Apr 20 2009

Senator Feinstein Urges President Obama to Consider Placing Armed Security Teams on U.S. Flag Shipping Vessels to Protect Against Somali Piracy As Stop-Gap Measure

- Senator Feinstein announces plans to develop legislation to require U.S.-flag vessels operating in the region to carry armed security forces on board -

Washington, DC – In the wake of the Maersk Alabama incident, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has urged President Obama to consider placing armed security teams aboard U.S.-flag shipping vessels to protect against Somali piracy as a stop-gap measure until a comprehensive strategy is developed and implemented. Senator Feinstein also announced her plans to develop legislation to make armed security teams a requirement for U.S.-flag vessels operating in dangerous waters.

“I believe that any U.S.-flag shipping vessel operating in the Gulf of Aden or the Straits of Malacca – or in any other high piracy zone – should be required to have armed security teams aboard,” Senator Feinstein said. 

“I have listened to a lot of rhetoric and reasons for not doing this and how there must be a political solution to the ongoing chaos within Somalia. But in the meantime, the number of hijackings continues to go up, and more than 200 hostages are being held. This is unacceptable.

In 2008, pirates attacked over 90 commercial ships, hijacking 40 of them and exacting an estimated $120 million in ransom. In the days before the Maersk Alabama was captured, five other ships were hijacked. Now, these pirates are threatening specifically to target and harm the crews of American-flagged ships in the region.  I believe we must take strong, decisive action to make sure the crews on these ships are protected from the menace of piracy.”

            Following is the text of the letter sent by Senator Feinstein to President Obama last week: 

April 14, 2009

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to urge you to place armed security teams on board U.S. flagged vessels operating off of Somalia’s coast until the international community can implement appropriate measures to stop the growing threat of piracy in the area.

First, let me extend my sincere congratulations to you and the U.S. Navy SEALs who saved the life of Captain Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama in a brilliantly executed operation.  All Americans can take pride in their bravery and professionalism and the safe return of Captain Phillips to his family and friends.

The threat of additional hijackings and loss of innocent life, however, remain high:

  • Pirates continue to hold over a dozen ships and 200 hostages.
  • Pirates have threatened to kill hostages in retaliation for the successful rescue operation of Captain Phillips.
  • In 2008, pirates attacked over 90 commercial ships and successfully hijacked 40 ships.
  • The Maersk Alabama was the sixth ship seized in one week alone.

In addition, it is estimated that pirates have earned more than $120 million in ransom payments from these hijackings.  Such payments only fuel a vicious cycle of additional seizures and ransom demands and make the operation of vessels in international waters untenable and may well end up in the hands of groups engaged in international terrorism. 

The United States must do more to fight this threat. On December 16, 2008, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the use of “all necessary means” by foreign military sources to combat piracy in Somalia.  In response, several countries including the United States, Russia, India, and France have deployed warships to the region.  And, yet, the attacks continue.
 
Until a more effective international regime can be put in place, there is, in my view, no alternative to placing armed security teams on board these vessels to protect the ship and crew from pirate attacks.  There are simply not enough warships from the United States or other naval powers to protect every unarmed commercial vessel in the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden and deter future attacks.  These pirates must know that they will not be able to launch attacks with impunity. 

I appreciate your attention to this request and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,


Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

###