Richard Phillips, the ship captain toasted as a hero after he was taken captive by Somali pirates, ignored repeated warnings last spring to keep his freighter at least 600 miles off the African coast because of the heightened risk of attack, some members of his crew now allege.
Records obtained by the Associated Press show that maritime safety groups issued at least seven such warnings in the days before outlaws boarded the Maersk Alabama in the Gulf of Aden, about 380 miles off the coast of Somalia.
Derek Reveron, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., and the captain's second-in-command, Capt. Shane Murphy of Plymouth, Mass., say Phillips had the prerogative to heed the warnings or not. But some crew members — including the chief engineer, the helmsman and the navigator — say he was negligent not to change course after learning of the pirate activity.
"If you go to the grocery store and eight people get mugged on that street, wouldn't you go a different way?" said the ship's navigator, Ken Quinn of Tampa.
Sailing beyond the 600-mile threshold would have added more than a day to the Alabama's voyage to Mombasa, Kenya, and used extra fuel, according to Larry Aasheim, the ship's previous captain, who said Phillips had years of experience sailing in those dangerous waters.
Four of the 20 crew members told the AP that they blame Phillips for the hijacking.
"He caused this, and we all know it," said chief engineer Mike Perry of Riverview. "All the Alabama crew knows about it."
Reached by telephone at his home in Underhill, Vt., Phillips said that he could not answer every "spurious accusation" and that he expected such criticism.
"But I don't wish to say anything. I want you to report that I had no comment," he said.