treatment for a wound, is in the hands of U.S. authorities.

“Ultimately everybody here today has the captain to thank for their lives and their freedom,” Murphy said of the crew members. “But additionally it was an entire crew-wide effort. You will find there are going to be many stories of individual heroism coming out of this. But as a group, everybody played a part, everybody.”

Murphy hinted that the crew stuck to a detailed plan to overcome the pirates. He said crew members never fought the pirates, but neither did they ever surrender their ship.

“We never gave up,” he said.

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Murphy spoke emotionally of the sacrifice merchant seamen make to support their families, spending most of their time at sea, and he described the mutual support among crew members.

“We don’t go home to our families. We work out here. These are our families. It’s not always easy. But in times of crisis, just like a family, we’re there for each other.”

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robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Michael Muskal in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


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