It opens Friday to great early reviews and Oscar talk, but behind the big screen adventure of “Captain Phillips” is a Mobile company that is being sued and could lose tens of millions of dollars.
Tom Hanks stars in the title role as captain of the container ship Maersk Alabama that was hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia in 2009. While the hijacking, and subsequent hostage situation and rescue, might make for a great movie, it’s making for a potentially major financial headache for a Mobile company. The Alabama was operated by the Waterman Steamship Company, owned by International Shipholding whose corporate headquarters are in Mobile’s R.S.A. Tower.
Nine crew members on board the Alabama during the 2009 crisis have filed suit in Mobile County against International Shipholding and Maersk. They accuse the companies of disregarding the safety of their employees, causing physical and mental injuries.“Captain Phillips chose to sail the ship in a an area infested with pirates,” said Mobile maritime attorney Ross Diamond who represents the workers. “The owners and operators of the ship knew he was doing that.”
The workers claim Captain Phillips had received warnings from the U-S Government to stay at least 600 miles off the Somali coast due to pirate activity.
“He was advised to change course by competent deck officers and he overruled them. Stay on course, make our E.T.A.,” said John Cronan, an Alabama Crew member.
The Alabama was traveling from Djibouti to Mombassa, Kenya. Captain Phillips took a more direct course, about 250 miles off the coast, rather than the recommended 600 miles. Diamond says the reason he took the shorter course is simple.
“The obvious answer reason is that it was less expensive, less time consuming,” said Diamond.
Diamond says the timing of the film’s release is interesting. The trial set to open in about seven weeks.
“I don’t feel it’s just a coincidental,” said Diamond. “I’ve seen the trailer to the movie. What I’ve seen in that trailer is factually incorrect.”
The trial begins at Government Plaza the first week of December and the attorney says figuring out who has seen the movie will be a key part of jury selection. Diamond says Captain Phillips isn’t who he appears to be on film.
“I don’t think Captain Phillips was quite the hero he portrays himself in this movie.”
The real life Captain Phillips is expected in Mobile to testify. Two crew members have already settled lawsuits with Maersk and International Shipholding. The pending suits do not specify a damage amount.
The trial is in Mobile due to the location of International Shipholding’s corporate headquarters. None of the crew members involved in the litigation are from the Mobile area. The ship’s name “Alabama” has no local significance. The ship wasn’t built in Mobile and it’s never been home ported here.
International Shipholding declined to comment for this report.