Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reflections on Piracy upon earning a Master's Ticket

On April 9th, I was issued a license by the US Coast Guard to serve as Master (Captain) of Steam and Motor vessels of unlimited horsepower upon the oceans. This has long been a professional goal of mine and I will always remember the circumstances surrounding this short period of time around the time when my license was issued.

While it was a great personal achievement to earn this license, it came at the same time that pirates off of the coast of Somalia were holding a US flagged merchant ship hostage. While the ship was soon liberated, the Master, Capt Phillips was being held captive by the four rogues who had boarded his ship. This brought home the realities of my career and the risks and responsibilities associated both with shipping in general and the job of Master in particular. Capt Phillips took decisive action to mitigate the attack which undoubtedly allowed the crew to quickly retake control of the ship, yet in doing so, put himself in harm’s way by surrendering himself to the pirates, and was held hostage for several days until the US Navy SEALS were able to free him unharmed.

Just after Capt Phillips was freed on Easter Sunday, I called my parents and my father pointedly asked what I would do under these circumstances. I had to be honest and say that I really didn’t know. I am not sure that I would put myself into the hands of pirates like he did. It would be easy to proclaim that I would certainly follow in Capt Phillip’s footsteps, but until tested in such a manner, it would indeed be hard to say if I would react in the same way.
The episode certainly dampened my celebration of getting my license, and has hardened my resolve to better train my crew in security, but there is a job out there and these ships need to move. I hope that in conjunction with the navies of the shipping world, we can end this piracy epidemic on the horn of Africa and make the seas safe to navigate.

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