The desperate families of two Bay State-bred seafarers at the center of a high-seas hostage-taking by Somali pirates have their faith riding on a guided-missile destroyer the U.S. Navy rushed to the scene to bust up the stalemate.
“The Navy has arrived,” Sarah Moran, the sister-in-law of Capt. Richard P. Phillips, told the Herald last night. Negotiations were still ongoing this morning.
Moran said Phillips, 53, a Winchester native, was still being held captive by the pirates in a lifeboat after pirates apparently released the rest of the ship’s 20-member crew, but Navy officials negotiating with his captors “heard his voice” over a radio.
It was unclear what Phillips was saying, she said.
Yesterday’s hijacking 380 miles east of the Somali capital of Mogadishu of the 780-foot cargo ship Maersk Alabama was the first time Somali fortune-seekers successfully attacked an American-flagged vessel in recent history.
“I hope this draws worldwide attention that something has to be done. This isn’t Johnny Depp and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ This is organized crime,” Capt. Joseph S. Murphy II, a professor of maritime security at Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne, said on behalf of his son, Capt. Shane Murphy, 33, of Seekonk.
Shane Murphy, the Alabama’s chief of security and Phillips’ second in command, had been negotiating with the heavily armed ocean bandits for the return of Phillips, a father of two from Underhill, Vt.
The pirates kidnapped Phillips, whose wife, Andrea, is an Attleboro native, after hijacking the 17,000-ton Alabama early yesterday morning and then returning its control to Murphy and 18 other U.S. crew members.
“Oh dear God, I can’t imagine what life would be like if anything were to happen,” Phillips’ mother-in-law Catherine Coggio, 79, of Vermont said through tears.
“Ironically, there they are bringing food to these damn people,” the Everett native angrily said of the Alabama’s mission to deliver 401 containers of humanitarian food aid to Kenya.
“I don’t understand the ways of the world anymore,” she said.
Joseph Murphy said the pirates used grappling hooks to board the Alabama from its stern after a five-hour struggle to overtake her, then opened fire on the crew.
John F. Reinhart, president and CEO of the Maersk Line, said the ship’s officers are instructed not to resist pirates, but rather to seek the shelter of on-board “safe rooms” if possible.
Coggio said Phillips, a one-time Boston taxi driver, left home less than two weeks ago to meet the Alabama in Dubai. Tuesday he e-mailed her daughter to tell her the Virginia-based Maersk Line “wanted them to tighten up security on their watches” because of the pirates’ plundering of five other vessels in the past week.
Murphy’s wife, Serena, 31, with whom he has two sons - Dylan, 3, and Jaycen, 8 months - said he was able to call her yesterday from the ship once he was back at its helm.
“He said, ‘I just want you to know I’m OK and I love you.’ He said he’s doing the best he can,” she said, cradling Dylan.