Arming of commercial ships touted at congressional hearing
Capt. Thomas Bushy, skipper of the training ship Kennedy assigned to Massachusetts Maritime Academy, told a Congressional subcommittee Thursday morning that firearms should be introduced to commercial ships on a limited basis and that sea-going crews should be increased instead of decreased.
Bushy testified before the House Foreign Affairs Oversight Subcommittee chaired by U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Quincy, who asked if firearms aboard commercial vessels would legitimately hike insurance premiums for shipping companies. The hearing was held on the Cape Cod campus.
Delahunt asked Bushy if any “thoughtful analysis” has been done on the topic of increased insurance premiums or whether insurance companies would “take advantage of the crisis.”
Bushy said if firearms are introduced aboard vessels and crews are trained to use them, “over time it would seem that it would deter the risk of pirate attacks” on commercial shipping.
The North Falmouth resident said training would be needed if firearms become a part of seagoing life. “Who gets it?” he said. “The officers or the crew. And after the training, can they work together?”
Bushy said advances in technology allow commercial shipping lines to reduce the number of crewmembers on ships. When the Kennedy first left the boat yard in 1968, the said, it had a crew of 48. Today, that number is 21.
Bushy also said security detachments would help mariners at sea and cost less than brining the U.S. Navy in to resolve piracy incidents.
He said weapons aboard ships should be on a limited basis with restrictions to those with “trained officer status and personnel.” Information about shipboard weapons should be restricted, he said.
Bushy also recommends that federal grant funds be made available to help shipping firms in anti-piracy efforts; complete with a “liberal tax exemption status for some expenses.”
The congressional hearing comes in the wake of the pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama off Somalia last month.
MMA Capt. Joseph Murphy, with 41 years of sea-going experience, said “optimal solutions to the maritime piracy problem would be the establishment of a viable government in Somalia that could protect its own shores, as well as pursue, prosecute and punish pirates.”
Murphy said this option “seems to be beyond reach at this time,” but he also said that such areas should be avoided by shipping lines whenever possible.
“The arming of ship personnel presents many difficult issues at sea in terms of liability and jurisdiction,” said Murphy, whose son Shane was second-in-command of the hijacked ship. “The discharge of firearms aboard ship can be very dangerous given the nature of cargoes carried and confined spaces aboard.”
In this light, the captain said, he recommends that “private armed guards” be employed at the ship owner’s expense. These individuals must be skilled in the use of small arms and confined space tactics.
“The armed guard force must have clean and undisputable lethal force guidelines,” he said. “The master must not be constrained by the vessel owner or operator or any other person, from taking or executing any decision, which in the professional judgment of the master, is necessary to maintain the safety and security of the vessel.”
MMA Adm. Richard Gurnon welcomed Delahunt to the Taylors Point campus. Gurnon has advocated the introduction of weapons aboard ships as a deterrent to piracy.
Shipping concerns and insurance carriers have not embraced the sentiment. This is something Delahunt said Thursday needs more thought “about real risk” aboard vessels.
Bushy said it is unfortunate that in placing weapons aboard commercial ships “this would result in fatalities. Sadly enough that will be the mariners.”