Posts Tagged ‘Captain Phillips’

Captain Phillips

Monday, October 21st, 2013

The last time I went to the cinema before this week was back in May, when I watched “A Hijacking”, a Danish movie about a cargo ship in the Indian Ocean hijacked by Somali pirates. This week it was “Captain Phillips”, a similar kind of story, this time based on a real-life hijacking in 2009. Directed by Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy, United 93, Green Zone), it stars Tom Hanks and newcomer Barkhad Abdi, both of whom turn in spellbinding performances. Even if you know how it ends, it’s a real nerve-shredder getting there. Highly recommended.

It was an interesting moment of reflection, too, for me. When I went around the world in 2002 on the 33ft powerboat Spirit of Cardiff, amongst various pirate encounters, we did have a relatively close call with Somali pirates. Back then the piracy problem was in its infancy, and we knew the southern end of the Red Sea would be a hot spot, as previous piracy attempts had basically used the natural choke point of the 17 mile wide strait of Bab-el-Mendeb as an easy place to board large ships. We’d been told that anywhere within 100 miles of the North Somali coast had to be considered unsafe, but even taking a route closer to Yemen, we still came within 80 miles.

Having been overtaken by the container ship Kota Wajar, we were trying to tailgate her – following in the wash of a large ship does mitigate the effects of rough seas somewhat. We were only able to keep up with her for around 20 minutes, and it was during that time that we spotted a speedboat about a mile off our starboard beam. They were clearly having bigger problems than us in the heavy seas. As Captain Phillips reports the approach of pirates, he says “they’re not here to fish.” Likewise we knew there was no way a boat would be out for pleasure in the conditions we were facing. Clearly they were after the container ship, but I’ve no doubt they would have regarded us as a decent runner-up prize in the ransom stakes. Ironically, Kota Wajar was subsequently hijacked and held for 72 days in 2009, later in the same year as the events portrayed in “Captain Phillips”.

Read about my epic voyage around the world on Spirit of Cardiff in “Confronting Poseidon”. Click here to download your copy.