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MarEx Mailbag

The MarEx Mailbag returns this week as more than a few letters hit our in-box.

Last week, our lead editorial touched briefly upon the (then) growing crisis in the Gulf of Aden where, among other things, an American containership had been hijacked by Somali so-called “pirates.” And, while it is not necessary to recap the end result of that particular drama, suffice it to say that the American crew emerged safe and the ship back in the right hands. The same cannot be said for countless others; as many as 260 mariners now and a dozen or more ships (it is a little hard to keep track without a scorecard at this point). The editorial, entitled “Localized Piracy Obscures Real Issues for Today’s Mariner”, was intended to talk more about all of the issues facing today’s mariners. Most of those writing in wanted to talk about piracy, however. At the time, I preferred to keep my powder dry in the face of a story that would likely change five times before it was over. And, so it did. Nevertheless, you can read the editorial by clicking HERE. You can also see what our readers had to say about it below:
 

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Dear Editor,

As a maritime security specialist, I have instructed literally thousands of mariners in anti-piracy and anti-terrorism procedures. In class, I have listened to countless hair raising stories of encounters with pirates related by crews, mates and masters. The situation off Somalia is not new. In August of 2001, the US flagged Research Vessel Maurice Ewing was attacked by pirates firing AK-47's and rocket propelled grenades, operating from small boats launched from a mother ship. The ship was saved only by the bravery and quick actions of several unarmed crew members, however, the incident was soon forgotten in the wake of 9-11.

The situation off Somalia has only gotten worse. The near term possibility of forming a legitimate government that can restore order in Somalia is remote. Numerous warnings have been issued by both the US Navy and the International Maritime Bureau. US and coalition forces are attempting to patrol an area the size of the Mediterranean and Red Sea combined. The area is just too vast for effective policing by available naval forces.

This leaves the merchant mariners in an untenable position. Merchant ships are using a variety of non-lethal measures to counter the pirates. These efforts have had some success and many attacks have been thwarted. Several foreign vessels have fought back and took their ships back from pirates, but the attacks continue unabated.

The UN passed a resolution in 2008 that allows coalition navies to use all means necessary to deal with armed assaults by pirates. This should be extended to allow coalition forces to strike at known piracy staging areas and vessels. The right of self defense is a universal concept. A resolution needs to be considered that extends the option of arming crews and allowing armed guards aboard vessels in high threat piracy areas. In my experience, a majority of professional merchant mariners and security personnel understand rules for use of force in self defense. Many are willing and capable to be trained to defend themselves against the threat of piracy. The US Maritime Liason Office in Bahrain reports no ship with an armed guard has ever been taken.

In class we always come to the same conclusion. Prohibitive rules prevent mariners from protecting themselves and the situation won't change until there is a disaster. Armed criminals operate on the high seas with impunity. A policy of that includes non-lethal measures and concessions to criminal demands will not end end the terror. How many more disasters should we tolerate before we change the rules to allow our Navies to keep the sea lanes open and allow our brave mariners to defend themselves?

In the meantime we will pray for the safe return of Captain Phillips and the other mariners being held hostage.

Commander Joseph A. Tenaglia, USN (Ret)
Sea Girt, NJ

MarEx Editor’s Remarks: Mr. Tenaglia’s letter arrived obviously before the dramatic rescue of the Master of the “Maersk Alabama.” Mr. Tenaglia, in his letter, states, “In my experience, a majority of professional merchant mariners and security personnel understand rules for use of force in self defense.” I can appreciate that Mr. Tenaglia has spent countless hours in the classroom with these individuals and probably thinks that he knows what is best and what is possible. His opinions are based on experience as a naval officer, an anti-terrorist instructor with MSC, and his work with foreign and US flag vessels performing security audits and other tasks. And, I personally attended his ISPS course in Freehold, NJ and can attest to its thoroughness and value. On the other hand, I also spent more than five years at sea actually sailing with the wide demographic that represents this group of mariners and before that, I went to school with them for four years. I do not share Commander Tenaglia’s level of confidence in their collective ability (myself included) to use self-defense, especially in a case of where they might be armed for the task. Some will not like that assessment. I do think, however, that arming merchant mariners is a dreadful mistake, at least until a standardized methodology, training protocol and the rules-of-engagement can be implemented. Some may not feel it wise to wait that long. I disagree. Placing “armed guards aboard vessels in high threat piracy areas” is certainly an option, but at what cost to the supply chain? And, for how long (is this) a viable option? Read on for another opinion:
 

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Dear Sir.

