Buzzards Bay, Mass. – Captain Richard Phillips, a 1979 graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy who last April was the center of international attention for his heroism and bravery during the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama by Somali Pirates, has been named as one of two recipients of the 2009 National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Award of Valor. Captain Phillips will be feted at the NCAA Honors Dinner on Friday, January 15th during the 2010 NCAA Annual Convention at the Marriott Convention Center in Atlanta, Ga.
The NCAA Award of Valor is presented to recognize courageous action or noteworthy bravery by persons involved in intercollegiate athletics. Award of Valor recipients are current intercollegiate athletics coaches or administrators and current or former varsity letterwinners at NCAA institutions who, when confronted with situations involving personal danger, acted with valor to avert or minimize potential disaster. Valor is described as “the strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to brave danger with boldness and firmness.”
Captain Phillips shined on the basketball court during his matriculation at Massachusetts Maritime, as he lettered for the Buccaneers under former Head Coach Bob Brown during his sophomore season in 1976-77. A native of Winchester, Mass., he graduated from the Academy in 1979 with a degree in Marine Transportation.
On April 8, 2009, Captain Phillips and the crew of the Maersk Alabama were bound for Mombasa, Kenya carrying 17,000 metric tons of food to aid in Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda. The ship was boarded by four pirates approximately 240 nautical miles southeast of the Somalia port city of Eyl, and after the crew locked itself in the engine room upon the pirates’ boarding, crew members used brute force on the pirates to regain control of the ship. However, one of the pirates captured Captain Phillips upon boarding the Maersk Alabama, effectively gaining control of the situation. In the meantime, the crew had seized the pirates’ ringleader and attempt to trade him for the release of Captain Phillips, but the exchange took a different failed twist when after the crew released its captive, the pirates refused to release Captain Phillips and instead fled in the one of the ship’s lifeboats with both the captain and nine days of food rations in tow, as Captain Phillips gave himself as a hostage instead of his crew. The Maersk Alabama, with its remaining 19 crew members on board, sailed towards Mombasa under a United States military escort, arriving safely in the Kenyan port three days later.
Later that day, the United States Department of Defense dispatched the USS Bainbridge to the Gulf of Aden in response to the hostage situation involving Captain Phillips, and a standoff ensued the next morning. On April 10th, Captain Phillips attempted to escape his captive lifeboat but was recaptured when his pirate captors fired shots. After additional warships were dispatched to the scene, negotiations began for Captain Phillips’ release but broke down after the pirates fired on a Navy vessel that approached the lifeboat at sunrise on Saturday, April 11th.
It was on Easter Sunday (April 12th) that Captain Phillips was rescued from his pirate captors after Commander Frank Castellano, captain of the USS Bainbridge, determined that Phillips’ life was in “imminent danger” and carried out standing orders from President Barack Obama to carry out any necessary action. United States Navy SEALS executed the three pirates that held Captain Phillips hostage for nearly four days, and the captain was evacuated in good condition. He was later reunited his with Maersk Alabama crew before returning to his native Vermont for a hero’s welcome.
President Obama said of Captain Phillips: “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.”
Captain Phillips and his wife Andrea were honored by Massachusetts Maritime in May during ceremonies on National Maritime Day, as he was feted by Academy President Admiral Rick Gurnon as the school’s National Mariner of the Year.
“Massachusetts Maritime is extremely proud that Captain Phillips will receive the NCAA Award of Valor,” Admiral Gurnon said of Captain Phillips. “His true leadership and courage during the Somali pirate capture last April were in the highest traditions of the maritime service and reflect his strength of character and valor. Faced with the potential loss of his ship and crew, Captain Phillips was able to save both by becoming a hostage for the pirates. From the moment he went into the lifeboat until he was dramatically rescued by the United States Navy, he endured severe physical and mental conditions with amazing calm and patience. Captain Phillips has become a shining example of true leadership-one who would lay down his life for his people.”
“Massachusetts Maritime Athletics is extremely proud and honored that Captain Phillips is being recognized for his bravery, courage and loyalty by the NCAA with this inspiring honor,” Massachusetts Maritime Director of Athletics Bob Corradi said of the Award of Valor recipient. “Captain Phillips stands as an example for all to emulate through his selfless actions in putting his crew and friends ahead of his personal well-being, and those are lessons that each of our student-athletes can take great pride and meaning in.”
Captain Phillips will receive the 2009 NCAA Award of Valor along with Roxana Saberi, a 1997 graduate of Concordia (Minn.) College-Moorhead and three year starter on the women’s soccer team who for 101 days was arrested and held in solitary confinement by captors at Evin Prison in Iran for charges that remain unclear to this day. A freelance journalist for the BBC and National Public Radio, Saberi was detained on January 31, 2009 by Iranian officials and was physically and psychologically threatened and harmed in prison. In the ultimate act of courage against her captors, Saberi went on a hunger strike until Iranian authorities heard from collective voices in the outside world and ordered her release on May 11, 2009.
For more information on the 2009 NCAA Award of Valor, log-on to www.ncaa.org.