Richard Phillips was born in Winchester, Massachusetts. He enrolled at the University of Massachusetts and planned to study international law, but later transferred to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where he graduated in 1979. Phillips was captain of the MV Maersk Alabama at the time it was held hostage by Somali pirates during the cargo ship's hijacking in April 2009. His book, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea, details his capture by Somali Pirates. This book was made into a major motion picture, Captain Phillips, in 2013 starring Tom Hanks.