NORFOLK, Va. - Members of Capt. Richard Phillips' crew have hailed their leader for saving them and their ship from being hijacked by pirates, but the skipper insists it's the U.S. Navy and other rescuers who deserve to be called heroes.
"I'm just the byline. The heroes are the Navy, the Seals and those that have brought me home," the shipping captain told his boss, Maersk Line Limited President and CEO John Reinhart, who relayed the phone message to reporters hours after Phillips was liberated Sunday from his captors' clutches aboard a lifeboat.
Phillips, 53, of Underhill, Vt., emerged unharmed following a brief firefight that killed three of the four pirates who were holding him off the Somali coast, ending a five-day high-seas hostage drama in the Indian Ocean. Reinhart said Phillips was preparing to return home in the next couple days along with his crew, but was not specific.
Reinhart called it a good moment and a great day for the nation, the industry, the military and for Phillips' family.
"Richard exemplifies some of the best traditions and behaviors and skills of an American merchant mariner," Reinhart said. "He's a leader of men. He's a brave and courageous man. He persevered through difficult times and he's shown real heroism."
Crew members said as pirates hauled themselves on board the Maersk Alabama, shooting in the air, Phillips told them to lock themselves in a cabin and offered himself in exchange for their safety.
Reinhart said the 19-member crew was challenged with the order to leave the captain behind and head for safe harbor in Mombasa, Kenya, where they arrived Saturday night.