Richard Phillips, Merchant Marine and ship captain whose story inspired the Tom Hanks’ film “Captain Phillips” about his abduction by Somali pirates, conducted a surprisingly candid
Reddit Ask-Me-Anything (AmA) on Wednesday.
Phillips, who has been sailing for 34 years, offered answers to “almost anything” on his career, which he described as “many different things, including Somali Pirates (which you may have heard of, thanks to the recent movie).”
He received some praise from redditors for answering some of the more unpleasant questions — including ones dealing with accusations from his crew that he put them in danger. You can read the full AmA here.
Some answers have been edited for clarity.
On criticism he has received that he ignored warnings of a minimum safe distance off the Somali coast and put the crew in danger:
Again this has to do with the suit that started shortly after the incident. The 600 miles were advisories and warnings put out by various organisations. But if you look at a chart of our route, we were never outside of 600 miles. And this ship had been in that area for 4 years. So the warnings and advisories were basically if you can avoid the area, to avoid it by 600 miles and we were always in 600 miles. And ships had been taken out 1200 miles before, so the 600 miles was not that accurate.
A follow-up question asked him to “convince me the accusations your former crew is levying against you are false.”
I don’t think there’s enough time here to convince you. It’s a suit that is ongoing that started 2 weeks after they got back. It’s not all my crew and unfortunately we live in a litigious society. Some of the crew had been on for a while and had never complained until after this incident, so the court will decide and hopefully that will convince you.
On how he coped with the stress after the ordeal of being held by pirates:
I have really had no nightmares or dreams from the incident. 2 days after in the movie it shows me crying in the hospital, and the incident actually occurred the 2nd and 3rd night, I would wake up in the night and I had a digital clock so I knew exactly what time it was, and I would be crying, racking and sobbing. And I would mentally slap myself in the head and say “What’s your problem? You made it, you’re lucky.”
And there was this one SEAL who somehow sensed something in me and basically was harassing me, and he explained “Rich, it doesn’t always turn out like this.” They are not always successful. After some missions, they have to talk to psychologists. So I said “if you leave me alone, I will call him” so I called the SEAL psychologist. And he got a sense of me on the phone talking to him and he asked me if I was sad the pirates died, and I said no doc, no Stockholm Syndrome here, and then I said put us all back in the boat and we’ll see who walks out.
And then he asked me if I was sleeping and I said I slept like a baby. And then he asked me if I was eating and I said I was not eating much but because it was hot that was normal for me. And then he asked me if I cried a lot, and I said no but I was waking up at 5 in the morning crying like a little baby. And he said basically it was the hormones and chemicals put out by your body during a fight or flight situation. And he asked me what I did when I woke up crying, and I told him what I am telling all of you, and he said well that is one mechanism to release these chemicals and hormones, crying and talking about it, so he told me the next time it happened to let it run its natural course. For the fourth morning, I woke up at 5 in the morning crying and sobbing like a little baby and I just let it flow for 45 minutes and it ended on its own. And it never happened again after that. And so I truly believe now that it is important to talk to someone who can help you, and to cry.
On who would win in a fight — him or Tom Hanks:
Ha! That’s easy, Tom Hanks would lose. I probably have 25-30 pounds on him, although he is taller. Besides he’s a big crybaby.
On the accuracy of the film Captain Phillips:
The story was fairly accurate in the film. We all have to remember it is a movie, and it is compressing 5 days into 2 hours, so some of the scheduling is different, but it follows the true story fairly well. For example, in the real incident it was into the rescue boat and then the life boat, and in the movie, I was directly sent into the life boat to save time.
On his first thoughts and the first sign he realised a pirate problem was imminent:
Well it was really a sinking in your stomach, an uneasy quease. And then we just went to our procedures and did what we could to try to keep them off. The biggest facet in dealing with piracy is the weather and indeed that morning, the chief mate and I had both said that we could not wait for the monsoon to change because this was indeed a pirate weather day, very little swell, near glass seas and very little wind.
The first sign was a sailor had noticed an intermittent blip on our radar, and at a little over 3 miles we saw the boat. It was hazy as it usually was in that part of the world.
Phillips closed out his AmA by thanking redditors for their questions and reminding people of the Merchant Marines and what they have done in the past — in addition to thanking the U.S. military, especially Navy SEALs.
“WWII Merchant Marine Vets that still get no recognition but what they did during WWII that not a lot of people realise is that the rate of death was second only to the frontline U.S. Marines division,” he wrote. “Many lost their lives supplying the Military in WWII. MacArthur had said that U.S. Merchant Marines were the lifeblood during World War II, and this is a group that needs recognition that is sorely due them as they get older and older and up in age.”
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