With the release of docudrama Captain Phillips, the big screen adaptation of “A Captain’s Duty: Somalis, SEALs, and a Dangerous Day at Sea” by Richard Phillips, it seemed appropriate to share a few fun facts about the actors in the film, the production, and those boats! Although the 2009 incident is public knowledge, consider this your SPOILER ALERT in case you’re not up to speed or haven’t yet seen the film.
- The MV Maersk Alabama was the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.
- The actors who played the four Somali pirates (Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Mahat M. Ali, and Faysal Ahmed) were friends, cast from Minnesota, and had no formal acting experience. One of them had to learn to swim. All of them, when being told they got the parts while walking along the beach, jumped fully clothed into the ocean in celebration.
- The initial takeover scene with the Skiff approaching the Alabama when the pirates come aboard, was done without CGI.
- One of the actual naval ships from the incident, the USS Halyburton, was used in the production.
- The MV Maersk Alexander that was used in production was a direct match of the MV Maersk Alabama.
- 75% of the film’s production took place at sea.
- Merchant vessels at that time of the 2009 incident were required to be unarmed according to international regulations. Ultimately, the Alabama’s crisis was the catalyst for a number of industry changes, including boarding armed guards (sometimes former SEALS) onto vessels for high risk voyages.
- The four Somali pirates were intentionally never introduced to nor did auditions/reads with the cast that was playing the crew until they shot the takeover scene.
- The woman who played the medic in the final scene with Tom Hanks was actually an actor who was playing a crew part, and was merely asked to help run through the scene as practice. She was never meant to have a speaking role, but the crew was brought to tears by the scene.
- The 28 foot lifeboat Phillips was stuck in for five days was small, tight, and had no ventilation, so all of the actors got dizzy and seasick during the first few days of shooting those scenes. The marine coordinator claims it drove “like a bowl of spaghetti”.
- Two of the sailors seen on the USS Bainbridge (USS Truxtun on set), the naval rescue ship that first responded when Phillips was taken hostage in the lifeboat, were actual sailors aboard the Bainbridge during the real event.
- Ten former Navy SEALs played the roles of the SEAL men who carried out the close-in sniper operation.
- One of the forces resulting in the rise of Somali piracy was that Somalia’s coasts heavily relied on the domestic fish trade and after the EU tightened regulations, it forced fleets into new hunting grounds. As such, industrial overfishing began to deplete the fish population in Somali waters. Former fishermen began to hijack ships and hold them ransom as a means of income and found it to be quite lucrative. As a result, organized crime around piracy became a transnational enterprise. Interestingly enough, its financiers hail not only from Africa, but from Europe and North America as well.
Source: Recapped from 'Captain Phillips' production notes, courtesy of Sony Pictures
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