Friday, October 25, 2013

Captain Phillips: A True American Hero Or Movie Star?

Tom Hanks stars in a new popular film Captain Phillips, which is based on the real events that occurred in April 2009 when the Maersk Alabama cargo ship was attacked by Somali pirates. I saw this movie over fall break and I loved it, Tom Hanks is an absolute amazing actor and he did not disappoint playing Captain Phillips. In the movie the cargo ship is sailing a dangerous route down the Somali coast, where pirate attacks have been known to happen. There are warnings sent to Captain Phillips advising ships to remain as far away from the coast as possible to decrease the risk of attack. Captain Phillips beefs up security and makes sure the crew is prepared by conducting a few practice drills. They are just in time because that same day two boats with armed pirates make their first attempt to seize the Maersk Alabama, but the pirates were evaded due to the ship's large wake. The crew is shook up, and know the pirates will come again. The next day one of the same pirate boats with four armed Somalis returns to take the ship, the crew does everything they can but eventually the pirates are able to board the ship and take command of the ship. The pirates are young men around 17 years old, and they are looking for a large ransom for the ship and crew. Most of the crew hides in the engine room while Captain Phillips tries to reason and retain some control over the pirates who have guns to him. While the head pirate is looking for the crew he is wounded and taken by the crew in the engine room. The head pirate, Muse, is bargained for the release of Captain Phillips but the pirates do not follow through with the deal: they take Muse and Phillips into a life raft and start making their way to the Somali coast.
The movie is fantastic and it keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. However, it is the story we want to believe, not necessarily the whole truth behind the actual events. The real crew of the Maersk Alabama tell a different story of Captain Phillips. To the crew, Phillips isn't the American hero we all want him to be. After the incident the crew filed a lawsuit against the Maersk Line and the Waterman Steamship Corp. for almost $50 million for a complete and willing disregard for their safety. The crew have described Phillips as being arrogant when it came to the risk of the pirates. The attorney who brought the claim for the crew said "the crew had begged Captain Phillips not to go so close to the Somali coast." Phillips was being suborn, and disregarding his crew "he told them he wouldn't let pirates scare him or force him to sail away from the coast." Over the three week period in which the Maersk Alabama was attacked 16 other cargo ships in the same area had been attacked by pirates and some had been taken hostage. Phillips has even admitted that he received SEVEN emails while on board to move off shore by 600 more miles to reduce the threat from pirates. The Maersk Alabama was only 235 miles off the shore at the time of attack, though Phillips told CNN in 2010 that the ship was 300 miles off the shore.
Tom Hanks next to Captain Phillips
It seems to me that Phillips blatantly disregarded his crew's safety, to prove that he was not going to let pirates boss him around; which is what they ended up doing when they threatened the lives of every crew member on board. Also during the first attack by the pirates, Phillips was putting the crew through a fire drill, however in the film it is a security drill. Phillips ordered the crew to complete the fire drill before addressing the pirates which were only seven miles away. When Phillips and the crew made a narrow escape the first time, Phillips ordered the ship back to it's original route. One of the crew members refused and slept with his flashlight and boots on, waiting for what he knew was inevitable: another attack. When that attack did come the next morning Phillips did not tell his crew what he wanted to do so the chief engineer, Mike Perry, took things into his own hands. He and the rest of the crew locked themselves in the engine room (in 130 degree heat for 12 hours), he disabled the ship's systems, and sized the lead pirate to bargain for Phillips. To me, Mike Perry is the real hero. Four days after Phillips was taken hostage with the pirates in the lifeboat, he was rescued by Seal Team Six and hailed an American Hero who "gave himself up for his crew" and the crew was offered as little as $5,000 for their life rights by Sony and made to sign nondisclosure agreements. Captain Phillips put his entire crew in danger and disregarded every warning he was given, he is not an American hero. It is sad, and I wish the movie depicted who Captain Phillips really is because it really is an amazing movie, but unfortunately it is just a movie: it's twisted to be what we want to believe.

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