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

May 4, 2009

Maersk Alabama captain testifies on arming crews against pirates

Has the scale of pirate activity off Somalia reached the point where merchant ship crews should be armed?

Here's what Captain Richard Philips of the Maersk Alabama told a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Commitee last week:

"In my opinion, arming the crew cannot and should not be viewed as the best or ultimate solution to the problem. At most, arming the crew should be only one component of a comprehensive plan and approach to combat piracy. To the extent we go forward in this direction, it would be my personal preference that only the four most senior ranking officers aboard the vessel have access to effective weaponry and that these individuals receive special training on a regular basis. I realize that even this limited approach to arming the crew opens up a very thorny set of issues. I'll let others sort out the legal and liability issues but we all must understand that having weapons on board merchant ships fundamentally changes the model of commercial shipping and we must be very cautious about how it is done. Nevertheless, I do believe that arming the crew, as part of an overall strategy, could provide an effective deterrent under certain circumstances and I believe that a measured capability in this respect should be part of the overall debate about how to defend ourselves against criminals on the sea.

"As for armed security details put aboard vessels, I believe, as I indicated earlier, that this idea could certainly be developed into an effective deterrent. My preference would be government protection forces. However, as long as they are adequately trained I would not be opposed to private security on board. Of course, I realize that very clear protocols would have to be established and followed. For example, as a captain, I am responsible for the vessel, cargo and crew at all times. And I am not comfortable giving up command authority to othersÉ including the commander of a protection force. In the heat of an attack, there can be only one final decision maker. So command is only one of many issues that would have to be worked out in for security forces to operate effectively."

You can read the rest of Captain Phillips' prepared testimony HERE

John Clancey, Chairman of Maersk Inc, the parent company of Maersk Line, Limited, took a different view. He put arming the crews of merchant vessels in the category of proposed solutions to the piracy problem that would NOT be helpful.

"I know Captain Phillips prefers an armed capability for the crew onboard and I respectfully understand his perspective," he said. "And Captain Phillips is in agreement with vessel operators, his labor union and the IMO which points out that firearms are useful only in the hands of those who are properly trained, who regularly practice in their use, and who are fully capable of using them as required. Our belief is that arming merchant sailors may result in the acquisition of ever more lethal weapons and tactics by the pirates, a race that merchant sailors cannot win. In addition, most ports of call will not permit the introduction of firearms into their national waters."

You can read the rest of Mr. Clancey's prepared testimony HERE

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