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Where strong values breed heroes

Richard Phillips learned how to be a captain, and he became a hero.

The Massachusetts Maritime Academy is where Captain Richard Phillips learned the values that made him a hero. (Stephanie Garlow/GlobalPost)

BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. — The Massachusetts Maritime Academy instilled a sense of leadership in Richard Phillips — it also taught him how to navigate by the stars and how to avoid crashing into ships.

They were valuable lessons that some 30 years since he graduated from here earned him the rank of captain in command of his own ship. But there are some things you can’t learn in school — like how to be a hero.

Phillips, 53, is now safe after U.S. Navy SEALs shot three armed pirates who had been holding him hostage on a lifeboat since Wednesday, according to CNN. The fourth pirate was negotiating on board the Bainbridge and was arrested.

  Phillips has proven several times in recent days that he knows how to lead.

For Phillips captaining a ship turned out to mean more than safely maneuvering around shallow shoals or managing a crew. It meant taking on the pirates who dared for the first time in centuries to attack an American-flagged ship.

Phillips rallied his sailors to overcome those pirates and sacrificed himself for their safety. And Phillips, who grew up in the Boston suburbs, attended the Maritime Academy on Cape Cod and now lives in Vermont, became a hero as the world watched the drama unfold.

“That’s a very brave thing for anyone to do and the right thing for a captain to do,” said Trevor Fouhey, a junior studying marine transportation at the Maritime Academy, referencing reports that Phillips exchanged himself to secure the safety of his crew.

Other students in the school’s mess hall echoed that sentiment, calling Phillips a hero and praising his selflessness. Several expressed hope that they would have done the same thing in his position.

Pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama Wednesday morning, briefly boarding the ship before the crew retook control. But the pirates escaped with Phillips and were holding him for ransom.

Those who knew Phillips were optimistic that the situation would end well.

“He would be a determined kind of person that would probably say, ‘I am going to get out of this one way or another,” said Pat Waite, a friend of the Phillips family.

Waite said Phillips grew up playing ball with her sons. “After school and evenings during the summer, a group of boys would get together and play softball and baseball and basketball,” said Waite, who still lives in Winchester, Mass., where Phillips grew up.

She said one of her sons sent her an email Friday that read: “Rich Phillips used to beat me up.”

Edward MacCormack, a classmate of Phillips’ at the academy, said Phillips is a “standup guy who’ll make the best of it.”