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Shipmates recount battle with pirates, call captain brave

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  • NEW: Maersk Alabama crew tell about pirates' takeover of ship
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OXON HILL, Maryland (CNN) -- Crew members of the Maersk Alabama, safely back in the United States after being attacked by pirates last week off Somalia, recounted their ordeal Thursday.

Cargo ship Capt. Richard Phillips is shown aboard the USS Boxer shortly after his rescue Sunday.

Navy personnel recover the lifeboat from which Maersk Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips was rescued Sunday.

"They start firing before they climb, with AK-47," crew member Zahid Reza said.

"I was scared for my life. I was almost close to that. And they tried to shoot me many times," he said, pointing to his head. "Pointing gun all over. Here, there, in the back."

Pirates tried three times to board the U.S.-flagged cargo ship before their fourth attempt was successful, fellow crew member William Rios said, adding that the groups of pirates were different but that he thinks they were working together.

Rios said he was working on deck when he was called back to lock down the ship. Then, he said, there were gunshots, and an alarm went off to alert all crew members to wake up and get on deck.

"We went to our training," he said, declining to provide details: "If I tell you all what we did, pirates, they would know." Video Watch the crew praise their captain »

The pirates intended to ask for a $3 million ransom, Reza said.

He said he and the ship's chief engineer took one of the pirates hostage. Reza said he persuaded the pirate -- whom he described as a young man, maybe 18 or 19 -- to trust him, pointing out that he is Bangladeshi and the pirate was Somali.

"His name is Abdul," Reza said. "I told him, 'Trust me. I am Muslim; you are Muslim.' "

He told Abdul he would take him to the engine room to find more crew members. When they got there, the room was dark, he said, and he didn't know the ship's chief engineer was in there.

He said the chief engineer jumped the pirate first, then Reza stabbed him with his knife, and the two men tied the pirate's hands and feet. Reza said he intended to kill the youth, but the chief engineer told him, "No, we need him alive." Video Watch Reza talk about wanting to kill the pirate »

"He was fighting me and chief engineer, to get away from us. A lot of yelling, shouting and screaming."

Rios said he went to the lifeboat, where Capt. Richard Phillips was being held, to exchange Abdul for Phillips but was unsuccessful.

The captain -- who offered himself as a hostage in exchange for the freedom of his crew -- was rescued by U.S. Navy SEALs on Sunday. The SEALs, on the nearby guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, fatally shot three pirates and rescued Phillips. A fourth pirate was arrested.

"I feel great they got killed," Reza said. "I am happy."

He said he was proud of the Navy.

Phillips arrived in Mombasa, Kenya, aboard the Bainbridge on Thursday. The crew arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland overnight. Video Watch crew arrive in U.S. »

Rios said Phillips is "outstanding; he's extraordinary; he's [a] very brave man."

Another crew member, John White, said they were "damn lucky to be alive."

Rios called for more security in the Gulf of Aden.

"Put more military to patrol the waterway for us transporting material back and forth," he said. "... All the countries got to get involved with this."

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Reza echoed the call.

"I think government should get involved," he said. "They should think about our safety, yes. ... This piracy is getting bigger and bigger."

CNN's Paul Courson, Virginia Nicolaidis and Dugald McConnell contributed to this report.

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