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U.S. crew tells of showdown with pirates

OXON HILL, Md. – “If I die I’m going to take someone else with me,” one seaman vowed, grabbing a knife as alarms pierced the Maersk Alabama and pirates with assault weapons clambered aboard.

Back home safe with their families Thursday, the cargo ship’s crew described a harrowing contest of wits and mismatched weapons for control of the vessel.

The crew cut power. One bandit was led to the dark engine room, where two mariners struggled to tie him up and one stabbed him.

The crew prevailed, at the cost of seeing their skipper taken hostage on a lifeboat for five days. Freed by Navy SEAL marksmen who killed his captors, 53-year-old Capt. Richard Phillips is now making his way home.

Phillips left Kenya on an executive jet early Friday, the first step of a long-awaited journey to the United States.

Early Thursday a chartered flight delivered his crew into the arms of their exuberant families waiting at Andrews Air Force Base.

“I’m just so relieved and overwhelmed that it’s over,” said third engineer John Cronan of Merion, Pa. “I’m home now. The greatest country in the world.”

Everyone was spirited off to luxurious quarters outside Washington to celebrate and recuperate.

The setting at Gaylord National Resort was a far cry from the crushing heat, shouts and fears that enveloped the ship off the African coast when pirates made it aboard on their third try.

Crewman A.T.M. “Zahid” Reza, of West Hartford, Conn., said he and his mates led the pirate leader, Abduhl, to the darkened engine room.

“He was fighting me. There was a lot of yelling, shouting and screaming. I was attempting to kill him. He was scared. He said he was planning to ask for $3 million.”

During the noisy struggle, Reza said, he stabbed the pirate in the hand. That episode probably saved the bandit’s life. Days later, his wound festering, he went on the destroyer USS Bainbridge to get his hand treated and to negotiate over Phillips’ fate. While he was aboard the destroyer, U.S. snipers shot and killed the three pirates still on the lifeboat, freeing the Maersk Alabama captain unharmed.

A U.S. official said Thursday the Somali, identified as Abduhl Wal-i-Musi, will be brought to New York to face trial, but it was not immediately clear when. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose information about an ongoing investigation.

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