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April 27, 2009

What Israeli mercenaries and jazz musicians have in common

Cruise ship gigs! It's all fun and games until they take your passport, or make you fight pirates.

According to Ha’aretz:

Security work aboard cruise ships is very popular among young Israelis just out of the army; the job is seen as a chance to save money and travel at the same time. Hundreds of veterans and reservists of elite Israel Defense Force units, including the naval commandos, are employed in security work on cruise ships and oil rigs in areas subject to pirate attacks.

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I wouldn't call security guards on a cruise ship "mercenaries."

Not every security guard is a mercenary.

When security guards are paid by the US government to work in an occupied country, then the term probably fits.

"Israeli mercenaries?" The security guard at my bank branch is Jamaican. Is he a Jamaican mercenary?

I'm calling them mercenaries because those are the services they're selling, see the original Danger Room article linked above as well as the Haaretz piece which continues:

Veterans of the naval commando unit have been in very high demand after the September 11th terror attack on the Twin Towers, as shipping companies, like airlines, were required to upgrade the level of security on their ships.

"When it comes to security on ships or oil rigs, it's not enough to know how to shoot and attack," said a former Israeli naval commando officer who has worked in security on ships. "There are other skills like [taking] action under difficult conditions at sea, operating radar and special marine security equipment, as well as knowing the weak points on ships of various sizes," the officer added.

When Blackwater offers the same services, I call them mercenaries, too. Danger Room has reported a lot on this issue. These guys aren't just security guards. There are doubtless plenty of plain old security guards who work on cruise ships, but these are not them.

Lindsay, didn't you post recently that ships with armed crews would not be able to get insurance?

I said that many owners of merchant marine vessels were concerned about whether they could get insurance if they armed their civilian crews, and whether that would be cost-effective.

Is this what Israeli mercenaries and jazz musicians have in common?


So basically if you have security guards who can detect a long-distance threat using your navigation radar, and thwart it using personal weapons, they are "mercenaries", especially if they've been trained by an ally of the West, or a major metropolitan power of the West.

I would encourage you to read the sections of the Geneva Conventions, including Protocol I, that define mercenaries. Since these Israelis are not being "recruited to take part in an armed conflict", they are probably not mercenaries in the sense of the GC. They're along for the ride, just in case some common criminals decide to take them on while trying to seize or harass their cruise ship. The democratization of violence through AK-47 and RPG causing a privatization of the means of armed response, as it were.

I get that literally everything about Israel's security-industrial complex and power projection bothers you, in which case you need to (among other things) lobby the US to give up its use of Israeli-produced ammunition, and in particular the upgrade, refitting and remanufacturing of aircraft with Israeli-modified or -produced electronics and airfoil parts.

No, it doesn't have to be an ally of the West. One of the first large-scale mercenary armies, Executive Outcomes, described in detail in P.W. Singer's Corporate Warriors, came out of South Africa and was predominantly black.

The part about "literally everything about Israel's security-industrial complex" is your fantasy, not Lindsay's belief. She's been blogging for five years, and I can't remember her even mention Israel more than maybe three times.

A mercenary is generally defined as someone hired to serve in a foreign army, guerrilla organization, etc. Their allegiance is for sale to the highest bidder - sometimes along with their morals...

The men (& women) everyone is so fond of lobbing the term "mercenary" at as of late, are protective security guards who are usually under contract to their own governments. They are not "soldiers for hire" and do not participate in military style direct action, but rather try to keep their principles (usually diplomats) from ending up dead while visiting very dangerous places.

The term "mercenary" is neither appropriate nor does it afford these men & women the respect they deserve.

For those that seem to get so offended at the mention of their very existance, I suggest you schedule a visit to Iraq or Afghanistan without the luxury of these gentlemen at your side & watching your six.

I said that many owners of merchant marine vessels were concerned about whether they could get insurance if they armed their civilian crews, and whether that would be cost-effective.

I don't think that quite captures your comment from April 15, which was Nobody in the industry wants to arm the crews because it would be astronomically more expensive and risky to equip and train them and it would be impossible to get insurance under those circumstances.

Do you still believe it's impossible to get insurance with armed crews? And that this option is one that nobody in the industry wants? Because that seems to be at odds with the information presented in this post.

Parse, as we discussed, arming crews is not the same thing as having professional armed security guards. Also, cruise ships are not merchant vessels.

The question was whether ship owners want to arm their crews, and by and large they don't, for various reasons including insurance, the legalities of entering certain ports with firearms, and the financial and logistical burdens of training. Whether to have security guards is a totally different question.

As we discussed in the last thread, there are some owners and insurers that are experimenting with armed guards, but they're very much in the minority. I don't know about the cruise ship industry. Maybe you could look it up and see what how common it is.

Parse, as we discussed, arming crews is not the same thing as having professional armed security guards. Also, cruise ships are not merchant vessels.

Actually, Lindsay, I believe cruise ships are merchant vessels. They are included in the Wikipedia entry for "merchant vessels" And according to the website of the Marine Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation, The overall mission of MARAD is to promote the development and maintenance of an adequate, well-balanced, United States merchant marine. American owned passenger vessels are included.

