Heroic ship captain Richard Phillips arriving in Boise

Richard Phillips, the subject of a new movie starring Tom Hanks, will speak at the Chamber Gala on Tuesday.

zkyle@idahostatesman.comOctober 6, 2013 

Tom Hanks plays Richard Phillips in the big-screen dramatization of the Somali pirate saga, “Captain Phillips.”

  • Æ Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce 130th Annual Gala

    Æ 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Boise Centre

    Æ Tickets: $125 for members, their spouses and guests; $175 for nonmembers

    Æ Call 472-5237 or go online to boisechamber.org

After dealing with Somali pirates, speaking in Boise should be a snap for Richard Phillips.

The merchant marine captain is the subject of the big-budget film “Captain Phillips,” opening Friday across the nation. The film relives five harrowing days in 2009 when pirates seized control of Phillips’ cargo vessel, the Maersk Alabama, holding the crew of 20 captive.

Phillips offered himself as a hostage, and the pirates took him into a lifeboat. The saga came to a close when Navy SEAL snipers on a responding destroyer struck with timing and precision, overcoming the movements of the waves and the pirates to kill the three captors with simultaneous shots.

The incident that played out on televisions across the U.S. became the subject of Phillips’ book, “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea.”

Phillips will recount parts of his experience and talk about leadership and responding to crisis as the featured speaker at the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce’s 130th annual gala.

“He has a great story,” Chamber spokeswoman Caroline Merritt said. “We all remember what happened in 2009, watching events unfold. The timing of our gala with the release of this movie seems perfect to us.”

Phillips still captains merchant marine vessels, and he still navigates waters threatened by pirates. The morning after returning home to Underhill, Va., from an 86-day trip to more than a dozen international ports, Phillips spoke with the Idaho Statesman about his hostage experience and seeing his name in the bright lights of Hollywood, with Oscar winner Tom Hanks portraying him.

Q: What do you plan to speak about during the event in Boise?

A: I’ll get into the story itself and tell about some of the incidents that happened, and the main points of the story — we are all truly stronger than we know. We can do more than we think we can. Whether it’s in our personal life or professional life, sometimes we think we won’t get it done.

But you can persevere. You still have a chance…whether it’s a ship dealing with pirates or in a business environment dealing with the changing seas of the economy.

Q: What was it like being a hostage?

A: It’s a very limiting feeling. Basically, I tried to maintain some form of control, which is pretty much lost when there’s pirates pointing guns at you. ... I thought it was important to try to be seen as a human being and not just someone they could murder for notoriety. ... It’s not something most people want to go through.

Q; What were your emotions like during the crisis?

A: There was a time when I didn’t foresee a good ending, shortly into my time in the lifeboat. Mentally, I thought about my wife and kids, and prepared myself to die in a not-very-good manner. I’ll talk about that, because there is that human side to it. ... I have to look back now and chuckle. I remember that first day, thinking, ‘Jeez, Richard. No one knows you are out here, and there’s lads with weapons on you.’ I didn’t know there were hourly and (by-the-minute) updates on CNN with what was going on with me.

Q: What do you remember about the climactic sniper strike?

A: I didn’t really expect to be rescued in that manner. What preceded the rescue was an irony of the story. I did something I wasn’t supposed to do, and the pirates got mad and fired a shot. That’s what really exposed them. I was told by the SEALs that was the first time they had all three (pirates) in their sights for the first time. Two would pop out, no problem. The third was in the cockpit where the windows were. That moment was the first (opportunity).

Q: What was your reaction after seeing the movie “Captain Phillips?”

A: It was a little surreal to see it, an out-of-body type thing. But (the hostage experience) was actually even a lot worse than they portrayed in the movie, so (watching it) wasn’t too bad for me. The story is basically about a man in peril on the sea, and they did a good job of portraying that. They kept up the suspense and the intensity, especially in the lifeboat. They did a good job of that.

Q: What’s your review of Hanks’ performance as you?

A: I think he did a good job. We met three or four times. He came up to my house. He’s a pretty regular guy. I think it allows him to do the different characters he’s done.

Q: How much artistic liberty was taken in the movie?

A: There were no certain moments (that stuck out). Going into it, I knew it was a movie. The main purpose is to put people in seats and to entertain. I didn’t expect them to put in everything that happened. That would take many hours. ...

Of course, there were liberties taken. It’s a movie. But I thought it was a pretty good portrayal.

Zach Kyle: 377-6464, @IDS_zachkyle

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