A Captain’s Duty, Captain Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty

book 31 – A Captain’s Duty

A Captain’s Duty was a difficult book to read. On the surface, it’s Richard Phillips’ story of the Somali pirate capture of the merchant ship Maersk Alabama – the first time an American ship was taken by pirates in over 200 years – while under his command. The book portrays Phillips as a courageous and visionary leader whose meticulous  adherence to preparation and and safety protocols saved the lives of his dedicated crew. However, details have emerged since the pirate incident to suggest that this is not entirely true. Several crew members have alleged that Phillips was a reckless leader who took the ship 300 miles inside a 600-mile safety perimeter in order to save time (and money) and that he was dismissive of risks and imminent dangers. Indeed, his ship was boarded by pirates just under 300 miles from the Somali coast, inside the 600 mile radius as alleged. Phillips also admits to having continued to execute a security drill even as the ship was being chased by a pirate skiff (they were not boarded on this occasion). Lastly, Phillips himself writes that the (enclosed) Maersk Alabama lifeboat had to be used to off-load the pirates rather than the (open deck) open-air boat because the batteries had drained leaving it unusable. Discovering that the batteries were drained during an emergency situation at sea doesn’t seem like diligent attention to detail.

However, to be fair, Phillips never claims to be a hero in the book and he does admit to being a “hard” captain, although he adds his temperament does earn him respect, if not popularity. And while he never admits to cutting inside the safety radius, he never denies it either. It is simply left unsaid. He also speaks very highly of his crew, crediting them with quick-thinking and bravery. The book certainly does not convey any feeling that Phillips is being self-congratulatory.

Judged on it’s own merits, I would say the book is a well-told story of Captain Phillips life and his experiences while being held hostage by Somali pirates. It’s not a particularly inspiring leadership book per se, but it does contain some tidbits that people looking to improve their leadership skills might find useful. Not a strong recommendation, I know.

Rating; Borrow it. If nothing else, it’s an entertaining read.

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