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Americas

Rescued captain returns home, thanks US Navy

©

Video by Fiona CAMERON

Latest update : 2009-04-18

US cargo ship captain Richard Philips, rescued from Somali pirates earlier this week, returned home to Vermont on Friday. In his first public statement he thanked the US Navy for his rescue, insisting they were "superheroes".

AFP - US cargo ship captain Richard Phillips returned Friday to a hero's welcome -- and a home-cooked meal -- after surviving capture by Somali pirates and a bloody rescue.
  
Phillips, 53, touched down in Burlington, Vermont, aboard a corporate jet operated by his shipping company Maersk.
  
The bearded merchant sailor, hailed for giving himself up as a hostage to pirates in exchange for the safety of his crew and ship, beamed as he embraced his family.
  
In his first public comments since his ordeal, he praised the military's elite SEAL commandos for his rescue and insisted he wasn't the real hero.
  
"I'm a seaman doing the best he can just like all of the other seamen out there," he said.
  
"The first people I want to thank are the SEALs. They're the super heros, they're the Titans they're the impossible men doing an impossible job, and they did the impossible with me."
  
Phillips was then whisked under police escort to his house in Underhill.
  
A Maersk representative, who asked not to be identified, said it was not clear when Phillips might go back to sea.
  
But his immediate future was clear: "A neighbor has brought over chicken pot pie for the evening meal," the official said. Brownies were also on the menu, along with his "favorite beer."
  
Phillips' return drew a line under the nightmare that began April 8 when Somali pirates swarmed the US-flagged Maersk Alabama, a merchant vessel delivering aid to Africa.
  
The 19 other crew arrived safely in Washington on Thursday.
  
They could have one final confrontation with their pirate foes, albeit in a courtroom, with reports that a surviving assailant may be sent to the United States to stand trial.
  
The US sailors would almost certainly be called as witnesses.
  
For Phillips, the long route home to mostly rural Vermont started in Mombasa, Kenya, with refueling stopovers in Malta and Santiago, Spain.
  
In an emotional scene, his wife Andrea, children Daniel and Mariah, and mother Virginia rushed up the steps of the plane as soon as it came to a halt on the tarmac.
  
A moment later they reemerged with Phillips, who wore a cap with the insignia of USS Bainbridge, the warship that organized his dramatic rescue.
  
Waiting all day to witness the occasion were local residents Lynn Coeby and her mother Eleanor.
  
"I just wanted to let him know he's a good guy and he's safe and sound on his native ground," Coeby said. She held a sign that said: "You're a good man, Captain Phillips."
  
The Maersk Alabama saga captured the world's attention and put new focus on the problem posed by low-tech pirates to some of the world's most strategic shipping lanes.
  
The incident was highly unusual because the unarmed, all-American crew fought back and prevented the pirates from taking control of their vessel.
  
However, Phillips was kept hostage while the rest of the crew was able to escape unharmed.
  
Phillips and four pirates were then marooned in a lifeboat, shadowed all the time by US naval forces.
  
The captain attempted to escape but was caught. He was then rescued after snipers from the SEALs special forces shot dead three of the pirates at night.
  
The fourth pirate was already aboard the warship and was detained.
  
President Barack Obama vowed to "halt the rise of piracy" and the Pentagon says it is developing anti-pirate measures in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, the transit route for 40 percent of the world's oil.
  
In more than 150 attacks since the start of 2008, Somalia's ransom-hunting pirates have never executed a hostage.
  
However, the deadly rescue of Phillips, as well as a bloody raid by French commandos to free a yacht, prompted a chilling response.
  
"We will intensify our attacks even reaching very far away from Somali waters, and next time we get American citizens ... they (should) expect no mercy from us," Abdi Garad, a top pirate commander, said.
  
On Tuesday, Garad's group tried to execute this pledge, firing rockets at another US vessel, the Liberty Sun, which was also carrying food aid to Mombasa.

Date created : 2009-04-18

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