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Pioneer Editorial: Arm U.S. ships on high seas

Traveling the high seas shouldn't be a risky and dangerous endeavor, as it is right now off the African coast. The recent case of the American ship Maersk only underscores how unprotected our merchant fleet is in international waters.

While there is plenty of controversy over the suggestion, the time has come to arm American-flagged ships -- either with private security forces or, at least in the toughest waters, with a trained U.S. Marine unit.

Maersk Capt. Richard Phillips is spending this week on Capitol Hill testifying about his near-death experience as a hostage when Somali pirates captured him instead of his ship. Navy sharpshooters finally ended the siege by taking out his captors.

Now, Phillips is testifying that that "a limited number of crew aboard the vessel have access to effective weaponry." Not all are in agreement, as the CEO of Phillips' company notes that "arming merchant sailors may result in the acquisition of ever more lethal weapons and tactics by the pirates."

Still, we cannot allow our U.S. merchant fleet to be so exposed to high seas piracy. The International Maritime Bureau recorded 111 attacks in the waters off the Horn of Africa in 2008, nearly double the year before.

U.S. military officials maintain that there aren't enough ships to send along with the U.S. frigates for protection. So, short of mounting an escorting convoy, it seems only logical to either arm the crew or send along Marines. Hopefully, their presence aboard U.S.-flagged ships will provide a deterrent rather than an invitation to escalate violence.