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67° Good Morning

Crewman saved from pirates celebrates in Harlem church

In a tearful celebration of gratitude, William Rios sat in the front pew of his Harlem church Sunday and - holding his wife and son at his side - told how he and 18 other crewmen aboard the Maersk Alabama survived their confrontation with Somali pirates. "I'm so glad you prayed for me. I'm glad to be back home, Hallelujah! God bless you!" he said, breaking down into tears as he recalled his recent ordeal off the Horn of Africa, in which the pirates took the Alabama's captain hostage so the crew could escape. The congregation of 25 members listened intently and wept as Rios, a 41-year-old boatswain, related how once the pirates came aboard, the crew shut down the ship's power and hid in a 130-degree room with no ventilation for eight hours. "All we had was knives," said Rios. "You heard the gunshots breaking the locks off when they were looking for us. They never had a chance [to take over the ship]. We knew the ship and they didn't," he said. Rios said he and his crew of mostly 60- and 70-year-old men were at the bow of the ship while Capt. Richard Phillips was at the helm, where he was captured. They did manage to overtake one of the armed pirates, but ultimately went along with Phillips' request by radio to prepare a boat for the pirates to take him. He said he and another man volunteered to prepare the boat. "It was a silly move," Rios said of his decision to volunteer. "But at the time my crew was half dead. We had to get those pirates off the ship." At one point, the captain asked the crew to come out of hiding over the radio, Rios said. But they refused. "We didn't. We didn't hear the code word so we weren't coming out." During the service inside Second St. John Baptist Church on 118th Street, the congregation and the Rios family - William's wife, Sherry, and son, William Jr. - waved small American flags and sang a string of spirituals including "Victory is Mine Today." Outside the church later, Rios told reporters that once the pirates knew the crew was American, they clapped their hands, saying "more money, more money." At that moment, Rios said, "I knew we were going to get killed, and I was not going alone. I was taking someone with me. I'm from New York City. I'm from Harlem." Rios said he was taking time off before his next assignment and was ready to return to the high seas. Sherry Rios interjected, saying, "Only cruise ships this time."


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