WASHINGTON – Capt. Richard Phillips,whose 2009 kidnapping by Somali pirates is depicted in Tom Hanks’ new movie,warned Thursday that budget cuts could eliminate one-third of the U.S. ships used to transport military cargo.
Phillips’ ship,the Maersk Alabama,was transporting U.S. food aid in 2009 when it was boarded by Somali pirates who held him hostage. It is among 60 U.S. ships that are in danger of losing funding and being replaced by foreign vessels,Steven Werse ,secretary-treasurer of the International Organization of Masters,Mates and Pilots,said.
Phillips is still the ship’s captain.
“We are the truck divers of the ocean,” Phillips said of the U.S merchant marine,made up of civilian-owned ships. “We have been integral during peacetime,with carrying and maintaining the economy for the United States and during wartime – during all our conflicts – carrying the majority of the load for the military. We are their support.”
Werse said $12 million will be cut from the Maritime Security Program by the end of the year. The Department of Defense spends $186 million a year to run the program,$3.1 million per ship,Werse said. In 2012,because of a surplus in the program,Congress authorized only $174 million and has yet to restore the original funding,which means four fewer ships for 2014,Werse said.
Further cuts – which could amount to $500 billion in the next decade – could replace U.S. vessels with foreign ones.
“Unfortunately,we’re under attack. What the pirates could not take away from the captain and his crew,the Congress could take away,” Werse said.
International freight rates,Werse said,are incredibly competitive,and all foreign vessels need is a little edge to replace the competition. U.S-based ships spend more on training and pay higher taxes than international competitors,he said.
“They have an overall bigger operating expense,” Werse said. “When you’re in international trade trying to justify your existence and you lose that incentive to keep your ships American-flag,it’s all about the profit margin.”
“It’s a vital economic component,and when these ships go away,they’re not going to come back,” Werse said.
Werse has met with Defense Department officials and freshmen members of Congress to educate them about the merchant marine,he said.
On April 7,2009,Phillips’ ship was boarded by pirates,and he was taken hostage,first on the ship and then in a lifeboat. Phillips was rescued five days later when U.S. Navy marksmen opened fire and killed the pirates.
“Captain Phillips,” which stars Tom Hanks and is directed by Paul Greengrass,was released Friday.
“I think Tom Hanks did a great job. He is pretty much a regular guy,” Philips,who’s seen the movie several times,said. “For me,in the movie,just looking at his eyes,especially for the 12 hours that we were on the ship with the pirates,you can see the fear and the attempt to try to regain some control.”
Reach reporter Andrés Rodríguez at [email protected] or 202-326-9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.