During two separate congressional hearings yesterday on piracy off the coast of Somalia, a U.S. defense official and a shipping executive told lawmakers that ships should provide their own security.
In testimony before a Congressional committee Senate Armed Services Tuesday, the Defense Department's undersecretary for policy, Michele Flournoy, said security measures aboard ships are the single most effective response to pirates, who have grown increasingly active in the waters off Somalia.
She said 78 percent of unsuccessful pirate attacks were stopped after the ships' crews took action.
One option for ships to secure themselves is to hire private armed security teams. During Tuesday's hearing, some lawmakers pushed for the U.S. government to formally recommend the shipping industry use private security on its most vulnerable ships.
It was a call seconded by a shipping company's chief executive, reports The Los Angeles Times.
Testifying before a Senate subcommittee, Philip J. Shapiro of Liberty Maritime Corp. said that although an 1819 statute gave ships the right to defend themselves, they still were subject to laws and inconsistent port rules governing whether armed vessels could dock.
Shapiro, referring to attacks last month on the Maersk Alabama and on one of his company's ships, the Liberty Sun, told the panel that the incidents constituted a "game changer." He said Liberty Maritime and other shipping companies wanted Congress to "clear the obstacles" that stand in the way of ship operators protecting their crews and cargo with armed force.
"We're doing everything we lawfully can do, but frankly . . . we need the authority to put guns on our ships, to arm our ships, so that our people can be protected," Shapiro said.
Until new legislation passes that makes it easier for ships to arm themselves, Shapiro said the U.S. military should protect U.S. flagged ships traveling through the Gulf of Aden or down the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean. The Pentagon, according to VOA, has rejected calls from shipping executives and U.S. lawmakers to protect ships in pirate-infested waters.