Liberty Maritime Corporation President and CEO Philip J. Shapiro testified May 20 on lessons learned from the international piracy crisis and the immediate need to protect American merchant mariners on U.S.-flag vessels. In his testimony before the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, Shapiro advocated for more effective means of protecting U.S.-flag vessels transiting the pirate danger zone.
“We strongly urge the government to consider embarking a small number of U.S. government security personnel on the very few U.S.-flag vessels that transit high-risk transit areas at any one time,” Shapiro said. “Using small security teams is a much more cost effective response than attempting to protect millions of square miles of ocean or dealing with a hostage situation after the fact.”
As piracy continues to escalate, with more than 80 attacks so far this year, the U.S. Coast Guard announced earlier this month updated anti-piracy guidelines for U.S. commercial vessels. Yet, Shapiro noted, “We should all recognize and deal with the limitations of vessel-only passive security measures. It is unwise to assume that such security measures will be sufficient in and of themselves to protect American lives.”
Shapiro also made the case for a change in law that empowers maritime company owners to arm their U.S.-flag vessels in self-defense. “I believe that U.S.-flag owners are doing all they can within the law to protect their crews,” said Shapiro, adding that “State Department arms export regulations make it very difficult to arm vessels.”
While law changes are debated and enacted, Shapiro called for naval vessel escorts or government security teams for U.S.-flag vessels operating in high-risk transits.
Liberty Maritime owns the M/V Liberty Sun, a cargo ship recently attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden while delivering U.S. government food aid to several African countries, including Somalia. The attack took place just days after the attack on the Maersk Alabama, which lead to a hostage situation.