NORFOLK (AP) -- Even though the American ship seized by Somali pirates is safely in port, crew members will have to remain aboard the vessel while the FBI investigates the hijacking, the president of the company that owns the ship said Saturday.
"Because of the pirate attack, the FBI has informed us that this ship is a crime scene," John Reinhart of Maersk Shipping Line told reporters hours after the Maersk Alabama arrived in a Kenyan port, it's captain still held captive by pirates in a lifeboat off the African coast.
He said he could not predict how long the 19 crew members would have to remain on board while the FBI investigates. Reinhart said crew members were given phones so they can keep in touch with family members, but even that might be restricted during the probe.
"After the investigation, we then move to repatriation, which is bringing our heroes home," Reinhart said. "When I spoke to the crew, they won't consider it done when they board a plane and come home. They won't consider it done until the captain is back, nor will we. Therefore, that's our first and only priority today and as we go into the coming days."
Reinhart said the crew was relieved to be back in port. "It's been harrowing for them," he said, adding that a replacement crew will be sent to take over as soon as the FBI completes its interviews.
He said that in his conversation with First Mate Shane Murphy before the ship docked in Mombasa, he expressed the company's appreciation for the crew's "brilliant efforts and their bravery during this very difficult time. They showed the professionalism of a true mariner."
The crew managed to retake control of the ship after the pirates boarded Wednesday, but the bandits were able to take Capt. Richard Phillips hostage and escape on a lifeboat, which is still adrift. The U.S. Navy has sent warships to the area. He said he could not talk about what is being done to try to free Phillips.
Reinhart said he also spoke Saturday with Phillips' wife, Andrea, who is surrounded by family and two company employees who were sent to Underhill, Vt., to support her.
"She's a brave woman," Reinhart said. "I'm inspired when I talk to Andrea. And she has one favor to ask: Do what you have to do to bring Richard home safely. That means don't make a mistake, folks. We have to be perfect in our execution."
He described the captain as "somebody you'd be proud to have as a friend and follow as a leader on a ship. He's a good man."