Phillips event approaching

STEUBENVILLE – When Richard Phillips steps to the podium in the Steubenville High School auditorium, he’ll be reminding residents from across the Tri-State Area that they are better equipped to handle life’s challenges than they may realize.

A merchant mariner for more than 35 years, he is scheduled to speak at 7:30 p.m. April 3 as part of the Herald-Star, Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Speaker Series.

Phillips was the captain of the Maersk Alabama when the container ship was captured by Somali pirates in April 2009. His five-day ordeal included being held hostage by four pirates in a small lifeboat and negotiations involving the Navy and the FBI that lasted until SEAL snipers brought the situation to an end by using deadly force.

When the ship was captured, it was carrying 17,000 metric tons of cargo, including relief supplies for portions of Africa.

He shared his story in the book “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs and Dangerous Days at Sea,” which was written with Stephen Talty. That book would be the inspiration for the movie “Captain Phillips.”

“I’m really looking forward to coming to Steubenville,” Phillips said recently from his home in Vermont. “I’ll be telling stories about lessons learned and what people can take away from them, that we are stronger than we know, and that nothing is ever lost unless we choose to give up.”

That attitude served Phillips, now 58, well as he engaged in a battle of wills with the pirates inside that lifeboat.

“Captain Phillips” was directed by Paul Greengrass whose credits include “The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “United 93.” Phillips said he was pleased with the way his story was translated from book to movie.

“Greengrass wanted to show a man in terror on the sea. I think it holds true to the basis of the story,” Phillips explained.

It can be a challenge to work all of the elements of a story into a film, which means some parts of a book may have to be changed a little.

“Yes, the film compressed five days into two hours. Any time that happens, things do get left out,” Phillips said.

Largely missing from the film, but an important part of the book, is the way the residents of his hometown of Underhill, Vt., put their support behind his wife, Andrea, and their children, Mariah and Danny, as the eyes of the world became increasingly focused on Phillips, the pirates, the guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, the frigate USS Halyburton, the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer and the drama that was playing out off the Horn of Africa.

“The community really gathered around my wife and family in Vermont,” Phillips said. “That’s one of the great things we have up here.”

Tom Hanks portrayed Phillips in the film, which was nominated for six Academy Awards. Phillips, who graduated from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in 1979, said he offered a few tips to Hanks about how to best to portray the veteran merchant mariner.

“He did a good job,” Phillips said of Hanks. “The only advice I gave him was that if he was going to play me, he’d have to put on some weight and get better looking. He did neither.”

Phillips admitted that his life became a little more hectic after the film was released in October. He and his wife have had a very busy travel schedule, including stops at several awards shows.

All of that publicity aside, Phillips said he has returned to his career as a ship captain, working a schedule of 90 days on and 90 days off.

Reserved seat tickets for the April 3 presentation cost $20 each and are available at the Herald-Star offices, 401 Herald Square, Steubenville; by calling (740) 283-4711; or by visiting the newspaper’s Website at Tickets also are available at the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, 630 Market St., Steubenville, or by calling (740) 282-6226.

A limited number of VIP tickets are available for $150 each. The package includes a reception at the Bayberry House Bed and Breakfast, 741 N. Fourth St., Steubenville; cocktails and hors d’oeuvres; a picture with Phillips; the choice of either an autographed copy of the book “A Captain’s Duty” or a DVD of the film “Captain Phillips;” transportation to and from the Bayberry House and Steubenville High School; and premiere seating for the presentation. For information, call the newspaper or the Chamber.

Major sponsors for the event include Eastern Gateway Community College, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the Health Plan of the Upper Ohio Valley, Trinity Health System and WTRF-TV. Special support is being provided by Bayberry House Bed and Breakfast, Piergallini Catering, Newbrough Photo, Thrifty Car Rental and Steubenville City Schools.

As part of its sponsorship, the Health Plan has purchased 300 general admission tickets to the April 3 presentation. The tickets are being distributed to high schools throughout the region, which will allow students to attend at no charge. Phillips said that offers a great opportunity for local students.

“High school students will enjoy the presentation,” he said.

Distribution of the tickets to the students is being handled through administrators at each area school.