House Passes NDAA with Cummings Amendment

Monday, June 29, 2009

Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, joined his colleagues in a vote of 389-22 to approve the National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 2647, which included a Cummings amendment that would require the Department of Defense to protect U.S.-flagged ships at risk of being boarded by pirates.

“We would never leave the U.S. homeland unguarded if it were at risk of an attack, and we should apply this same standard to our ships instead of leaving them to fend for themselves,” Congressman Cummings said. “We anticipate that embarking military security personnel on these vessels will require far less manpower than patrolling the region with multiple Navy vessels and be much more efficient and effective in keeping our mariners safe.”

As the number of incidents of piracy in the Horn of Africa region continues to rise, U.S.-flagged vessels are increasingly at risk of being hijacked. As of mid-May of this year, there have been 114 Somali pirate attacks in this area, resulting in 29 successful hijackings. By comparison, the entire year of 2008 saw 111 attacks. Additionally, U.S. mariners have been threatened by pirates seeking to avenge the deaths of their colleagues during the Navy’s operation to free Richard Phillips, the Captain of the Maersk Alabama.

According to estimates by the U.S. Maritime Administration, approximately 54 U.S.-flagged vessels transit the Horn of Africa region during the course of a year, with only a handful at serious risk of pirate attacks due to their operating characteristics. The Cummings amendment would require that the DOD embark military security personnel on these vessels as they travel through areas with a known presence of pirates.

“Our merchant fleet has always depended on our nation’s Naval power to ensure its safety, and we cannot shirk that duty now,” Congressman Cummings said. “Embarking military security personnel on these vessels makes a loud statement that our nation stands behind these ships and that we will not allow pirates to intimidate us.”

Chairman Cummings convened two hearings this year to examine piracy on the high seas. Transcripts and video of those hearings is available at http://transportation.house.gov/subcommittees/maritime_transportation.aspx

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