“Millions for defence, not a sixpence for tribute” was the stance of Post-Revolutionary war Americans in reaction to the impressment of Merchant Sailors on the high seas.
Our nation’s first bout with piracy lead to the development of the greatest Naval Force the world has ever known, but for whatever reason, in the modern era, cargo container ships are unarmed, and ransoms are paid as a cost of doing business.
Which is why, from the get go, Captain Richard Phillips knows, even before he leaves his Vermont home for the Oman to Mombassa voyage, that he has more than a little reason to worry.
The captain is played by the venerable Tom Hanks, in the soon to be released “Captain Phillips,” the true story of the 2009 piracy incident involving an American flagged ship in the Maersk Line. It is the source of much discussion between him and his wife on their way to the airport as they banter back and forth about how “younger guys are becoming captain faster.”
Meanwhile, a world away in the horn of Africa, a group of Somali pirates from the Gaad family just seized a Chinese fishing ship. This extends the range of the pirates well off shore. Little do they know, but they have reason to worry as well, because inside their criminal gang is an informant, placed there by an anti piracy task force from a Western Government.
As Phillips embarks with his ship from Oman, he puts the crew through several rigorous drills related to preventing the pirates from getting on board the ship. He is doing this with a new crew that is unionized and complaining that they are unarmed in the pirate waters off East Africa. Ironically, their job is to deliver international food aid to help the people victimized by the pirates. Nonetheless, Phillips is relentless with these drills, making sure the doors are locked and the keys are hard to obtain.
Sure enough, once out on the ocean, the pirates arrive on the scene, noting that the Maersk Alabama is sailing completely alone in International waters. So the pirates engage the ship, forcing Phillips to set his engines to the max. The resulting wake and turns of the Alabama’s bow are enough to dislodge the Pirates once. As Phillips reports this to the authorities, they tell him not to worry, bwcause it is just a group of fisherman. However, Phillips orders his men on double duty until they get to Mombasa.
Phillips’ Irish luck runs out as the villains attempt a second boarding of the Alabama, and this time, they are successful. However, the crew begins an emergency procedure that shuts down the engines, and as they are out on the high seas, the vessel is entirely adrift. The four pirates turn down an offer by the Alabama captain for $30,000. One of the barefoot pirates steps on broken glass and cuts his feet badly. The crew takes one of the pirates hostage and attempts to exchange him for Phillips in order to expel them from the ship.
The drama then turns to Phillips in the lifeboat, with only enough food for ten days. The Alabama is able then to notify the United States Navy and meanwhile they follow the adrift lifeboat only to make sure that it never gets to the coast of Somalia. Fortunately for the Vermont sea captain, the USS Bainbridge arrives on the scene in time. The movie touches on the fact that the drama is making news back in the United States and the directors of the movie successfully mute that the President is involved, thus keeping the moviegoer focused on the action at hand. After several points when Phillips attempts escape, he is able to communicate to the Navy that he is in seat 15 of the lifeboat. The Somali captain surrenders thinking that he will be able to ransom himself and go back to Somalia. However, the special operations forces of the United States Navy Seals have other ideas and in a brilliantly executed operation utilizing modern technology such as drones and other devices, the remaining pirates die at the hands of Navy Seals.
Captain Phillips is a movie that America needs as a morale booster right now, to show that we are a great people that will not negotiate with terrorists. Hopefully as the Maersk shipping company launches their new gargantuan “Triple E” container ships, they are able to communicate the dangers of international piracy, which believe or it not, befell the Alabama three times after this incident.
Tom Hanks played Richard Phillips flawlessly, right down to perfecting his Vermont Accent. The producers of this movie are to be commended for how well they demonstrated our Navy’s professionalism, however, the movie could have concluded with Phillips back at sea instead of in the hospital bed. In the end, the Captain Phillips movie gives the shipping industry the respect it deserves for delivering the modern conveniences of our lives.