Arming Merchant Ships, Yes, err–No!

An interesting bit of bureaucratic conflict here. It seems we want merchant ships carrying our cargoes off Somalia to hire armed guards on one hand, but then we make it difficult and add to the cost. There is also the question of letting armed vessels into US waters. There are many aspects to this issue, including action by the Coast Guard that was reversed.

17 thoughts on “Arming Merchant Ships, Yes, err–No!

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Arming Merchant Ships, Yes, err–No! - CGBlog.org -- Topsy.com

  2. Sorry but this is a no-brainer for me. I think the commercial shippers should be able to arm themselves for their own protection without all of the stupid requirements. I would hate to think that I could be transiting through pirate-infested waters and I’m not permitted the option of arming myself for self-defense. I really don’t think the Arabs are going to come to my defense when I find myself thwarting off pirates in the Gulf of Aden. If the Arabs have a problem with small arms aboard a merchant ship passing through the Suez Canal; Fine. . . we’ll just sell our wheat to them for the same cost they charge us for a barral of oil until they come to their senses. There has to be a better way to handle this without denying the merchant shippers the ability to protect themselves.

  3. Then the ship owners should make the Egyptian line handlers do something other than bring their cardboard and sleep — that is both crews of them.

    I do not believe Egyptians are “arabs” just because of similarities in language and religion. No more than I would say that Nigerians are English because they speak English or the other African people who speak French or German.

    Iranians are not all Arabs. They fall in to the Persian line as do Iraqis and others. Then there are all those -STAN countries.

    • This needs to be addressed under UN auspices. My feeling is that a state may require ships to declare weapons that may be aboard before entering their territorial sea, and if they choose, that state can board the vessel to confirm the declaration and that the weapons are properly stowed and safe guarded. The state should not be permitted to confiscate reasonable numbers of small arms that may be necessary for self protection. And they should not be permitted to unreasonably delay vessels in innocent passage through their waters. When the ship leaves their waters the state can reboard and confirm that the weapons are still on board and have not been removed. If the weapons are no longer on board, then potentially a crime has been committed and captain and crew are responsible.

  4. Meanwhile it looks like the US government should get their act together with regard to export licenses or more properly some form of permit. We might want to require a substantial bond.

    A form of bond might also work between vessels and states whose waters they enter. It could be handled electronically without delaying the ship in transit.

  5. International rules restrict weapons on commercial ships. I have said before that the USN should re-establish the Naval Armed Guards and put them on US flag ships operated by, chartered by or carrying cargo for the Military Sealift Command. Further that command is structured and staffed to run another reserve personnel program. MSC in consort with the fleet commanders can send and assign NAG dets on the above ships for force protection. The sailors and their “Official Equipment” can board and debark US flag ships with the appropriate clearances from foreign countries. Such is already done with DOD cargo.

    NAG dets would then work for COMSC and support the ship’s master with proper intel, communciation and equipment to thwart pirate and other attacks on US flag ships.
    The last time I checked that was a constitutional duty of the US Navy!

  6. “NAG dets would then work for COMSC and support the ship’s master with proper intel, communciation and equipment to thwart pirate and other attacks on US flag ships.
    The last time I checked that was a constitutional duty of the US Navy!”

    Just where is this found in the Constitution?

    I recommend reading about John Adams. His concept was a navy was for defending against “foreign hostility.”

  7. I have no objection to reactivating the Naval Armed Guard and in fact have suggested it as being less expensive than having ships patrolling. Its got to be legal and its been accepted by other countries in the past.

  8. Why not just call them terrorists? This is what they are and there have been connects made to funding terrorists groups from the hijacking.

    “Here is a poetic 18th century view of state sponsored piracy,
    In a clime whose rich vales feed the marts of the world
    Whose shores are unshaken by Europe’s commotion
    The trident of Commerce should never be hurled,
    To incense the legitimate powers of the ocean.
    But should pirates invade
    Though in thunder arrayed,
    Let your cannon declare the free charter of Trade.”
    Thomas Paine, Adams & Liberty, 1791.

  9. Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution says the Powers of the Congress include:
    “To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;”
    I take that to mean the Congress has funded the US Navy to fight pirates. Not sure what Obama has done?

    Eagle1 has noted this in more recent discussions about pirates on trial in US:
    The Constitution declares that Congress shall have power “to define and punish piracies and felonies
    committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations.” (U.S. v Smith at 158)

  10. Interesting timing that I find this article. Working in shipping, piracy is a big problem for me. We are putting armed guards on all of our ships and have stopped several attacks.
    leesea, you seem like a very “by the book ” kind of person. But for every rule or regulation there are many ways around them.
    Obama provided a big boost to the private security sector when he signed his executive order making it a crime for any shipping company that does business in the US to pay a ransom.

  11. “Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution says the Powers of the Congress include:
    “To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;”
    I take that to mean the Congress has funded the US Navy to fight pirates. Not sure what Obama has done?”

    It is an incorrect assumption. The only constitutional remarks about a navy are in Article 1 Section 8 that gives power to the Congress “to make rules for the government and regulation of the army and navy.” Then again in Article 2 Section 2 makes the president the “Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy.” There is no mention in the Constitution about the purpose to have either.

    The only reason the U. S. Navy came about was because of the need to protect the commerce and the desire of the federalist navalists to have one. I recommend reading the Annals of Congress from 1789 to 1798 as well as the James Madison essays in the Federalist Papers. The Act to provide for Naval Armaments was a commerce protection act and the actions of the ship’s commanders were severely limited in what group of privateers they could encounter.

