A Captain's Tale: Rescue on the High Seas

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It has been one year since Navy Seals freed Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates who had kidnapped him from aboard the Maersk Alabama as it sailed off the coast of Africa.

Phillips says the military and his crew are the true heroes in this real-life tale on the high seas. But prayer gave him the strength to endure.

The merchant crewman is now sharing the harrowing story in his new book, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy Seals and Dangers at Sea.

April 8, 2009. 'Never Trust a Pirate'

Phillips remembers his first radio call that Wednesday morning, made at about 6:45 a.m.

"One pirate aboard, one pirate aboard," Phillips called to his crew.

"From then on, it was a 12 to 13 hour slippery slope of hide and seek, a cat and mouse game on the Maersk Alabama before we got into the life boat," he said.

During that cat and mouse game, the Alabama's crew captured the pirates' leader. Phillips surrendered himself to the remaining three and left the ship to board one of its life boats.  

"I was supposed to be exchanged for their leader," Phillips explained. "The leader came down, got in the boat, and then they didn't exchange me. So that is one of the lessons I learned ... never trust a pirate."

There would be more lessons to learn in four days aboard the 28 foot life boat. The biggest was a spiritual one. 

"There is power to prayer and it did help me," Phillips told CBN News. "When I talked to God and prayed, I did not pray for an escape. I prayed for strength and patience. I prayed that God would let me have the strength to continue and to know when to escape and the patience to wait for that time." 

April 10, 2009. Vivid Memories

Capt. Phillips thought his time of escape arrived Friday, two days after being captured. It was some time during the dark of the night. He could only guess at the time because the pirates had stolen his watch. 
 
"The leader was in the cockpit there, he is above me, dosing and nodding like he is at a bad movie," Phillips recalled. His memories of the moment are still vivid. 

"I am thinking, I am going to get by him, when all of a sudden the lone pirate on the aft end of the boat gets up, walks out and heeds the call of nature. And that gave me the chance to get out the hatch, push him once. I had to do it again and he went into the water screaming."

Phillips then dove in, and tried to swim to the USS Bainbridge, the Navy ship that rested near the lifeboat.  But the light of the full moon made it easy for pirates to spot him, catch him, and torture him another day.

"With the rocking of the boat and the rhythm with the rocking, they would just fire the gun from behind my head," Phillips remembered. "Click, click, click for about three hours."

April 12, 2009. Freedom

Capt. Phillips was the first American seaman captured by pirates in 200 years. U.S. Navy Seals freed Phillips Easter Sunday 2009. From the USS Bainbridge, the sailors seized an opportunity, took aim, and shot dead three of his captors.

But it still took time for Phillips to realize he was on the road to freedom.

"I thought I was caught in the cross fire between three irate pirates -- just mad and after a long day of epithets and curse words," Phillips said.  "I thought they finally lost it and they were shooting at each other.  That is what I thought was going on at the time."

"It wasn't until I was being hoisted up onto the Bainbridge and onto the deck of that U.S. Navy ship -- that wonderful sight that I get to see -- that I finally realized that I made it. I am out of there and I am alive."

Today. Setting Sail Again

Capt. Phillips now hopes his story honors his fellow merchant crewmen, and shines a light on the dangers at sea.

"Today as we speak," Phillips said, "there are over 15 ships and close to 200 sailors, fellow men and women of the international Merchant Marine, who are kept at gun point as hostage, waiting to be freed."

Despite the danger, Phillips is ready to return to the water after more than a year off the high seas.

"Come June 1, my sea bags will be backed and I will back on a ship somewhere," he told CBN News."Some time after June 1,"

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Efrem Graham

Efrem Graham

News Anchor & Reporter

Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.