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Piracy And The Right To Self Defense

Friday, June 26, 2009

Last month we reported on the arming of merchant mariners to allow them to defend their crews and ships from pirate attacks.  We noted that, with the increase in pirate attacks on the high seas, many are now realizing that firearms and armed citizens can be as effective a criminal deterrent at sea, as they are on land. 

The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) wrapped up a meeting earlier this month, where it agreed on “revised guidance on combating piracy and armed robbery against ships.”

Among other things, the report recommends “guidance to shipmasters and crew…who may be kidnapped or held hostage for ransom, based on the current United Nations guidance on ‘surviving as a hostage.’”

As hard as it is to believe, the MSC report concludes that, “flag States should strongly discourage the carrying and use of firearms by seafarers for personal protection or for the protection of a ship. Seafarers, it was agreed, are civilians and the use of firearms requires special training and aptitudes and the risk of accidents with firearms carried on board ship is great. Carriage of arms on board ship may encourage attackers to carry firearms or even more dangerous weapons, thereby escalating an already dangerous situation. Any firearm on board may itself become an attractive target for an attacker. Carriage of firearms may pose an even greater danger if the ship is carrying flammable cargo or similar types of dangerous goods.”

These recommendations defy reason, given that the pirates are already heavily armed and  know vessels are easy targets due to the high level of probability that seamen are unarmed. 

By contrast, U.S. Representative Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) has introduced H.R. 2984--the “United States Mariner and Vessel Protection Act of 2009.”  The purpose of the Act is to assist in the defense of United States-flag vessels against piracy and to ensure the traditional right of self-defense of those vessels against piracy.

Commenting on the measure, Rep. LoBiondo, the ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittee, said: “Our merchant marine fleet is increasingly under attack from unlawful individuals and rogue groups that seek to disrupt commerce, seize U.S. and foreign crews, and instill fear on international waters.  It is only appropriate that our fleets be legally allowed to defend themselves from these violent encounters. This common-sense legislation is a necessary step in empowering U.S.-flagged vessels to protect their crews and cargo.”
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