I read your comments in subject editorial, "Localized Piracy Obscures real Issues for Today's Mariner", with great interest. The problems with Piracy are too extensive to cover in an Email and did not exist during my active maritime career as a Master with Lykes Lines and later in the U. S. Coast Guard. However, I would like to comment on a commitment you made concerning an entirely different matter.

You indicated that you would fully support efforts to provide tax relief for U. S. mariners who operate more than six months per year in an ex-patriot status. I fully agree with the idea of tax relief under those circumstances but would suggest an alternate approach that is presently gaining popular support. To accomplish anything in the political arena for merchant mariners is very difficult since they are a very small voting block and can and are usually ignored by politicians.

I would recommend all maritime industry personnel, afloat or ashore, solidly support passage of legislation languishing in the House of Representatives, HR 25, commonly known as the Fair Tax. Briefly put, the Fair Tax would abolish the IRS as we know it today as well as the entire present voluminous and incomprehensible tax code. It would replace it with a revenue neutral, transparent, and fair national sales tax, or consumption tax, collected at the time of retail sale of goods and services. It would, at the same time, completely untax the necessities of life with an ingenious monthly "prebate" for every head of household. No more income tax, payroll tax, capital gains tax, etc. and no dreaded 15 April each year. It would simplify life for the mariner along with every other citizen in the country, attract new investment, and allow US industries to compete more effectively in the "world economy."

If you are not familiar with the efforts to implement this "Fair Tax" and would like more information you can Google fair tax.com for information and answers to any questions you may have.

I read your Maritime Executive editorials and news items with great interest. It allows me to keep fairly current on matters maritime, the profession to which I devoted my productive years. Your efforts are much appreciated.

Sincerely,

John Hanson
Foley, AL

MarEx Editor’s Remarks: I received permission to post this one with attribution. The gentleman’s opinions would, I think, have wide support from a lot of our readers. We appreciate his comments and kind remarks about our online product. Read on for another:
 

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Joseph:

It is typical that the US fails to think out of the box as it relates to the pirates near Somalia.

The owner of the vessels are even more stupid when they fail to look at the simpler actions that can employ to "repel" the pirates.

You simply hire the Blackwater type of personnel and believe me they can repel and destroy any attempts to board the ships in very short order.

This method is cheaper, will reduce insurance rates, and keeps the pirates off guard since they now know they may well be killed in their criminal enterprise.

The idea of Naval vessels running around all over the place is so impotent that you cannot justify the expense of the warships.

On board repellers are cheaper and more effective.

R. Frank Meyer
CEO / Windstar Energy Group

MarEx Editor’s Remarks: The author gave permission to use his name and he additionally describes himself as a former “Green Beret” with five years experience in special forces. I’ll take him at his word. I don’t know how cheap “on board repellers” will be, but based on my discussions with various people this week, I’m not convinced that they will reduce insurance rates. I can also report that insurance providers are not universally thrilled about the prospect of arming mariners, for obvious reasons. Beyond this, merchant ships – whether or not they employ “on board repellers” – will always be soft targets. The use of violence as a first option will likely ratchet up the game and when that happens, the risk of injury, death and yes, an environmental disaster that will make the EXXON VALDEZ spill look like an outboard engine leak will increase exponentially. As I type this particular set of remarks, I see that four (or is it five?) additional ships have been taken in the wake of the resolution of the “Maersk Alabama,” along with as many as 60 mariners. Looks like those Navy Seals really put the fear of God into the Somalis, yes?
 

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Joe:

"Yesterday’s brazen attack on a U.S. flag containership in the Gulf of Aden, the sixth vessel seized in less than one week in the chaotic region, only served to drive home the premise that peace at sea cannot be achieved without first implementing a shoreside solution."

