Captain Phillips lawsuit says he risked Maersk Alabama crews lives

By Mandy Oteng 0

  • Two pirate attacks and more than 7 warnings went ignored as Phillips captained the Maersk Alabama deep into the danger zone
  • Claim he boasted he 'wasn't scared of pirates'
  • Ships told to sail no closer than 680miles from the Somali coast; the Maersk was just 270miles from it when pirates seized it on 8 April 2009
  • Crew members 'galled' by seeing Phillips feted a hero in Hollywood and the White House
  • Four years after their pirate ordeal a court date has been set

By Laura Collins

PUBLISHED: 11:42 EST, 1 October 2013 | UPDATED: 12:01 EST, 1 October 2013

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The ship’s Captain portrayed by Tom Hanks in a forthcoming Hollywood movie is at the centre of a $50million lawsuit – brought by the very men whose lives he is credited with saving.

According to legal papers seen by MailOnline, the true story of the Maersk Alabama – the US cargo vessel captured by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden four years ago – is not a simple narrative of Captain Richard Phillips’s personal sacrifice in the face of extreme danger.

Instead it is a story of corporate greed and hubris, in which Phillips captained his ship against more than 7 maritime warnings and his own men's pleas, sailing deep into waters notorious for pirate attack.

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Heroism or hubris? Tom Hanks with Captain Richard Phillips whom he portrays in a film based on the captain's ordeal at the hand of Somali pirates.

Heroism or hubris? Tom Hanks with Captain Richard Phillips whom he portrays in a film based on the captain's ordeal at the hand of Somali pirates.

Hostage to fortune: A still from 'Captain Phillips,' shows Tom Hanks as the lead of the title, but was it bad luck or bad judgement that that put the Maersk and her crew in peril??

Hostage to fortune: A still from 'Captain Phillips,' shows Tom Hanks as the lead of the title, but was it bad luck or bad judgement that put the Maersk and her crew in peril?

Speaking to MailOnline, attorney Deborah Waters, who first brought the 11 men’s claims in 2009, said: ‘He put them in harm’s way and they suffered as a result and were hurt as a result.

‘It is galling for them to see Captain Phillips being set up as a hero. It is just horrendous and they’re angry.’

The Maersk Alabama came under pirate attack on 8 April 2009. For the 20 strong crew and their Captain that was the first of a five day ordeal.

Captain Phillips offered himself as a hostage in return for his crew’s safety. Ten hours into the hijack, with the Maersk under pirate control, crew members managed to take a prisoner of their own with sheer 'brute force.'

By luck they taken the pirates' leader. Speaking shortly after the attack Second Engineer, Richard Matthews recalled: ‘Right then and there we had a chip. They came on with a plan and now their plan was disrupted.’ 

Hero's welcome: A weary Captain Phillips is met by his children at Vermont airport on 17 April 2009. His ordeal ended five days earlier, when US Navy SEAL snipers shot three of his pirate captors dead

Hero's welcome: A weary Captain Phillips is met by his children at Vermont airport on 17 April 2009. His ordeal ended five days earlier, when US Navy SEAL snipers shot three of his pirate captors dead

Safe harbour: A team tow the Maersk Alabama lifeboat on which Captain Phillips was held captive to assault vessel USS Boxer on 12 April 2009

Safe harbour: A team tow the Maersk Alabama lifeboat on which Captain Phillips was held captive to assault vessel USS Boxer on 12 April 2009

It meant that Captain Phillips was able to offer the pirates an exit strategy– a hostage swap and a lifeboat for a clean get away.

But the agreement was not honoured by the pirates. Instead, after securing the return of their leader they took off with Captain Phillips as hostage.

The drama unfolded on news networks across America and beyond. The Maersk Alabama was the first US vessel to be taken in these waters and now its Captain’s life hung in the balance.

President Barrack Obama meets Captain Phillips and wife Andrea in the Oval Office in May 2009. The President praised Phillips's heroism as an example to all

President Barrack Obama meets Captain Phillips and wife Andrea in the Oval Office in May 2009. The President praised Phillips's heroism as an example to all

His story of survival, of attempted escape, beatings and ultimately liberation by US Navy SEAL snipers was compelling and inspiring.

President Barack Obama went as far as to commend the Captain and issue the statement: ‘I share the country’s admiration for the bravery of Captain Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew.’

He added: ‘His courage is a model for all Americans.’

In the days that followed Captain Phillips's dramatic rescue, this quiet family man from Vermont, married to a nurse, Andrea, was much feted.

The Making of a Hero: Tom Hanks poses with 'real life hero' Captain Phillips on the cover of Parade magazine.

The Making of a Hero: Tom Hanks poses with 'real life hero' Captain Phillips on the cover of Parade magazine.

The 58-year-old father of two, originally from Boston, was praised as the epitome of an ordinary hero: a veritable Everyman who had heroism thrust upon him by circumstance.

