UKMTO Officer: Maersk Alabama, you should alert your crew, get your fire hoses ready. Chances are they're just fishermen.I thoroughly enjoyed Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks as the sea captain from Vermont who must match his wits against a band of Somali pirates. A skillfully crafted film, it has the air of a documentary with the tension that only a gifted director can infuse. Tom Hanks is better than ever before and for him not to receive an Oscar for his performance is a crime. The young men from Minnesota who portrayed the Somali pirates are quite convincing. In the movie, the pirates are junior criminals from a chaotic country, working for tyrannical bosses. Like many youth in our own country, they are trying to prove their manhood through violence. In the "Yankee Irish" captain they find a man whom they, under different circumstances, would want to have as their own leader. Instead they must work against him, and even kill him if the situation dictates. In the way he treats the pirates, and in the way he is always thinking of his own family in America, the fatherhood of the captain is at the heart of the picture. Although Phillips is their prisoner, the Somali pirates are more lost then he is because they have no strong and compassionate father, only bosses who use them.
Captain Richard Phillips: They're not here to fish.
~from Captain Phillips (2013)
The New York Post gives an excellent summary of Captain Phillips:
Tom Hanks does his finest work ever in Paul Greengrass’ gripping docu-drama “Captain Phillips’’ — brilliantly playing Richard Phillips, the abducted veteran skipper of the Maersk Alabama, held hostage for four days in 2009 by armed Somali hijackers after he foiled their determined attempt to capture his enormous cargo ship.NPR has an interview with Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass:
The story, which made international headlines, is brought to vivid life by Greengrass, who stages the complex but clearly depicted action on an actual cargo ship as well as on real Navy vessels, including one that was involved in the rescue mission.
The hijackers are a quartet of poor Somali fishermen who don’t know each other before they are recruited onshore, and frequently bicker as things go increasingly wrong. Muse (Barkhad Abdi) is the intense leader, who struggles to make a team of the hotheaded Najee (Faysal Ahmed), terrified navigator Elmi (Mahat M. Ali) and barefoot teenager Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman), who clearly has no idea what he’s gotten himself into.
Phillips, helming a Norfolk, Va.-based ship, is transporting hundreds of cargo containers from Oman to Kenya and conducting an anti-piracy drill when he spots a couple of suspicious skiffs approaching from the Somali coast. Unarmed (per international maritime regulations at the time), Phillips orders whatever evasive measures are possible for his huge and slow-moving vessel, which uses water cannons to try to swamp the interlopers. (Read more.)
Greengrass: Somali piracy is international organized crime, that's actually what it is. These young men with their AK-47s attack from the coast of Somalia, but this is activity that is financed and organized thousands of miles away in Kenya and Nigeria and ultimately in Europe and in some cases in the U.S.; it's a highly organized criminal activity. The young men who are the guys that actually attack the ships, they're just the triggermen in essence, and of course they come from a country that's everything you'd expect and associate with a failed state: collapsed central government, warlordism, crime, gangs, terrorism in certain parts of the country. It's everything you'd imagine and more, and what you want in this film is to portray something of that with authenticity, there's nothing more dangerous than a young man with a gun who's got nothing left to lose.
It became important, from my point of view, to find young Somali actors to play those parts, and that was the real central challenge of the casting process. ... There's no Somali acting community in Los Angeles or New York or Chicago so we had to go to Minneapolis where the largest Somali community is and what we found there was a very vibrant and rich and storied community, filled with musicians, actors, filmmakers, writers. ... So what began as [what] I thought would be a very difficult endeavor became very quickly simple. We had 7- or 800 people turn up for the first casting and very quickly we identified Barkhad Abdi and his three friends, as it turned out. (Read more.)
Here is a fairly comprehensive article about how the film compares with the reality. To quote:
As in the movie, Phillips received bulletins about recent hijackings in the surrounding waters but chose to keep his course. The Alabama sailed 300 to 400 miles from the Somali coast, in order to maintain a faster, more direct route, even though at least one warning cautioned that “vessels should consider maintaining a distance of more than 600 miles from Somalia coastline.” Most of the warnings were directed at all the ships in the area, but one was sent directly to Phillips. Unlike in the movie, Phillips didn’t hide the surrounding hijackings from his wife, Andrea, according to the book.Share
The hijackers’ first attack
The hijackers’ first, failed attack plays out in Phillips’ account much as it does in Greengrass’ film. But the Alabama wasn’t in the middle of a pirate drill when they were attacked—they were in the middle of a “fire and boat drill.”
Once they realized they were being pursued, Phillips says he radioed the United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations (UKMTO) about a “potential piracy situation.” The UKMTO, according to Phillips, said, “It’s probably just fishermen” and asked them to prepare. The U.S. emergency line didn’t pick up.
The detail about Phillips faking a radio communication with the U.S. military in order to scare off the pirates is also, remarkably, true to Phillips’ account. According to the book, he pretended to radio as “Warship 237”—to play the second voice, he lowered his voice and dropped his Boston accent—in order to suggest that a helicopter was on the way. The boats eventually turned away. (Read more.)