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Riverview man relives 'Captain Phillips' piracy on big screen

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Published:   |   Updated: October 15, 2013 at 09:44 AM

On Friday, Mike Perry rented out CineBistro in Hyde Park Village so that he and 96 of his friends, family and associates could watch the movie “Captain Phillips,” the Tom Hanks vehicle depicting the boarding of the merchant ship Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates.

For Perry, a Riverview resident, the movie was deeply personal.

He was on the ship when it was attacked off the coast of Somalia. Actor David Warshofsky plays him on the big screen.

“It was weird,” he says of seeing a giant version of himself. “It was surreal.”

One thing the movie wasn't, says Perry, now 65, is a minute-by-minute depiction of his experience, which he knew even before he got to the movie theater.

In real life, Perry risked his life by subduing one of the pirates and helping disarm him. That pirate was eventually used as a bargaining chip by the ship's captain, Richard Phillips, who was captured along with another crew member in the first minutes of the attack.

In reel life, Perry, the ship's chief engineer, says his role is greatly reduced.

“I was on the screen, in maybe 10-second blurbs answering the phone in the engine room and the captain saying he needed to go faster,” says Perry. “I checked the controls going ahead, two or three times, and there were maybe a couple of scenes of someone else ordering me around. And then there was a scene where I turned off the emergency generator.”

Perry, who spent 45 years on the seas, becoming a Merchant Marine in 1995 after retiring from the Navy as a lieutenant commander, says he knew going into the film that “they had to compress six days worth of events into two hours. They showed none of the real action I was involved in, The focal point of the movie was Capt. Phillips being rescued” from the lifeboat, where he was held captive. The rescue happened days later when Navy SEAL sharpshooters took out the pirates.

He also says that family members say Warshofsky did a good job of playing him in a limited role.

But one thing Perry won't talk about: the depiction of Phillips offering to give himself up to save his crew.

As a paid consultant to the movie, Perry says heis not allowed to talk about that.

“Not even to my friends in the movie theater,” says Perry, who was approached by filmmakers a few years back to talk about his experience. “But those questions were asked. I couldn't even respond to them.”

However, a few weeks after the incident that began on April 8, 2009, Perry — speaking for the first time about what had happened — said that Phillips didn't plead with the pirates to take him instead of the ship.

“The captain was captured from the beginning,” he told The Tampa Tribune, offering the first account that countered Phillip's media-fueled legend.

“This crew battled for 33 hours with the pirates,” Perry said at the time. “No one wanted to give up until everyone was together again. It took everyone, not just one person. Not me. Not the captain, but everyone. Everybody is the hero in this story.”

The initial discrepancy, said Perry and another crew member contacted by the Tribune shortly after the attack, was not the fault of Phillips, but the national media running with a version of events put forth by Phillips' brother-in-law.

Tensions about the events leading up to the pirate boarding bubbled over when crew filed a lawsuit in 2009 against the ship owner and the company providing the crew, claiming both companies failed to provide enough safety measures knowing that the ship was headed into pirate-infested water.

Perry was not part of that suit.

Despite the controversy, Perry says he enjoyed the movie experience.

“I'm not going to watch this movie to remind me of what happened on the Maersk Alabama,” he said Friday afternoon. “I like action-adventure movies.”

After seeing it, he said he and his 96 guests “just had a good time. We all enjoyed each other's company.”

Perry hasn't been to sea for three years and said he has no plans ever to return. He said he is spending his retirement remodeling his home, serving as a Boy Scout leader and doing work for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to which he belongs.

“I didn't pattern myself after Chuck Norris or Jackie Chan,” he said of the decisive actions he took to help save the ship. “The only thing that got me ready for this was the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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