fowler-phillips-cp-250-6553

Capt. Richard Phillips, right, shakes hands with Lt.-Cmdr. David Fowler, commanding officer of USS Bainbridge, after being rescued by U.S. naval forces off the coast of Somalia on Sunday. Phillips arrived in Kenya on Thursday to board a charter plane to take him back to the U.S. ((U.S. navy/Associated Press))

The captured Somalian pirate who held American Capt. Richard Phillips hostage last week will be brought to New York to face trial, though charges have yet to be filed, a U.S. official said Thursday.

The pirate was taken aboard a U.S. navy ship shortly before Navy SEAL snipers killed the three other pirates holding Phillips hostage on a lifeboat launched from his cargo vessel, the Maersk Alabama.

The U.S. government had considered handing over the suspect, identified as Abduhl Wal-i-Musi, to authorities in Kenya, which has an international agreement to prosecute pirates.

Since the hostage standoff on the high seas ended Sunday, U.S. authorities have been examining details of the case, including Wal-i-Musi's age.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said all four of the pirates involved were between ages 17 and 19.

If Wal-i-Musi is under 18, federal prosecutors would have to take a number of additional steps to justify charging him in federal court. He could face charges that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Meanwhile, Phillips arrived in Kenya on Thursday to board a charter plane back to the United States.

As he was brought into Mombasa harbour aboard the American destroyer USS Bainbridge, speakers blared the Lynyrd Skynrd hit Sweet Home Alabama.

Phillips, 53, had planned to arrive in Mombasa a day earlier, but the Bainbridge was diverted to answer a distress call from another U.S. cargo ship attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

That ship, the Liberty Sun, arrived in Mombasa earlier Thursday, but is heavily damaged, reports said.

U.S. officials said Phillips is expected to arrive home on Friday on a chartered airplane and plans to go directly to his home state of Vermont.

Crew arrives in U.S.

Earlier Thursday, the 19 Maersk Alabama crew members returned to the U.S. by charter flight, landing at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland just before 1 a.m. ET.

A waiting crowd cheered, whistled and applauded as the crewmen climbed down a ramp from their plane to hugs and kisses.

One crewman, carrying a child toward the terminal, shouted, "I'm happy to see my family." Another exclaimed, "God bless America."

A banner with yellow ribbons, reading "Welcome Home Maersk Alabama," was put up by shipping company employees near the runway.

Crew member Zahid Reza of West Hartford, Conn., said the pirates climbed aboard the Alabama using ropes and, wielding AK-47s and pistols, threatened several times to shoot him.

The unarmed crew thwarted the hijackers and the pirates fled to a lifeboat with Phillips as a hostage.

With files from the Associated Press