Most merchant sailors are not trained to use weapons, but some maritime educators say that is changing.
After pirates boarded the Maersk Alabama, the unarmed crew did the unthinkable: They fought back and, apparently, regained control of the huge and lumbering container ship.
It’s not yet clear how the American crew was able to do it. Neither international nor US maritime regulations require shipboard crews to be trained in the use of weapons. But at least some of those aboard are known to be among a relatively small number of US merchant sailors who’ve been trained in weapons and defensive tactics at maritime academies.
In the wake of Wednesday’s incident in waters of Somalia, all aspects of security training for merchant marines are likely to be reexamined and, probably, intensified, say educators at the nation’s maritime academies.
“I can almost guarantee there will be a major review of course curriculum after this incident,” says Glen Paine, executive director of the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies in Linthicum, Md.
That academy, which offers graduate training for seamen, is among the few that offers limited weapons training to meet requirements of the US Military Sealift Command, which requires weapons training for ship officers and other crew.
Most US maritime academies do not offer weapons or force-on-force training. That’s because most shipping companies follow a long tradition of merchant vessels remaining unarmed – which makes them easy prey for pirates, but prevents bloodshed and damage to the ship.
Except for using fire hoses and axes to try to prevent pirates from boarding, merchant crews have few options except to surrender. Many shipping companies remain opposed to weapons training for crews, but that could change, educators say.
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