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 5, 2009

Liberty Maritime CEO to Congress: Remove obstacles to arming vessels

Philip J. Shapiro President and CEO of Liberty Maritime Corporation today asked Congress to "consider clearing the obstacles that block ship owners from arming our vessels in self-defense to protect our crews when it is appropriate."

Liberty Maritime's LIBERTY SUN was attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia on April 14, just two days after the rescue of Captain Phillips of the MAERSK ALABAMA, None of the crew of the LIBERTY SUN was injured, despite the vessel being hit by four rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and automatic weapons fire.

In testimony today at the latest of a string of Senate hearings on piracy--this one before the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety And Security Subcommittee of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation--Mr. Shapiro screened a video of the attack. [the CNN version is embedded on this page].

"Initially," Mr. Shapiro said, "you will see one of the pirate skiffs from which rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons were fired at the ship. And you will see the aftermath of one of the RPGs fired at the vessel. The voices you will hear in the video are those of Captain Don Gross, Chief Mate Bill Kenneweg and Lee Hall on the bridge or command center of the LIBERTY SUN,

"You will note that Capt. Gross asks Kenneweg to join the rest of the crew in the designated safe area of the ship and that Bill tells the captain. that he is staying by his side.

"Then you will hear the two talking about maneuvering the vessel to make it more difficult for the pirates to board the vessel, Those instructions are in turn transmitted by phone to the engine room because control has been transferred there in accordance with the vessel's security plan."

After screening the video and explaining some of the antipiracy measures taken by LIBERTY SUN, Mr. Shapiro turned to the issue of arming merchant ships.

He said the MAERSK ALABAMA incident had been "a game changer."

"After the incident, self-proclaimed pirate leaders issued direct threats of violence against American merchant mariners. Indeed, the attack on the M/V LIBERTY SUN may very well have been an act of revenge for the killing of the three pirates in the ALABAMA incident.

"Moreover, the US, Government has publicly announced that it will neither pay nor will it permit U.S. companies to pay ransoms. Although we understand and respect this policy, it may well mean that American merchant mariners face a greater risk of violence if they are seized as hostages as the MAERSK ALABAMA incident indicates.

"Given these conditions, our company and other US.-fl ag companies, have renewed our focus on the issue of fire arms and the use of specially trained security personnel whether employed by the U.S. Government or by private contractors. Since the LIBERTY SUN incident, our company has been engaged in intense discussions with the U.S. Transportation Command, the Navy, DOT, the Coast Guard and other governmental agencies about how to achieve better protection for our crews from pirates. In that process, it has become obvious that prohibitions contained in U.S. and foreign laws and existing legal liability make arming crew members or having armed private security in the near term very difficult if we are to abide by current law.

"I have also heard it said that there should be no issue because the vessel and its crew have an unquestioned right of self-defense. And, indeed, we agree. Vessels and crews have that right. However, the right of self defense cannot be exercised with the benefit of fire arms under existing law. Today's U.S. legal framework actually prevents shipowners from arming their vessels for self-defense. While the maritime right of self defense is enshrined in U.S. law in a statute dating from 1817, more recently enacted State Department arms export regulations effectively prohibit the arming of vessels. Additionally, shipowners risk being second-guessed in U. S. courts for self defensive measures that were common in 1817. Mr. Chairman, in light of the recent threats to U.S. merchant mariners, we respectfully request that Congress consider clearing the obstacles that block ship owners from arming our vessels in self-defense to protect our crews when it is appropriate."

Read Mr. Shapiro's full prepared statement HERE

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