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A Conversation With The Real Captain Phillips

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

This week, “Captain Phillips” opens in theaters. The film tells the story of Captain Richard Phillips, whose cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama, was hijacked by pirates off the Somali coast in 2009.

Captain Phillips was held hostage by the pirates until he was rescued by Navy SEALs. In the new film, Tom Hanks plays Phillips.

Captain Phillips tells Here & Nows Robin Young that Tom Hanks did visit him to prepare for the role.

“I told him if he was going to play me, he’d have to put on a little weight and get a little better looking and he did neither, so he didn’t do anything I told him to,” he joked.

Interview Highlights: Richard Phillips

On what it was like to be taken by pirates

“It was a very scary time as they got closer and closer and as we turned on our fire hoses and started shooting flares and mustard and getting ready to get in the safe room. And then when they started shooting that escalated it up and of course we were all fearful. And then when they were, indeed, successful in getting that ladder and getting the first pirate aboard, it was the very start of a 12-hour slippery slope on the ship of stress cat-and-mouse and really hide-and-seek.”

On his relationship with the pirates

“We were always on an adversarial relationship. We would communicate; there was actually a couple of times there was a chuckle or two, but at no time — they made it patently clear and I made it clear that we were on different teams, we were adversaries. When you have a guy across the seat from you within four or five foot of you with a gun and he likes to pull the trigger and smile at you, that was the young pirate with what I call the ‘wild, Charlie Manson eyes,’ there’s not too many ways you can think this guy is your friend and you can align with them.”

On his choice to go back to sea

“I went back, I believe about 14 months later. I think it was June 2010. I’ve been sailing in the MM&P, the International Order of Masters, Mates & Pilots for 34 years now, so that is my normal. Again, there was no fear. Piracy is part of it — I also have to deal with fires, emergency medical situations, storms, catastrophes, oil spills, collisions. It’s just part of the challenging job of going to sea.”


  • Richard Phillips, former captain of the Maersk Alabama, held hostage by Somali pirates in 2009.
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