Arm ’em

May 2009


Liberty Sun

Liberty SunEagle1 must be preening his feathers. All sorts of goodies on piracy running around.

A very welcome addition to the discussion on piracy in the WaPo and LATimes – video here.

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.

Video of the attack on Liberty Maritime‘s LIBERTY SUN here.

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.

Crossposted, and some good stuff at gCaptain too.

UPDATE: On of my homeblog regular readers AT1 tossed me his cluebat for a bit.

U.S.C. § 351.

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 …

Posted by CDRSalamander in Maritime Security, Piracy

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  • Byron

    My money says there is no way the stroke of a pen by the POTUS that helping the merchies keep themselves safe will be accomplished. Congress, speeches, dither, speeches, dither, POTUS, speeches, speeches, rinse/repeat.

  • Jay

    This is a huge step in the right direction. Private security, paid for by the ship owners (who can pass the costs along to the companies using the ships to transport their goods). Utimately, it won’t be a large cost to the consumer.

    This is really up to the ship owners companies. Do they care about protecting their crews, or not?

    Because they know that the Navy (ours or others) can’t be everywhere at once, and they refuse to convoy (except at Canals).

    Government should (via MARAD) assist US flagged ships with extra liability becomes an issue.

    Now — since US flagged ships carry a very small percentage of the commerce between the U.S. and other countries — what steps are necessary for the foreign flagged guys to protect themselves?

    Will the U.S. allow them to enter US waters, with weapons “at the ready”?

    Many issues here, I hope the debate moves along fairly quickly.

  • Grampa Bluewater

    It is ironic that nations forbidding vessels carrying small arms for the defense of the crew from entering their ports may have no problems with arms and ammunition as sealed cargo bound for another port.

    There is no reason that a ship’s small arms locker can’t be sealed and bonded while in a port with adequate security, should the port state so desire.

    For that matter, submission of a small arms manifest to customs/coast guard prior to clearing customs, or inventory upon arrival and departure are both options.

    Ships that fail to comply get arrested and held until payment of a great whacking fine.

    For that matter, the whole issue could be put on the security contractor providing small arms, sparing the Captain the hassle.
    A short container makes a dandy portable armory and is easily sealed.

    When exactly did a merchant crew last invade a port such as LA, Kobe, or Antwerp and impose a reign of terror with 3 rifles, a dozen 12 ga pump shotguns and 10 semiautomatic pistol?

    Might there be a reason “pettifog”, i.e., petty…fog, and lawyers
    are frequently an adjective and a noun?

  • One excuse not to arm merchants has been the claim that the pirates will just up-arm. But what is the next weapon in the arsenal when they are already carrying RPGs?

    As for up-arming on the merchant side, that’s easy, because the first step is rifles and shotguns to deter the pirates. the second step is something a little bigger to disable or sink the boat. Merchants would only need to up-arm to a third level is the pirates manage to find bigger boats, and that might be a much bigger problem for them than finding more RPGs. (Looking at the size of their ‘motherships’)

    also, if they go bigger, they will probably have to trade speed for it.

  • Charles

    Uparming shouldn’t be a problem. Just bring all US flagged merchants into a civilian or military shipyard. Had the ship fitters attach some gun tubs at spots to cover the typical quarters of the ship. From there go and get some Mk38 MGS mounts to defend the ships, bring back the 3″/70’s, M163 VADS, or build some new M45 quad mounts. Put them in the gun tubs and bring back the Naval Armed Guard to man and maintain the guns. We use this tactic during two world wars with some success. Why can’t it be used here? This could be the IA billet rates like Gunner’s Mates, BM’s, EM’s. For thier year IA billet, they could ride the ships through the hot zone and swap off at a port for another ship going the other way. Once thier tour is up they would rotate home.

    As to the pirates up gunning. As they up gun to defeat those weapons thier craft become larger and easier to spot. Easier to spot means they are easier to id and to easier to kill.

    Just some thoughts.

  • Grampa Bluewater

    The sooner and the harder you step on somebody who gets the bright idea to go a-pirating, the longer it will be until somebody else tries it the next time.

    The “if we resist, it will just provoke them to do worse…get bigger guns…etc…etc.” idea is Just. Plain. Wrong.

    So is the idea that allowing honest men and women to defend themselves when in a place where law enforcement is far away and slow to respond creates a threat to other honest men and women.

    Such timidity is completely counterproductive.

    Crooks go for the easy pickings.

    If you live through a little history, or read it, you know that.

  • Hayball

    This is of interest:

    Quote: AMO Currents
    The official online periodical of American Maritime Officers

    Headlines from this edition of AMO Currents
    Posted May 7, 2009:
    Seagoing unions urge U.S. government to provide force protection onboard U.S.-flag vessels

    Seagoing unions urge U.S. government to provide force protection onboard U.S.-flag vessels

    The following letter was sent to President Barack Obama.

