Hero Captain: Give U.S. Ships Armed Guards

Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips testifies for Congress

By Caitlin Millat
|  Thursday, Apr 30, 2009  |  Updated 4:30 PM EDT
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Courageous Captain Rescued by Navy Seals

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Captain Richard Phillips testifies before a special Congress committee Thursday.

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Hero Alabama Captain Richard Phillips testified before CongressThursday, advising a special committee that the government should supply commercial ships with an armed corps of officers in order to prevent future pirate attacks.

The Maersk Alabama skipper, who was held hostage for five days in a small lifeboat by Somali pirates, said in his testimony that simply providing ships with weapons wouldn't be enough to stave off bandits looking to steal their booty -- and that the government should provide onboard staff to ensure the vessels' safety.

"I am not comfortable giving up command authority to others, including the commander of a protection force," Phillips said in remarks prepared for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"In the heat of an attack, there can be only one final decision-maker," Phillips said.

Phillips is the star witness in a series of Congressional hearings aimed at finding a solution to the modern-day piracy problem that's resulted in over one hundred attacks in the past year.

Phillips' suggestion -- that the government supply an armed crew to traveling ships -- was met with mixed reviews. The chief of Phillips' own company, Maersk, said it could potentially harm, not help, the ships to have a trained crew onboard.

"Arming merchant sailors may result in the acquisition of ever more lethal weapons and tactics by the pirates, a race that merchant sailors cannot win," Maersk Inc. Chairman John P. Clancey said.

The solution will require a complex international response, Ambassador Stephen Mull told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Phillips was rescued April 12 from pirates after Navy sharpshooters swiftly killed the three Somalis with three sniper shots. The one surviving pirate has been transported to New York City where he is being held on piracy charges that could carry a life sentence in prison.

He wouldn't discuss the ordeal in the Senate hearings because of a pending legal investigation, he said.

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