Richard Phillips (merchant mariner)

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Richard Phillips
Born (1955-05-16) 16 May 1955 (age 65)
Alma materMassachusetts Maritime Academy
OccupationMerchant mariner
Spouse(s)Andrea Phillips

Richard Phillips (born May 16, 1955)[1] is an American merchant mariner and author who served as captain of the MV Maersk Alabama during its hijacking by Somali pirates in April 2009.

Early life and education[edit]

Of Irish descent, Phillips was born in Massachusetts,[2] and graduated from Winchester High School in 1973.[3] Phillips enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and planned to study international law but transferred to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, from which he graduated in 1979.[4] During his schooling, Phillips worked as a taxi driver in Boston.[5]


Maersk Alabama hijacking[edit]

On April 7, 2009, the U.S. Maritime Administration, following NATO advisories, released a Somalia Gulf of Aden "advisory to mariners" recommending ships to stay at least 600 nautical miles (1,100 km; 690 mi) off Somalia's coast of east Africa. With these advisories in effect, on April 8, 2009, four Somali pirates boarded the Maersk Alabama when it was located around 300 nmi (560 km) southeast of the Somalian port city of Eyl.[6] With a crew of 20, the ship departed from Salalah, Oman en route to Mombasa, Kenya. The ship was carrying 17,000 metric tons of cargo, of which 5,000 metric tons were relief supplies bound for Kenya, Somalia, and Uganda. "In that area of the world, any blip on your radar is of concern," said Phillips, "I always told my crew it was a matter of when, not if."[7][8][9]

The 28-foot lifeboat where Phillips and the four Somali pirates were held up as seen from a US Navy Boeing ScanEagle UAV.

According to Chief Engineer Mike Perry, the crew sank the pirate speedboat shortly after the boarding by continuously swinging the rudder of the Maersk Alabama, thus swamping the smaller boat.[10] As the pirates were boarding the ship, the crew members locked themselves in the engine room.[11] The crew later overpowered one of the pirates.[11] The crew attempted to exchange the captured pirate, whom they had kept tied up for twelve hours,[12] for Phillips. According to a crew member, Phillips and the pirates got into the ship's rescue boat, but it would not start, so the crew dropped a lifeboat and met the pirates to switch prisoners and boats.[10] The captured pirate was released, but the pirates left with Phillips[13] in the lifeboat before the crew could take action. The lifeboat was carrying ten days of food rations, water, and basic survival supplies.[13]

On April 8, the destroyer USS Bainbridge and the frigate USS Halyburton were dispatched to the Gulf of Aden in response to the hostage situation, and reached Maersk Alabama early on April 9.[14] Maersk Alabama then departed from the area with an armed escort, towards its original destination of the port of Mombasa. On Saturday, April 11, Maersk Alabama arrived in Mombasa, still under U.S. military escort. Captain Larry Aasheim then assumed command. Aasheim had previously been captain of the Maersk Alabama until Richard Phillips relieved him eight days prior to the pirate attack. An 18-man marine security team was on board.[14] The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation secured the ship as a crime scene.[15]

Capt. Phillips was held captive in the lifeboat by suspected Somali pirates for five days.

On April 9, a standoff began between the Bainbridge and the pirates in the Maersk Alabamas lifeboat, where they continued to hold Phillips hostage.[16] [17] Three days later, on Sunday, April 12, U.S. Navy marksmen from DEVGRU (formerly known as SEAL Team Six) opened fire and killed the three pirates on the lifeboat, and Phillips was rescued.[18][19] The Bainbridge captain Commander Frank Castellano ordered the action after determining that Phillips' life was in immediate danger, based on reports that a pirate was pointing an AK-47 automatic rifle at his back.[20][21][22] Navy SEAL snipers on Bainbridge's fantail opened fire, killing the three pirates with bullets to the head;[23] one of the pirates was named Ali Aden Elmi, another's last name was Hamac, and the third remains unidentified.[24] A fourth pirate, Abduwali Muse, aboard the Bainbridge and speaking with military negotiators while being treated for an injury sustained in the takeover of Maersk Alabama, surrendered and was taken into custody.[18][19] He later pleaded guilty to hijacking, kidnapping and hostage-taking charges and was sentenced to over 33 years in prison.[24][25]


Phillips publicly thanks sailors for his dramatic rescue at sea.

