The thriller “Captain Phillips”, which starred Tom Hanks, was released on Friday, October 12, 2013.

What most of the people who saw the movie do not know is that there is a major lawsuit circling around this event.  The crew members of the Maersk Alabama filed the lawsuit against the company that owned the ship, claiming they were “steered into pirate-infested waters” near the Somali coast without any real protection. Their ship was attacked in 2009, leading to an epic standoff that ended when Navy SEAL snipers intervened. The lead pirate, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, is currently serving a 33 year prison sentence in an Indiana prison.

Captain Richard Phillips (played by Tom Hanks) isn’t specifically named in the lawsuit, but the lawyer representing the nine crew members who are suing has made some sharp comments in the press suggesting the attack was his fault. He has an entire page on his Website called “Captain Phillips: The True Story” dedicated to arguing the movie is inaccurate. The page can be read at the following link:

One crew member, Jimmy Sabga, says the Captain was warned not to enter the pirate-infested waters. “Captain Phillips did not follow orders, the ship was attacked and he was responsible.” The attorney for the crew members, Brian Beckcom, states that proving Captain Phillips was negligent will bolster their claim.

The suit, which was originally filed in 2009, has been delayed by several Maersk legal filings. The case is scheduled to be heard in a Mobile, Alabama Court this December. A Maersk Line spokesman said related lawsuits brought by the crew “are without merit.”

The complaint alleges that the ship was not to go within AT LEAST 600 miles of the Somali border, and Captain Phillips was aware of this order. Despite these instructions, the Maersk Alabama did in fact come within 240 miles away from the Somali border at the time of the pirate boarding. Supposedly, Captain Phillips chose to go closer to the border to “stay on schedule.” The crew members claim they endured Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, sleep disorders, inconvenience, and humiliation. The entire complaint can be found here:

Does the complaint have merit? Whose fault is it really? Is the shipping company vicariously liable for the actions of Captain Phillips, because he was acting within the scope of his employment? Can there be a lawsuit that has to do with the film itself being an inaccurate depiction?

Article Source: Daily News and Business Insider

Picture Source: Business Insider



  1. Count me in on the group of people that did not realize that this was going to trial. Although, even before the lawsuit, I fail to see how Captain Phillips is the hero in this story. In my opinion, the Navy SEALS who rescued him are the heros.

    That said, it sounds to me like there may be some legal merit to the crews’ claim. I am not a maritime expect, but even before this incident I was well-aware of the horrible problem with Somali piracy. Captain Phillips’s alleged decision to intentionally disregard a 600 mile rule seems like a clear breach of his duty. Of course, the pirates are the ones who are “really” at fault, but since they are essentially judgment-proof, it does not seem unreasonable to consider Maersk’s liability in the matter. I think it is conceivable that the shipping company could not be held vicariously liable, although it could be an uphill battle if the shipping company can effectively argue that Philips was acting outside his authorization.

  2. I had no idea that a suit was being filed against Maersk. I saw the movie a few days ago and they make Captain Phillips out as a hero. The movie portrays how he was the reason why the rest of the crew remained unscathed during the pirate takeover. After reading the complaint and the movie inaccuracy there definitely seems to be grounds for liability on the Part of Captain Phillips.

    It possibly could be proven that Phillips acted negligently and recklessly by navigating the ship past the boundary, 600-mile rule, the Maersk set out as guidelines. His best defense in response to that is that he needed to get the shipment to his destination on time or the company would lose business/money and this was the only way to complete that goal. But the fact that he disobeyed the company’s rules on navigating past Somalia, shows that he breached his duty.

    It is tough to determine what the outcome would be, but there is favorable evidence on the side of the crew that Phillips was negligent in his operation of the Maersk Alabama.

  3. While I have not seen the movie yet, I was planning to, and this information will certainly skew my perception of Captain Phillips himself. The fact that Captain Phillips knew the border of Somalia was “pirate-infested” and allegedly deliberately disobeyed orders to stay 600 miles away from the coast clearly puts him at fault. If it is found to be true, Captain Philips breached his duty negligently. It seems that under the doctrine of respondeat superior, Captain Phillips would have been acting in the scope of his employment, rendering the Maersk owners strictly liable. While I’m not familiar with the exceptions of respondeat superior, it seems that the ship’s employees probably have a strong case against the owner. While the Maersk owner may ultimately be held liable out of fairness to the employees, it is really Captain Phillips’ fault, and I will be scrutinizing his actions when I see the movie ever more so.

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