The Real Capt. Phillips: 'There Is Power to Prayer'

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It's been about four years since Navy SEALs freed the Maersk Alabama cargo ship from Somali pirates off the Coast of Africa.

While the military performed the rescue, the ship's captain Richard Philips has also been hailed as a hero. His story is now the subject of a major motion picture called "Captain Phillips" hitting the big screen on Friday.

Merchant Marine Capt. Richard Philips first shared his harrowing story with CBN News just months after it unfolded aboard the Maersk Alabama cargo ship. It began with a radio call he will never forget.

"One pirate aboard, one pirate aboard, 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," Capt. Phillips recounted.

Hours turned into days. That cat and mouse game is now playing out on the big screen.

"You stay locked down until help arrives. No one comes out until you hear the non-duress pass from me, which is super time," Capt. Phillips said.

Academy award-winning actor Tom Hanks plays Capt. Phillips. In the real life tale, the Maersk Alabama's crew captured the pirate's leader.

Phillips surrendered himself to the remaining three and boarded one of the ship's life boats.

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

Barkhad Abdi plays one of the pirates, Musi, in the film. Before landing the role he was a limo driver living in Minnesota.

"I'm from Somalia. I was born in Somalia. I lived in Somalia until I was 6 years old, like at the age of 6, the war started," Abdi said.

His young life in Somalia allowed him to really dig into the role.

"These kids have no parents," he said.

"I was fortunate enough to have parents that took me out of the war zone, that manage to take me from country to country to be a better person and make something out of myself. He didn't have that. And I understand him," Abdi said.

Capt. Phillips was the first American seaman captured by pirates in 200 years. He was freed Easter Sunday, 2009, after Navy SEALs shot and killed three of his captors.

Before his freedom there were lessons Phillips learned in his four days aboard the tiny 28 foot life boat.

The biggest lesson: "There is power to prayer and it did help me," Phillips confessed.

"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," Phillips said.

Even when that time did come Phillips had a hard time believing it.

"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," Phillips said.

Phillips shared his story in a book and now the big screen where there is Oscar buzz.

But Phillips' biggest honor is recognizing his fellow merchant marines and shining a light on the dangers at sea.

"Today as we speak, 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." Phillips said.

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CBN News
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