The chief executive of a shipping company urged Congress on Tuesday to pass legislation allowing vessels to carry armed security.
Testifying before a Senate subcommittee, Philip J. Shapiro of Liberty Maritime Corp. said that although an 1819 statute gave ships the right to defend themselves, they still were subject to laws and inconsistent port rules governing whether armed vessels could dock.
…the incidents constituted a “game changer.” He said Liberty Maritime and other shipping companies wanted Congress to “clear the obstacles” that stand in the way of ship operators protecting their crews and cargo with armed force.
“We’re doing everything we lawfully can do, but frankly . . . we need the authority to put guns on our ships, to arm our ships, so that our people can be protected,” Shapiro said.
It can no longer be argued with success that merchants shouldn’t arm themselves. The world’s navies have neither the capacity, or in many cases, even the will to defend merchant ships on the high seas.
Until legislation is enacted, Shapiro said, the military must protect ships that fly the U.S. flag. “Our ships need protection now — not six or nine months from now,” he said.
But the military says it is spread too thin and the sea off the coast of Somalia is too vast to protect U.S. merchant vessels.
Roy Kienitz, transportation’s undersecretary of policy, said many “complicated factors” must be addressed before the shipping industry can hire private armed guards, such as developing rules on use of force and compliance at various world ports.
And it is to our great shame that our uniformed and civilian leadership say things like this.
Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in another hearing Tuesday that it was the responsibility of the shipping companies to invest in methods to thwart attacks — which, she said, many had been reluctant to do.
“Ships from all over the world transit the Gulf of Aden and use the shipping lanes along the east coast of Somalia,” Flournoy said. “But many assume unrealistically that there is no need for more robust shipboard security measures because military forces will always be present to intervene if pirates attack.”
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, compared onboard security to that used in a shopping mall. He said the responsibility for protecting ships belonged in the private sector.
Lautenberg, who chairs a Senate commerce subcommittee with jurisdiction over the maritime industry, likened the military’s approach to the reactive response of alarm companies. He noted at a hearing on how to best protect U.S. ships that many merchant ships under siege by pirates off the waters of Somalia are delivering humanitarian supplies.
“At what point do we say it’s our responsibility? We have to have … cops on the beat there because we know there’s trouble on these streets,” said Lautenberg, D-N.J. “What is wrong with organizing ourselves to protect these ships?”
So, Congress makes it difficult for merchants to defend themselves, yet tells them to do more to defend themselves. Classic.
“We expect folks to provide their own security,” Levin said. “Why should we not expect that ships that are vulnerable going into that area will provide their own security personnel?”
Good. Go armed and do well. Even cruise ships; it doesn’t take much.
According to eyewitnesses, two passengers came screaming into the bar and gesticulated wildly as they addressed the captain. A speed boat had appeared at the stern and several armed men were preparing to board the cruise ship, they said. One was already trying to scale the vessel. Several passengers were desperately grabbing deck chairs and tables and hurling them down at the men trying to board the ship.
That’s when the first shots were fired. It was also the point at which the captain understood what was happening — his ship was being attacked by pirates.
Pinto radioed an alarm code to his crew and ordered all passengers to go below deck, immediately. He then ran to the bridge. The pirates continued to try to board the ship. Pinto opened the safe and handed pistols to the security guards on board. He then called on the helmsman to steer the ship on a zig-zag course to fend off the pirates by creating large waves. The security guards, who by then had arrived at the ship’s stern, fired two warning shots into the air.
Within a few minutes, the acute danger appeared to have been averted. The fact that the cruise ship’s crew were armed apparently surprised the pirates. According to the account given by the MSC Cruises company, the pirates then rode away in their speedboat, but not before firing a few salvos at the ship with their AK-47 rifles. Window panes were shattered and bullets thudded into the ship’s side.
“It was like war,” the captain proudly announced on an Italian radio station the next morning.
The crew and security personnel had defended themselves from the attack professionally, he said.
Waiting for a good response from the bogus “1,000-Ship-Navy/Global-Maritime-Partnership pick’n up the poo in the global commons” team on piracy is an insult to the American taxpayer – and a fool’s errand.
Arm and aggressively defend American flag vessels to the point that the pirates go elsewhere … then let the other nations catch up. Good enough for Thomas Jefferson, good enough for me.
Would it be petty to point out how pathetic it is that this has only now reached this level of discussion? Eagle1, myself, and others in the Navy MilBlogosphere have been bleating about piracy for years … probably, but I will anyway.
UPDATE: On of my homeblog regular readers AT1 tossed me his cluebat for a bit.
During war or threat to national security:
(a) The President, through any agency of the Department of Defense designated by him, may arm, have armed, or allow to be armed, any watercraft or aircraft that is capable of being used as a means of transportation on, over, or under water, and is documented, registered, or licensed under the laws of the United States.
(b) This section applies during a war and at any other time when the President determines that the security of the United States is threatened by the application, or the imminent danger of application, of physical force by any foreign government or agency against the United States, its citizens, the property of its citizens, or their commercial interests.
We don’t have to wait for Congressional action – and executive order would be fine. All we have to do is have the President put his name on the bottom line …