June 10, 2009

Maritime piracy, role of shipping featured at IEEE Homeland Security Conference

Public release date: 11-May-2009

Contact: Chris McManes
Maritime piracy, role of shipping featured at IEEE Homeland Security Conference

WALTHAM, MASS. (11 May 2009)-- Rear Admiral Richard Gurnon isn't sure how to stop piracy off the coast of Somalia, where pirates last month attempted to seize the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama merchant ship and hold it and its crew for ransom.

But, speaking at the 2009 IEEE International Conference on Technologies for Homeland Security (HST 09) at the Westin Waltham Boston Hotel on Monday, the president of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy knows what not to do.

"Just as paying ransoms to the Beys of Tripoli failed to stop piracy at the turn of the 19 th century, paying insurance money to the Somali pirates at the beginning of the 21 st century is doomed to fail," Gurnon said during his keynote address. "Ship owners and insurers bear a measure of responsibility because their ransom payments are causing more and more Somalis to embark on careers in piracy."

Because Maersk Alabama Captain Richard Phillips (1979) and Chief Mate Shane Murphy (2001) graduated from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy -- where Gurnon has worked since 1978 -- Gurnon felt a personal connection to the five-day ordeal. Once Phillips offered himself as a hostage, Murphy piloted the ship to its original destination, Mombasa, Kenya.

After Phillips was held at gunpoint in a lifeboat, U.S. Navy Seals shot and killed three pirates on board and rescued Phillips.

"It really was a great Easter Sunday of deliverance," Gurnon said in an interview after his talk.

HST 09 is held annually to bring together people who are interested in innovative technologies that have the potential to protect our nation from foreign and domestic threats. Many IEEE members work for companies seeking solutions to these challenges.

Dr. Thomas A. Cellucci, chief commercialization officer at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, will speak Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. about the DHS effort to act as a catalyst between small companies that posses vital innovation and larger firms and investors. He will also preview a new partnership program focused on basic research and innovation that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano will announce on 19 May.

U.S. homeland security is not only about protecting our borders and keeping terrorists out, but also the safe passage of cargo ships that bring in goods from all over the world. U.S. economic security depends on it.

"I think most Americans are unaware of how linked we are to the sea," Gurnon said. "We always have been a maritime-trading nation. … If you don't have materials that arrive by ship, are put on to trains, then lifted off on to trucks and delivered to your door, factories shut down and people are laid off. The shipping business is an important link to our economic future."

Neither the U.S. Navy nor an international flotilla can fully protect the estimated 30,000 ships that annually pass through the Gulf of Aden and in the waters off Somalia. Hiring armed security guards or arming civilian crews could help deter some piracy, Gurnon said, "but many ship owners fear that action could provoke a spiral of bloodshed, and it will definitely cause a spike in insurance rates plus a significant increase in training costs and practice time for crews.

"And customs officials in many ports are understandably nervous about merchant seamen with guns."


The IEEE Boston Section is producing HST 09 with organizational support from IEEE-USA. The event is part of the IEEE Engineering the Future Global Event Series, in celebration of IEEE's 125 th anniversary. For more information, see http://www.ieeehomelandsecurityconference.org/ .

IEEE-USA advances the public good and promotes the careers and public policy interests of more than 210,000 engineers, scientists and allied professionals who are U.S. members of IEEE. IEEE-USA is part of IEEE, the world's largest technical professional society with 375,000 members in 160 countries. See http://www.ieeeusa.org.


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