There you go again. This is a pure ipse dixit argument. You can point to no historical precedent that supports this position. I have challenged you on this point in the past and you have demurred. And quoting a "Puntland Security Minister" only weakens your argument.

Underlying this line of thinking is the Politically Correct premises that the Pirates are "poor, black and oppressed." That is in quotes because I read it in a dispatch from a European Government Ministry urging their navy to be aware of the human rights of the pirates - but I cannot give you a cite.

That they are black, I will concede. Oppressed? They are the oppressors. They are aligned with the warlords in the region who in turn are aligned with Al Queda and other terrorist groups. They operate under their aegis and protection. How else would they be able to bring the captured ships in to port.

Which refutes the third element of the proposition. They are not poor. Aside from the nearly $100MM that they have been able to extort to date, where do you think they got the money to buy the ships, small boats, arms and ammunition to start their enterprise. Ask your Puntland Security Minister.

And finally, it is a waste of time, money and manpower to bring these criminals to trial in Kenya or any where else. Kill them where you find them and piracy will cease.

Sincerely
Daniel Reiss, President & CEO
Automated Terminal Systems, Inc.

MarEx Editor’s Remarks: This gentleman needs no introduction. He has written to MarEx before. I wish he would really say what is on his mind, though, without holding back. I’m guessing that somewhere, he has his fans. I am not necessarily one of them.
 

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Finally, a letter about a different editorial. Three weeks ago, our lead piece centered on the court decision which has sidelined the Hawaii Superferry. The editorial, entitled “Striking a Balance: Mixed Message in Hawaii”, struck a chord with more than one reader. The article generated considerable mail as well as heavy throughput traffic. In the piece, we lamented the loss of this service and questioned why the needs of so many who depend on a real, honest-to-goodness “green marine, all American” operation are routinely ignored. The case goes to show, at least in my opinion, why the environmental concerns of a few have now come to outweigh the needs of society. Not everyone agreed with me, however. And this week, we received an especially detailed and to-the-point letter from a reader on the same subject.

You can read the editorial, first put online on March 12th, by clicking HERE. You can also see what our reader had to say about it below:

Regarding the shutdown of the HSF, the Hawaii Supreme Court did not shut them down to protect the environment. In their ruling, the court made no determination on that. The ferry was shutdown for violating the laws of the State of Hawaii. There was no "mixed message". The message was loud and clear. If someone comes to Hawaii to set up a business, they need to follow the local laws. Even if it is obvious that the proposed business is a good idea and will provide benefits for the residents, the laws still need to be followed.

I think that many Super Ferry opponents are not against the project because of possible environmental threats, but rather because of the dangerous precedent of allowing a major project to be started up in such a manner.

From the start, there was tremendous political pressure on the harbors to bend to the will of the ferry investors. There are numerous examples of the good advice and expert opinions of harbors technical personnel and local maritime experts being ignored during the planning process. The outer island community leaders had many questions and concerns about this project which were ignored. The impression given was that attitude of the ferry investors and of the State government was "we know what is best for you, and we don't need to listen to you because we are the experts."

Please take a look at pages 30 to 37 of the State Auditor's first report on Super Ferry for a more in-depth look at the flawed start-up process:

http://www.state.hi.us/auditor/Reports/2008/08-09.pdf

The only heroes in this story are the skilled and dedicated operating staff of the ferry. It is a real shame that they are all now out of work due to something that they had no control over.

I am withholding my name because I hope to continue on working on the waterfront in Hawaii for many years.

MarEx Editor’s Remarks: An interesting letter from someone who purports himself / herself to be “working on the waterfront” in Hawaii and apparently wants to keep that job. Fair enough. And, I don’t mind putting the letter online without attribution. But I will say that this will be the very last letter on the subject that I will put online until such time as someone provides me with the results of the environmental surveys performed before allowing cruise vessels (or any other hulls, for that matter) in Hawaii’s waters. My research skills aren’t very good, apparently. I can’t seem to find this data. I anxiously await the help of our readers on this matter.