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Last Updated:[06-05-2009 08:37:09 EDT] Zoom in Zoom out Back to Tradenews

Shipping Company Prays for New US Law to Arm Ships against Piracy

tradenews While testifying before a Senate subcommittee over the pirate attack on one of his vessels last month, Philip J. Shapiro of Liberty Maritime Corp. appealed to the Congress to pass a legislation allowing ships to carry firearms to defend them from piracy. He pointed out that the law dating back to 1819 allowed all US-flagged ships the right to self-defence but recently enacted State Department arms export regulations effectively prohibit the arming of vessels.

On the contrary, the Maersk chairman John Clancey had told the subcommittee last week that arms on ships could make the seas even more dangerous. He had added arming merchant sailors might result in the acquisition of ever more lethal weapons and tactics by the pirates making them furthermore defenceless.

Though heads of both leading shipping companies have contrasting views about arming their ships against sea piracy, according to sources, the military has admitted that guarding the Gulf of Aden about four times the size of Texas would be a gargantuan task. Navy Vice Adm. James A. Winnefeld said it would put a "large dent" in the Navy's capacity and funding if it had to assign a military security force to each ship in the region.

Shapiro’s call comes in the wake of an aborted attempt on his ship which was on a humanitarian ‘food for Africa’ relief mission and a series of piracy at the Somali waters including the failed attack on the cargo ship Maersk Alabama. It should be recalled while rescuing the mariners of Alabama three pirates were killed. He said the Maersk Alabama incident had become a game-changer as the pirates wanted to avenge the killings of their accomplices, and had now issued direct threats against the US merchant sailors.

At the hearing, Shapiro also opposed the government’s official advice in discouraging ransom as it would only jeopardize the lives of the US mariners. Since the law would take its own time for implementation, until then, the president and CEO of Liberty Maritime wanted the authorities to urgently sanction government security teams or naval escorts for all US-flagged vessels on high-risk transits.

By Jose Roy

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