Following the hijacking, Phillips published A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea. Columbia Pictures optioned the book and acquired the film rights in spring 2010.[26] In March 2011, it was announced that Tom Hanks would star as Phillips, Barkhad Abdi as Abduwali Muse and Faysal Ahmed as Najee in a Sony Pictures film based on the hijacking and Phillips' book,[27] scripted by Billy Ray, and produced by the team behind The Social Network.[26]

The film, titled Captain Phillips, was released on October 11, 2013[28][29] and had its premiere showing at the 2013 New York Film Festival.[30]

In an interview on the set of Captain Phillips for New York Daily News, Phillips describes his devotion to his crew, his feeling of success as a captain and his eagerness to get back to sea. "My crew were now safe, because the pirates lost their ladder and boat when they boarded the Maersk Alabama, so they couldn't get back onboard," says Phillips. "For me it was really a relief—my crew and ship were safe." Phillips also added, "I never lost hope for myself, but I didn't see a good ending coming out of it." Phillips commented in his interview that the rendition of the events is accurate, adding, "When I met him [Tom Hanks] I told him if he's going to play me he's going to have to put on a little weight and get a little better-looking and he did neither."[31]

Since the release of Captain Phillips, there has been controversy over its portrayal of Phillips, with several crew members claiming that he was not the hero presented in the film, according to lawsuits filed by more than half of the crew of the Maersk Alabama. The crew members claim Phillips was at least partly at fault for an "insistence on being fast and making money ... [getting] the Alabama within 250 miles of the Somali coast..."[32][33]

Phillips told CNN's Drew Griffin in 2010 and in a court deposition in 2013 that he ignored the numerous warnings that urged him to go farther out to sea. When asked in 2013 why he decided not to take the ship farther offshore, Phillips testified, "I don't believe 600 miles would make you safe. I didn't believe 1,200 miles would make you safe. As I told the crew, it would be a matter of when, not if ... We were always in this area."[32]

Phillips returned to sea fourteen months after the pirate attack,[34] sailing as Master of the vehicle carrier M/V Green Bay until his retirement was announced by the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots in October 2014.[citation needed]


  • Richard. Phillips; Stephan Talty (6 April 2010). A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea. Hyperion. ISBN 978-1-4013-9511-7.


