by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — “Nothing is over until you choose to give up. You can overcome any obstacles,” he said, relating some of the life lessons learned during a terrifying experience as the first U.S. captain to be kidnapped at sea by pirates since 1803.
“Now, picture if you will, the vastness of the sea and the darkness of that very night and a voice coming over our VHF radio sounding very eerie, saying ‘Somali pirates. Coming to get you. Somali pirates. Coming to get you’, ” said Captain Richard Phillips to a captivated audience at the Plaza Hotel during the September 21 meeting of the Montpelier Rotary Club. “This is what we heard the night before the incident.”
Phillips, of Underhill, then retold the story of his terrifying capture by armed Somali pirates from aboard the Maersk Alabama — an enormous cargo ship carrying 17,000 metric tons of food and supplies for The World Food Program and other relief organizations en route to starving people in Africa.
Phillips said after his experience, he didn’t go back to sea for 14 months because he was busy with writing the book and then dealing with movie producers for his story. The book, “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea” by Richard Phillips with Stephen Dalty, was published about a year after the event in April 2010. The movie version starring Tom Hanks came out in 2013.
In addition to Rotarians from all over the state, many other guests attended the event, including former Governor Jim Douglas. Phillips gave a shout out to Douglas, who he said personally contacted his wife, Andrea, while Phillips was still fighting for his life at sea and offered to help. “Only in Vermont,” Phillips said of a governor calling to offer a citizen help.
Phillips closed his talk by saying, “these are challenging times and they are only getting worse,” Phillips said. But, as he also said, “It is amazing what happens when you vow you won’t quit.”