You are not a fisherman!

It’s entertainment, not history.  The Hollywood version of the story is, at best, based on an incident of piracy, but has no intention to reflect reality with accuracy.  And a good story it is.  Why taint it with the facts? 

It is of little consequence, after all, that the story as told by Greenwood in the film “Captain Phillips” with leading man Tom Hanks in the title role is not altogether true.  It is a cracking film.  It’s an adventure movie, filmed on location on the high seas, and in the claustrophobic world that is a real ship.  For dramatic effect it relies almost entirely on hand-held camera work. It moves at pace.  It gets straight to the point.  The actors look as authentic as the set.  There are attempts at balance: “We all have bosses!” – only when the Somali’s bosses say “You’re fired!” they tend to pull, not point, a finger.   There is reference to exploitation of Somali fishing waters, but then the words of Phillips are quite telling: “You are not a fisherman!”

Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips
Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips

Is it just me, or was the dialogue a little stilted?  A little forced at first perhaps? Well, quite cleverly (or is it coincidentally?), as a result there is tangible unease between Phillips and his crew.  As is the case with captains and crew… “Moving the product: that’s our job!” says Phillips, almost, ever so almost implying that profit overrides humanitarian concerns.  But then, they’re shipping food aid to Africa, so profit doesn’t come into it, does it? And he does the drills and orders the lockdown.

But then, “Captain Phillips” is about heroism.  It tells the story of seafarers who rely on sheer grit, wit and resourcefulness in combating armed assault.  It’s the story of vulnerable yet robust people. It’s the story of people “who go down to the sea in ships,” simply to ply their trade, and find themselves preyed upon by ruthless criminals, but then refuse to be victims.  It is the story of professionals who “know their ship better than the pirates do.” Indeed, these are highly qualified and exacting professionals who keep a good ship and use it to their advantage.

The film does not ask the controversial questions, not overtly anyhow. It does say something significant about the massive support (some will say overkill) given by the United States even to its individual citizens.  It certainly makes a statement about the responsibility of flag states for their ships and crews.    Ironically it also portrays how ineffectual even successful interventions are at preventing the horror that a few men with guns inflict.

Sitting next to me at the private screening in London was an agent from shipping insurance.  “We do not understand the preoccupation with welfare,” he said, but kindly.  “It just all seems so fuzzy.  It’s certainly not anything that we can relate to in financial terms.”  Indeed not.  Hopefully then those last scenes of “Captain Phillips”, so reminiscent of the final frame of “Kapringen: A Hijacking”, demonstrate how piracy and hostage taking affects ordinary people.

Seafarers are human, not human element.   And, refreshingly, that is the real story of “Captain Phillips”: seafarers are the best defence against pirates, and the best guarantee of an owner’s assets.  They deserve to be taken care of.

The screening was organised by INCE.  Welcoming the audience INCE paid homage to the men and women of the sea who have faced piracy, and asked that thought be given to those men still held in Somalia.


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