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Somali Pirates and Mutinous Crews Portrayed In Captain Phillips Film

Updated on February 2, 2017
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has been a professional writer and critic of films, books, music & theater for over 20 years.

Container ship MV Maersk Alabama successfully leaves Mombasa, Kenya on April 21, 2009.
Container ship MV Maersk Alabama successfully leaves Mombasa, Kenya on April 21, 2009. | Source

How True Is the Film "Captain Phillips"?

Over a week before the premier in nationwide theaters of the Tom Hanks docudrama Captain Phillips on October 11, 2013, related controversy arose anew from different groups. Media and studio hype surrounding the film's release allude to Phillips as a hero. Other groups say he is not.

Reporters declared that Tom Hanks's portrayal of the Vermont shipping captain was that of a man who was much more of a "good guy" than was the actual Richard Phillips.

From another side, the Phillips crew from the hijacked MV Maersk Alabama under Phillips's command turned mutinous in attitude in late 2009 and this phenomenon surfaced again as a lawsuit before the film's release during Autumn 2013.

Part of the crew asserts in their lawsuit that their captain was warned numerous times to stay out of pirate infested waters, but instead followed his own agenda and endangered their safety. In the USA, this is the equivalent of an employer covered by Workers Compensation willfully requiring workers to perform duties within purposefully dangerous but unnecessary conditions. Such employers may be sued under Workers Compensation laws.

The Famous Lifeboat Portrayed In the Film

The life raft from the container ship MV Maersk Alabama. National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce FL.
The life raft from the container ship MV Maersk Alabama. National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce FL. | Source
The orange lifeboat of the Maersk Alabama, taken onto the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). It was processed for evidence after the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips after 5 days as a hostage in it.
The orange lifeboat of the Maersk Alabama, taken onto the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). It was processed for evidence after the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips after 5 days as a hostage in it. | Source

Who Are the Somali Pirates?

These African pirates do not wave the Jolly Roger, carry parrots, look like Johnny Depp, or talk like pirates on the Atlantic Ocean a couple of hundred years ago.

They are starving to death.

many of these Somalian males are young men in their teens and early 20s that have not been able to make a living iin Somalia. They have accepted piracy work from war lords. If they fail in their assignments, they will likely be killed on their return.

Somalian piracy has been more visibly active in the 100s and 2010s and the US military has been targeting it as one arm of onging Operation Enduring Freedom. This War on Terrorism has been ongoing since 2001.

Actual Somalian Pirates in 2008

A montage of known Somali pirates from 2008.
A montage of known Somali pirates from 2008. | Source

Information About the Ship and Its Route

From its completion in 1998 through 2013 and the controversial film's release, the MV Maersk Alabama had a history of pirate attack or oppression five times from 2009 - 2011.

The commerical ship's set route is (still in 2013) from Mombasa, Kenya to Salalah, then to Djibouti, then a return to Mombasa. Somalia is just north of Mombasa. The ship was to maintain a distancce from the Somali shoreline of at least 600 nautical miles. This distance was mandated by NATO and the US Martime Administration on April 7, 2009. The MV Maersk Alabama incident began a day later on April 8.

MV Maersk Alabama Itinerary

A
Mombasa, Kenya:
Mombasa, Kenya

get directions

B
Salalah:
Salalah, Dhofar, Oman

get directions

C
Djibouti:
Djibouti

get directions

The Lawsuit In 2013

Men working on board the same ship, without Captain Phillips in 2013, filed a lawsuit against the ship's owner and its operator. Those entities are the Dutch Companies Maersk Line, Limited, the American affiliate of A. P. Moller-Maersk Group and the American Waterman Steamship Corporation.

ABC News reported on October 2, 2013 that a crew member known only as "Jimmy" related that the ship's crew were "knowingly, intentionally and willfully sent into an area with pirates because the route saved the company money." (Italics are mine.) This is the basis of the lawsuit.

None of the filmmakers, the owner, the operator, or Richard Phillips would respond to ABC's request for comments.

Making a Judgement:

It will be interesting to review this film and compare events in it against the historical record of the US Navy.

MV Maersk Alabama Lawsuit

Does the lawsuit have merit? We should learn this soon before the release of Captain Phillips or soon thereafter. It will be interesting to see the outcome.

Unfortunately, since before the beginning of the New Nation when the British were taxing everything and everyone, American Business has had somewhat an adversarial relationship with the workers of their country.

We have had slaves, indentured servants, sub-minimum wage workers, a world of work without Workers Compensation laws, profiled in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. We now have books like Nickel and Dimed, which show how impossible it is to survive on minimum wage if one chooses to live alone. We have had a host of problems concerning discrimination in the workplace and similar.

