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Mr. LoBIONDO. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Chairman, earlier this year, pirates attacked two American-flag vessels transiting waters off the Horn of Africa. If it were not for the heroic actions of our Special Forces, the bravery of the captain and the crew of these vessels, a terrible tragedy would have been at hand. Just yesterday we got reports that a Panamanian-flagged vessel had been seized by pirates with hostages being taken. We cannot allow this to continue.
Knowing this would be an ongoing problem, the bill, as it was reported from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, included a very carefully worked out bipartisan agreement that we worked with Mr. Oberstar, Mr. Cummings, Mr. Mica, and myself that would shield U.S. merchant mariners, ship owners, operators, and captains from liabilities in U.S. courts following any action taken to defend a U.S.-flagged vessel, for instance, taken to defend the United States of America against a pirate attack.
Unfortunately, the Judiciary Committee objected and requested Chairman Oberstar add language to his recently adopted manager's amendment that appears to be an entanglement for getting the right thing done. The way the Judiciary Committee has worded this in the manager's amendment, a crewmember would be forced to go through a checklist in his mind or her mind of what legal entanglements could occur because of this.
The language in the manager's amendment only grants relief liability to the crew owner, meaning the vessel owners or operators and captains would still be sued. They would not be held without harm. They would have monetary damages, possibly.
Our amendment restores this bipartisan agreement. It's a commonsense agreement, something that the people on the committee worked out. It makes no sense in the heat of an attack, when you have got pirates coming at a U.S.-flagged vessel with automatic machine gunfire, with rocket-propelled grenades, or whatever else may happen, to suggest that a crewmember is going to be able to take the time to check through what is substantially or in excess or whatever the case is. We need to protect American interests.
Under our amendment, an American crewmember would only need to prove that the person attacking the vessel was a pirate in order to receive liability relief.
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Mr. LoBIONDO. Well, under title 18, an act of piracy is defined as happening on the high seas. The intention is to defend against an act of piracy and, as defined by law, it has to be on the high seas.
Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Reclaiming my time, I would ask another question, Mr. Chairman.
Is it your intent to limit this to the application of civil law and not criminal law? Would you exempt owners and operators from criminal acts?
Mr. LoBIONDO. Yes.
Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Yes, you do exempt them from criminal acts?
Mr. LoBIONDO. For civil.
Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Just civil.
Mr. LoBIONDO. Just civil.
Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Reclaiming my time, Mr. Chairman, I think the wording, as it is, says that an owner-operator who uses force or authorized the use of force to defend a vessel of the United States against an act of piracy shall not be liable for any injury or death caused by such force.
That does not limit it, in its present version, to civil. It would actually exempt him from any liability, that would include criminal. I would hope that the gentleman, whatever happens to the amendment, would work cooperatively so that we would limit it to the intent as he has articulated today.
Mr. LoBIONDO. We certainly would be happy to work with you to make sure that we are in synchronization with what we are all understanding.
Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. LoBIONDO. Just to close, again, the manager's amendment, the crewmember of the vessel would have to prove in court that he knew at the time, she knew at the time, that the defensive actions were not substantially in excess of what is reasonable. That's not what's going to happen if a piracy attack occurs.
I don't think any Members are going to even want to be close to voting for a piracy protection provision in line with what's going on. What does substantially in excess of reasonable mean? A crewmember is going to have to think through this checklist as a pirate attack is happening?
That's not what we have in mind. I don't think it's the right way to go. I would urge all of our Members to vote in favor of this amendment to make sure that U.S. interests are protected.
Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.
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