April 18, 2009 in Nation/World

Rescued captain hails Navy ‘superheroes’

John Curran Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Capt. Richard Phillips smiles after arriving in South Burlington, Vt., on Friday. Phillips is back in his home state, a week and a half after being taken hostage by pirates. At rear is his daughter Mariah.
(Full-size photo)

French charge three Somali pirates

 RENNES, France – Three Somali pirates who survived a French commando assault to free a sailboat were charged Friday with hijacking the vessel and holding five passengers hostage, one of whom died in the raid.

 The three men, ages 23, 25 and 27, were placed in three separate prisons. That brings to 15 the number of Somali pirates jailed in France, which has taken a tough line against piracy endangering crucial shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden and in the northern Indian Ocean.

UNDERHILL, Vt. – The unassuming ship captain who escaped the clutches of Somali pirates made a triumphant return home Friday, insisting he’s no hero, just an ordinary seaman.

Richard Phillips said the U.S. Navy, which pulled off the daring high-seas rescue that ended his five-day captivity, deserves the credit.

“They’re the superheroes,” a relaxed, hale-looking Phillips said upon his arrival at Burlington International Airport. “They’re the titans. They’re impossible men doing an impossible job, and they did the impossible with me. … They’re at the point of the sword every day, doing an impossible job every day.”

Phillips, who had offered himself up as a hostage after pirates made an aborted attempt to seize the Maersk Alabama cargo ship April 8 off the coast of Somalia, survived the ordeal after Navy snipers on the USS Bainbridge killed the three pirates holding him with simultaneous shots under the cover of night.

But he doesn’t want credit.

“I’m not a hero, the military is,” he said, appearing healthy and invigorated at a brief airport news conference shortly after his arrival. “I am just a bit part in this story, the small part of a seaman doing the best he can like all the other seamen out there.”

Not quite. Not every sailor gets a ride in a chartered jet, a police escort home and a hero’s welcome in his hometown. Phillips did.

His wife, Andrea, and their adult children, Daniel and Mariah, boarded the sky-blue Maersk corporate jet after it landed, greeting him.

Phillips, wearing a USS Bainbridge baseball cap, waved to a small, cheering crowd and hugged his daughter before disappearing into a building for a private reunion with his family. He emerged later to praise his fellow crew members.

“We did it,” he said, speaking with a thick New England accent. “We did what we were trained to do.”

When Phillips was rescued, his arms were bound. On Friday, abrasions and scabs could be seen on the insides of his forearms. Asked what the high-seas hostage experience was like, he said: “Indescribable, indescribable.”

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