High seas, high ten­sion

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - MOVIES - NEALA JOHN­SON

FOR the sec­ond time in his oth­er­wise worka­day life, Cap­tain Richard Phillips is un­der the me­dia spot­light. Yet this mer­chant mariner from Mas­sachusetts brushes it off as one would a mos­quito.

“I know it’ll be short- lived, so I can get through it,” he says.

“I’ve been in­volved in worse things, so it’s not re­ally a prob­lem. It’s not like a poke in the eye.”

When he says he’s en­coun­tered “worse things”, the cap­tain isn’t be­ing flip­pant.

On April 8, 2009, while steer­ing the cargo ship Maersk Alabama to­wards Mom­basa, Kenya, Phillips and his crew were hi­jacked by four So­mali pi­rates.

When the pi­rates failed to take con­trol of the ship, they bun­dled Phillips into the ship’s lifeboat and took off.

Sev­eral US Navy ships were dis­patched to the Gulf of Aden to mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion the usual rou­tine at that time was that they would sim­ply ob­serve the boat as it made its way back to So­ma­lia’s shore. But po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions saw the Navy break with rou­tine SEALs in­ter­vened on April 12, shoot­ing dead three of the pi­rates and res­cu­ing Phillips.

Be­fore 2009 was out, Phillips pub­lished a book, A Cap­tain’s Duty, about his or­deal. Writ­ing it was a cathar­sis and also a way to shine a light on the jobs done by mer­chant mariners and SEALs.

“I also wanted to get across the point I was stronger than I thought,” he adds. “I truly be­lieve we all are stronger than we think, we can do more than we think we can. As long as we don’t give up, we per­se­vere through the worst of times, we can make a good out­come.”

The book was barely writ­ten be­fore the movie rights were snapped up. That movie, Cap­tain Phillips di­rected by Paul Green­grass and star­ring Tom Hanks as the cap­tain is now con­sid­ered one of the best of the year and an Os­car- fron­trun­ner.

Watch­ing his story un­fold with a lit­tle Hol­ly­wood pizazz on a cin­ema screen didn’t bring with it too many trau­matic flash­backs for the re­al­life Phillips.

“For me it was worse than the film por­trayed it, so it re­ally wasn’t that bad for me when I watched it,” he says. “It is a good movie, it is pretty ac­tion- packed and stays pretty much to the story but it does have some Hol­ly­wood in­put be­cause it re­ally can’t tell the whole story, there was so much that went on and they had to get it down to two hours.”

What was the real, ex­tended ex­pe­ri­ence like?

“I was scared, afraid, dur­ing the whole part of it,” says Phillips. “The ma­jor­ity of the time I didn’t see a good out­come com­ing for me, but I wanted to do the best that I could. Af­ter a while you have to take your fear and put it on the seat next to you and do the best you can.

“By the time I was in the lifeboat I was ac­tu­ally pretty happy be­cause I had got­ten the pi­rates off the ship, and my crew and ship and cargo was safe so I was 75 per cent of the way there, in solv­ing my prob­lems. Now I just had to ex­tri­cate my­self. I didn’t be­lieve I could but I thought I had a chance. I did ac­tu­ally es­cape for a lit­tle while but they got me back ...

“I didn’t see a good end­ing com­ing of it be­cause I saw the de­ter­mi­na­tion they had and I didn’t be­lieve that they were go­ing to give up at all. And they weren’t nice guys. I mean, there were times that we did con­verse, we had no prob­lems get­ting our point across, but there were many times they proved their true colours.

“I write about in the book: the young guy with the wild Char­lie Man­son eyes, he loved to sit across from me with his AK- 47 point­ing at me and then pull the trig­ger. Just go ‘ click’ and then smile at me. So th­ese guys weren’t nice guys. They were in­deed out there to try and scare and put the fear of death into peo­ple so that they could con­trol them.”

Green­grass has spo­ken of want­ing to en­sure there was light and shade to his telling of the saga so his pi­rates ( played by young So­ma­lis found at cast­ing ses­sions in the US and UK) are de­picted as im­pres­sion­able and des­per­ate teenagers pushed into their ac­tions by a nasty war­lord. Phillips, how­ever, has no such com­pas­sion for the real men who used him as “a hostage and a shield”. “I feel no sym­pa­thy for them. They’re peo­ple who chose that life­style. I mean, it’s an op­por­tu­nity for them to make money in a coun­try where the av­er­age an­nual pay is about $ 165. I don’t think any­one was co­erced into do­ing it. It was a ra­tional thought they made to go out, en­dan­ger peo­ple’s lives, shoot guns at peo­ple ...

“So no, I have no feel­ings for them. They made a de­ci­sion that their life and their needs are more im­por­tant than yours.”

While many say Hanks is now the one to watch in the Best Ac­tor Os­car race for his per­for­mance in Cap­tain Phillips, the real cap­tain is re­luc­tant to jump on the band­wagon.

“Well, I wish the best for Tom, he’s a great ac­tor. But I’d hate to jinx him!” Phillips laughs. “I don’t re­ally know the Hol­ly­wood busi­ness, so I don’t think I’d be much help in that re­gard. But I think the job he did stands for it­self.”

CAP­TAIN PHILLIPS

Now show­ing at State and Vil­lage cine­mas

DAN­GER­OUS WATERS: Tom Hanks comes up against mod­ern- day pi­rates in Cap­tain Phillips.

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