John D. Rockefeller, IVSenator
I am excited about today’s hearing and regret that I cannot be in attendance. I would like to thank Senator Lautenberg for calling this critical hearing to examine Piracy on the High Seas today. We both believe it is our duty to protect American mariners, vessels and right of access to the shipping lanes around the Horn of Africa. The Commerce Committee will use today’s hearing to examine issues within its jurisdiction spanning the operations of the commercial maritime industry, the Coast Guard, and the safety and security of our merchant fleet and their crews.
I would also like to thank all of our witnesses for agreeing to testify today. I appreciate each of you taking the time to be here, and I’m honored to have two American heroes among us today. Joining us are the Master of the M/V Maersk Alabama, Captain Richard Phillips, and the vessel’s Chief Engineer, Mr. Michael Perry. These men have dedicated their lives to service at sea in support of our national and economic security. I want to personally thank you and your families for being with us and for the selfless service and countless sacrifices you make for our country.
As a maritime nation it is imperative that the United States and our trading partners maintain unimpeded access to the world’s shipping lanes. It is this access that enables us to move commerce, provide humanitarian assistance and, when necessary, fight and win wars. It is unacceptable for our ships, crews, and passengers to be threatened and put at risk in international waters by various groups of unsophisticated pirates from unstable nations. I will not sit by as men in speed boats abuse the most powerful and advanced Navy in the world. We have the ability and responsibility to end all piracy; specifically around the Horn of Africa and along the Coast of Somalia.
With the full force of the U.S. Navy alongside a coalition of nearly twenty other nations, we can take back these critical shipping lanes. It is of the upmost importance that we keep our U.S. mariners, passengers and vessels free from harm and free to move about international waters.
Arming the crew is not an option. Instead the U.S. military should provide the support and protection of our men and women at sea. And let us not forget there are still roughly 18 vessels and another 300 people still being held hostage in Somalia.
I realize the Maritime Industry has been facing this threat for several years now, especially as attacks began to escalate in the summer of 2008. Our maritime community took responsibility and worked together to share best practices for avoiding and disrupting pirate attacks.
Yet this is not enough. U.S. officials and international experts believe that addressing the threat of piracy will require strengthening regional security capabilities, improving intelligence gathering and sharing, and enhanced multilateral coordination, both at sea and on land.
The absence of a functioning government in Somalia and the ability to prosecute captured pirates are the greatest challenges to maritime security in the region. By all accounts, pirates will likely continue to find sanctuary in Somalia until basic governance and security conditions there change.
The international community has responded with multinational naval patrols, diplomatic efforts, and enhanced private security by members of the commercial shipping industry. I believe we must do more. As a nation we have a responsibility to take action and protect our citizens. And as history shows, without a forceful response pirates reign supreme in the high seas.
Today our witnesses will paint a fuller picture of what we’ve done so far and guide us on the road ahead. We will bear witness to the personal impact of piracy on our citizens at sea, and listen to their advice on what more needs to be done.
I look forward to hearing from all the witnesses.
Frank R. LautenbergSenator
Many of us thought that pirates were something from the past, found only in history books and movies.
But pirates are back on the high seas.
On April 8th, the U.S.-flagged ship Maersk Alabama was transporting food to Kenya when it was attacked by four Somali pirates.
The twenty 20 crew members stood up to the pirates and eventually retook their ship.
But their captain was taken hostage.
So the U.S. Navy’s Special Forces were called upon to secure the captain’s release, and they succeeded.
Captain Richard Phillips and Chief Engineer Michael Perry from the Alabama are with us today. I want to thank you for being here—and commend you for your bravery at sea.
But as the nation focused on the Alabama incident, another attack on a U.S.-flagged ship occurred.
Only five days after the Alabama attack, Somali pirates attacked the U.S.-flagged ship, the Liberty Sun.
The vessel—and its crewmen—were fired on by pirates and escaped by outmaneuvering them.
We have video footage from that attack we will play in this hearing. While the video is choppy, it certainly shows how the crew acted decisively to ward off the attack by the pirates.
Despite the Liberty Sun’s daring escape, the ship was stuck at port in Kenya as its attackers waited offshore for its return to sea.
The Liberty Sun was docked in Kenya for nearly three weeks and the ship finally left the port this past Sunday.
Today, I hope the Navy will tell us how they can ensure safe passage in the future.
In 2008, there were one-hundred-eleven 111 pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa, almost double the number in 2007.
And this year alone, there have already been eighty-six 86 attacks. As a result of these attacks, nearly three hundred 300 non-U.S. crew members are being held prisoner by Somali pirates.
Pirates are now attacking ships over more than two million square miles of ocean—more than half the size of the United States.
In addition to the lives they threaten, these pirates threaten supplies for American troops who are serving abroad, humanitarian relief bound for East Africa and commercial shipping across the world.
These bandits have to be stopped. Violence and lawlessness will not be tolerated, whether on land, in the sky, or at sea.
We have a duty to protect the ships that proudly fly America’s flag—and our nation’s military is our partner in fulfilling that duty.
A timid approach will not do. We need to take bold action to keep our seas and ship crews safe.
I understand the Coast Guard is in the process of updating their security policies for commercial ships, known as the MARSEC Security Directive.
This is long overdue and it needs to be completed.
And the international community needs to have a strong united front against these bandits of the sea.
The International Maritime Organization has one hundred sixty-eight 168 member nations—they must all band together to prosecute and stop piracy in this region.
I look forward to hearing more from our witnesses so that we can take the appropriate steps to eliminate these threats to our ships, passengers and crew.
Witness Panel 1
Philip J. ShapiroPresident and Chief Executive OfficerLiberty Maritime Corporation
Captain Richard PhillipsCaptainMV Maersk Alabama on bareboat charter contract with Central Gulf Waterman
Michael A. PerryChief EngineerMV Maersk Alabama on bareboat charter contract with Central Gulf Waterman
The Honorable Roy KienitzUnder Secretary of Transportation for PolicyU.S. Department of Transportation
Rear Admiral Brian SalernoAssistant Commandant for Marine Safety, Security, and StewardshipU.S. Coast Guard
Theresa WhelanDeputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African AffairsOffice of the Secretary of Defense