Castleton student reflects on father’s capture by Somalia pirates

Mariah Phillips grew up hearing stories about pirates. In the back of her mind, she always knew they were there.

“My dad would always tell me and my brother about pirate activities,” the 18-year-old Castleton State College graphic design student said. “I knew they were out there in small boats. I just never thought they could overtake a 780-foot cargo boat.”

Mariah’s father, Richard Phillips, captain of the U.S. ship Maersk Alabama, was taken hostage on April 8 after Somalian pirates attacked the ship.

The ship was on its way to Kenya, with a cargo of food, when it was hijacked.

“I was in a state of shock,” Mariah said on Monday. “This is something that happens to other people. Obviously, I am other people.”

Richard Phillips, who had been held in a 28-foot lifeboat in the Indian Ocean since his capture, was rescued Sunday by Navy snipers who opened fire, killing three pirates.

Despite the ordeal that she and her family have been through, Mariah sounded calm, collected and of course, very relieved.

She had spent the last “very intense five days” at home in Underhill, Vt. with her mother, Andrea, and her brother, Daniel, 20. She said she is amazed by the energy in her household.

“It’s remarkable,” Mariah said. “You never know how strong your family can be when something like this happens.”

Although the house is quieter now, and they have requested that the media stay away, Mariah said that over the past few days there have been floods of family and friends in and out of the house, offering their prayers and support.

“Also, I’ve never had so many Facebook notifications,” she added.

Her Facebook page is swamped with comments from friends, congratulating her family on the story’s happy ending

She has also heard from Castleton Communication professor Thomas Conroy, whose class she is enrolled in this semester.

“My neighbor, who is indirectly related to her and knew she was a Castleton student, came over and told me Thursday night that Mariah is Captain Phillip’s daughter,” said Conroy, who has been in contact with Mariah via e-mail. “She’s a good solid student. I’ve been glued to the media ever since.”

Castleton’s President Dave Wolk has also followed the issue closely.

“Like her Dad, she is courageous,” Wolk said in an e-mail to Mariah’s professors.

But the question remains as to when Capt. Phillips will be reunited with his family.

“I still don’t know,” Mariah said. “It’s being kept secret.”

The whole issue of her relationship to the captain was pretty secretive on Castleton’s campus, too.

“From the college vantage point, we have respected her privacy and have fended off media requests for information,” said Wolk on Monday afternoon.

Few other than close friends were aware that a campus member was embroiled in arguably the biggest international story in the news.

“I walked into the office after class and freaked out a bit,” Castleton Spartan Managing Editor Terry Badman said. “I had no idea she went here. We had to redesign a bunch of the paper only hours before deadline. It was intense.”

Her close friends have been encouraging during the recent events.

“My friends have been very supportive. My dad, he is a dad to my friends, too,” she said. “My mom, she’s the strongest woman I know, and my brother Danny, he’s just been great.”

After such an ordeal, Mariah still has high hopes that her father will one day return to life on the high seas.

“Yes,” Mariah said. “The sea is his life besides his family. He loves the ocean. It is what he loves.”

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