Captain Phillips announced as speaker

STEUBENVILLE – The real Captain Phillips, the man about whom the Academy Award-nominated movie starring Tom Hanks was made, will be the third speaker in the Herald-Star, Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Speaker Series.

Richard Phillips, who was captain of the Maersk Alabama when the seafaring cargo ship was hijacked by Somali pirates in April 2009, is scheduled to appear at 7:30 p.m. April 3 in the Steubenville High School Auditorium.

His book, “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs an Dangerous Days at Sea” was the inspiration for the critically acclaimed, award-winning film.

“We are certain Phillips will provide an interesting presentation and offer insight to the incidents surrounding the capture of the ship by pirates and his standoff with his captors,” said Rich DeLuca, president of the chamber. “We’re excited to be able to present him as the third speaker in our series.

John Cucarese, chamber chairman, said during the announcement prior to the community free showing of “Captain Phillips” Tuesday evening at Eastern Gateway Community College, “For those of you who have seen our the previous two speakers that we’ve had in town, I’m sure you’ll really appreciate what’s coming up here in April.”

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

“We’re happy to continue our partnership with the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, Eastern Gateway Community College and the Franciscan University of Steubenville. And, we’re excited to welcome Trinity Health System, the Health Plan and WTRF-TV as sponsors for the series,” said Ross Gallabrese, executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. “Phillips has an extraordinary story to share, and is sure to bring an exciting perspective to the real story behind the film, ‘Captain Phillips.'”

Laura Meeks, president of Eastern Gateway Community College, said of the college’s support for the speaker series, “It’s not often that we get to do primary research, that we get to talk to the people who make history.

“The purpose of education is not only to help student to understand history but to enjoy history. We know you will be inspired, You will be persuaded and you will be informed, and it just does not get any better than that.

Meeks singled out Alex Marshall, publisher of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times for the genesis of what has become the speaker series.

“He doesn’t want to take the credit, but I want to give him credit tonight for having this idea and for having the courage and the absolute vision. You believe in us, and we believe in us,” she said.

Mike Florak, community relations director for the Franciscan University of Steubenville, said, “We are excited to be a part of this event. We think it’s a great opportunity for the people of this community to see an American hero.”

“I hope the community comes out and supports this great event. It’s not often that you get to see and meet someone who is so well known for an event that has transpired in recent history. Please tell several friends. We are very confident it’s going to be a great night,” he said, echoing the praise for Marshall and Gallabrese and their efforts.

Phillips was captured by pirates who hijacked the Maersk Alabama, the first hijacking of a U.S. ship in more than 200 years. Four pirates took control of the ship with its cargo of food aid to Africa on April 8, 2009. Many of the crew scrambled into a safe room aboard the ship, but Phillips and three other crewmen were held at gunpoint on the bridge. The remainder of the 20-member crew managed to wound and hold the leader of the band of pirates and demanded the others leave the ship. The pirates, who had scuttled their own small boat, demanded an escape boat, food and fuel.

Phillips, who had made the decision to protect his crew, offered himself as a hostage. Once he and the pirates had settled into one of the ship’s covered lifeboats, the Maersk Alabama crew tried to trade the captured pirate for their captain. When the crew released the pirate, the remaining pirates refused to honor their commitment and fled with Phillips. He was held hostage in the small lifeboat with the pirates with little hope to cling to, except the knowledge that he had done everything he could to save the lives of his crew.

The Navy responded and negotiations began between the pirates and officials aboard the USS Bainbridge. On April 10, Phillips jumped from the lifeboat and swam a few yards toward the nearby destroyer, but he was recaptured by the pirates. The standoff dragged on until April 12, when SEAL snipers determined Phillips was in imminent danger, eliminated the pirates and rescued Phillips.

He was hailed as a hero for surviving his ordeal.

“I share the country’s admiration for the bravery of Capt. Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew,” said President Barack Obama in a telephone conversation with Phillips shortly after the rescue. “His courage is a model for all Americans.”

The film “Captain Phillips” has been nominated for several Academy Awards, including best picture, best supporting actor (Barkhad Abdi), best adapted screenplay, sound mixing, sound editing and film editing.

Phillips is a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy; a member of the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots Union; and a licensed merchant mariner. He married Andrea Coggio in 1987. They are the parents of Mariah and Danny and reside in Underhill, Vt.

Gallabrese noted the subtle name change heralds a fresh feel to the local speaker series. The new name better describes what attendees may expect. The series had been known as the concert and lecture series.

“Labeling the appearances as the speaker series more accurately reflects the style of the presentations,” Gallabrese said. “Our first two events have been much more than lectures. They’ve been multi-media presentations after which those in attendance were able to ask questions of our guests.”

Retired Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, who served on Jacqueline Kennedy’s protective detail and was in the motorcade when President Kennedy was assassinated, was the first speaker, in November 2012. That appearance attracted more than 900 residents from around the Tri-State Area to the high school auditorium. Antonio Mendez, the former CIA agent whose involvement in the rescue of six American hostages from the Canadian embassy in Tehran was dramatized in the Academy Award-winning film “Argo,”was joined by his wife, Jonna, in the second presentation last April.

Reserved-seat tickets are $20 each for the April 3 appearance by Phillips. The tickets went on sale today at 8 a.m. A limited number of VIP packages is available by contacting the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce at (740) 282-6226

Area high school students will have the opportunity to see the presentation free of charge thanks to the Health Plan of the Upper Ohio Valley, which has purchased more than 300 general admission tickets.