Petraeus urges ships to use armed guards

By Tony Capaccio
Bloomberg News / April 25, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Maritime shipping companies can't rely on naval forces to protect them from pirates and should consider employing armed guards, the top US commander in the Middle East said yesterday.

Shipping companies must "get more serious" about defending themselves in the waters off East Africa, stringing concertina wire along railings and unbolting boarding ladders, Army General David H. Petraeus told a House panel.

The US military uses armed guards on many of the commercial ships that carry military cargo, he said, noting that sailors can't protect themselves with fire hoses if the pirates are carrying rocket-propelled grenades.

"It is important the maritime industry get more serious about this problem," Petraeus said during a hearing today of a House committee that controls military construction spending.

Pirates attacked 61 ships off Somalia in the first three months of 2009, up from six a year earlier, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

The seas off Somalia accounted for more than half of the 102 attacks worldwide.

Armed gangs succeeded in hijacking 14 ships so far this month, a record, the bureau said yesterday.