Capt. Richard Phillips finds himself in the dreadful position of being human tender in a standoff between the U.S. Navy and the notorious Somali pirates who’ve waged some 293 attacks on freighters in the past year. But a maritime professor, whose own son is now in command of the ship, says he’s hopeful the outcome is going to be positive for the hostage.
The international headline-grabbing story of high-seas piracy hit home for the U.S. Wednesday when the freighter Maersk Alabama was overtaken by a band of five Somali pirates. When the crew grabbed one of the pirates, Capt. Phillips offered himself up, and they made off with him in a lifeboat aboard the ship. It was the first attack on a U.S.-flagged ship in recent memory.
Appearing live via satellite on TODAY, Joseph Murphy, a professor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and father of Commanding Office Shane Murphy, who now controls the Maersk Alabama, told Meredith Vieira he believes the pirates are eventually going to give way and spare Phillips’ life.
“I believe Capt. Phillips is going to survive,” Murphy said. “This is a 28-foot lifeboat, there are only five individuals [pirates] on the boat, and it’s now surrounded by the American military. So they have very few options.
“They will eventually relent, and give up Capt. Phillips, I believe. We’re hoping for the best for Capt. Phillips.”
Drama on the high seas
The drama began Wednesday some 240 miles off the coast of Somalia. The spate of attacks on freighters had died down in recent months as U.S. warships stepped up patrols in the Gulf of Aden. But the cunning and resourceful pirates moved their base of operations a few hundred miles south and returned to their sea looting with a vengeance. They have seized six vessels in the past week alone.
“He never discussed any fear, but I know he was very well aware and trained,” Coggio told TODAY’s Matt Lauer. “They’re required to do drills once a week aboard ship and probably with this heightened alert, they were ready to do something.”
Murphy noted that the options for the pirates — and their chances of gaining a ransom for Capt. Phillips — shrunk the moment American naval destroyer the USS Bainbridge arrived on the scene late Wednesday night. The massive warship now casts a huge shadow over the small lifeboat containing Phillips and his five captors.
Double cross by the pirates
While Murphy’s son Shane was the original point person in negotiating with the pirates, his father told Vieira the U.S. Navy has now taken charge of the situation.
“They are prepared to stand for as long as it takes, they have the assets necessary to do whatever has to be done in this circumstance, which I believe is to just sit and watch,” Murphy said, adding an attack on the lifeboat is unlikely since it would endanger Phillips.
According to reports, the 21 crew members aboard the Maersk Alabama fell victim to a double cross by the Somali pirates. The crew managed to nab a pirate and hold him captive for 12 hours in a secure area of the ship. Phillips eventually offered himself up on the condition the pirates vacate the ship — but when the Americans thought they had struck a deal to exchange the captured pirate for their captain, the pirates did an about-face, taking their released comrade and Phillips and lowering one of the ship’s lifeboats into the sea. What originally began as a money-for-cargo hijacking now amounts to a kidnapping in which the pirates seek ransom for the life of Phillips.
Lauer told Phillips’ sister-in-law Coggio he had spoken to Phillips’ wife on the phone late Wednesday and she said she imagined her husband, “laughing, ‘I’ve only got a couple of pirates to deal with, my wife back home, she’s got to deal with all the media.’ ” Coggio said such humor would be par for the course for her beloved brother-in-law.
“He’s an easy-going guy at home,” she said. “Everybody loves him; he always has a great story to tell. But he takes his job seriously.”
Murphy told Vieira he has nothing but respect for brave Phillips. “Capt. Phillips has offered himself up for the safety of his crew, which is a significant act of courage on his behalf.”
While the Somali pirates often point with pride that the loot made from the hijackings is used to benefit the people of their homeland, ironically, the Maersk Alabama was trying to do the same thing. The ship contains some 5,000 metric tons of corn-soya and vegetable oil to be delivered to fight malnutrition in Somalia, as well as Uganda and Kenya.
Murphy told Vieira he has not been able to contact his son, now in command of the ship, but had a message for him.
“We love him, we’re very proud of him,” he said. “We want him to hang on and do whatever he has to do to get the job done and protect the crew he has on board,” Murphy said.