Marine director: No reason to arm cargo ships
April 14, 2009
The marine director of a shipping group predicted Monday that contrary to some people’s fears, the dramatic rescue of the U.S. captain of a ship hijacked off the coast of Somalia won’t increase violence by pirates.
Violence is not what motivates pirates, who need to ensure the well-being of their hostages in order to demand ransom, according to Peter Hinchliffe, of the London-based International Chamber of Shipping.
"It’s appalling there has to be loss of life, but I don’t think this will instigate an increase in violence," said Hinchliffe, whose organization represents 75 percent of the world’s ship tonnage from 40 member countries. "It is not really the modus operandi of these pirates. They are conducting a business … and safeguarding the ships and the crew is how they get the maximum amount of ransom at the end of the day."
Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said during a press briefing Sunday that the potential for further violence might have been raised by the daring rescue of Richard Phillips.
Navy SEALs on the back of the USS Bainbridge shot and killed three of four suspected pirates who held Phillips on a lifeboat for five days, freeing the captain of the Maersk Alabama. Phillips had offered himself as hostage in place of his crew.
Comrades of the slain pirates vowed revenge and said they would kill hostages if attacked, The Associated Press reported.
"There’s second and third order effects to every action," Gortney said during a press briefing Sunday. "And this could escalate violence in this part of the world. No question about it."
Relatives of other crews being held by pirates worried that the crews might be in more danger following the incident, the AP reported.
Hinchliffe said options such as hiring private security teams or training and arming crews are not viable. He said his organization is "absolutely adamant that crews should not be armed."
They are not trained for such work, he said, adding that ports bar ships from entering if weapons are onboard.
"The issue is a red herring. The issue is not about arming crews," Hinchliffe said. "They are innocent merchant ships transiting the high seas and have a legitimate right to their business.
"The [onus] is on states to maintain freedom of the high seas. … There is never going to be a lasting solution until the United Nations authorizes law and order to be established and maintained in Somalia."
In January, the U.S. Navy stood up an anti-piracy task force, Combined Task Force 151, a multination, anti-piracy effort that patrols and monitors 1.1 million square miles of water, including the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea and shipping lanes used by roughly 23,000 commercial vessels each year.
On Monday, Phillips was aboard the San Diego-based USS Boxer, the task force’s lead ship, after receiving a medical exam, according to the AP.
Hinchliffe said the rescue has probably done more to bring the issue of piracy to the attention of U.S. politicians who have seemed apathetic to the turmoil in Somalia that spawned the pirates.
"I think politically, it is very important that the U.S. has become engaged. The U.S. has been very slow in getting involved," he said.