Shipping Exec. Calls for Arming Merchant Crews Against Pirates, MSM Largely Ignore Remarks

After the hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama, we often heard from the mainstream media about how shipping executive companies don't want to arm their civilian crews for fear of an escalation of violence from pirates, not to mention the potential legal and liability headaches presented by such a policy change.

Well, yesterday, shipping company executive Philip Shapiro threw a wrench in that meme in his testimony before a Senate subcommittee in which he called for Congress to remove the legal and regulatory obstacles to arming civilian merchant vessels.

Unfortunately the story was ignored this morning by the broadcast network morning shows. What's more, Nexis and Web site searches yielded no print stories from today's Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times  -- although there is an online article by Rebecca Cole available here -- or the New York Times. The Gray Lady also failed to report on Richard Phillips' pro-armed crew remarks last week.

To its credit, CNN, both in print and broadcast, reported the story. From a May 5 story:

Philip Shapiro, head of Liberty Maritime Corp., told a U.S. Senate Commerce subcommittee that the owners of U.S.-flagged "have done all they can within the law to protect our crews."

Unfortunately, he said, U.S. vessels are still largely at the mercy of pirates in shipping lanes around the heavily trafficked Gulf of Aden.

"In light of the recent threats to U.S. merchant mariners, we respectfully request that Congress consider clearing the obstacles that currently block ship owners from arming our vessels," Shapiro said.

CNN "American Morning" anchor John Roberts interviewed Shapiro in the 7 a.m. half hour of the May 6 program, although his agenda of questions were skewed in favor of an anti-armed crew perspective. 

On rival Fox News Channel, the May 5 "Fox Report" aired a soundbite of Shapiro from his Senate testimony in a story filed by correspondent Jonathan Hunt.

Of course, Shapiro isn't a household name, while former Somali pirate hostage Capt. Richard Phillips is, which may factor into the lack of coverage a bit.

Even so, the print and broadcast media found little of interest in the Maersk Alabama captain's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 30. The following morning, the New York Times failed to run any coverage of the story, while the Washington Post sort of covered the story with a column by Dana Milbank that centered around Phillips as the object of "hero worship" by U.S. senators.The Los Angeles Times ran its story about Phillips' testimony on page A25, while USA Today placed the story on page A4. 

The May 1 broadcast network programs failed to air any soundbites of Phillips' testimony, with the only mention from NBC's "Today" coming in this 47-word brief by Ann Curry (via Nexis):

An American cargo ship captain held hostage by pirates wants better protection for commercial shipping on the high seas. We're talking, of course, about Captain Richard Phillips, who testified on Thursday on Capitol Hill, saying that arming ship crews is one option but is not enough.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.