Richard Phillips (left), who was captain of the Maersk Alabama when it was hijacked by Somali pirates in April 2009, is played by Tom Hanks (right) in the Paul Greengrass-directed film “Captain Phillips.” Phillips, who was born in Winchester and lived in Boston, now lives in Underhill, Vt. Here is a 10-step explainer on the true story of how Phillips was returned home to New England after his capture; this feature does not focus on the events as they are portrayed in the movie. Next
The hijacking occurred during a rash of pirate activity in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia. CNN has reported the controversey surrounding the film because of a recent lawsuit filed by members of the ship’s crew that alleges that Phillips put their lives in danger by ignoring warnings and piracy reports and sailing so close to the coast of Somalia.
The seizure of the Maersk Alabama
Early on April 8, 2009, four teenage pirates were able to secure a grappling hook to the ship’s deck, board the ship, seize the bridge, and capture Phillips. The ship is pictured here on April 11, 2009, after the pirates released it and an armed guard escorted it to the Kenyan port city of Mombasa. Next
Most of the ship’s crew was below deck, where they were hiding in a fortified room from which they disabled the ship. When the pirate leader ventured down into the ship to find them, chief engineer Mike Perry grabbed him and held him hostage. The crew attempted to trade the pirate for their captain’s release and the release of the ship but, after the pirate was handed over, the hijackers did not hold up their end of the deal. They left the ship with Phillips as their hostage; he allowed them to do so because it meant that his crew would go free.
The crew is pictured here on April 13, after the incident, speaking to media in the Kenyan sea port of Mombasa. Next
Since the crew of the Maersk Alabama had destroyed the pirates’ skiff using their ship’s rudder, the original prisoner-trade deal included their leaving in the ship’s lifeboat, a 28-foot enclosed boat with emergency food rations and medical supplies. They took the lifeboat, and Phillips with it. He was trapped inside the enclosed lifeboat with the four hijackers for five days. When tension mounted, conditions became unsanitary, and the heat became unbearable, Phillips tried to swim to safety, but was captured again. Now, you can go see the actual lifeboat at the Navy Seal Museum in Fort Pierce, Fla.
In this photo, the lifeboat is being towed by the USS Bainbridge following the rescue operation. Next
The US Navy’s response
The Navy had several ships in the area, including the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, pictured in the foreground. While the cargo ship sailed to Mombasa with an armed guard, FBI negotiators were called in to try to secure Phillips’s release. A team of Navy SEALs also arrived on scene, parachuting into the ocean with inflatable boats and were picked up by the Bainbridge. When the lifeboat ran out of gas, pirates and negotiators agreed that the Bainbridge would tow the disabled craft, and negotiators made several trips to the lifeboat in a small craft. Next
The pirate leader
Abduhl Wali-i-Musi, the pirate leader who was initially captured and let go by the crew, requested to come aboard the Bainbridge to talk and get medical attention (he was injured when the crew attacked and captured him). When he left, however, the other pirates became agitated and nervous; when one of them fired a single tracer bullet at dusk Saturday, US forces knew they had to act soon.
Wali-i-Musi is pictured here after the incident on April 20, 2009, in New York City, as federal agents led him into Federal Plaza to a court appointment. The sole pirate survivor was charged with 33 years in prison. Next
The Navy SEAL snipers positioned on the tail of the Bainbridge finally had their chance to act. Equipped with night-vision equipment, they found themselves with a view of all three remaining pirates at once, one of whom held a gun to Phillips. Commander Frank Castellano (pictured, left, with Phillips, right) had been authorized by President Obama to use force only if Phillips’s life was threatened; at this point, he gave the order, and the snipers fired three shots simultaneously, with one shot hitting each pirate in the head. “All of a sudden, I was sprayed with debris,” Phillips said, and noted that he thought the pirates were firing on each other until a SEAL came into the lifeboat to ask if he was OK. He was taken to the Bainbridge, and then to Kenya, where he flew home.
After his flight from Kenya to Burlington International Airport in Burlington, Vt., on April 17, 2009, Phillips was greeted by (from left): his mother, Virginia, his son Daniel, his daughter Mariah, and his wife, Andrea. In addition to his family, he was met at the airport by a large crowd of media members and ordinary citizens who admired his bravery. More homecoming celebration awaited him in his home state. Next
From sea to the big screen
On May 9, 2009, Phillips and his wife met with President Obama in the Oval Office of the White House. Phillips’s heroics led to many interviews and appearances, and in January 2011, he published his account of the hijacking, “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea.” Four years after the hijacking, he has met Tom Hanks, who plays him in the movie “Captain Phillips.” He even joked with the famous actor that Hanks would have to get “better looking to play the part,” as reported in the New York Daily News. Back to the beginning
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below