Captain Phillips Praises MITAGS for Training

By MarEx 2013-10-14 14:14:00

Photo: Captain Steve Werse addresses National Press Club.

As Sony’s blockbuster movie, “Captain Phillips,” opens today around the nation, not only is there an Oscar buzz in the air, but the U.S. Merchant Marine will get an important moment in the national spotlight as well. 

Tom Hanks and Captain Richard Phillips have been on the road lately including exclusive showings in major cities like New York and Washington D.C. In almost every interview on the red carpet, Captain Phillips has praised the training he received at MITAGS in Linthicum Heights, Maryland and said that it prepared him for what would ultimately become a watershed moment in his life and career.

MarEx caught up with Steve Werse,  Secretary-Treasurer of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots, on the day that the movie made its national premiere. We asked him about Captain Phillips' comments on being trained at MITAGS and the impact the movie might have on the general public regarding the U.S. deepwater sector.

MarEx: Phillips continually said that his training at MITAGS prepared him for the events which took place on the Maersk Alabama and, ultimately, saved his life. What training is he referring to?

Werse: What Rich Phillips is making reference to is the entire portfolio of courses given at MITAGS. It is important to understand that mariner training is not one-dimensional or a one-time event. Mariners are trained for the many situations they may face on the high seas including crisis management, vessel and port security, and shiphandling. There is not one specific module which accomplishes this. In order to be a deck officer like Phillips, it takes a lifetime of commitment and education along with the experience of years onboard ships.

When deck officers reach command status their job performance must be at a high level, and a captain must be motivated and a self-starter. Simulation training such as emergency shiphandling provides the captain with practice for real-life situations, which could never be learned as a junior officer. Captains must learn to act versus react. 

Phillips took courses at MITAGS like security training, which teaches how to evaluate a threat and understand it, whether a ship is in the green zone or red zone. Captains must be mentally prepared and, certainly, Phillips was faced with a lot of “what ifs.”

Phillips' crisis was changing rapidly, and he went from a situation where the ship was out of his control to taking back control to being removed from the vessel. He had to maintain as much control as he could considering he was at the mercy of others. His ability to deal with the constantly changing situation is about processing his training at MITAGS as well as being a seasoned officer.

MarEx: The movie depicts Phillips making his crew do a number of drills including a piracy drill. What skill sets are essential for deck officers at sea?

Werse: In order to advance, MITAGS provides training modules including “Chief Mate to Master,” which has a leadership component as well as a personal management component. I know it might sound a little bland, but it isn’t. It’s about teambuilding and motivation and psychology. Remember, a ship works as a team. As Captain Phillips has said many times, there were 18 other people on that vessel who deserve just as much credit.

Phillips has never has taken credit for his actions as a hero and has always said the situation was a team effort. At Masters, Mates & Pilots and at MITAGS, it is about leadership and training.

MarEx: The general public will learn about life at sea and that the U.S. Merchant Marine operates in the deepwater. What do you hope the public will learn about mariners and their life on the high seas?     

Werse: First, I hope the general public will gain an awareness that the maritime industry exists. We are a quiet industry, and we simply do our job day in and out without much fanfare.

Mariners carry the goods around the world while supporting the Department of Defense. We also provide an incredible economic service to the country. We are the supply chain for the military that keeps our sons, brothers, and sisters safe overseas. We deliver their shoes, their clothes and their food as well as the nation’s war materials. We hope the general public will not only learn that the U.S Merchant Marine is essential but that it is also a fantastic vocation for people. - MarEx