Captain Richard Phillips said one thing he learned when Somali pirates hijacked his boat is that nothing is lost until you give up or quit.
On Tuesday, Phillips addressed a room of over 150 people in the Timothy Dwight Master’s house, recounting how he was taken hostage after Somali pirates hijacked his boat on his journey from Oman to Kenya in April 2009. Phillips, a merchant mariner whose story garnered worldwide media attention five years ago, also talked about the recently released movie — “Captain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks — that chronicles his experience with the pirates.
“It was hard. I was nervous. I was scared during the whole incident… but enough about my wedding day,” Phillips joked.
Throughout the talk, Phillips maintained a lighthearted, humorous attitude.
Phillips began his tale with a description of his initial impression of the security on the cargo ship, which he said had seemed lax by his standards.
He said he ran security drills with his team — some of whom had never been taught what to do in the event of an attack — in order to prepare them for whatever type of security threat they could face.
“That sense of feeling satisfied is always right before you have to face some sort of surprise or situation you didn’t even know you had,” Phillips said.
The night before the attack, Phillips said his second mate called him up to the bridge, having heard something eerie on the radio — a garbled voice repeating the words “Somali pirates — coming to get you.”
What ensued was 24 hours of stress, sweat, and tension, Phillips said.
Around four hours after they heard the radio message, four Somali pirates armed with AK-47s boarded the ship, demanding to see the cargo and crew, Phillips said.
Phillips ordered the majority of the crew down to a safe room where the pirates could not find them and stayed put on the deck with just four other members of the crew. They were able to convince the pirates that the boat was broken rather than just powered down so that the pirates did not take off with the boat. After the pirates took one of the crewmembers hostage, Phillip’s crew took the pirate leader hostage.
Though the two parties eventually traded hostages, Phillips said the agreement required him to get into a lifeboat with the four Somali men.
At that point, Phillips said, “I felt like 99 percent of my problems were solved — my ship and crew were safe — I just had to get myself out of the lifeboat.”
Phillips spent the next three days on that lifeboat with the four other men, subjected to beatings, verbal harassment and starvation. On the third day, an operation orchestrated by US Navy SEALs brought Phillips to safety.
Reflecting on the saga, Phillips said he learned that he could exceed his own expectations for himself, and also to “never trust a pirate.”
Phillips’wife, Andrea, who was present at the talk, was teary-eyed as she told the audience how she had turned on the television on Easter morning to see the words “Captain Phillips saved” at the ticker on the bottom of the screen.
Andrea Phillips added that coping with the media coverage took a significant toll on her family.
“He had to deal with four Somali pirates… Well I had to deal with the media!” she joked.
Andrew Torano ’16, a member of ROTC who attended the talk, said he was surprised how much of the story had not been told in the movie.
Karina Kovalick ’17 said she was surprised how unfazed and humorous Phillips seemed about the whole situation. It was inspiring to hear someone who has been through such a harrowing experience telling the audience “you can do it,” she said.
Chase Skoda ’17, another member of ROTC who attended the talk, said it was interesting to see the perspective of someone who went through a major historical event in his lifetime.
Skoda added that while this event drew a lot of national attention, Navy SEALs often deal with crises like these that are not as well documented.
“Being a captain of a ship is a bigger deal that some people understand,” Skoda said.
In 2010, Phillips published a book about the hijacking called “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea.”