Captain Richard Phillips and the Pirates
“I’ve always had a thing against bullies. People picking on others because they can … Tenacity, I’d guess you could call it. I just wasn’t going to give up. That was my thing, just from playing sports. Even though you’re losing. You ain’t going to give up. You’re still going to fight. And if you lose, you lose. In sports, you get to play again. In this, I wouldn’t. I was going to play the best game I could in this lifeboat. Don’t give up, don’t give in to it, no matter how hopeless. I truly believe nothing is really lost until you’ve given up, and then it’s lost.
“I had a chance to settle my affairs, getting ready to die. I was just saying goodbye to Andrea and [to] Mariah and Danny [his children]. I was just apologizing for the 4 a.m. phone call [saying I was dead] … I was thinking about people who had died: my father, and a neighbor who had died just before I left. I said, ‘I’ll get to see them, and Frannie, my nutcase dog who never came when I called the whole time she was alive.’ And then I would think about my daughter and my son. It still gets to me. I can hear it in my voice. I did pray for strength so that I could know when to try to escape. So that I wouldn’t be too weak when it was time. I always felt there would be a time; that’s what I prayed for, and to give me patience.”
The Navy destroyer Bainbridge moved into position several hundred yards distant early on Thursday. Phillips waited for a chance to escape.
“I’d been on there for over 24 hours. I was in an enclosed lifeboat with no ventilation. The heat was second only to having a gun right in your face or hearing it click behind your head. Because I live in Vermont, the heat was unbearable … They had two guys with AK-47s on me all the time. The forward guy would be sleeping or awake, and the last guy, usually the leader, would be up in the cockpit. I couldn’t wait them out. I had to outwit them. I knew I had to get away before I got to land.
“One of the guys walked forward, and he lay down. Now there were two people snoring up there, and the young guy steps out for a call of nature. I’m mad at myself because I’m a wimp for not escaping yet. I’m not tied up, and I could see [the Navy ship] out the back door. So I got up and pushed him in the water, and I had a chance to go for the gun, but I didn’t know how to use it, so I just dove in. It was just my chance …
“I got probably 50 feet. I popped up and took a look around. The moon was fully out, and it was very light. I said, ‘Oh s—,’ because they’d see my head. I went right back down. I could see them spinning around and yelling, and they were seeing me, and I started doing the crawl toward the Navy ship as fast as I could …”
The pirates moved to where Phillips was swimming. He tried to hide beneath the boat.
“I went back underwater and [the pirates and the lifeboat] are doing circles, and I went from going side to side up and down in the water to listening to footsteps. I was underneath the boat [holding on] by the cooling tubes … I could hear talking, yelling, and arguing, people running around the boat, so when I heard them coming, I’d go to the other side, and I’d hear them come [and] go back to the other side … I was hoping they’d give up. Eventually I popped up, and there was a guy right there, and he took a shot at my head and I said, ‘Okay, okay, you got me.’ They were irate, screaming, swearing. They kicked, hit, slapped, whacked me with the revolver …”
As the hours stretched into days, tensions aboard the lifeboat intensified. The pirates’ leader, sensing impending trouble, arranged to be taken aboard the Bainbridge “to negotiate.” President Obama had authorized the Navy to use whatever force necessary to free Phillips if his life was in imminent danger. On Sunday, April 12, a gunshot rang out in the lifeboat. The Navy saw an AK-47 aimed at the captain’s back. Three concealed Navy SEAL snipers were ready.
“There was animosity building [among the pirates]. Then a shot went off, and the young crazy guy went up to the cockpit, just disgusted, and the other two went up to assure the Navy that everything was all right, no problem. They did something then that they’d never done. And that was the first time, unbeknownst to one another, [that] all of a sudden they were all seen. The military took its chance and gratefully so … I was lucky. I could have died. But I’m alive. So I’m ahead of the game …
“When I came [aboard] the Bainbridge, the men and women on the ship tried to tell me how much of a media maelstrom it was and the eyes that were on it throughout the world, and I couldn’t believe it. Because I can remember just sitting in the lifeboat, saying, ‘I’m in trouble, Rich. I’m in the middle of nowhere with four pirates. I’m in a tough spot. How am I gonna get out of this one? And who knows I’m here?’ So I was just ambushed by [the media attention]. I just couldn’t believe it … It was as surreal being at home as it was on the lifeboat, to be honest. I tell people this, and I really mean it: I think Andrea had it worse with the media than I did with the four pirates. I mean, I knew what I was dealing with.
“I was asked a few days ago, ‘Do you wish it had never happened?’ Two months after the incident, it was ‘Okay, I’m not gonna wish it didn’t happen,’ but now, [eight] months later, yeah, I wish it had never happened. I’d be fine just keeping on the way I was. But you don’t get to make that choice …
“I stopped answering the phone. Because it would just ring from 6 in the morning until 10 o’clock at night. I’m just getting over that. A month and a half into it, [Andrea and I] had this conversation up on our bed: ‘We can just walk away; we don’t have to do anything anyone says. No one tells us what to do.’ Andrea and I got together [and decided], ‘We can’t do everything. Let’s do things we like to do. Let’s do things that can help people. Let’s do things locally.’ … So that was our criterion. And we got to the point that I said, ‘Hey, if we’re feeling this bad about this, let’s just walk away from everything. Let’s just go back to work. No book. No movie. And refuse everything …’
“A SEAL gave me this advice. He said, ‘When you get home for the first month, don’t make a decision … Then take advantage of your opportunities. Pay for your kids’ college. Pay your mortgage. You went through a tough time. Get something out of it.’ … I know it’s a good story. And we don’t have a lot of good stories out there …
“I honestly thought I’d be back to work two weeks after I got off the lifeboat. I really don’t know [my future]. And that’s the most unsettling thing for me, because before, it was just the known, and now it’s a lot of unknowns, and that’s what is different for me. Where will I end up going from here? If it’s back to sea, I have no problem with that.