BOURNE, Mass. (AP) – The captain of a U.S. cargo ship who surrendered himself to Somali pirates to spare his sailors told cadets at his alma mater Wednesday that leadership means taking care of the crew, even at the expense of going hungry so others eat.

Richard Phillips of Underhill, Vt., spoke to about 1,000 cadets at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy after receiving its 2009 Mariner of the Year Award. It was his first time back to campus since four Somali pirates armed with automatic weapons seized the Maersk Alabama on April 8.

“I believe leadership is taking care of your people, whether it can be a navigation watch of one other person or a group of hundreds,” he said.

Phillips said he used to expect he’d lead a quiet seafaring career, then retire. But so far, he’s contended with ships damaged by icebergs, sailed in the Arctic and Antarctic, rescued stranded fishermen, helped evacuate medical casualties, doused shipboard fires and, of course, dealt with pirates, he said.

Taken hostage for ransom, Phillips spent five days in a sweltering lifeboat off of lawless Somalia until U.S. Navy snipers shot three of his captors dead.

He advised the cadets that seafaring will be “the ride of your life.”

“The nervousness some of you are feeling is good,” Phillips said. “It is your brain trying to tell you to get ready for something you cannot predict, expect or anticipate.”

Faculty and staff at the academy, which trains its students in anti-piracy techniques and firearms, waited anxiously while Phillips was held hostage. Brendan Doherty, 19, a freshman studying marine engineering, said he appreciated listening to the captain’s understated remarks.

“You could tell he had experienced a lot, but at the same time, his head wasn’t high in the clouds,” Doherty said.

Phillips was joined at the school by his first mate, Shane Murphy, another Massachusetts Maritime graduate who was aboard the Maersk Alabama when it was taken. Phillips ultimately offered himself as a hostage to get the attackers away from the boat.

His crew tried unsuccessfully to swap Phillips for a pirate they took prisoner during a struggle, Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse.

Muse left the lifeboat before the snipers opened fire to seek attention for a wound and negotiate. He was flown to New York and indicted Tuesday on piracy and other charges.

AP-ES-05-20-09 1854EDT

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