Captain hails Somali pirate film, says ordeal much worse

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A captain whose high seas kidnapping by Somalian pirates is the focus of a new Hollywood movie gave the production a thumbs up on Thursday -- but noted the real thing was “much worse.”

Captain Richard Phillips was at the helm of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama when it was attacked by pirates off the Horn of Africa in 2009.

After a failed bid to take the entire crew hostage, the pirates seized Phillips instead, holding him in a lifeboat for several days until U.S. Navy SEALS came to the rescue.

The hair-raising encounter, which played out in real time, has now made it to the big screen, with “Captain Phillips” hitting theaters Friday.

“They did do a very good portrayal but the actual thing was a lot worse because they can't show everything that went on,” the seafarer told AFP.

“I think they did a good job of portraying the main points.”

Phillips, an American, had particular praise for his on-screen persona.

“I think Tom Hanks did a great job,” he said, adding that he met the two-time Oscar winner a few times and saw him as “pretty much a regular guy.”

“Just looking at his eyes... you can see the fear and the attempt to try and regain some control,” he added.

Speaking at a news conference on pending budget cuts to the U.S. merchant marine, Phillips recounted the chilling days he spent as the pirates' prisoner.

“I really felt it was important to maintain and be a person ... you have to make sure they see you as a human and not just a lump of flesh,” he said.

“Of course if you put anybody in a small enclosed lifeboat, relationships will ensue, good or bad,” he said. “There are times we laughed with each other -- there's times we laughed or better yet sneered.”

So did the movie bring back some bad memories and emotions?

Not particularly, it seems.

“I think I really closed the door and walked out, it really didn't affect me,” he said.

In real life, Phillips' story is not quite as clear-cut as on screen -- a number of crew members have sued him for allegedly ignoring warnings to stay further away from the Somali coast, thereby negligently endangering their lives.

Phillips is a witness in a lawsuit between some of the crew and the shipping company, scheduled to go to trial in December, CNN reported.

“We live in a litigious society and everyone's welcome to their own views,” Phillips said, adding he thought the company “did a great job.”

But whatever one thought of him, one thing was for sure, he noted.

“I don't see myself as a hero.”

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