Tuesday, October 22, 2013


11/21/2014 Now available in video formats:
8/22/2015 Links checked


 We try to review as many books as possible of a maritime nature and we've reviewed, linked, and recommended a number of videos; instructional, documentary, and simply entertaining. Previously we had not reviewed a movie while it was still playing in theaters and we don't intend to make a habit of it, but this one could not be ignored. The movie is based on the real life events surrounding the capture of the U.S. flagged container ship MAERSK ALABAMA by Somali pirates, the kidnapping and eventual recovery of her captain by the U.S. Navy. The story deals with events, procedures, techniques that we are all familiar with here at AAB. The movie has also become something of a controversy because some of the real life crew are critical of Tom Hanks interpretation of Capt. Phillips. Certain of the crew have been very vocal in describing the real world Captain Phillips as far less of a responsible and inspiring leader than the character as depicted by Tom Hanks. It should be noted however that these crew members have sued the Maersk line for damages as a  result of their ordeal and Phillips appeared as a witness for the defense of Maersk. Captain Phillips to the best of our knowledge has not sued his employer and returned to sea after the incident and much of its related legal aftermath was over.
 File:Container ship MV Maersk Alabama.jpg          
PHOTO: U.S. NAVY                                                           PHOTO :U.S.COAST GUARD  
We are quite familiar with the frustration of union crews on American flag commercial ships plying pirate infested waters. Understandably, they want firearms to be available to defend themselves against armed pirates. Merchant mariners crewing the transports of the Military Sealift Command are often trained in the use of firearms right in the union schools before signing up for service on these government owned vessels. It can be quite difficult for some crew members to understand that these government owned, navy managed, and Merchant Marine manned ships receive special assistance from the Navy and State Department in their voyage planning and because of special arrangements are not concerned about showing up in ports in violation of their gun laws. Even though the MAERSK ALABAMA was carrying some U.S. government foreign aid cargo, she was not under the Military Sealift Command. If you have been following our serialized posts derived from the book THE ENDURING PRINCIPALS OF MARITIME INTERNATIONAL LAW we have already explained that merchant ships are totally subject to the laws of the ports they enter. Merchant ships have no immunity nor are they considered extra territorial. In short if the ports you visit don't allow ships to enter with guns, the ship and crew can and will be held liable under the port's laws if they are equipped with firearms no matter what the purpose. Few of the nations in the region allow either entering mariners or their own citizens to possess fire arms. So the complaint against both the Maersk line and personally against Captain Phillips by some of the crew is really unfounded, none had much choice about sailing unarmed. If we had any complaints about physical security it would be about the "pirate cages" being secured with simply chain and pad locks that were quickly shot off. These can be arranged with the equivalent of a sort of dead bolt. We also have no complaint about the route selected and thought that the lines in the movie spoken by Tom Hanks reflected the reality of this region where we carry the piracy reports daily. In short we find none of the crew complaints described by the media against Captain Phillips or the Maersk line by certain disgruntled crewmen valid. We also note that Tom Hanks personally has met Capt. Phillips and in his portrayal his Capt. Phillips character pretty much follows the classic leadership models taught in the various naval and coast guard leadership schools. We doubt that Hanks injected that into the movie as a result of formal study, we believe it came out of the script's attempt to carefully parallel the actual events.  All told we think Tom Hanks made a sincere effort to accurately portray the real Capt. Phillips and in the end produced an Oscar caliber performance without over acting. We think he nailed the character.

 The procedures conducted aboard the MAERSK ALABAMA just prior, and during the pirate attacks and subsequent boarding were right out of the simulated exercises conducted at the old U.S. Merchant Marine Academy  Master Mariner's Readiness course, we sorely lament the loss of that program. The Navy procedures depicted were pretty much what we were taught to expect and we thought the real navy ships and crews, including few real Navy sailors who appear in the film did an excellent job.

 Even the disgruntled  MAERSK ALABAMA crew who have complained about the real world Captain Phillips all acknowledge that the film is entertaining. It is that, but the word gripping comes more to our minds. Besides Tom Hanks performance, the actors who portrayed the pirates were superb and delivered performances that went far beyond simply being menacing, each created an individual character who will stand out in your memory. These guys individually and as a group deserve best supporting actor Oscar nominations.

 One of the best scenes in the movie comes towards the end when Capt. Phillips is being cared for by a female Navy Chief Corpsman. Its a very intense scene and we suspect that it may have been played with a real life corpsman. We watched the credits all the way to the end but could not identify who played that part.  As Capt. Phillips as played by Tom Hanks is coming out of the shock of having three pirates shot to death within inches of him while he was bound and blindfolded the corpsman is trying to keep him from hyperventilating or going into shock. She is also trying to determine the sources of the blood that is all over him. Hanks is bordering on incoherent, and the corpsman is the consummate professional proceeding with diagnosis and treatment constantly reassuring and pulling the Phillips character towards coherence and normal breathing. At one point the corpsman asks Hanks if all of the blood is from his head injury. We won't tell you his answer since we don't want to spoil that scene for you, but we believe it may have been ad lib, but a perfect one that helped the audience see deep into the character of the Captain as portrayed by Hanks.

 There is one mystery that we are aware of through our own unique sources that the movie doesn't address and the authorities haven't yet resolved. What ever happened to the $30,000 in cash that the pirates got out of the ship's safe? We know that it made it into the life boat and that it was not on either Capt. Phillips or the one Somali pirate who was tricked aboard the Navy response ship. We don't know how the bodies of the dead pirates were handled, or how the lifeboat was disposed of or searched prior to disposal, or at what point the Navy became aware that the pirates had taken $30,000 in cash from the ship. The missing $30,000 remains a mystery and is not addressed in the movie. To learn more about the sniper shots and the rescue boarding and the missing money click here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8_lzWfvoXM
 We highly recommend this movie, especially if you are, or have a relative serving with the Merchant Marine or Navy, its a gritty realistic peek into parts of that world. It is not a documentary but a dramatization of a real world event. Hopefully it will give Americans a better appreciation of what is going on out there over the horizon. Go see it, its also one of those cinematic experiences that is best appreciated on the big screen, so go see it soon on the big screen, in surround sound and the whole nine yards. To watch a movie trailer click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sp6jpeDeQmE

Johnas Presbyter

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