Did the owner or operator of the MV Maersk Alabama insist that the cargo ship sail to close to Somali shores in order to save money? The world wants to know the answer.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Tom Hanks at the Lincoln Memorial, reciting the orchestral work "Lincoln Portrait," written by Aaron Copland on 1/18/2009.Richard PhillipsCapt. Richard Phillips, former Captain of the container ship MV Maersk Alabama, November 7, 2009 at Fort Pierce FL.
Tom Hanks at the Lincoln Memorial, reciting the orchestral work "Lincoln Portrait," written by Aaron Copland on 1/18/2009.
Tom Hanks at the Lincoln Memorial, reciting the orchestral work "Lincoln Portrait," written by Aaron Copland on 1/18/2009. | Source
Richard Phillips
Richard Phillips | Source
Capt. Richard Phillips, former Captain of the container ship MV Maersk Alabama, November 7, 2009 at Fort Pierce FL.
Capt. Richard Phillips, former Captain of the container ship MV Maersk Alabama, November 7, 2009 at Fort Pierce FL. | Source

From Tom Hanks's Perspective

The filming of Captain Phillips was harrowing in that it was performed in real time from beginning to end and required Hanks as Phillips to have a gun or guns pointed in his face for much of the production. At the same time, director Paul Greengrass said at the Los Angeles premier that the cast and crew had good fun.

Critic Matt Patches of ign.com declares that there are no seterotypes of Americans and Somalies in this film and Hanks seems to feel similarly.He seems confident in this film as good history and good theater.

I look forward to reviewing it very soon and seeing such work.I am also eager to see the Somali pirate chief Muse, played by debuting actor Barkhad Abdi - early reviews say that he is astounding. Tom hanks is also impressed.

Patches also says that Phillips is not a hero, but for a different reason than do his complaining crew in 2013. Patches says that the Hanks portrayal is of "just a guy doing his job." I have the sense that Hanks will still seem a hero.

Phillips himself is saying that he never empathized with the Somali pirates. He did not want to fall victim to Stockholm Syndrome.

Attack Site: Eyl, Somalia

A
Eyl, Somalia:
Eyl, Somalia

get directions

Hijacking Timeline Overview

The April 2009 incident began with four teenaged Somali pirates as they seized Captain Phillips's cargo ship just 240 nautical miles (440 km or 280 land miles) southeast of Eyl. Phillips was supposed to have stayed outside of 600 nautical miles of Somalia and gis crew eport that he was warned seven different times to do so.

This hijacking incident ended after a successful rescue by the US Navy on April 12, 2009. Rescue ships included (from April 8 - April12) the USS Bainbridge (DDG-96), USS Halyburton (FFG-40), and the USS Boxer (LHD4).

US Navy Rescue Ships

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Missile Destroyer USS BainbridgeFrigate USS Halyburton in Boston, 2010.USS Boxer: Wasp-class Amphibious Assault ship
Missile Destroyer USS Bainbridge
Missile Destroyer USS Bainbridge | Source
Frigate USS Halyburton in Boston, 2010.
Frigate USS Halyburton in Boston, 2010. | Source
USS Boxer: Wasp-class Amphibious Assault ship
USS Boxer: Wasp-class Amphibious Assault ship | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
USS Boxer
Source
USS Boxer
USS Boxer | Source
  • Mutiny: Crew Blames Richard Phillips, Maersk Alabama Captain, For Ignoring Pirate Warnings -- MONTPELIER, Vt.; Merchant mariner Richard Phillips, the ship captain toasted as a hero after he was taken captive by Somali pirates, ignored repeated warnings to keep his freighter at least 600 miles off the African coast in order to avoid piracy. He maintained in legal depositions and interviews that no advised amount of distance from shore would have deterred the Somalian pirates.

Source

© 2013 Patty Inglish MS

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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      4 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I can't give many details of the film until the morning of its release on October 11, but I can say it does not portray of the the controversy about the captain sailing to close to Somalia. He seemed very scared to me and did his best to save the crew and ship. The actor who plays the young Somalian pirate captain is very good in his role and we see the poverty and how the crime lords use the young men.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 

      4 years ago from Georgia

      I was unaware of the controversy. Interesting. I'm sure there are more shades of grey in real life than will be portrayed in the film, as always. We have to have our hero in the movies, don't we? Voted up and interesting.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      4 years ago from south Florida

      I have seen the film trailer for this movie, Patty, which is interesting and exciting so many film fans like myself are eagerly awaiting this newest Hanks production. Looking forward to your review, too, m'dear.

    • Elias Zanetti profile image

      Elias Zanetti 

      4 years ago from Athens, Greece

      Captain Phillips should be an interesting film to watch. Yet, as a 'Hollywood' film I wouldn't expect necessarily an objective, documentary style view of the case in question. As for the Somali pirates, I think it is a quite complex phenomenon and to a certain extent, a manifestation of the overexploitation of the African continent from westerns. Great and interesting hub, Patty. Would love to read more of your view on that subject.

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