And he had shown great courage. He had stepped up to the mark and placed himself between the pirates and his crew.

He had shown an instinct to protect and survive.

The immediate aftermath was filled with jubilation and relief at Phillips's and his crew’s safe return.

They made the arduous trip home from Mombasa, Kenya on 12 April.

And, once there, the decisions that had put them in such danger in the first place passed with little mention, publicly at least.

But that chain of cause and effect was always bound to be scrutinised. WIthin months of the ship's return lawsuits were in motion.

The suits are not being brought against Captain Phillips personally.

Instead they are being brought against the ship-owners, Maersk Line Limited and the crew’s employers Waterman Steamship Corporation.

But the ‘hurt and anger’ described by Mrs Waters, and experienced by her clients is personal.

Speaking on behalf of her clients, Mrs Waters said: ‘The crew had begged Captain Phillips not to go so close to the Somali coast.

'He told them he wouldn’t let pirates scare him or force him to sail away from the coast.’

In the two days before the Maersk Alabama was taken, two other vessels had come under pirate attack in the Gulf of Aden prompting official Maritime safety groups to issue warnings.

 'The crew begged him not to go so close to the Somali coast...He told them he wouldn't let pirates scare him.'

Attorney Deborah Waters

Key among those advisory notices was, according to the lawsuits, one issued ‘on or about April 6, 2009.’

Then, Maritime authorities issued a warning to ‘sail at least 600(nautical) miles off the coast of Somalia because pirates were in the region and taking hostage ships and their crews.’

‘In spite of the notices and warnings,’ the suit continues, the decision was made ‘to sail Maersk Alabama within approximately 250 (nautical) miles off the coast of Somalia.

Easy target: The Maersk Alabama was well beyond the distance from the Somalian coast designated 'safe' by Maritime authorities when pirates struck

Easy target: The Maersk Alabama was well beyond the distance from the Somalian coast designated 'safe' by Maritime authorities when pirates struck

Three members of the special US Navy escort that ensured the Maersk Alabama's safe passage to Kenya stand aboard the beleaguered vessel

Three members of the special US Navy escort that ensured the Maersk Alabama's safe passage to Kenya stand aboard the beleaguered vessel

The Maersk Alabama arrives in Kenya on 11 April 2009. Captain Phillips returned one day later. In the foreground the hundreds of the world's media wait and watch the end of the enthralling drama

The Maersk Alabama arrives in Kenya on 11 April 2009. Captain Phillips returned one day later. In the foreground the hundreds of the world's media wait and watch the end of the enthralling drama

Navy records place the Maersk Alabama just 240 nautical miles off the coast when it came under attack.

It was, according to Mrs Waters, ‘A purely financial, business decision,’ to take such a hazardous course in the face of increased pirate activities in those waters and repeated warnings.

The Maersk Alabama was heading to Mombasa, Kenya, carrying 17,000 tons of cargo – much of it aid destined for Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. Sailing the safe distance from the coast would add a day to the trip and use extra fuel and manpower.

A bridge too far: A still from 'Captain Phillips' recreates the terrifying moment Somali pirates took control of the Maersk Alabama

A bridge too far: A still from 'Captain Phillips' recreates the terrifying moment Somali pirates took control of the Maersk Alabama

Troubled waters: An image taken two months BEFORE the Maersk Alabama was seized shows Somali pirates surrendering to a US Navy patrol in the Gulf of Aden at a time when pirate activity was known to be on the rise

Troubled waters: An image taken two months BEFORE the Maersk Alabama was seized shows Somali pirates surrendering to a US Navy patrol in the Gulf of Aden at a time when pirate activity was known to be on the rise

Mrs Waters said: ‘Captain Phillips made that trip all the time. His decision was signed off by Maersk absolutely. There’s a constant communication between the bridge and the outside world. The company knew precisely what was going on and Captain Phillips was absolutely aware of the warnings.’ 

As for Maersk and Waterman, the suits allege both, ‘knowingly, intentionally and wilfully sent their employees into an area where pirates were attaching merchant vessels…exposing their employees to grave danger.’

It has taken the 11, four years of fighting to secure trial dates. The same amount of time it took Captain Phillips to secure a book deal and see that book turned into a movie.

Mrs Waters said: ‘They fought and fought but we finally got everyone to agree on the jurisdiction of this suit. At one point we were lodging papers in Virginia, Alabama and Texas.’

Now MailOnline has learned the cases are set to be heard in Mobile, Alabama in December. .
In the prelude to his eponymous movie ‘Captain Phillips’ has said: ‘Most heroes don’t have a choice. They just do the best they can.’

But Mrs Waters is quite clear that there was a choice made.

The choice was to carry on into dangerous waters.  According to the lawsuit it was a decision made purely to save money. And it was a decision that very nearly cost the crew of the Maersk Alabama - and her captain - their lives.

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