March 2009. At home in Vermont, Captain Richard Phillips (TOM HANKS), a merchant
mariner, prepares to journey around the Horn of Africa. The ride to the airport with his
wife, Andrea (CATHERINE KEENER), is tense: his career keeps him away for months at a
stretch, and now in his fifties, the job feels more perilous than ever. When Andrea ponders the
future, she's filled with doubt, and Phillips understands why. He thinks their son Danny doesn't
take school seriously enough: where men of Phillips' generation could rise easily through the
ranks, Danny may struggle to find a decent job even with a diploma.
Eyl, Somalia. Muse (BARKHAD ABDI) is awakened by a friend with urgent news. The warlord
Garaad has dispatched bosses to enlist men for new piracy missions, sending skiffs to hijack
and ransom the foreign cargo ships that daily pass Eyl's coast. Muse has captained before and
won't pass up another chance for work. In town, he finds Garaad's men, and, to the chagrin of
others vying for captaincies, the bosses pick him to assemble a crew. Muse runs to the beach,
where, mobbed by dozens clamoring for a spot on Garaad's skiffs, he quickly chooses Bilal
(BARKHAD ABDIRAHMAN) and Elmi (MAHAT M. ALI); but he wants someone strong to round out
the group. Najee (FAYSAL AHMED), a commanding presence at the back, stares him down. Muse,
impressed with his intensity, nods in assent. The four arm themselves from a cache of automatic
weapons and embark on a skiff, its motor screaming against the surf.
Salalah, Oman. Phillips arrives at port and boards his cargo ship, the MV Maersk Alabama, as
it's loaded with 2400 tons of commercial cargo, 200 tons of food aid, and more. On the bridge,
Phillips' first mate, Shane Murphy (MICHAEL CHERNUS), runs down their itinerary, which takes
them through the Somali basin. "Let's tighten up security," the captain advises just before they
disembark. What neither man says, but both know, is that the Alabama's route past the Horn
of Africa has become a hotbed for pirates targeting freighters. Worried his crew is unprepared,
Phillips orders a security drill on the water.
The security drill has barely begun when the bridge detects two approaching skiffs. Phillips dials
maritime security, but nothing reassuring is forthcoming ("Alert your crew, get your fire hoses
ready ... Chances are it's just fishermen"); when Phillips makes out the crew's weapons through
his binoculars, he's certain -- "They're not here to fish."
Suspecting that the pirates are listening to his communications, Phillips turns the second skiff
back with a clever piece of theater, as he radios himself that a Navy warship is en route. Then he
has his chief engineer goose the Alabama's engine, churning out waves large enough to disable
the first skiff's motor: Muse and his crew find themselves dead in the water. For the Alabama,
it's a crisis averted, but at a debriefing in the mess, the mood is uneasy: the pirates have guns
and the Alabama does not. As one crewman puts it, "Cap: they're comin' back."
Sure enough, Muse's crew renews their efforts the next morning, hurtling toward the Alabama
with more horsepower and a jury-rigged boarding ladder. Phillips, summoned above deck,
watches as they approach and suddenly open fire on the bridge. Taking cover, he activates the
high-pressure hoses on the ship's perimeter -- meant to deter an approach from any angle --
but the skiff keeps coming. When one of the hoses slips, Murphy runs from the bridge to reset it;
but, taking advantage of the hole in the much larger ship's defense, the pirates pull alongside the
Alabama, hook their ladder over the rail, and board as their skiff washes away in the undertow.
Seconds before the pirates breach the bridge, Phillips addresses Murphy and the crew on
his walkie-talkie, instructing them to hide in the engine room until they hear the non-duress
password. "Remember: you know this ship, they don't," he reminds them, shutting the Alabama
down and transferring control to the engine room.
Flashing their guns, the pirates storm the bridge as Phillips and a few of his crew stand helpless.
"Relax," Muse tells Phillips. "No Al Qaeda here. Just business." Muse and his crew are thrilled
to learn that the ship is American: the ransom will be massive. But when he can't activate
the control panel, he sours. "Where is the crew?" "I don't know," Phillips lies. Muse erupts,
threatening to kill every crewmember on the bridge if the others fail to appear. To pacify the
pirates, Phillips offers to search the ship with Muse, who has requisitioned the captain's walkie-
talkie. They set off with Bilal providing backup, while Najee keeps watch on the bridge, and Elmi
patrols the decks.
