A merchant sea captain who was captured and held by Somali pirates in April reunited Thursday with the U.S. Navy crew and captain who were part of his daring rescue, thanking them for saving him.
"You are the true patriots," Capt. Richard Phillips said on the fantail of the USS Bainbridge, addressing a crew standing at attention in dress blues. "You are the heroes in the story involving me. And I just want to thank the true heroes of my incident and that's you, the crew of the USS Bainbridge."
Despite his ordeal in April, Phillips, 54, said he plans to return to the Maersk Alabama in March. Wednesday, pirates attacked Phillips' old ship for the second time in seven months but were turned away. Phillips declined to talk specifically about the latest attack on the Maersk Alabama.
"I've never had misgivings about going to sea," Phillips, who lives in Vermont, said later at a news conference conducted in front of the orange, boot-shaped lifeboat where he was held by pirates for five days after they boarded his ship.
Navy SEALs ended Phillips' captivity in April with three pinpoint shots that killed three pirates in the lifeboat. The SEALs, who are not members of the ship's crew, did not attend Thursday's reunion on the Bainbridge.
Phillips arrived at the ceremony on the guided-missile destroyer with his wife, mother and sister-in-law. He handed out commemorative coins to some members of the crew, which totals nearly 300. He also received gifts from the city of Norfolk.
"Under different circumstances and without the job that you did, I would not be here today," Phillips said. "I firmly believe that."
The Bainbridge left Naval Base Norfolk on Thursday morning and sailed three miles to a pier usually reserved for cruise ships. The ceremony was not open to the public.
"It is a pleasure to have Capt. Richard Phillips back on the Bainbridge, this time in sunny Norfolk, pierside, in the United States of America," said Capt. Frank X. Castellano, commander of the Bainbridge.
At the news conference, the two captains sat side-by-side. They have maintained communication since the piracy drama _ Phillips sending Vermont maple syrup and a state flag to Castellano, while Phillips has received Bainbridge ball caps. He wore one Thursday.
Asked how he felt about sitting within feet of the lifeboat where he was held by the pirates, the plainspoken sea captain shrugged off any uneasiness or unpleasant memories.
"To me, it's really in my past," Phillips said. "The lifeboat is another piece of safety equipment to me. As far as any attachment to it, I have more attachment to that gray boat out there than this orange one," he added.
The reunion was part of a number of events planned in this old seafaring city for Phillips. He was helping launch a National Geographic exhibit on piracy at Nauticus, the city's maritime history museum, and to serve as the marshal of Norfolk's Grand Illumination Parade on Saturday.
Phillips has a book deal and a movie based on his experience is possible.
In September, the Bainbridge returned to a hero's homecoming. The ship also protected another American vessel, Liberty Sun, from a pirate attack during its deployment.