Webb: U.S. should look at tougher piracy response
A U.S. senator said the government should examine more forceful responses to piracy, including whether armed guards should be used aboard U.S.-flag merchant ships.
Jim Webb, D-Va., has asked the Senate Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Foreign Relations to hold hearings on the issue.
'Piracy should not be tolerated. It is a violation of international law, and for centuries the use of force to stop it has been supported by virtually every nation,' Webb said.
In his letter to Carl Levin, chairman, and John McCain, ranking member of the Committee on Armed Service, Webb said, 'in addition to the defense of American-flagged vessels in international waters that has been provided by our Navy and Coast Guard throughout our history, such measures could justifiably include hot pursuit, attacking and destroying pirate infrastructure at their home bases, and an examination of the extent to which armed security personnel should be used aboard U.S. flag merchant ships in international waters.'
But industry leaders are urging caution on the question of arming seafarers or placing guards on ships. 'The consensus in the international shipping industry is clearly against the arming of seafarers or the use of armed guards,' said Simon Bennett, secretary of the International Chamber of Shipping.
Bennett said the industry fears armed crews or guards might result in an escalation in violence, and that seafarers unions have traditionally opposed the idea.
'The most important priority for the shipping industry is the safety of its crews. Notwithstanding the fact that people who are held hostage or are kidnapped are severely traumatized, in the round very few people have lost their lives to date directly as a result of the pirate action.'
Tim Brown, president of the International Organization of Masters Mates and Pilots, said he would like to see Navy personnel on ships before consideration is given to arming crewmembers on merchant ships. Given statements by Somali pirates that they would target U.S. ships after Navy snipers killed three pirates during the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips from the Maersk Alabama,
'I don't know what choice you have. It was only a day after Phillips was released that they attacked the Liberty Sun,' Brown said. Pirates fled the area after the Navy destroyer Bainbridge responded to the attack.
'One of the reasons that the U.S. Navy was formed was to protect trade and protect ships from being raided by pirates and British men- o-war who would impress seamen into service for them. Now they seem to be backing off, and we are a little disappointed at that,' Brown said. 'We recognize it's a big ocean, that they can't be everywhere, but it is an obligation.'
He said the union's first choice would be for ships traveling in the area around Somalia to have 'a couple of armed Navy people onboard. It avoids a lot of international problems,' he said. 'The next choice is to have non-Navy but armed forces aboard, a couple of people that would travel with the ships and be responsible in case there was a pirate attack. The third choice would be to arm very, very selected members of the crew and to keep the guns locked up,' he said.
Bennett noted that in addition to fears about escalating violence if merchant ships are armed, there is a raft of legal problems: prohibition against arms by some flag states and ports, and 'all sorts of complicated legal questions if you use firearms and someone is killed or injured.' ' Chris Dupin