An adaptation from the controversial John Adams opera about the true life incident that took place in the mid 80s. The liner "Achille Lauro" is on a 12-day cruise in the Mediterranean. While the ship is docked in Alexandria, a maid discovers that four of the passengers are actually members of the Palestine Liberation Organization traveling incognito. Startled by their discovery, the PLO cadre is forced to act. They take the passengers on board hostage and demand the release of 50 Palestinian activists held in Israeli jails. As Egyptian, American, Italian, and Palestinian authorities bicker over the best way to handle the situation (and who would negotiate with the terrorists), the kidnappers find themselves dealing with rebellion among their captives, and an argument between the four PLO members and Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish-American confined to a wheelchair, eventually escalates into violence.