Should Cruise Ships be Armed?
Written by: Paul Motter
We originally ran this editorial just two weeks ago. Now we want to say “congratulations” to MSC Cruises for taking the initiative to protect their passengers.
The Easter piracy event showed us one thing – the use of power works when dealing with Somali “pirates.” But why aren’t we taking any steps to prevent these acts of “piracy” in the first place? I hesitate to use the cutesy term “pirates” ( arrgghhhh ) and think “hijackers” is far more accurate.
Three cruise ships have been unsuccessfully attacked by Somali Pirates in the last three years (The Seabourn Spirit in 2005, The Oceania Nautica in 2008 and the Fred Olsen British liner Balmoral just last week on March 5th, 2009).
In the case of the cruise ships, evasive action was just enough to avoid capture, but they each got away, luckily. The ships were able to elude and outrun the pirates by using evasive actions such as zig-zagging and faster engines. In the case of the Seabourn Spirit, the ship used a less violent weapon called a “sonic cannon” which emits what is described as a “horrible, disabling” highly directional sound. They also used water cannons (firehoses) which were powerful enough to knock men off of ladders.
But the Seabourn Spirit was under attack by pirates with AK-47s (Russian automatic rifles) and even RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). One of the ship’s security officers was mildly wounded as he manned the sonic cannon. One grenade tore through the hull of the ship and barely missed a passenger hiding in her cabin. The ship was able to steer into the pirate boats to knock them off course and then run away at top speed in the other direction.
Each cruise ship was lucky to get away. History reminds us that at one time a passenger vessel was captured and held hostage – the Achille Lauro in 1985. In that event, the captors were the Palestine Liberation Front – a highly militant organization whose main goal was not capturing ships for ransom, but to use hostages as leverage to free captured members of their own organization.
The PLF killed one passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, and held the ship in hostage in Port Said, Egypt until they could negotiate an escape plan. An aircraft was sent to fly the hijackers to Tunisia; they abandoned the ship and boarded the plane – without having gained the release of the 50 PLF hostages they demanded. At the orders of President Ronald Reagan, the flight was intercepted by U.S. Navy F-14 fighter jets and diverted to a U.S. airbase in Sicily. At that point some of the hijackers were arrested but others were let go – due to intervention by the Italians after an Egyptian government protest over the F-14 maneuver. In the long run, many of the hijackers got away, but none of the passengers other than Klinghoffer were injured. This was not a winning situation for either party.
In light of the successful Easter 2009 rescue of Captain Philips of the Maersk Alabama by Navy Seals, and the successful release of passengers on the Achille Lauro (except Klinghoffer), we see that the United States can manage these situations once they occur but with a high degree of danger and uncertainty of the outcome. Sadly, there are no plans or contingencies in place to prevent such hijackings from happening in the first place.
Are Somali pirates capable of capturing a cruise ship full of Western passengers (mostly U.S., British or European citizens) and place all of the passengers in a hostage situation? Apparently yes, it has happened before and there are still no methods other than non-violent weaponry in place to prevent it.
Should our cruise ships, or any ships, be allowed to carry weapons onboard for security and self-defense? It should be noted that right now no commercial vessel is directed to carry weapons by its owners – mostly for fear that other things could go wrong and these weapons would be used for reasons not related to security or piracy. They fear accidental shootings, suicides, etc. This is mostly because insurance companies have told shipping companies that paying ransoms is cheaper than the possible claims that could arise from other possible incidents if they allowed weapons onboard.
Do you agree with this? Keep in mind that after 9/11 several airline pilots entered a program to learn how to handle firearms and many jet pilots do carry weapons onboard air flights as a result. In addition, the US government now has a program of air marshalls who travel on flights purely to thwart possible hijacking situations.
So – why should ships be any different than airplanes? Why are jet pilots allowed to arm themselves within the United States, but ship captains cannot carry weapons even when rounding the Somali horn?
On cruise ships – not only is there the possibility of piracy, there are other potential dangers for which an armed guard may be a very useful deterent.
Personally, I think cruise ships should be able to arm their onboard security forces, not only in cases of piracy, but just in case a crazy person ever smuggles a weapon on board and threatens a meaningless act of violence onboard a cruise ship. Thank goodness a University of Texas sniper type of situation has never happened, but it could one day.
And getting back to the use of the word “pirates” to describe the terrorists. I actually heard a more liberal (than I, anyway) commentator say on ABC News Sunday morning that this isn’t piracy, it’s an “alternative business model” for poorer Somalis. What? her logic was that we were in their waters and what they were doing was not against Somali law. Well, it should be – especially when the ship is carrying food aid for starving Africans.
What do you think? Should we arm the security officers on cruise ships?
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