Two big-budget Hollywood films, both to be released this fall, deal with situations offshore that illustrate the need for proper mariner training.  In a time when the sequester and budget cuts threaten the growth and continuance of formal maritime training centers across the country, many experts are hoping that these films shed light on the importance of maintaining and improving maritime training programs.

The first film, Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, chronicles the semi-factual experience of Captain Richard Phillips in 2009, as he is rescued by Navy SEAL snipers from three Somali pirates.  Captain Phillips is celebrated as a hero for sacrificing himself to save his crew; however, it is debatable whether Captain Phillips decision to lead his crew through pirate-infested waters was in fact heroic.

Regardless, Captain Phillips trained in Baltimore, Maryland, at a facility with massive simulators that prepared him both to navigate and dock enormous cargo ships, and to respond effectively to terrorist attacks and pirate hijackings.  Says Donald Marcus, President of the International Association of Master, Mates & Pilots, “We see [the film] as a vehicle to promote an industry that in many areas around the country is invisible . . . What the Somali pirates couldn’t take away, Congress could.” Marcus cited cuts under sequestration that buoy the industry.

Captain Phillips’ unarmed ship with a 19-member crew was hijacked by four pirates in the spring of 2009, which led to a five-day faceoff with United States naval forces, and turned the containership Maersk Alabama into a symbol of the continuous battle between international shipping interests and Somali Pirates in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.  During the long ordeal, Captain Phillips got into a life boat with the pirates to remove them from the ship, while his crew remained onboard.

Union officials hope that the film, now in theaters, will give them leverage when they go before Congress.

The second film, All is Lost, with a release date of October 18, stars Oscar-winning actor, Robert Redford, and is a thriller about a man’s struggle to survive against nature after his sailboat is destroyed offshore.

In the film, an unnamed man wakes up to find his yacht taking on large amounts of water after it has collided with a shipping container that was left floating on the ocean.  With disabled navigational equipment and a broken radio, the man drifts into the path of a vicious storm.  Although he is able to patch the breach in the vessel’s hull, he barely manages to survive.  After the storm, the man uses only a sextant and nautical maps to chart his journey, and must rely on ocean currents to carry him into a shipping lane so that he might flag down a passing vessel.

Though this second film highlights the experience of a more pedestrian hero, rather than a maritime captain, it once again emphasizes the resourcefulness of a trained sailor, and the life-saving potential of maritime skills.

Director J.C. Chandler hopes audiences can relate to Redford’s valiantly struggling survivor. “What I’m hoping is that this character becomes a vessel where audience members are able to see themselves, or parts of themselves. That he becomes the embodiment of some of their hopes, concerns, dreams, worries, fears—all those primal human characteristics.”  And what better way to show those ideals and primal characteristics, than with a sailor?

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