Monday, February 15, 2010

Explanation Warranted

Shipping companies have a certain expectation that if they are operating legitimately in the territorial waters of another nation, they will be afforded reasonable protection. Generally, the merchant shipping community receives this protection through law enforcement, coast guard or naval assets that are tasked to ensure that the waters they are operating in are reasonably clear of hostile or criminal elements.

The Yemeni Coast Guard has received significant support from the USA, and potentially other nations. This aid was provided, in the form of patrol vessels and funding, to reduce the risks associated with piracy, terrorism and from other criminal elements. Now there are reports that a private group of companies will, through an arrangement, charge vessels for an escort through Yemeni territorial waters with these vessels and the Yemeni Coast Guard / Navy being involved.

Those who work in the shipping industry should be seeing some red flags at this point.

Why should a shipping company enter into a contract (for any sum) for a service that they should rightfully insist upon? While a direct escort may not be possible, there is an element of potential double dipping that needs to be clarified at this point.

At the same time, there needs to be a clear understanding of the instructions given to these companies and escorting vessels. The claims are that they are using active coast guard personnel. If so, who has the primary authority over their use? Is the shipping company at risk of losing its escort when another situation arises? Is the situation such that the forces there are willing to forego the reasons for which they were given the vessels in return for generating profit for a private entity and covering some of its own operating costs?

There needs to be an accounting for the use of public funds in this case. Did the previous or current administrations understand that those assets could be used by the private sector for profit? And, if so, how much of the money is being recovered back to the public purse from those private entities—if any. The people in the USA deserve no less.

At the same time, the various administrations that are providing public funds in support of the Yemeni Coast Guard may want to seek some kinds of assurance that their funds are being put to good use and that the arrangements do not undermine their own strategic interests in the area. And if they do, perhaps a message should be passed on to the private sector companies that are supporting this arrangement that they are operating against the intents of their governments?

From a professional standpoint, one must be careful not to jump to conclusions. It is also important to understand that things may not be completely as they appear and that all parties have a right to be heard in order to ensure people can make informed decisions.

On the other hand, you have to ask yourself if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck and behaves like a duck…at what point can you just call it a duck and be done with it?
Our tax dollars at work?

In either case, the situation in Yemen warrants an explanation.

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