    I am not sure why Obama has been brought into this. The same question could be asked of any U. S. President for the last 50 years. What have they done about piracy?

    “The Constitution declares that Congress shall have power “to define and punish piracies and felonies
    committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations.” (U.S. v Smith at 158).”

    So? The Smith decision came in 1819/20 and is being used today for piracy trials. This case caused a six-month delay in the execution of pirates on May 25, 1820 at New Orleans. This is the famous case of Le Brave captured by the cutters Louisiana and Alabama and is the only case where two of the pirates were hanged aboard a cutter.

    The Congress did pass laws about piracy in 1790 and updated them from time to time.

  12. I am not a lawyer, but I sure think there is enough precedent to believe one of the US Navy’s roles is to deter piracy as it affects US flag merchant ships. It would seem the laws are on the books but the actions are few and far between?

    The reason I brought Obama into this is because I beleve the USN is following the path of least resistance when it comes to merchant ship protection. IF CJCS & CNO told Pres Obaama that piracy was a significant problem he might direct them to do something? BUT I saw a statement by SECDEF Gates that basically said there is no reason to go to war for small threats. AND I seen many military leaders say the only way to stop piracy is to put BOG in Somalia.

    My retort seen elsewhere is: A Navy may not be able to stop piracy ON the high seas, but it can certainly be stopped FROM the sea. Gee wasn’t that in the Navy strategy docs, oh yea – sarcasm.

  13. “I am not a lawyer, but I sure think there is enough precedent to believe one of the US Navy’s roles is to deter piracy as it affects US flag merchant ships. It would seem the laws are on the books but the actions are few and far between?”

    Nor am I. However, legal opinions and documents are historical documents and these may be read in context. Yes, one very small role of the modern Navy is counter, not deter, piracy. This goes to the early primary purpose of having an ocean navy and that is to protect the commerce.

    During the period of high piratical activity in the first quarter of the 19th century, there were many actions by the navy to counter piracy. However, they were countering slave importation as well albeit not a fervently or effectively as the Revenue Cutter Service. These ancillary functions only serve to keep the Navy busy when they have little else to do. See Porter and Patterson’s comments on anti-piracy operations.

    “The reason I brought Obama into this is because I beleve the USN is following the path of least resistance when it comes to merchant ship protection. IF CJCS & CNO told Pres Obaama that piracy was a significant problem he might direct them to do something?”

    The question here is piracy a “significant” problem or is it just a small pain in the commercial ass? Since the majority of U. S. shippers have decided to flag their vessels in those countries of convenience then the U. S. has no obligation to help them out of trouble. The few U. S. flagged merchant companies that still exist seem to have take the initiative to help themselves which is in line with historical responses.

    One of the purposes of the now defunct “1000 ship fleet” concept was there would be plenty of armed hulls available to stop piracy. This fell apart and the pirates know it.

    “BUT I saw a statement by SECDEF Gates that basically said there is no reason to go to war for small threats. AND I seen many military leaders say the only way to stop piracy is to put BOG in Somalia.”

    I agree with Secretary Gates. He is not alone. George Washington saw no reason to go to war with the Algerians for similar acts. Here is a good summary of the first acquiescence. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/jefferson_papers/mtjprece.html

    Oh yes, boots on the ground. That would only increase the body count and not solve the larger problem of having no government to take control.

  14. Bill what you are in essence saying is that its not worth the US Navy’s time and effort to protect the US Merchant Marinea and deter piracy. Is that a correct interpretation?

    Why don’t we just write Sealift Support OUT of the US Navy’s mission set? Hell no!

    I was at MSC HQS in 1985 when a SEAL det had to protect a prepo ship theatened by pirates.

    I am NOT advocating BOG in Somalia instead use of offshore based NSW or NECC units is what I meant by saying ” A Navy may not be able to stop piracy ON the high seas, but it can certainly be stopped FROM the sea.”

  15. “Bill what you are in essence saying is that its not worth the US Navy’s time and effort to protect the US Merchant Marinea and deter piracy. Is that a correct interpretation?”

    Yep, pretty much because our elected officials have the power to task the navy to do this and they have not as has been done in the past. Perhaps if our Merchant Marine were more loyal to the U. S. and not flag with flags of convenience then the Congress would do more. Then there is the merchant marine’s acquiescence to the pirates by paying them off time and again.

    “Why don’t we just write Sealift Support OUT of the US Navy’s mission set? Hell no!”

    Is there a real sealift capability? Take a look at the Brits for the Falklands campaign and Desert Storm I.

    “I am NOT advocating BOG in Somalia instead use of offshore based NSW or NECC units is what I meant by saying ” A Navy may not be able to stop piracy ON the high seas, but it can certainly be stopped FROM the sea.”

    Piracy cannot be stopped unless there are boots on the ground. Even Lafifte did not decide to give up Galveston until the hanging of one of his pirate crew and the assaults on Barataria Island. The greatest success on infiltration and even some piracy was Operation Market Time during the Vietnam Conflict. However, look what it took just to secure a 1,000-mile coast line.

    Without congressional resolve and the acceptance of the merchant marine community to take some casualties not much will, or can, be done. For the present it is just a ticket punching exercise for the naval vessels involved. It does give them something to do.

  16. Pingback: In Defense of Second Amendment Rights of U.S. Merchant Seamen vs Mercenaries

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