Rescued Ship’s Captain Gives Navy All Credit

By Patrick Goodenough | April 12, 2009 | 6:36 PM EDT

Maersk-Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips, right, stands alongside Cmdr. Frank Castellano, commanding officer of the USS Bainbridge, after being rescued by U.S. Naval Forces off the coast of Somalia on Sunday, April 12, 2009. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy photo)

( – An American sea captain whose ordeal at the hands of Somali pirates ended in dramatic fashion on Sunday was described as “heroic” by a senior Navy officer, but is giving all credit to his U.S. Navy rescuers.

Richard Phillips was freed after Navy Seals and other snipers aboard the destroyer USS Bainbridge shot and killed three of the four pirates who had been holding him on a drifting lifeboat since their aborted attempt to seize his freighter about 280 miles off the Somali coast last week.

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command chief Vice Admiral Bill Gortney said Phillips had been safely transferred to a nearby Navy ship and had suffered no evident injury during the rescue or while in captivity. A pirate is in U.S. military custody.

Crew of the Maersk Alabama say that when the pirates boarded the vessel Phillips offered himself as a hostage in return for their safety. The ship and crew reached the Kenyan port of Mombasa on Saturday night.

Gortney, speaking in a conference call briefing from Bahrain, called the 50-year-old captain from Underhill, Vermont and his crew “heroic.”

Maersk Line Ltd. president and CEO John Reinhart was also full of praise.

“Richard exemplifies some of the best traditions and behaviors and skills of an American merchant mariner,” Reinhart told a press conference in Norfolk, Va. “He persevered through difficult times and he’s shown real heroism.”

Reinhart said he had spoken to Phillips on the phone, and the captain was giving all credit to his rescuers.

He said Phillips had told him, “I’m just the byline. The real heroes are the Navy, the Seals, those who have brought me home.”

The attack on the Alabama, believed to be the first on an American-flagged vessel by pirates in 200 years, has drawn massive attention to an ongoing, serious problem. The International Maritime Bureau reports that at least a dozen ships, with more than 200 crew members, are currently being held by pirates off Somalia. During 2008, 42 ships were seized for ransom and more than 800 crew taken hostage in the area.

Gortney warned that the rescue and pirates’ deaths “could escalate violence in this part of the world.”

In his first public comment since the episode began, President Obama in a statement Sunday said he was very pleased about the successful rescue and proud of the efforts of those responsible.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow