Maersk Alabama Captain Cautiously Endorses Arming Crews

April 30, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

Richard Philips, the Maersk Alabama captain who endured a week of captivity by Somali pirates before U.S. Navy SEALs freed him, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today about what measures ought to be taken by commercial shipping to deter or defeat pirate attacks. Here’s Philips’ statement, on the question of arming crew members:

At most, arming the crew should be only one component of a comprehensive plan and approach to combat piracy. To the extent we go forward in this direction, it would be my personal preference that only the four most senior ranking officers aboard the vessel have access to effective weaponry and that these individuals receive special training on a regular basis. I realize that even this limited approach to arming the crew opens up a very thorny set of issues. I’ll let others sort out the legal and liability issues but we all must understand that having weapons on board merchant ships fundamentally changes the model of commercial shipping and we must be very cautious about how it is done. Nevertheless, I do believe that arming the crew, as part of an overall strategy, could provide an effective deterrent under certain circumstances and I believe that a measured capability in this respect should be part of the overall debate about how to defend ourselves against criminals on the sea.

Philips went on to say that he wonders about the breakdown in command that could result if a protection force was placed aboard a commercial shipping vessel in the event of a pirate attack. “In the heat of an attack, there can be only one final decision maker,” he said.