News Columns & Blogs

Regular guy, thrust into the media glare

No one could recall a time when there was more single-day media coverage at Lakewood Ranch than Tuesday, when Ken Quinn, the unassuming second mate of the Maersk Alabama, came home with his family.

The cameras and reporters stretched from one side of the street to the other, and back of MacAllisters Restaurant were the ubiquitous forest of TV towers, collecting images and words from the man who helped frustrate a Somali pirate takeover.

The following day, they were all gone, and Quinn, with his wife, Zoya, and sons, Jason and Justin, quietly settled down to a routine that belied that anything unusual had happened, or that he had been in the international spotlight.

On Wednesday morning, Quinn went to the doctor for a physical exam to update his mariner’s license.

That afternoon, he talked to me in his Lakewood Ranch home.

He took me out on his lanai and talked about how a large otter had once come up to the screen and reared on its hind legs, surprising and frightening Zoya. He complained about the invasive plant species growing in a preserve behind his house, and wondered what to do to get rid of the Brazilian pepper.

After I returned to the newsroom, Ken e-mailed me with a request: “I was wondering if you could mention in the article that I am looking for some Big Dog motorcycle owners to ride with in the Lakewood Ranch area? I know there are some around, but I don’t know who they are.”

It was striking how matter-of-fact he is about the whole episode, even though he and Zoya have been recognized everywhere from Times Square to the Creekwood Chick-fil-A.

Any lingering problems because of the ordeal in the Indian Ocean and all the media attention?

“I’m not used to the time difference yet. I’m still on Bombassa time,” he said, mentioning the Kenyan port where the Maersk Alabama crew spent time after getting away from the pirates.

The Somali pirate problem is far from over, he says.

He would like to see new training and rules that allow mariners to defend themselves.

He also suggests that countries, such as Kenya, where the Maersk Alabama was headed with a shipment of food, could be more active in escorting cargo ships through pirate waters.

To say Zoya is happy to have Ken home is an understatement.

When Ken shipped out this last time, 3-year-old Jason would go room to room looking for his father, not understanding Ken was away on a four-month cruise.

“He would look in every room and say, ‘Daddy, where are you?’” Zoya said.

But that was nothing compared to the fear and uncertainty when she learned armed pirates attempted to take over the Maersk Alabama.

“Yes, it was hard,” Zoya said. “But I know he is very strong and will handle any situation.”

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.