The solace is on the wall, framed, hanging above a bookshelf and tabletop stereo in the Reza family's living room.
It is a citation from the Connecticut legislature last September, honoring Abu Thair Mohd Zahid Reza for his "quick thinking" and actions aboard the hijacked cargo ship Maersk Alabama in April 2009. It might be the only official document that calls A.T.M. Reza a hero.
That distinction has largely gone to merchant marine Capt. Richard Phillips, who was in charge of the ship when four Somali pirates hijacked it off the Horn of Africa. Phillips has met with President Barack Obama at the White House, been lauded on TV and, just recently, released a book called "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea."
"He hijacked my story," Reza, 45, said Thursday.
His wife, sitting nearby in their Maplewood Avenue apartment, holds a copy of the book. It refers to Reza as "ATM Mohammed" of Pakistan. The wiry sailor is originally from Bangladesh.
"It's fiction, and it's being presented as if it's nonfiction," Elizabeth Pond Reza said. "It's insulting."
"We didn't get fair recognition," A.T.M. Reza said later. "Everybody fight back. Not just Phillips. He took credit from everybody."
Phillips, of Underhill, Vt., could not be reached for comment Thursday. But in a Boston Herald story this week, he defended the book while conceding that he got Reza's name wrong. As for a key argument from Reza — that Phillips did not volunteer himself as a hostage to save his crew — Phillips told the Herald that it was the media who crafted him into a hero.
The young Somalis were armed with AK-47s; the crew had high-pressure hoses and knives to defend themselves against the first pirate attack on an American merchant vessel in more than 200 years. His book, Phillips said, describes how the pirates captured him and the ship; there was no volunteering.
In the book's acknowledgments, Phillips first thanks the U.S. Navy and Navy SEALs for saving his life and ending the five-day hostage situation with sniper bullets that killed three of the pirates. The fourth, alleged leader Abdulwali Muse, is awaiting trial in New York on federal charges that include kidnapping.
Phillips then thanks the crew "for their ability to come together, think on their feet, and do the best job they could."
Sixteen of the 20 crew members who were on the Maersk Alabama have banded together again — this time to criticize Phillips' handling of the ship and to claim that he didn't take the piracy threat seriously until the Somalis were firing at them. They have a lawyer from Pennsylvania and call themselves the Alabama Shipmates.
Pond Reza, who is working with the Shipmates, mentions "possible litigation," but refuses to say against whom.
She also won't let her husband discuss how the past year has been for him, though she said "he's had a difficult time."
A.T.M. Reza nodded his head. He was seated on the couch, dressed in a collared shirt, slacks and sandals. Their 7-year-old son, Isa, relaxed in a room close by. Reza's demeanor was calm, his voice steady.
But his anger toward Phillips seeped through: "I don't want to see his face anymore," Reza said at one point. "For the rest of my life."
Tricking A PirateReza said there are interactions in the book between him and Phillips that did not happen. Though the West Hartford resident is portrayed as a sympathetic figure — "young, bright-eyed and looked capable," as Phillips described him in the first chapter — Reza argues that some scenes were mischaracterized to make the captain appear "as a Rambo."
The morning of April 8, 2009, when Reza first saw the pirates' boat speeding toward the Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia, Phillips began evasive actions as soon as he heard Reza's warning, according to Phillips' book.
Reza insisted Thursday that Phillips laughed at him and walked away. "He said it could be a fishing boat," Reza contended. "I said, 'Captain, we need action.'"
Hours after the warning, the pirates would be pointing AK-47s at Reza and another crew member, sticking the muzzles near their faces, counting down the minutes to their deaths if the rest of the crew — hiding in a sweltering room deep in the ship — did not reveal themselves.
It turned out the pirates were bluffing. But the terror Phillips witnessed and described in Chapter 10 was real. "I was scared," Reza said. "Some parts of the book are true."
Yet not detailed in the book was what Reza describes as his manipulation of the head pirate later in the hijacking. "I'm Muslim brother. I'll help you find the crew. ... Trust me," Reza remembered telling the brigands' alleged leader, Muse, in halting English.
"I kept saying we're Muslim brothers," Reza said. But he insisted that Muse first put away his weapon; otherwise, he would not help with the search. Muse agreed to leave his gun with the other pirates and went with Reza, carrying only a flashlight. Reza said he also placated him with cigarettes that they smoked together.
Once in the ship's darkened engine room, Reza said, they unexpectedly encountered the chief engineer. Until then, Reza had planned to run away and find a hideout within the vessel. Instead, Reza said he took out his knife and tried stabbing Muse's neck.
Muse blocked the knife with his hand, sustaining a wound that eventually would send him aboard the USS Bainbridge for medical treatment after negotiations with the Navy. Reza said the chief engineer then tackled Muse, and with Reza's help, tied his hands and legs.
In the book, Phillips attributed much of that attack's heroics to the engineer. Reza said that Phillips never called him for details, and that the two haven't spoken since being held captive.
Phillips was held hostage a few days longer than the crew and expected to be executed when the Navy SEALs rescued him on Easter Sunday.
Return To The SeaReza wants to sail again, as soon as next month. That makes him nervous — he can't choose where he will be sent. But he knows who won't be his captain.
The Maersk Alabama, Reza said, was his first ship with Phillips, "and the last."
"He should share the credit," Reza said. Capt. C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger of "Miracle on the Hudson" fame, he noted, "dragged the whole crew to the White House."
As Phillips promotes his book, Reza, a former lyricist, poet and screenwriter in Bangladesh, is trying to return to the sea against the wishes of his wife.
"I've been sailing since 1989," Reza explained. "What I did all my life, that almost took my life, is sailing. So I don't have any other skills. I don't have any other options."