By , Bloomberg

The big movie this weekend is the well-reviewed Captain Phillips, a high-seas piracy drama based on a 2009 hijacking in which Tom Hanks plays the eponymous Richard Phillips. In real life, some of Phillips’s former crew members are complaining about how Hollywood told their story. The unhappy seamen allege that the filmmakers, in their eagerness to portray Phillips as a classic hero, fudged key facts. And since this is America, the dissident crew members are lodging their complaints via lawsuits against the owners of the hijacked freighter.

The legal actions in Alabama (PDF) and Texas (PDF) seek unspecified monetary damages. The suits do not name Phillips or formally accuse him of wrongdoing. A trial is scheduled to begin in Mobile, Ala., in December.

“I want moviegoers to know that the true heroes are the Navy marksmen and Navy personnel who bailed out the shipping company and Captain Phillips,” Brian Beckcom, the Houston attorney representing nine of Phillips’s former subordinates in their suits against Maersk Line and Waterman Steamship Corp., said at a press conference on Thursday. He described his clients as “the brave crew members who fought back against the pirates.” The plaintiffs claim a variety of physical and emotional injuries.

The cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama was hijacked by Somali pirates in April 2009 as it sailed along the coast of Africa. Phillips was taken hostage on a small lifeboat and eventually rescued by Navy SEALs. “While this event certainly makes for an exciting movie, could it have been avoided altogether?” That’s the question posed on Beckcom’s law firm website. His answer: “The pirate hijacking would never have taken place if not for the negligence of the captain, shipping company, and ship operator.”

Specifically, the suits allege that Phillips had been clearly warned to steer the Alabama at least 600 miles off the coast of Somalia, because of the danger of piracy. Instead, in an effort to save time and money, he allegedly ordered the ship to within about 250 miles of the coast. The corporate defendants deny any liability. has an interesting report on the imbroglio:

Phillips said to CNN’s Drew Griffin in 2010 and in a court deposition last year that he ignored the numerous warnings that urged him to go farther out to sea. … When asked last year why he decided not to take the boat farther offshore, Phillips testified, “I don’t believe 600 miles would make you safe. I didn’t believe 1,200 miles would make you safe. As I told the crew, it would be a matter of when, not if. … We were always in this area.”

After his rescue by U.S. Navy SEAL commandos, Phillips was lauded as a hero and wrote a book about his ordeal, “A Captain’s Duty.” The publisher promoted him as a sea captain who risked his life by offering himself as a hostage “in exchange for the safety of the crew,” something Phillips later acknowledged was a falsity spread by erroneous media reports.

Paul Greengrass, the director of Captain Phillips, doesn’t claim that his movie is literally accurate. “Movies are not journalism,” he told the Associated Press. “Movies are not history.” Perhaps not. But an awful lot of moviegoers will assume they’re getting an honest account from a film that advertises itself as being “based on a true story.” Pass the popcorn.

-Paul M. Barrett , Copyright 2013 Bloomberg.

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  • Mike Hunt

    It’s easy to file a law suit in the U.S. If someone sticks his tounge out at you…and you feel offended..then file a suit. t’s just awful..those cock sucking crew members are safe, get over it and move on with your life you bunch of Douche Bags…

  • Charlie Johnson

    Mike Hunt-
    I am certain that you can express your disgust without the vitriol. It would add credibility to your point of view, at least for me.

    • The Usual Suspect

      I think that Mike Hunt is the cousin of Hugh Janus and the sole purpose for their existence is to get a rise out of people with their incessant stream of vulgarities, misspellings, incorrect capitalization, and improper use of ellipses, as well as, the use of thinly veiled, profanity based nom de guerres.

  • Doug Bostrom

    W/navigation decisions routinely delivered electronically to the bridge from bean-counters sitting safely on the shore, the question of why Capt. Phillips was trying to shave miles off the voyage needs exploration.

    “This course, or your contract. Your decision, Captain.” Not necessarily in those words but the tacit transaction isn’t hard to fathom.

  • Nathaniel Tanner

    I hear ya, I understand the controversy. I don’t think there has ever been a completely fact based Hollywood movie produced. Additionally, I don’t think this Captains up to receive a congressional Medal of Honor so Whats the cause for concern? Phillips, as well as Hanks, admit the character in the movie is all doctored up to make it a better entertainment experience…I was questioning the authenticity after seeing the movie, researched it online, and it’s pretty obvious this guy wasn’t offering himself up to be shot, non the less it was a successful outcome so he’s gonna get the credit. The crew is just trying get theirs to, which is understandable. Producers should have included the real life crew in the credits but I’m sure the disgruntled crews lawyers and their pending suits squashed any possibility of that. Too bad for them, it would have been a great legacy to have been included in, but they are going for the money. The issue that concerns me here is that we have to worry about people believing everything they see on tv.

  • Walter A Lichota Jr., A/B

    After reading about the movie and also being a contracted sailor for MLL, I personally won’t see the movie. For Capt. Phillips did endanger the ship crews lives. For those who have work at sea (deep sea), we have brave a lot that some on land don’t or won’t ever understand. I’ve had close encounters with some other countries, for reason of security I can’t tell you where. But when you have anther vessel armed to the nines and all you have is just small arms, it’s like bring a knife to a gun fight. Cool heads pervail, the captain responsibility is safety of the ship’s crew.
    To have a known threat upon you and belantly decides to not take the threat as is, is a case of just stupid or plain crazy, or both. For you can’t fix stupid, and this clearly is this.
    This is just my opinion on this movie and all that has happened.

  • Ryan

    The article, as does the movie, clearly states that the movie is “based” on a true story. Thus it only need have the foundation of what really happened. In this case there was a hijacking and a hostage taking, the foundation of the story.

    The rest is made to keep us entertained. As noted, pass the popcorn.

    • MURIEL

      Ryan is correct!! There are many movies which clearly state, “this is based on real events”, and people prefer to ignore the key word ‘BASED’.

  • terry hardy

    When lives are at risk or threatened at sea I believe all should be compensated – not by the movie people but any monetary gains made by the captain or praise. It was his ego that put these people in harms way and maybe company profit also. Who knows the private correspondance between these 2 parties.

  • Dan Patrick

    It’s a pretty decent movie. Too bad the disgruntled crew members are so jealous that they feel the need to file a lawsuit. Aren’t they safe? What seems to be the big deal.

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