In his just-released film “Captain Phillips,” Tom Hanks plays a brave mariner who leads his faithful crew through treacherous waters and a harrowing run-in with Somali pirates. But who is the real-life man behind the embellished Hollywood tale depicted in the movie?
Below, we’ve gathered a few facts about Richard Phillips, the captain who inspired Hanks’ role in the film. They range from his early days growing up in the Boston area to the controversy surrounding the part the hero to many -- and villain to some -- played in taking the container ship Maersk Alabama into the dangerous waters where the five-day drama shown in the movie took place.
1. He Grew Up In The Boston Area
Phillips is a native of Winchester, Mass., where he graduated from Winchester High School in 1973. His father, James Austin Phillips, served as a teacher, an assistant football coach and the head basketball coach at the high school, according to the Boston Globe.
2. He Had A Pretty Large Family And Loved Sports
Phillips’ family of Irish descent included four sisters and three brothers. He told the Daily Times Chronicle in Woburn, Mass., that he really loved sports as a child. “I played baseball, basketball, football, and soccer and played with Pop Warner and the Little League. There were always plenty of people around and sports going on,” he said.
4. He Is A College Graduate
Phillips attended the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, Mass.
When his ship was attacked by pirates in 2009, Phillips had already been a merchant mariner for 30 years. He had spent 19 of those years as a captain.
6. He Didn’t Let The Pirate Ordeal Scare Him
Phillips returned to the seas less than two years after the intense incident, recently telling Seven Days in Burlington, Vt., that his latest rotation had him sail from “Japan to Singapore to Pakistan to Qatar to the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia to Bahrain to Belgium to Egypt.” He added that the work “can be tough,” but worth it. “I love being at sea. There’s nothing like it -- the openness,” he said.
7. He Approves Of Tom Hanks’ Portrayal Of Him In ‘Captain Phillips’
Phillips recently revealed that he was OK with the creative license that was taken in the film and praised its director for “portraying the scenes on the ship well” -- particularly those centered on his crew “and how instrumental they were in ensuring the ship was never hijacked, never controlled, due to their actions.”
8. Some Of His Crew Members Don’t Consider Him A Hero
In a pretty dramatic twist to his triumphant story, the captain continues to face accusations from members of the Maersk Alabama crew. Nine of the crew members aboard the vessel during the incident in April 2009 have filed lawsuits over it. Vujasinovic & Beckcom PLLC, the law firm representing those crew members said in a statement Thursday, “[T]he pirate hijacking would have never taken place if not for the negligence of the captain, shipping company, and ship operator.”
The plaintiffs have claimed Phillips knowingly put them in harm’s way by ignoring clear warnings to steer his ship at least 600 miles off the coast of Somalia because of the danger of piracy, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. “They don’t think this boat should ever have been where it was,” the New York Daily News quoted attorney Brian Beckcom as saying. “They thought the shipping company knew it, and by extension, Captain Phillips, knew it.” Nonetheless, both the Maersk Line and the Waterman Steamship Corp have denied any liability, Businessweek said.
The lawsuits had been delayed, but a hearing is now scheduled for December in Mobile, Ala.