Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and dangers at sea

Captain-Richard-Phillips2A Vermont man and ship captain who was taken hostage by Somali pirates off the horn of Africa in 2009 will be the guest of honor at the Poultney Rotary Club’s annual dinner next month at Green Mountain College.

Richard Phillips, captain of the MV Maersk Alabama, will speak during the dinner, which will be held at 6 p.m. on March 23 in the East Room of Withey Hall on the GMC campus.

Tickets for the dinner, which raises money for Poultney area schools, are available for $50 per person. Approximately 100 tickets will be available.

Harry Stanyon said members of the local Rotary Club spoke with Phillips’ wife Andrea and discovered he would be willing to speak at the dinner.

“He’s been at sea since October but should be back on March 1,” Stanyon said. “He’s excited about it, and it will be nice to have someone other than a politician speak.”

Phillips, who lives in Underhill, Vt., a small, rural community in Chittenden County located approximately 20 miles east of Burlington, was the captain aboard the Maersk Alabama on April 8, 2009, when the ship was attacked by four Somali pirates.

Despite the fact that the crew fired flares at their attackers and took evasive action that swamped the pirate’s skiff, the ship was successfully boarded.

As they boarded the ship, the pirates took Phillips and several crews members captive but were unable to gain control of the ship, whose operating systems had been shut down by crew members during the attack.

Phillips convinced the pirates to release his fellow crew members, agreeing to serve as their hostage and the attackers fled the ship in a covered lifeboat, triggering a five-day standoff with United States naval forces. During the standoff, F.B.I. officers attempted to negotiate Phillips’ release, but those efforts went nowhere. At one point, Phillips even attempted to escape but was recaptured.

After several days, the pirate’s lifeboat ran out of fuel and they agreed to accept a tow to shore by the USS Bainbridge. But at dusk, navy personnel saw a single tracer bullet fired from the ship. Fearing that Phillips’ life was in danger, U.S. Navy SEAL snipers prepared for action and when the right opportunity presented itself, they opened fire, needing only three shots to kill the pirates. Within minutes Phillips was free.

Soon after the rescue, President Obama released a statement saying, “I share the country’s admiration for the bravery of Captain Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew. His courage is a model for all Americans.”

Phillips has since published a book titled “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea.” Last March, it was announced that Tom Hanks would play the role of Phillips in an upcoming feature film.

Proceeds from the dinner benefit Poultney-area schools.

“We give money to the schools. We alternate between the (Poultney) elementary and high schools,” said Stanyon, adding that proceeds have been used to purchase smart boards in the past. “We’ve given the school an enormous amount of money over the years.”

Anybody interested in purchasing tickets can call 802-236-6158 or contact any Poultney Rotarian.

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