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CURRENT ISSUE

ARM MERCHANT SHIPS?
Should merchant ships transiting high risk areas carry small arms for defense against pirates?

Selected crew should be trained and have guns available
Professional armed security teams should be hired
No guns on merchant ships, ever

July 30, 2009

Committee approves LoBiondo bill protecting mariners who defend themselves against pirates

Legislation to protect mariners' right of self defense against acts of piracy was unanimously approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee today.

The United States Mariner and Vessel Protection Act (H.R. 3376) was introduced by U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Ranking Republican.

"Over the past year, there has been a significant increase in the rate of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia," LoBiondo said. "The U.S.-flagged vessels MAERSK ALABAMA and LIBERTY SUN were attacked, but due to the heroics of their crews and the U.S. Navy, no American lives were lost."

In order to prevent future attacks, vessels are operating at a higher security posture and many operators are examining the use of armed security teams on board. In hearings before the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, representatives from all segments of the maritime community shared concerns that, while the provision of armed personnel was necessary to safeguard a vessel's crew and cargo, the arming of a vessel may potentially expose vessel operators and crew to increased liability for actions taken in defense of the ship.

Under the bill, mariners who use force and individuals who authorize the use of force to defend a vessel against pirate attack would be shielded from liability for damages or injuries that result from their defensive actions.

"This common-sense legislation is a necessary step in empowering U.S.-flagged vessels to fully protect their crews and cargo," LoBiondo added.

The bill also directs the United States to negotiate international agreements through IMO to provide similar exemptions from liability in other countries for the use of force by mariners and vessel owners, operators and masters.

The bill is cosponsored by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republican Leader John L. Mica (R-FL), U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and U.S. Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC), as well as Coast Guard Subcommittee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD).


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