Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Duh! United States will post guards on ships sailing off Somalia
After months of piracy off the coast of Somalia that included the seizure of a U.S.-flagged merchant ship and its captain taken hostage, the United States has decided it's time to require guards to accompany the vessels. The U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday that it will require guards on merchant ships sailing off Somalia and require owners of the vessels to develop anti-piracy security plans, the Reuters international news service reported. How long could it have taken to figure this one out? The new rules will allow shipowners to decide whether to use armed or unarmed guards, Reuters said, citing remarks by Coast Guard Rear Admiral James Watson at a maritime security meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "We expect to see additional security on U.S.-flagged vessels that transit these waters," Watson said, according to Reuters. "It can involve the use of firearms. We are looking for things that work but that don't make the situation worse." Those "things" include what to do about countries that, like the United States, don't allow armed vessels to enter their ports and how to help shipping companies that will be impacted by higher insurance costs as a result of the introduction of weapons on their vessels, Reuters said. "We're not interested in putting ships out of business," said Watson, the Coast Guard's director of prevention policy. The new directive was signed Monday by Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen, Reuters said. Some shipowners expressed concern that with weapons aboard, misunderstanding between sailors could escalate into gunfights, Reuters said, since fishermen from some countries fire rifles into the air to warn other vessels away from their nets. U.S.-flagged ships that carry military cargo already are armed, Watson said.