The discovery of two dead American security contractors in a cabin onboard the U.S.-flagged containership Maersk Alabama has left the entire maritime industry wondering what exactly happened.
The two men, who were part of a privately-contracted security team providing counter-piracy protection services onboard the vessel, were found while the ship was docked at Port Victoria, Seychelles, but no information concerning the circumstances of their death has been released.
All relevant parties have said that there is no information into the cause of death and that an investigation is ongoing.
To put it simply, the deaths of the two men are nothing short of strange.
In the not-so-distant past, privately contracted armed guards on merchant vessels was almost unheard of. It wasn’t until the outbreak of Somali piracy from 2007 to 2012 that it became standard practice for vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden and further out into the Indian Ocean to have armed guards onboard.
While attacks off Somalia have steeply declined over the last two years -a decline which can be attributed to use of armed guards- the threat of piracy persists and ship operators are encouraged to not drop their guard.
The regulatory regime and the rules of engagement by armed guards at sea has been a significant hurdle for Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) and the shipping industry to overcome, one that still presents a significant challenge as two Italians and the crew of the Seaman Guard Ohio face serious legal trouble in India.
But in the case of Maersk Alabama deaths, many unanswered questions remain. What happened? Were the deaths a completely isolated and random incident? Or are they an indication of an issue of greater concern?
Only the autopsy results can give us a a clearer picture. But until then, here’s what we know:
- The Maersk Alabama arrived in Port Victoria around mid-day on February 17th with 24 crew, including contracted security team from the Virginia-based private security firm, Trident Group. The team boarded the vessel January 29th to provide protection against pirates operating in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.
- Maersk Alabama is part of a U.S.-flagged fleet operated by Maersk Line Limited, a unit in A.P. Moller-Maersk, and is part of MLL’s East Africa Feeder Service, which operates in support U.S. government humanitarian missions such as the “Food for Peace” program.
- Maersk Line Limited contracts vessel security services to Trident Group in accordance with U.S. Coast Guard security directives. Due to its feeder service along the east coast of Africa, Maersk Alabama regularly transits areas considered high-risk for piracy incidents.
- The two men have been identified by the Seychelles Police Force as Mark Kennedy and Jeffrey Reynolds, 43 and 44, respectively. Their bodies were found in Kennedy’s cabin at 4:30 p.m. by a colleague who went to check on him. The vessel was scheduled to depart at 9 p.m. later that night.
- The Associated Press has obtained a statement from the U.S. Navy that said Kennedy is an ex-Navy SEAL from Baton Rouge, Louisiana who enlisted in 1995 and completed his final tour of duty in 2008.
- A statement from MLL said that the the investigation into the cause of the death for both men is ongoing, “but it was not related to vessel operations or their duties as security personnel.”
- A statement from Trident Group also said that there is no immediate indication as to the cause of death, but “the deaths were not caused by operational activity.”
- The Maersk Alabama was cleared to complete cargo operations and has since departed Seychelles after authorities completed the onboard investigation. The vessel is now underway.
- An autopsy is being conducted to determine the cause of death.
- It should go without saying around here, but the Maersk Alabama is the same ship hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009, as depicted in the 2013 film ‘Captain Phillips’ starring Tom Hanks.