  1. ^ Captain Phillips (2013)
  2. ^ "Resolution Praising Captain Richard Phillips Of Vermont Passes". Retrieved 2013-09-03.
  3. ^ "Friends Describe Hostage Captain as Seaman's Seaman With Keen Sense of Humor". Retrieved 2013-09-03.
  4. ^ Kennedy, Helen (9 April 2009). "Who is Richard Phillips? Captain of the Maersk Alabama and a hero on the high seas". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2013-09-03.
  5. ^ "Profile: Captain Richard Phillips". Retrieved 2013-09-03.
  6. ^ Sanders, Edmund; Barnes, Julian E. (April 9, 2009). "Somalia pirates hold U.S. captain". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 12, 2009.
  7. ^ "In that area of the world, any blip on your radar is of concern," said Phillips. "I always told my crew it was a matter of when, not if."
  8. ^ "Somali pirates hijack Danish ship". BBC news. 2009-04-08. Retrieved 2009-04-08.
  9. ^ "Ship carrying 20 Americans believed hijacked off Somalia". CNN. 2009-04-09. Retrieved 2009-04-09.
  10. ^ a b "Crewman's e-mail gives harrowing details of hijacking". CNN. April 20, 2009. Retrieved 6 July 2010.
  11. ^ a b "American Captain 'Unharmed' in Lifeboat - ABC News". 2009-04-09. Retrieved 2012-06-19.
  12. ^ "Africa | FBI in hostage talks with Somalis". BBC News. 2009-04-09. Retrieved 2009-04-09. According to second mate Ken Quinn, the crew managed to capture one of the pirates and keep him tied up for 12 hours
  13. ^ a b "Cargo ship heads for Kenya". CNN. 2009-04-08. Retrieved 2009-04-09.
  14. ^ a b "U.S. Warship Shadows Somali Pirates With Hostage". Associated Press. April 9, 2009. Archived from the original on April 14, 2009. Retrieved April 12, 2009.
  15. ^ "WRAPUP 10-U.S. Navy rescues captain, kills Somali pirates". Reuters. April 12, 2009.
  16. ^ Mohamed Olad Hassan; Mohamed Sheikh Nor; Pauline Jelinek; Anne Gearan; Matt Apuzzo; Elizabeth Kennedy; Ray Henry; John Curran; Brian Skoloff; Christine Armario; Larry O'Dell (April 10, 2009). "Pirates recapture U.S. hostage after escape attempt". Journal Star. Associated Press. Retrieved 2013-10-21.
  17. ^ "Pirates Hold American Captain Hostage; Negotiations Continue for Release". The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. April 9, 2009. Retrieved April 12, 2009.
  18. ^ a b Verjee, Zain; Starr, Barbara (April 12, 2009). "Captain jumps overboard, SEALs shoot pirates, official says". CNN. Retrieved April 12, 2009.
  19. ^ a b "US captain held by pirates freed". BBC News. April 12, 2009. Retrieved April 14, 2009.
  20. ^ "Official: US sea captain faced imminent danger". Associated Press. April 12, 2009. Retrieved April 12, 2009.
  21. ^ Mikkelsen, Randall (April 12, 2009). "US acted after pirates aimed at ship captain". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2009-04-14. Retrieved April 12, 2009.
  22. ^ "US captain rescued from pirates". BBC News. April 13, 2009. Retrieved April 13, 2009.
  23. ^ Hostage captain rescued; Navy snipers kill 3 pirates CNN, April 12, 2009
  24. ^ a b Hassan, Abdiqani (2009-04-22). "Somali Pirate Families Ask for U.S. Pardon". Reuters. Retrieved 22 April 2009.
  25. ^ "Somali pirate sentenced to 33 years in US prison". BBC News. 16 February 2011. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  26. ^ a b Kit, Borys. "Tom Hanks to Play Capt. Richard Phillips in Somali Pirate Hostage Story", Hollywood Reporter, March 15, 2011.
  27. ^ Lord Paluzzi, Jennifer. "Wanted: Farmhouse Suitable for Tom Hanks". The Westborough Daily Voice. Archived from the original on 2013-10-13. Retrieved July 19, 2012.
  28. ^ Annas, Teresa (June 16, 2012). "'Captain Phillips' filming details kept under wraps". The Virginian-Pilot. Norfolk, Va. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
  29. ^ "Captain Phillips Trailer, News, Videos, and Reviews". Retrieved July 26, 2013.
  30. ^ "Paul Greengrass film to open New York Film Festival". BBC News. August 1, 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  31. ^ Ethan Sacks (October 5, 2013). "Real 'Captain Phillips' met Tom Hanks, joked he had to get 'better-looking' to play him". New York Daily News. Retrieved October 27, 2013.
  32. ^ a b Paul M. Barrett (October 11, 2013). "Hero of Captain Phillips Movie Portrayed as Villain in Lawsuit". Bloomberg Business Week. Retrieved April 7, 2015.
  33. ^ Reference to Capt. Phillips, "Major News Stories That Forgot To Tell You Best Part",; accessed April 8, 2015.
  34. ^ Logan, Nick (October 12, 2013). "Capt. Richard Phillips still sailing seas after 2009 pirate attack". Global News. Retrieved November 18, 2013.

External links[edit]