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US Cargo Ship Safe at Kenya Port; Captain Still Held by Pirates


The U.S.-flagged cargo ship seized Wednesday by Somali pirates has arrived safely at the port of Mombasa in Kenya, but its American captain continues to be held hostage in a lifeboat with pirates demanding ransom. The president of the company that owns the cargo ship said even though it is safely in port, the crew must remain aboard while the FBI conducts its investigation.

The Maersk Alabama arrived in Mombasa harbor late Saturday, with its 19-crew members unharmed, but without its captain.

Captain Richard Phillips remains held by four pirates on a lifeboat some 500 kilometers from the Somali coast that is being followed by at least two U.S. Navy warships. The pirates have threatened to kill the captain if they are attacked and do not get a ransom.

A Somali mediator was reported to be in a boat headed towards the lifeboat to try to win Captain Phillips' release.

Meanwhile, in Norfolk, Virginia, John Reinhart, the president of the company that owns the Maersk Alabama, told a news conference Saturday that the 19 crew members would have to remain on board for a while longer. "Because of the pirate attack, the FBI has informed us that this ship is a crime scene. Therefore, we have to allow the FBI to begin the process to investigate the crime of the pirate attack. Therefore, the crew members will have to stay on board the vessel," he said.

Reinhart said the company would be sure the crew were safe and was sending them food they had requested, as well as cell phones so they could keep in touch with their families. He said they would be sent home as soon as possible.

Reinhart emphasized that the top priority now is to free Captain Richard Phillips, who he called "some one you would be proud to have as a friend and follow as a leader on the ship." "Our immediate focus is singular - what do we have to do to help with the process to bring Captain Phillips home," he said.

Somalia's 2,300 kilometer long coast is the longest in Africa and its waters are rife with pirates. Last year, they seized more than 100 ships. This year, pirates have already captured more than dozen vessels, including an Italian-flagged boat and its crew of 16 that were captured Saturday in the Gulf of Aden.

The United Nations Security Council has authorized nations to pursue the pirates beyond international waters "by land, sea and air" including onto Somali territory if necessary. But there has been no decision on what to do with the pirates once they are in custody.

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