"I didn't think I'd ever get out of that boat," Phillips said, as he detailed his five-day ordeal to "Today" show co-host Matt Lauer in an interview that aired Tuesday. "It was just settling everything, getting ready to die and just settling everything. You know, saying my last thoughts. Andrea (wife), the kids."
Phillips was taken hostage by a group of Somali pirates who boarded his ship April 8 and took the captian hostage on a nearby lifeboat until all three captors were gunned down by Navy SEALs five days later.
"These SEALs and the Navy did an impossible job," he said. "They're unbelievable people. We really owe it to the military for what they do day in and day out that we never even hear about. What they did was impossible."
What Phillips endured inside the stifling lifeboat with guns trained on him was likewise impossible.
“It was very, very hot inside the lifeboat,” Phillips said. “I dreaded the sun.”
But the captain did not fear his captors, and after three days aboard the boat Phillips tried to escape.
After dark on Friday, Phillips thought he noticed two of his captor dozing off, and saw a third was distracted and decided to act.
“I knew I could get by him, he was urinating out the aft hatch. He put his rifle down and proceeded to urinate, both hands, that’s when I did it. Split-second decision. I pushed him in the water and I learned later that Somalis don’t like to be in the water at night. It was just, I dove in the water. “
Phillips held his breath and swam as far as he could while two pirates worked to get the third back aboard the life boat. He said he made it about 50 feet before they started shooting at him.
Somehow his crew aboard the Navy ship was expecting his escape, but the vessel he was swimming for was nearly a quarter of a mile away -- too far to swim.
"At the beginning, I did have radio contact with the Maersk Alabama, and I told them if you see a splash in the water, it's going to be cause I'm coming," Phillips said.
After his escape attempt, things changed aboard the lifeboat.
"I was in deep trouble from day one, so it didn't change for me," Phillips told Lauer. "The atmosphere, the body language. Yes, things changed from that point on."
Phillips thought the pirates might shoot him for being a nuisance.
“At one point I was getting mad at ‘em ‘cause you get tired of going on that roller coaster ride. I thought, ‘Let’s just get it over with’.”
“I’m Irish, I’m stubborn,” Phillips said. “They called me a pain and told me I was trouble and I said, ‘yes I am’.”
As the next two days passed the pirates became increasingly agitated.
“There were things going on, things that they were saying and doing that really made me wonder what was going on.”
And then, shots rang out and three pirates fell, dead. Three Navy SEAL sharpshooters hit their marks. Phillips said the scene was surreal.
“I heard the shots. I felt the fiberglass of the boat. I tried to stay in the same place. For me it felt like five minutes. It was probably like 7, 8 seconds. There was complete silence, and then an American voice."
“I remember being very scared and diving for the floor of the deck and getting as low as I could.”
Now that the captain is back on dry land he said he is happy to be with his family, but ready to get back to his job. As far as he is concerned, he is still the captain of the Maersk Alabama, but first he needs a dose of reality.
“It was all surreal,” Phillips told Lauer. “Surreal on the lifeboat, surreal when I got home. Here I am talking to you (Matt Lauer) that’s surreal.”