    We represent the American Maritime Officers (AMO), the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots (IOMM&P), the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) and the Seafarers International Union (SIU). On behalf of the officers and members of our unions, we wish to express our deepest appreciation to you and to all those in your Administration who were involved in bringing the recent acts of piracy against U.S.-flag vessels and their United States citizen crews to an end. We are especially grateful to the Department of the Navy and the naval personnel who, despite the unique and difficult circumstances, responded with great skill.
    Nevertheless, American mariners working aboard U.S.-flag vessels operating in that region continue to face an immediate and ongoing threat from international pirates. As our American mariners simply attempt to do their jobs, their lives are in constant peril as these pirates decide when to take further aggressive action against U.S.-flag ships.
    We believe that the most effective step that must be taken to prevent further aggressive action against U.S.-flag commercial vessels and their crews is for our government to immediately provide U.S.-flag vessels with the force protection necessary to prevent any further acts of piracy against them. There should be no question but that it is the responsibility of the United States government to provide the protection necessary to ensure the safety of life and property aboard United States-flag vessels. When a vessel flies the United States flag it becomes an extension of the United States itself, regardless of where in the world the vessel is operating.
    We stand ready to continue to meet with the appropriate persons in your Administration to discuss a realistic, long-term solution to this problem. We further believe a collaborative effort among all parties – domestic and international – is necessary to develop and implement solutions that have the potential to reduce if not end piracy on the high seas, and we stand ready to participate in this process.


    Thomas Bethel, President, AMO
    Timothy Brown, President, IOMM&P
    Don Keefe, President, MEBA
    Mike Sacco, President, SIU# ”

  • Jay

    I think the union guys might be wrong with this statement: ” When a vessel flies the United States flag it becomes an extension of the United States itself, regardless of where in the world the vessel is operating.”

    That seems to confer some sort of soverign status on commercial ships. The only time that US flag commercial ships get soverign immunity, as far as i am aware, is when they are on long-term time charter to the U.S. Government.

    It is the duty of the ship owners to protect their crews. They should be spending the money, either from their Maritime Security Payments (if they are getting that subsidy) or figure out a surcharge on their cargo to pay for a small FP force for high-threat zones.

    It doesn’t have to a large force, I am thinking 5 with rifles, shotguns, pistols and non-lethal tools should be enough. I doubt the pirates are going to get into a pitched battle, they’d likely just seek easier game.

    What Government should do — is assist with the added insurance costs of making this happen. The Navy should continue with anti-piracy patrol, and the military and other agencies with anti-piracy efforts ashore.

  • Hayball

    I believe that on the high seas, the statement of the Unions stands as written.

    Sovereign immunity was not what was spoken of. Sovereign territory of, subject to the laws and regulations of, crews possessing the rights of citizens of, and to be defended by the armed forces of, the United States…Yes.

    But I claim no expertise. Is there an Admiralty lawyer lurking?

    P.S. The “union guys” have a pretty sophisticated understanding of U. S. and international law as it affects their members, and some pretty good lawyers on retainer. Nature of the…err…union.

  • “When a vessel flies the United States flag it becomes an extension of the United States itself, regardless of where in the world the vessel is operating.”
    – Simply put, he is saying that US-Flag vessels (and crews) are deserving of the same protection as the rest of the country as the ships they sail are are an extension of the country. since the ships fly the US Flag, the sailors are under the scrutiny of the US Coast Guard, FBI (background checks), IRS (all earnings taxed unlike many foreign countries), etc… Well with that scrutiny should come some benefits, such as naval force protection.

    Shipping companies would have a very hard time arranging armed guards to ride their vessels in the area as discussed before. Placing Naval armed guards is a good solution. It also widens the patrol area as they are placing Navy sailors on the vessels the pirates are targeting. I suspect that the Europeans are going to soon resort to this, at least for the slower vessel since they can’t seem to guarantee protection for ships they are escorting.

  • leesea

    In point of fact MSC declares sovreign immunity for ships which carry USN cargoes thus facilitating their entry and offload in foreign ports.

  • hunt2alaska

    And what’s with the USS Lewis and Clark running from a Pirate Skiff? ALL of our USN ships should be armed to the extent that they can blow a skiff out of the water at half a mile. Instead, we ran from them and left them to find a slower target.

  • Grampa Bluewater

    “Shipping companies would have a very hard time arranging armed guards to ride their vessels in the area as discussed before.”

    None the less they do. Italian liners hire Israeli’s, if the TV news is to be believed.

  • Fouled Anchor

    A hard time arranging armed guards? Not if they’re willing to pay for it. There seemed to be no shortage of hired guns deploying to Iraq…for the right money the right people will do it.