MOMBASA, Kenya The American sea captain held hostage for five days by Somali pirates reached land Thursday, with the U.S. destroyer that rescued him docking to the strains of Sweet Home Alabama hours after his crew reunited with their families back home.
Capt. Richard Phillips of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama cargo ship was brought into Mombasa harbor aboard the USS Bainbridge, which blared out the Lynyrd Skynyrd hit that includes the words I m coming home to you. The destroyer hoisted the U.S. flag as it arrived.
Phillips, 53, of Underhill, Vermont, gave himself up as a hostage to ensure the safety of his crew. He was freed Sunday by Navy SEAL sharpshooters who killed his three captors with three single shots taken from the Bainbridge amid choppy seas.
Phillips wife, Andrea, and two children were still home in Vermont and did not know when or where they would meet him, according to her mother, Catherine Coggio.
We re just so thankful that things have turned out the way they have, Coggio told The Associated Press by phone from her home in Richmond, Vt.
A charter plane was on standby to whisk Phillips home, said a security official at Mombasa airport who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Phillips crew members were reunited with their families early Thursday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland after a long flight from Mombasa. One crewman, carrying a child toward the terminal, shouted, I m happy to see my family! Another exclaimed, God bless America.
Earlier Thursday, another U.S. cargo ship, the Liberty Sun, arrived in Mombasa, its bridge damaged by rocket-propelled grenades and its windows shattered by gunfire after a pirate attack on Tuesday. Its 20 American crew members were unharmed.
The attack on the Liberty Sun underscored the outlaws ability to act with impunity despite international naval operations and mounting concern worldwide over how to halt the escalating piracy off the Horn of Africa.
A pirate whose gang attacked the Liberty Sun also claimed his group was targeting American ships and sailors.
We will seek out the Americans, and if we capture them, we will slaughter them, said a 25-year-old pirate based in the Somali port of Harardhere who gave only his first name, Ismail. We will target their ships because we know their flags.
The Liberty Sun crew successfully blockaded themselves in the engine room and warded off the attack with evasive maneuvers.
The ship, carrying food aid for hungry Africans including Somalis was damaged pretty badly on its bridge, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record about the ship.
On Wednesday, French naval forces launched an early-morning attack on a suspected pirate supply ship 550 miles (880 kilometers) east of Mombasa, seizing 11 men and thwarting an attack on the Liberian cargo ship Safmarine Asia, the French Defense Ministry said. No one was injured.
The ministry said the vessel was a larger ship that pirates use to allow their high-speed skiffs to operate hundreds of miles off the coast.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced new diplomatic efforts to freeze the pirates assets and said the Obama administration will work with shippers and insurers to improve their defenses against pirates.
These pirates are criminals, they are armed gangs on the sea. And those plotting attacks must be stopped, Clinton said at the State Department.
Clinton did not call for military force, although she mentioned going after pirate bases in Somalia, as authorized by the U.N. several months ago. She said it may be possible to stop boat-building companies from doing business with the pirates.
The measures outlined by Clinton are largely stopgap moves while the administration weighs more comprehensive diplomatic and military action.
She acknowledged it will be hard to find the pirates assets. But she wants the U.S. and others to explore ways to track and freeze pirate ransom money and other funds used in purchases of new boats, weapons and communications equipment.
Maritime experts say military force alone cannot solve the problem because the pirates operate in an area so vast as to render the flotilla of international warships largely ineffective.
The European Union said Thursday it is boosting its anti-piracy fleet off the Somali coast to 11 ships with the addition of three Swedish frigates joining next month. The European force s main task is to escort cargo ships carrying U.N. World Food Program aid to hungry Somalis. Half the country s 7 million people depend on food aid.
Nearly a dozen countries, including the United States, have anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, off the Somali coast, one of the world s most important shipping areas.
France said it has attacked pirates 11 times in the past year and is spearheading a Europe-wide anti-piracy force.
Most hijackings are resolved by shipping companies, which pay million-dollar ransoms and more to get their ships and crews back. They then recoup the money from insurance companies, which charge high premiums to traverse the dangerous waters off Somalia.
The Gulf of Aden, which links the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, is the shortest route from Asia to Europe. More than 20,000 ships cross the vital sea lane every year. It is becoming more dangerous by the day.
In 2003, there were only 21 attacks in these waters. In less than four months this year, there have been 79 attacks, compared with 111 for all of 2008, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
Somali pirates are holding more than 280 foreign crewmen on 15 ships at least 76 of those sailors captured in recent days.
Halfway across the world, a passing ship rescued 10 sailors left adrift in a lifeboat by Indonesian pirates who hijacked their tugboat in the South China Sea last week. Philippine officials say the pirates held the sailors for six days before setting them adrift on the lifeboat. The rescued men are from Indonesia, Myanmar and Malaysia.