For dramatic five days in April 2009, four Somali pirates held the crew of the Norfolk-based container ship Maersk Alabama before escaping with Captain Rich Phillips in the ship’s international orange-colored lifeboat.
It seemed a selfless and heroic act in the treacherous waters around the impoverished Horn of Africa. Among other supplies, the Alabama was carrying vital food and fresh water supplies to Kenya.
Eventually, the U.S. Navy caught up with the lifeboat as it was being shadowed by the Alabama, including two destroyers and an amphibious assault aircraft carrier. The ordeal ended when one pirate left the lifeboat to “negotiate” and Navy SEAL snipers then shot the three other pirates as they sat in the cramped life boat.
On Friday, “Captain Phillips,” a movie representation starring Tom Hanks, was released to great critical acclaim by Sony Pictures. In its first weekend the movie grossed $26 million, putting it second place after the space flick “Gravity.”
This is all great for Hollywood and also for the Navy, which besides Tom Hanks, are the heroes of the story. They act professionally, efficiently and are deadly. Green light and “pop, pop, pop.” Three headshots. The Somalis make easy villains. They are not motivated by religious hatred or terrorism but simple greed.
Indeed, what’s not to like for the U. S. Navy which also scores well in the recent “Zero Dark Thirty?” The SEALS are certainly barking.
The question is why taxpayers seem to be getting stuck with the bill when hundreds of thousands of civilian workers, including many military contractors in Virginia, are being furloughed because Congress can’t agree on a budget. We also have conservatives raging against needless government spending.
According to The Virginian-Pilot, a Navy admiral met with executive producer Gregory Goodman in Los Angeles when the film was being planned in 2012 and offered red carpet treatment if they went to Norfolk.
Off to Tidewater they went, secretly, in June 2012. True to its word, the Navy laid on the USS Wasp, a small aircraft carrier to stand in for the USS Boxer that participated in the rescue. The Destroyer USS Truxton played the Bainbridge. The frigate USS Halyburton that was in the real rescue, got to play itself.
Besides the ships, which maneuvered off the Virginia coast for the movie, there were real Navy sailors along with the actors, not to mention Seahawk helicopters and even an unmanned drone.
It’s a thrilling and moving movie. I didn’t find out exactly what the film cost the Navy or if it was reimbursed for renting its ships.Bloomberg’s Political Capital says the Navy provided the three ships because they were on training missions anyway plus a SEAL Master Chief for two weeks to make sure depictions were accurate. The Navy says there was no taxpayer money involved, Political Capital reports.
Still, when you munch your popcorn while watching Hanks’ fine acting, remember, you may be paying for more than the price of a ticket.
UPDATE: The Navy got back to me Tuesday after I called them on Monday. Their PIO office was on vacation for Columbus Day. They were not happy with my posting. Lt. Lauryn Demspey said that my last sentence was misleading. The use of the warships cost the U.S. taxpayers nothing, she says. The Navy has offices in Los Angeles and the Pentagon tasked with vetting movie scripts for possible assistance. They liked “Captain Phillips” and made available assistance,. including the warships, which she says, were going to be off the Virginia coast anyway on maneuvers. The Navy did bill Sony Pictures for some extraneous items, such as the use of cranes for loading film and equipment, a man chair and the use of a dumpster. I am grateful for the new information.
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