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Don't Arm Merchant Marine


UPDATED: With Adm. Mullen Saying He is Not a "Proponent" of Arming Merchant Marine; Piracy "Is Not My Priority Right Now." He says: "I've Got A Big Globe."

The head of the Maritime Administration, who oversees America's merchant marine, said today that he opposed the arming of US merchant seamen to counter pirates.

"We do not want to arm mariners in any event," James Caponiti, acting Maritime Administrator, said at today's Navy League conference in Washington. He said the risks were just too great even though there is training for mariners to be trained in the use of small arms. He added that "we do not recommend arming our mariners with the kinds of weapons you would need for a maritime attack." The Maritime Administration is part of the Department of Transportation.

Instead, ships should consider carrying qualified private security teams. In addition to concerns that mariners could become targets for pirates if they are armed, Caponiti said many foreign ports do not allow sailors to carry weapons or to bring them into port. These are issues the US will have to address as it considers the role of private security teams on US-flagged ships.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, agreed that arming mariners was not the right approach, adding that piracy was "not my priority right now." Clearly pushing piracy down on the threat ladder, he said: "I've got a big globe." Mullen also offered the familiar statistic that piracy affects less than 1 percent of ships and the commercial shipping industry is willing to pay ransoms rather than take more costly measures. Finally, Mullen noted that, "in the end it's a bigger problem. It's about Somalia…” and what the international community choose to do about it.

Also, the chief of naval operations, Adm. Gary Roughead, said he doubted that the shipping industry would be willing to adopt another tactic that many experts have encouraged: the use of armed convoys to protect ships against pirates. "The merchant fleet serves a global economy and they want to make as much money as possible," Roughead said, noting that waiting to sail in a convoy might wreak havoc with the tight time lines required by modern industry.

The head of the Coast Guard, Adm. Thad Allen, said a new maritime "code of conduct" should be out "shortly." He did not disclose any details.

However, Allen did say that one concept that has been much discussed to discourage piracy, the creation of shipping highways, was worthy of consideration and is being implemented in some regions.

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