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Maersk Alabama: Should ships use armed guards to stop Somali pirates?

Lethal or nonlethal weapons? The attack on the US-flagged Maersk Alabama reignites the debate over how to stop Somali pirates.

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"For the past 200 years, states have been providing security on the seas, and security is better when states do it than when private companies do it," says Mr. Middleton, who adds that a privatization of security on the seas would be a "step backward." "If the British Navy is patrolling an area, they are accountable under British law for their actions. If a private security company is on patrol, there is no guarantee that they will be accountable to anybody."

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That said, a European Union Naval Force spokesman credited the presence of armed guards for preventing the pirates from taking control of the Maersk Alabama. "At least this time they had a vessel protection detachment on board who were able to repel the attack," Capt. John Harbour told the Associated Press.

A global naval task force of more than a dozen vessels, including ships from the European Union, the US, Russia, China, and India, is currently patrolling the area. The EU mission's primary role is to escort cargo ships carrying food aid to Africa.

The Maersk Alabama is not the first commercial ship to use armed guards to repel pirate attacks. The Italian-flagged MSC Melody – a cruise ship with 1,500 passengers en route from Durban, South Africa, to Genoa, Italy – repelled a pirate attack in April 180 miles north of the Seychelles. A skiff with six apparently Somali pirates fired some 200 rounds at the Melody. A team of Israeli armed guards fired into the air, while crew members used fire hoses against the pirates attempting to climb aboard the ship.

Shipping past the Somali coast, through the Gulf of Aden, and onward to the Suez Canal may have its risks, but the attack on the Maersk Alabama shows that the route is too important for companies to avoid altogether.

In 2006, nearly 3.3 million barrels of oil per day (nearly 10 percent of all oil transported by ship) passed through the Gulf of Aden, through the Suez Canal, and onward to Europe and the United States. The alternate route, around the southern tip of Africa, adds some 6,000 miles to the trip.

Click here for more about Pirate's Inc.: Inside the booming Somali pirate business.

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See Also:

Five new weapons the Maersk Alabama could use to foil pirates

Maersk Alabama repels Somali pirates in second attack

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