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A hero's welcome for Maersk sailor from East Harlem

The East Harlem door was adorned with yellow ribbons and red, white and blue balloons, but merchant sailor William Rios stayed behind it inside his home Friday, shunning publicity from the crowd of media standing outside.

His pastor called him a "truly humble man," and said Rios, 42, plans to speak Sunday to the congregation at his church, Second St. John Baptist Church in Harlem, about his ordeal.

Rios was among 19 crewmen aboard the Maersk Alabama when it was attacked April 8 by Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa. The ship's captain, Richard Phillips, offered himself in exchange for his crew's release.

"We are going to celebrate his safe return and thank God that He answered our prayers," said the Rev. Robert Jones Jr. of Rios' homecoming and the forthcoming address.

A longtime resident of East Harlem, Rios has been a merchant marine for at least 25 years, said Jones, and spends months away from his family on the high seas.

When he's home, the pastor said, he attends church regularly with his wife and 10-year-old son. Jones spoke to Rios by phone when he was released, and said the sailor was not ashamed to say he was afraid.

"I was scared," Jones said Rios told him, "and the first thing I'm going to do when I get home to the United States, to New York, to Harlem. I'm going to church with my church family and be with my pastor to give thanks."

Fellow crewman Miguel Ruiz, also of New York City told reporters after being reunited with his family that when the pirates boarded the ship he grabbed a flashlight and a knife, went to a secure area and thought, "If I die I'm going to take someone else with me."

Yet Phillips tried to keep his men calm as they gathered in designated parts of the ship before he offered himself to the captors in return for the crew's safety. "We got orders to do nothing," Ruiz said.

Later, several crewmen had the pirate they regarded as the ringleader bound in the vessel's darkened engine room where they gave him water and food. "We are merchant marines," Ruiz said. "We are not killers."

He recalled an exchange with one of the other pirates, who were aged 17 to 19: "I said to him, why do you do that?" The pirate, Ruiz said, responded: "We've got 20 million people in Somalia who are poor, that don't have education. We don't have food."

Meanwhile, a U.S. official has said the captured Somali pirate will be brought to New York to face trial. The suspect, identified as Abduhl Wal-i-Musi, was taken aboard a U.S. Navy ship shortly before Navy SEAL snipers killed the three remaining pirates holding Capt. Richard Phillips hostage on a lifeboat launched from his cargo vessel, the Maersk Alabama.


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