Capt. Richard Phillips is possibly the most famous boat captain in the world -- though he says he'd prefer not to be.
Somali pirates took Phillips hostage in a 2009 ship hijacking, and he become a media sensation back home as he floated about in a covered lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. His ordeal was headline news right up until Navy SEALs shot the pirates and rescued the captain.
It had all the makings of a Hollywood movie. And it will be. Tom Hanks will star in the film based on Phillips' book, "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs and Dangerous Days at Sea."
Phillips will speak March 3 at Hilton Head Island High School Visual and Performing Arts Center. He occasionally gives talks like this to schoolkids or for charity benefits. His message is simple: "We're stronger than we think we are."
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A crew of 20 were onboard the Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship that Phillips has described as being like a skyscraper laid flat on the ocean. The ship carried 17,000 metric tons of cargo on its way along the African coast, a stretch known as a hotbed for piracy. On April 8, the crew was en route to Kenya, when a pirate skiff approached. Despite the crew's evasive maneuvers, the pirates were able to climb aboard using a ladder.
Most of the crew members locked themselves inside a room onboard, cutting off control to the engines. The pirates had no way to take over the ship, so they took Phillips hostage. A crew member captured one of the pirates, and an attempted negotiation was held: The pirate for the captain. The pirate was released, but his comrades didn't hold up their end of the bargain. The pirate's skiff sunk during the boarding, so they fled in a lifeboat -- with Phillips in tow.
The pirates escaped with food rations, but the lifeboat had no toilet, and ventilation was poor. The heat was oppressive. Phillips attempted to escape the second night, jumping overboard in hopes of reaching the USS Bainbridge, which had been sent in to negotiate for his release. But he didn't make it and was beaten by the pirates when he got back on board.
As he's said before, though, "My sister Patty hits harder."
On Easter Sunday, four days after the ordeal began, the pirates made a mistake. With a fourth pirate onboard the Bainbridge to negotiate a ransom, the other three began to argue. They stood in a group, away from Phillips.
Navy SEAL sharpshooters on the Bainbridge killed the pirates in a simultaneous volley of three shots. Phillips was rescued. He was worn down but relatively unharmed.
Sailing home, he figured the situation was behind him. He thought he'd take some time off and go back to sea.
"It just didn't dawn on me that so many people would be interested in this," he said.
He decided to write the book as a catharsis and to draw more attention to the dangers posted by high-seas pirates, showcasing the role that U.S. Merchant Marines such as himself serve in both war and peacetime.
The book, written with co-author Stephen Talty, became a best-seller but it didn't sit well with some of the crew.
A.T.M. "Zahid" Reza and several other crew members have criticized the book, saying it's self-serving and inaccurate. Phillips has admitted he incorrectly referred to Reza as "A.T.M. Mohammed" in the book. They say Phillips ignored warnings about avoiding the area because of pirates and didn't take proper security precautions. Phillips maintains he did everything he could to keep the crew safe.
"It's their view," he said. "Except for the name, everything I put in there is accurate."
He recognizes now that the story has appeal, but said he didn't write the book for the money or a fame grab. He still plans to sail, going out to sea for three months with another three off. Mostly, he'd like to take time off to spend with family back home in Vermont.
He won't have too big of a role in the development of the movie. Producers have called to ask questions and clarify certain points. He just hopes the film sticks to the story and doesn't overly glamorize what happened.
And he's pleased with the pick of Hanks as the lead.
"He may have to put on a few pounds to play me, but he'll have to get a bit better-looking."