Do We Really Need Government-Funded Anti-Piracy Training?

Just introduced by New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R), the Piracy Suppression Act of 2011 aims to improve U.S. policy with respect to ocean pirates who are mostly operating in the Gulf of Aden or nearby in the Indian Ocean or Arabian Sea. It is primarily concerned with dealing with the problems of “who pays?” when the U.S. Navy rescues foreign-flagged vessels from modern-day swashbucklers with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Fine.

But further down, the bill calls on the secretary of transportation to create a program to train mariners on the use of force.

The program shall include–
`(1) information on waters designated as high-risk waters by the Commandant of the Coast Guard;
`(2) information on current threats and patterns of attack by pirates;
`(3) tactics for defense of a vessel, including instruction on the types, use, and limitations of security equipment;
`(4) standard rules for the use of force for self defense as developed by the Secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating under section 912(c) of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-281; 46 U.S.C. 8107 note), including instruction on firearm safety for crewmembers of vessels carrying cargo under section 55305 of this title; and
`(5) procedures to follow to improve crewmember survivability if captured and taken hostage by pirates.’.

Why on Earth is the U.S. Department of Transportation, a department of dubious value even before LoBiondo’s bill, being instructed to teach mariners about piracy risks? DOT’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) already issues advisories to the maritime community. In fact, if you go to MARAD’s most recent advisory, they tell you to go to the EU’s Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) website for the latest information. Presumably, the Department of Transportation will hire a team of experts who will instruct ship captains to bookmark this PDF’s URL (full disclosure: I have no formal DOT anti-piracy training). Granted, MSCHOA only tracks acts of piracy around the Horn of Africa, and there is other piracy around the world. But that advice could pretty much be summed up as: exercise caution in the Strait of Malacca and don’t go yachting off the coast of Venezuela.

And are we expected to believe that the maritime industry hasn’t, you know, thought to tell crew members about piracy risks? Or, even if the crews are officially kept in the dark by some sort of twisted corporate policy (they aren’t), that they haven’t bothered to look into this piracy stuff on their own? Perhaps a single Google search before leaving port (the Internet can be really, really slow on the high seas)? Or any of the maritime industry trade publications and blogs? And insurance companies don’t care about this type of information? The industry and those employed by it are well aware of these issues. Ocean carriers incorporate piracy risk into their shipping prices. There are even a bunch of businesses that specialize in providing maritime security and anti-piracy training. They do not need subsidized “training” from federal bureaucrats.

In their instinctual drive to “do something,” lawmakers often forget to ask, “Why am I doing this in the first place?”