My story, by the REAL Captain Phillips: It's the movie stunning audiences with it's thrilling account of a high-seas hijack but can the Tom Hanks hit be true to life?
- Container ship Maersk Alabama boarded by pirates in the Persian Gulf
- American sea captain Richard Phillips was held hostage for five days
- His ordeal ended in a dramatic rescue by U.S Navy SEALS
- His incredible courage has inspired a new film starring Tom Hanks
By Captain Richard Phillips
PUBLISHED: 16:08 EST, 26 October 2013 | UPDATED: 16:08 EST, 26 October 2013
From out of the darkness, I heard chanting. From the cockpit, the Leader called out something in a droning voice and the other three – Tall Guy, Musso, and the crazy-eyed Young Guy – answered.
It was obviously some kind of religious ceremony. A few hours ago, these guys had been laughing and telling jokes.
‘What are you going to do now, kill me?’ I yelled up to the Leader. I could hear him laugh – I saw the flash of his teeth – and then he coughed and spat. I could hear the splashing of the waves again.
‘You have a family?’ The Leader’s voice was mocking, self-assured. ‘Yeah, I have a family,’ I said. I realised with a feeling of panic that I hadn’t said goodbye to them.
Ordeal: The aftermath of the real attack as U.S. Navy staff reclaim the hijacked lifeboat
‘I have a son, a daughter, and a wife.’ Silence. I heard some rustling up near the cockpit. Then the Leader spoke again: ‘That’s too bad.’
It’s a weird feeling, watching yourself being prepared to die. I felt a jolt of anger. These guys were not going to take me away from my family, from everything and everyone I loved.
I saw the Leader hand his pistol to Tall Guy, who came walking down the aisle toward me. So he’d been chosen to do it. He checked the 9mm clip, slammed it back in, and then played with the gun. It was like he was toying with me.
The Young Guy came over and grabbed my feet while Musso started tugging hard on my arms. They were trying to get me in the right position, I guess, for a clean killing. But I resisted.
Hollywood's take: Tom Hanks emerges from the lifeboat in a scene from the new film
Hostage: Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips is pushed into a lifeboat by a gun-toting pirate in a scene from the film
The Leader was shouting. No goddamn
way, I said to myself. I’m not going to be your fatted calf. Musso was
getting exasperated, his nostrils flaring.
sweat was popping off his face, and I started enjoying it – this
badass Somali pirate with the automatic weapon couldn’t get me to do his
We came face to face. ‘You’ll never do it,’ I whispered to him.
Nine days earlier I had settled aboard the Maersk Alabama as captain. And, as soon as I did, we started getting bulletins about pirates: mysterious blips seen on radar, gun battles, the works.
A great deal of the action was taking place around the Somali coast and in the Gulf of Aden, and this was exactly where we were headed.
Actor Tom Hanks and the real Captain Richard Phillips attends the world premiere in New York last month
We had to sail into Djibouti, unload our cargo and get back out before the bad guys could get a bead on us.
I was asleep on my bunk when the phone rang. It was the second mate, Ken. ‘Cap, I think you better get up here. Somali pirates,’ he said. ‘They’re talking on the radio.’
I hurried to the bridge and was about
to say something when I heard a voice. ‘This is Somali pirate,’ it
said. ‘I’m coming to get you.’ It was spooky.
was a boat about seven miles away on our starboard, its lights blazing
like a typical fishing boat. But I looked closer through the binoculars
and could see that it had a second boat tied to its stern.
For 30 minutes, I kept an eye on the mystery ship. It didn’t attempt to follow us. Strange.
I went back to my room and collapsed into bed. There was another call. ‘Boat approaching, 3.1 miles out, astern.’
it was, a white skiff, maybe 40ft long, with a powerful outboard
engine. The seas were calm. I ordered the alarm to be sounded that told
every man on the ship to head to his muster point.
looked down over the stern and saw the spray from our ‘pirate hoses’
shooting out water. At 100lb of pressure per square inch, that stream
would knock a man down.
I called into the radio, ‘Switch to Channel One,’ our emergency band.
The third mate, Colin, started issuing orders. ‘Get the fire pump going, hit the lights, tell the bosun to bring his men in.’
I pointed to the pyrotechnic box. ‘Get ready to start shooting those flares,’ I called. ‘Fire when they get within a mile. Aim directly at them.’
Now I could see the top half of the men standing in the pirate boat, rocking with the bouncing of the vessel.
Rescue: Captain Phillips, right, with Commander Frank Castellano of the USS Bainbridge
Colin called the UK Maritime Trade
Organisation (the Royal Navy task force in the area), leaving the phone
line open so they could monitor what was happening. I ran over to the
secret security alarm, and pressed it to raise the alert.
came the sound of automatic fire. I could see the muzzle flashes from
the pirate boat. They were strafing the ship from a quarter mile away.
I heard the slap, slam, of bullets ricocheting off the smokestack. Now just 150ft away, the pirates revved the motor and came around behind to our port side, still shooting.
The AK-47 makes a distinctive sound, a fast, deep tat-tat-tat-tat.
I grabbed a few flares and started shooting them down. I ducked down
and then popped right back up, spotting one Somali sitting in the boat
cross-legged, firing up at me.
I could actually see his face, concentrating hard, trying to get a bead.
A captured Somali pirate is held in custody by U.S. officials
the pirates needed to do was put their skiff parallel to our ship, toss
a rope with grappling hooks on our deck, then shimmy up. I looked down
at the water and couldn’t believe what I saw. The pirates were lifting
this beautiful long white ladder into the air. It looked like something
you’d get at a department store.
five seconds, a head popped up over the side, followed by a body
jumping quickly to the deck. It was the guy I would come to know as the
Leader. Goddamn it, I thought.
