Philip Shapiro, head of Maritime Corp, asked Congress yesterday to amend the current law and allow ship owners to arm their vessels.
It's certainly tempting. The pirates tend to be pretty low tech, and armed ships would be a deterrent. And the US military is pushing the idea because they realize protecting shipping is too large a burden for them.
But arming vessels is a bad idea:
- Arming ships would certainly ratchet up the game and greatly increase the likelihood of lethal violence. Imagine running gunfights on board a ship. That works for a Steven Segal movie plot line, but not so good in real life.
- Arming crews would lead to a mini arms race, as pirates looked to bring ever more sophisticated weaponry into play. Think it would be hard to find advanced weapons in the chaos of Mogadishu?
- Ship owners themselves are largely wary of the potential liabilities that would result in the increase in deaths and injuries from gun battles.
- Some ships carry explosive cargo such as chemicals or gas. A gunfight could touch off a massive explosion.
- Ships would have to comply with the laws of the countries where they'd dock. Unless all those laws are amended in addition to the US laws, ship owners are opening themselves up to serious legal headaches. What laws do exist generally limit weapons to just shotguns, not such an effective deterrent against AK-47s, grenade launchers, and long-range assault rifles.