House Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Ranking Member Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ-02) has introduced legislation to provide immunity to U.S. merchant mariners who wound or kill pirates while responding to a pirate attack. H.R. 2984, the "U.S. Mariner and Vessel Protection Act," was introduced in response to the recent hijacking of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates, during which the pirates kidnapped the ship's captain.
"Our merchant marine fleet is increasingly under attack from unlawful individuals and rogue groups that seek to disrupt commerce, seize U.S. and foreign crews, and instill fear on international waters. It is only appropriate that our fleets be legally allowed to defend themselves from these violent encounters," said LoBiondo. "This common-sense legislation is a necessary step in empowering U.S.-flagged vessels to fully protect their crews and cargo."
The bill directs the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to certify firearms training for merchant mariners on U.S.-flagged merchant vessels. Any trained mariner using force and the owner, operator or master of said vessels would be exempt from liability in U.S. courts as a result of that use of force. It would also authorize the deployment of Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSST) to ride aboard and defend U.S. flagged vessels transiting pirate-infested waters. MSST are specially trained USCG personnel fully equipped in advanced weapons and other equipment that are capable of rapid deployment to successfully conduct antiterrorism operations, vertical insertions, and tactical ship operations.
The bill would further direct the United States to negotiate international agreements through the International Maritime Organization to provide similar exemptions from liability in other countries for the use of force by mariners and vessel owners, operators and masters as well as to ensure armed U.S. crews can enter foreign ports.
Cosponsoring LoBiondo's "U.S. Mariner and Vessel Protection Act" are Representatives Howard Coble (NC-06), Don Young (Alaska-at-large) and John Mica (FL-07), the Republican Leader of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "I commend Congressman LoBiondo for writing this bill to provide common sense protections for our mariners to freely defend their ships from pirates bent on killing, stealing and crippling worldwide commerce," commented Mica.