“The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.” –US Navy
I was contacted by a fellow US Merchant Mariner questioning why the US Navy did not protect the Maersk Alabama, a US flagged vessel. He asked “Has the USN written us off?”.
During my brief stint at the US Naval Academy I vividly remember being taught that the US Navy Mission (quoted at the top of this post) and the professor stressing that the Navy’s top priority is the protection of US Merchant Ships.
Today less than 400 ships fly the US flag and protection, although rarely the motivation of ship owners, is one of the few benefits to flagging a vessels US… alongside a long list of negatives. Out of these <400 vessels no more than a handful sailed the east coast of Somalia the day the Maersk Alabama was attacked.
My question is… Why did the USN not assure the protection of this single ship?
I do not have an answer to this question and I was even more confounded after learning the same ship got attacked on earlier in the week and it has been publicized that the recent change in tactics, by the pirates, were going to have major negative impacts on vessel security.
I have posed it on Information Dissemination, the blog that best analyzes US Navy strategy, but I would like to hear your thoughts as well. Has the USN written off protecting the US Merchant Fleet and failed to uphold their mission to maintain freedom of the seas?
UPDATE: The US Naval Institute Blog asks many of the same questions and explains why protecting US Merchant Ships is an obligation layed out in the US Constitution:
The mandate to take piracy seriously is not political, it is Constitutional. The Constitution makes clear that our political leaders may or may not raise an Army, but it is a constitutional requirement for Congress to maintain a Navy. The Constitution of the United States was not written that way by accident, Thomas Jefferson was one of several founding fathers who insured the language was specific.
As of 2006, the United States only had 347 US flagged merchant vessels. The probability that there were more than five US flagged merchant vessels within 500 miles of Somalia is very low. How exactly is it possible that one of our, potentially five, US flagged merchant vessels was hijacked by pirates while our Navy, the largest in the world, is not only aware of the piracy problem but with the establishment of Combined Task Force 151, is specifically organized to address this problem?
Should we review the policy regarding Somali piracy to insure our efforts are in line with our national priorities? The priorities for CTF-151 may be in line with policy, but I do wonder where protecting US flagged ships numbers on the list of CTF-151 priorities. The evidence would suggest that role is not #1 on that list, and probably not #2 or #3 either.
Read the full article including excerpts from the US Constitution HERE.