Local sailor relives pirate attack

April 21, 2009 4:20:36 PM PDT
John Cronan says he may not return to the high seas.

"I looked down the barrel of an AK-47 a couple of times."

46-year-old merchant marine John Cronan recalled the morning of April 8th, when Somali pirates boarded the merchant marine vessel Maersk Alabama. Sirens sounded, and he knew it wasn't a drill.

"I woke up, I grabbed my flashlight and pocketknife and my photo of my girls," he said, holding up the creased and worn photograph. "It WAS shiny, clean and new. I grabbed it and put it in my pocket, and the photograph had a long day."

Back home today in Merion Station, the long-time merchant marine and ship engineer talked about the hours that followed. He sang the praises of the Navy SEALs who brought the saga to an end, and the ship's captain, Richard Phillips.

"That man is brilliant, truly brilliant. He wasn't taken. He surrendered himself, and just through his professionalism and his demeanor he managed the whole day. And he bought us valuable time to do what we had to do."

As for the surviving pirate, who had his first court appearance today in New York?

"He should be brought to justice in a United States court. He will be treated more fairly than I would have been treated in his country."

Cronan says he may be finished with high seas sailing. He is thinking more about teaching, and working on tugs or ferries. "The Staten Island Ferry is looking more appealing," he said, smiling. "My wife and I are talking about that."

Should the story of the Maersk Alabama be told on the big screen (and chances are it will), Cronan would like his part to be played by Billy Bob Thornton. He says he's also been thinking a lot about his late father, a merchant marine for 50 years. Cronan says he would have liked the way the story ended.

"He is up there in sailor heaven, saying 'Yeah!' You know?"

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