WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. merchant seamen who seized their ship
back from Somali pirates flew homeward Wednesday to join their grateful families and await the skipper freed after five days held hostage.
"I'll just love to hug my mother," third mate Colin Wright said before the crew of the Maersk Alabama left Kenya aboard a special flight to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
"Everybody out there give your mother a hug," he said. "Yeah, don't wait. Life is precious. And what a beautiful world."
The crew scuffled with the pirates, wounding one of them with an ice pick, in taking back control of their ship. The bandits fled the ship with Capt. Richard Phillips as their captive, holding him on a lifeboat in a high-stakes standoff settled in a deadly trio of gunshots from Navy SEAL sharpshooters on the destroyer USS Bainbridge.
The Bainbridge diverted Tuesday to chase pirates attacking a second U.S. cargo ship, delaying Phillips' homecoming, because he was still aboard the destroyer. The cargo ship, the Liberty Sun, escaped.
Another chartered plane was waiting at the Mombasa airport for Phillips, a Kenyan airport official said.
Maersk spokesman Gordan van Hook said the crew's reunion with the captain would now take place in the U.S.
First, a reception area was set aside at Andrews for the crewmen
to see their families privately.
Their flight was expected to arrive late Wednesday evening or after midnight.
Phillips' wife, Andrea, and two children were still home in Vermont and did not know when or where they would meet him, said 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.
Andrea Phillips, in a statement, celebrated the crew's imminent return and said she understood why her husband could not make it home with them.
"Like Richard, I appreciate that the U.S. Navy is there to help other seafarers as well," she said. "The most important thing is that Richard is safe, and our family owes that to the Navy. I am immensely proud of Richard, the crew and everything they did to assure each other's safety."
Serena Murphy, the wife of chief officer Shane Murphy, joked that she will take him hostage when he gets home to Seekonk, Mass.
"Well, I'm going to give him food and water," she said on NBC's "Today" show. "That's a positive for him. But I think I'll make the accommodations a lot more pleasant than the pirates did."
Asked if she wants him to go back to sea, she said, "I personally don't but I support him in whatever decision he decides to make."
Wright, on ABC's "Good Morning America," said the experience won't keep him off the water, but he hopes piracy can be stopped.
"I hope to be able to sail all of the waters of the world in safety," said the Galveston, Texas, seaman. "And we've got to do something about pirates."
The sister of second mate Ken Quinn was praying for him to get safely back home. She told CBS' "The Early Show" that her brother, who lives in Bradenton, Fla., had e-mailed her that "he's having nightmares about being in the dark room where they were hiding, and the pirates shooting into the dark."
AP writers Tom Maliti Mombasa, Kenya, and Calvin Woodward in
Washington contributed to this report.