Somali didn’t have a weapon in his hand, but he was bringing up a white
bucket on a yellow line. That’s where his gun would be. Right behind
the bucket was a second pirate. We were sliding down a slippery slope
saw a shadow in the corner of my eye. I turned. The first pirate was
outside the bridge door now, firing a battered AK-47 into the air.
‘Relax, Captain, relax,’ the pirate yelled at me. His face was tense.
‘Business, just business. Stop the ship.’
there were only four pirates – and while Captain Phillips was taken
hostage, so was the leader of the Somali raiding party who was held by
the rest of the Maersk Alabama crew in another part of the ship. A
radio crackled. ‘We have your buddy.’ It was the voice of Mike Perry,
the chief engineer. ‘You there, pirates? We have your buddy and will
trade him for the captain.’
This sparked a round of intense dialogue in Somali. The pirate I came to know as Tall Guy looked at me.
‘We need money. We can’t leave without money.’
nodded. ‘I have $30,000 in my room. You can have it if you leave the
ship.’ They weren’t impressed. They were looking for a few million, not
30 grand. But a deal was coming into focus.
went to my safe, spun the dial, pulled out the $30,000, and handed it
to the one called Musso. He and Tall Guy counted the money and nodded.
the while, the pirates were talking on the radio with Mike. They agreed
that the crew would give up the Leader, and the pirates would hand me
over at the same time.
they had a problem – their own skiff had been destroyed by my crew, and
their only means of escape was one of our lifeboats, an enclosed craft,
bright orange, about 10ft high and 25ft long.
Raid: Crew members of the Maersk Alabama try to repel the pirates by spraying water in a recreation of the real events
Somali pirates burst into the bridge of the Maersk Alabama in a scene from the new film
I would get into the life boat with the pirates – and climb back on
board the Maersk Alabama once the exchange of hostages was complete.
We launched the lifeboat, transferred fuel and supplies and eventually I saw two crew men escorting the Leader along the deck.
‘Let him come down and when I get a chance I’ll come back up,’ I said. We came alongside, bumped up along the ship.
I saw him descending the ladder down the side of the ship and then he jumped the last bit.
‘Pirate aboard,’ I radioed. I was grinning. I’d done my duty as a captain. Now all I had to do was save myself.
Leader took the wheel of the lifeboat, turned it away from the Maersk
Alabama and pushed up the speed. ‘What about the deal?’ I said, shocked.
‘No deal,’ the Leader said.
By now, the American destroyer USS Bainbridge had arrived at the scene, but Captain Phillips’s ordeal was not over.
tense stand-off began between the pirates and Bainbridge, and Captain
Phillips soon realised his life was in very real danger. He tried to
escape by swimming half a mile to the Maersk Alabama – but failed...
the fifth day of captivity, the heat had become unbearable. It was 2am
and the deck was too hot to stand on. My ribs and arms were aching from
the beating the pirates had given me, furious that their million-dollar
American hostage had almost got away.
I’d almost made it. If the moon hadn’t been so bright, the pirates would never have spotted me.
could see the lights of a navy ship about half a mile astern. It
appeared to be a destroyer, which meant they had enough firepower to
blow a thousand pirate ships back to Mogadishu.
Why hadn’t they done anything? The whole atmosphere in the boat changed. Nobody said a word.
when someone has a loaded AK-47 pointed at your face, you get to know
his mood really well, believe me. If he’s happy or annoyed, if his nose
itches, whatever. You know.
pirates trussed me up like a deer in the middle of the lifeboat, the
ropes pulled so tight I lost sensation in less than a minute.
hands were starting to swell up like a pair of clown gloves. I could
hear the creaking of the boat and the slap of waves against the
could catch glimpses of what was going on, but mostly it was what I
heard. The first thing was a click. The Leader was pulling the trigger
of his 9mm. I felt a cold sensation creep across my chest.
Musso finally let go of my arms and whacked me in the face.
was an explosion near my left ear. My whole body went slack. I felt
blood spurting out between my fingers and running down my face. Holy
s**t, he really did it, I thought. He shot me.
My vision was blurred but I looked up at the vertical and horizontal green struts on the bulkhead wall. It looked like cross.
Then I heard Musso. ‘Don’t do it!’ he shouted. ‘No, no!’ I looked up. I took a deep breath.
I didn’t know if I’d dodged a bullet or what had just happened. I really should have told the pirates: I’m too stubborn to die that easily. You’re just going to have to try harder. Then shots rang out.
Bang-bangbang-bang-bang-bang. What now? I thought. What just happened?
I thought the pirates were shooting one another, and I was caught in the crossfire. They’d been arguing and it had escalated to gunfire.
And now, after days of heat, punishment, and threats, there was complete silence.
‘Are you OK?’ It was a male voice, American.
‘I’m fine,’ I said. ‘But who are you?,’ I looked up. Young Guy had fallen from his perch in the cockpit and his face was a foot from mine. His eyes were wide open and he was struggling for air.
Then I saw the outline of a figure in front of me. He was dressed in dark clothes. That’s all that registered.
It was a US Navy SEAL, I later learned. He checked the pirates. They were dead now.
The door was ripped open and another burly SEAL burst in. Behind him I saw the enormous bulk of the destroyer USS Bainbridge looming above us. I felt like I could reach out and touch it.
I thought, My God, it’s over. I made it. I’m out of there. I’m alive.
- Abridged extract from A Captain’s Duty by Captain Richard Phillips, published by Bantam, priced £6.99. To order your copy with free p&p, call the Mail Book Shop on 0844 472 4157 or go to mailbookshop.co.uk.
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