Leaving the confined crew in the swelter of the engine room, Murphy races to the mess to
retrieve water. Meanwhile, on Phillips' guided tour, Muse finds the Alabama crew nowhere in
sight, and demands to investigate the engine room, below deck. Buying time, Phillips diverts
Muse and Bilal to the mess for water, where they barely miss Murphy, who takes cover in a
cold storage unit and, noticing Bilal's bare feet, radios the crew to leave broken glass outside
the engine room door. The trap works: Bilal, leading Muse and Phillips downstairs and into the
engine room, plants his foot in the glass, sustaining severe cuts. Phillips prevails upon him to
seek first aid, and the two of them head to the bridge, leaving Muse to search the engine room
alone. Before Muse's flashlight can find the Alabama crew hiding among the machinery, they
surprise and disarm him, cutting his hand in the process.
When the news of Muse's capture reaches the bridge, Phillips has the leverage to broker a deal:
his crew will release Muse and hand over the $30,000 sitting in the ship's safe -- if the pirates
leave the Alabama, by way of the lifeboat mounted on deck. To ensure a smooth transaction,
Najee insists that Phillips accompany the pirates into the lifeboat until their own captain joins
them -- and then Phillips can return to his crew. But once they have Phillips and Muse inside, the
pirates go back on their deal -- jettisoning themselves from the Alabama with a spray of gunfire,
with Phillips now their hostage.
As the Alabama trails the hot, cramped lifeboat, the U.S. Navy initiates a rescue operation headed
by the destroyer USS Bainbridge. Its Commander, Frank Castellano (YUL VAZQUEZ), is to resolve
the situation peacefully if possible, but the lifeboat must not reach the Somali coast. "This thing
is running big," the dispatcher says; SEALs are en route, for additional support.
After nightfall, the destroyer ambushes the lifeboat, blasting it with a siren and blinding light,
halting it in its tracks. By morning, the Navy dispatches a negotiator aboard an RHIB, but the
pirates' tempers flare when a ransom offer isn't forthcoming, and Najee discharges his gun
beside Phillips' head. "It's falling apart in here," Phillips says to Castellano, over the lifeboat
radio. The lifeboat breaks away, now with the Bainbridge as well as its newly arrived support --
the frigate USS Halyburton, and the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer -- in pursuit.
A nervous day passes, and when night descends again, Phillips senses opportunity. Fortified by
the increased Navy presence, he gets permission to step on deck to relieve himself, but makes a
break for the water -- and for the Bainbridge in the distance -- instead. A hail of Najee's AK-47
rounds and an underwater scuffle later, Phillips is dragged back on board.
While Najee rains blows down on Phillips, on the Bainbridge, the SEALs parachute in and assume
control of the Navy operation. In a feint, the SEAL Commander (MAX MARTINI) radios Muse, claiming
to have contacted the pirates' tribal elders. The SEAL Commander pushes a deal: Muse can come
aboard the Bainbridge to parley, while the lifeboat, low on fuel, will be towed to an exchange point.
Phillips tells a shaken Muse, who's pondering his options, "There's gotta be something other than
being a fisherman and kidnapping people." "Maybe in America," Muse replies.
Arriving in RIHBs to collect Muse, the Navy attaches a towline to the front of the lifeboat and
delivers Phillips a clean change of clothes -- a bright yellow shirt... Phillips recognizes the sign
-- the SEALs want him to stand out in the dark. Having stonewalled for as long as possible,
Muse at last consents to board the Bainbridge; with the pirate leader aboard the Navy ship and
the lifeboat in tow, three snipers take their positions on the destroyer's fantail. To execute their
order, all three will need to find a clear line of sight to their targets -- and they will need to do so
in synchrony. Hoping to lure Najee toward a window for a clean shot, the Bainbridge generates
a heavy wake, rocking the lifeboat on its towline. Phillips, sensing a showdown is near, locates
a pen and paper, and scribbles a last letter to his family.
Najee snatches the note from Phillips, obstructing the snipers' view in the process. The pirates
bind and blindfold Phillips, and Najee, beside himself with anger, picks up his gun. Knowing
the Navy is listening, Phillips asks them to relay his goodbyes to his family. Najee, finger on
his trigger, steps forward, just as the SEALs give the command to stop the tow: the lifeboat
lurches, jolting Najee into a sniper's sightline. In the Bainbridge CIC, all three targets are green.
Three pops, three shattered windows, and Phillips, disoriented, spattered with blood, shakes
his blindfold loose to three dead bodies on the floor of the boat. In the Bainbridge holding room,
officers converge on Muse, who's zip-cuffed and taken away.
Recovering and getting his bearings in the sick bay, the shocked Phillips can hardly say his
name. A Bainbridge medic assures him of what he can't seem to believe -- "you are safe and
you are fine" -- as he releases a raw swell of emotion he didn't see coming.