American crew members have regained control of their U.S.-flagged ship from pirates who seized it off the coast of Somalia, a Pentagon official said Wednesday.
Four hijackers boarded the Maersk Alabama earlier in the day and one is in custody, according to Pentagon officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The three others tried to escape, and their status is unknown, they said.
But the chief executive officer of the company that owns the Maersk Alabama played down the report that the vessel has been retaken by U.S. crew members, who are unarmed.
"We have no facts that confirm the ship has been retaken," John Reinhart, CEO and president of Norfolk, Virginia-based Maersk Line Ltd., said at a news conference 12 hours after the hijacking.
He warned against speculation.
"I believe it's premature to comment on that, and I don't think it's in the best interest of the safety of the crew to comment on that at this time," Reinhart said.
Pirates boarded the container vessel at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, about 350 miles off Somalia's coast, Reinhart said. Twenty American crew members were on board, a Maersk spokesman said.
Reinhart said the crew is believed to be safe.
"We had one communications earlier today from the crew; we were told the crew was safe," he said.
A source told CNN's Barbara Starr that pirates took control of the vessel about 17 minutes after the ship made a distress call.
Reinhart said the company has had no direct contact with the hijackers. The crew has secure rooms aboard the vessel and are urged to avoid "active engagements" with hijackers, he said.
"They'd be outgunned," Reinhart said. "They don't have any weapons. It would be inappropriate for them to decide to become heroes. We'd like them to come home safely."
He said crews can try to outrun pirate boats or turn their hoses on anyone trying to board the ship.
"We have ways to push back but we do not carry arms," Reinhart said.
The Maersk Alabama is still about 350 miles off the African coast, drifting at about one knot. The company has been in touch with "every government agency there is" since the incident was first reported, he said.
The vessel was carrying relief supplies for USAID, WorldVision and the United Nations' World Food Program, as well as various Christian charities, including Catholic Relief.