Captain Richard Phillips and the Pirates
“Once they got aboard, they were very quick up to the bridge. So me and two of my crew were taken hostage up on the bridge. I knew where [my] men were, because when the pirates were boarding and shooting, they were going from the initial safe room to a backup safe room. [The pirates] wanted me to call everyone else up, but I didn’t give a secret word, so no one paid attention to me. I was also able to cue my mike to let them hear what was going on up on the bridge.
“The pirates went through the rooms a couple of times … and they just couldn’t find anybody. They told us they would shoot us in two minutes unless everybody was up there. And I was prepared for that … But I saw nothing to be gained from my side to give my crew up. Once they get the crew up there, they could just shoot all of us. It’s for the safety of the many against the hazards of the few. And that’s something I knew and accepted … A captain’s duty is to take care of your ship, your crew, and your cargo. Everything derives from this.”
The pirates lost their leader when he was captured by Phillips’s men as he was searching for the ship’s crew. With the crew hidden, the Maersk Alabama shut down by its engineers, and the Somalis’ own high-speed skiff swamped by waves, the three other pirates looked for a way to extricate themselves. Phillips helped them see the advantages of leaving the ship with him. They agreed that they would exchange him for their leader. Once they were all safe in the enclosed lifeboat, however, the pirates said no deal, and Phillips became their hostage.
“I’d been taught that the captain has to be the last one off the ship, but in my situation I knew that the best thing for my ship was for me to get off the ship and take the pirates with me, even though that goes against all the training I’ve ever had … I told the chief engineer, ‘You have the boat ready to go as soon as they’re in the water. Leave me. Don’t worry about it.’ Because my concern at that time was other pirates …
“I told the pirates that they wouldn’t get any ransom for me; I told them we’d [all] die here. And I didn’t expect any ransom to take place, because that’s pretty much the way we are. If you pay the ransom, basically for every dollar you pay, you’ve just enlisted three pirates. I was just their shield, and I saw that they had no qualms about killing me. No qualms at all … I was afraid and fearful for the majority of the time, but I just had to sit that down in the seat next to me and just take care of what’s ahead, and deal with what’s right now, what’s five minutes away, and not worry about tomorrow … You’ve got to hold fast–don’t give in.
“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 …