What leads you to believe that cruise ships are not merchant vessels?

Oh, okay. I was talking about cargo ships like the Maersk Alabama. I hadn't even considered what was going on in the cruise ship industry.

So, it wouldn't surprise me if the insurance issues are very different for a cruise ship vs. the Maersk Alabama. The former is effectively a small floating city full of passengers that goes out on relatively short trips. The latter has a crew of 20 professional sailors and spends weeks or months on the ocean.

Cruises have professional security employees anyway to protect against shipboard crime.

The economics of adding a professional security staff are quite different for cargo ships. If the Maersk Alabama wanted to post 2 armed guards on every voyage, that's a big increase in the number of people they have to pay and house on each voyage to defend against a low-probability threat. And 2 guards might not be enough to make a difference anyway. Keep in mind that it's much easier for the pirates to increase the size of their raiding parties than it is for ships to increase the size of their security details.

Lindsay, my point is that you aren't an expert on the shipping industry and might be wise to avoid saying more than you know to be true. Your position as you state it today many owners of merchant marine vessels were concerned about whether they could get insurance if they armed their civilian crews is more measured than your April 15 comment it would be impossible to get insurance under those circumstances I think your credibility as a journalist would be enhanced if you would try harder to avoid making such conclusive assertions and acknowledged that you may have been mistaken when challenged.

I think that's similar to saying cruise ships are not merchant vessels when what you mean is I was talking about cargo ships like the Maersk Alabama. I think you are probably more careful about fact checking and precise language when you're working as a journalist than when you're writing a blog post, but I think it's also the case that you're a journalist all the time, and taking some care to protect your credibility is worthwhile.

Parse, before lecturing me about fact-checking, go back and read what I actually wrote in the post. It's a discussion of the Blogging Heads segment on the options for arming merchant ships supplemented by links to the opinions of other experts. Again, there's a big difference between arming untrained civilian sailors vs. professional security guards. As I explicitly acknowledge in the post, it's possible to get insurance for armed security guards and some ship owners choose to do so.

Thanks for the link, Lindsay. I had read that post previously. Reporting that in one post you explicitly acknowledged it's possible to get insurance for armed security guards when you have claimed in another that if crews were armed it would be impossible to get insurance under those circumstances doesn't strike me as a convincing demonstration of your performance as a fact checker, but if that's the level of accuracy that you're happy with, hey, it's your blog. Is there also a post that says cruise ships are merchant vessles that demonstrates the accuracy of your post that says cruise ships are not merchant vessels?

"armed security guards" does not equal "armed crews," parse.

Parse, again, before lecturing about fact-checking go back and look at the archive. You specifically mentioned April 15. There is no post in the week of April 15 that asserts that it's impossible to get insurance for armed security professionals because I never posted that.

I did say in a comment thread that it would be impossible to get insurance for ships that wanted to arm their minimally trained civilian crews, but in the same thread I stressed that I hadn't studied proposals for professional armed guards.

Does "not merchant vessels" equal "merchant vessels"?

Is there some evidence that it would be impossible to get insurance for ships with armed crews? Because there was a link from this site to an insurance industry source saying that, so far as he knew, there was nothing that would prevent a company with an insured vessel from arming its crew. And if the "armed security guards" are part of a ship's crew, I think you could accurately say "That ship has an armed crew."

As mistakes go, these aren't terribly serious. I don't understand why Lindsay would be reluctant to acknowledge them.

It's not impossible to buy insurance for anything that's legal.

In some cases it may be more difficult or it may cost more, but that's it.

Is it really that hard to admit a small mistake?

I did say in a comment thread that it would be impossible to get insurance for ships that wanted to arm their minimally trained civilian crews, but in the same thread I stressed that I hadn't studied proposals for professional armed guards.

Right, and don't you now believe that your claim that it would be impossible to get insurance for ships with armed crews was in error? So that the simple answer to my question, "“Lindsay, didn't you post recently that ships with armed crews would not be able to get insurance?” would have been "Yes, I did, but that turned out to be an error." Instead, you said your April 15 comment many owners of merchant marine vessels were concerned about whether they could get insurance. You didn't say they were concerned about whether they could get it. You said it was impossible to get. The answer to my question was yes; you crafted a reply that suggested the answer was no.

One man's security guard is another man's mercenary.

My, what a picky bunch Lindsay has to deal with today.

This web log has long been one of my favorite reads. I don't comment here very often, though.

As Alon Levi observed above, majikthise doesn't often bring up the Israeli military.

Even though I worked at sea for years, and served in the merchant marine, Lindsay's error in not identifying cruise ships as merchant vessels is very common.

I write about fisheries issues from time to time. Even though I worked in the commercial fishing industry for almost 14 years, I'm very capable, when describing a vessel or gear type, of making an error of the same magnitude as Lindsay's.

Lighten up, you swashbucklers.

Phantom: in health care, some people are uninsurable. Sometimes, insurance companies figure the cost doesn't justify insurance at any premium.

The Ha'aretz article Lindsay links to is a story about how Israeli security guards on a German-italian cruise ship saved 1500 vacationers from being taken hostage by pirates.

Apparently Lindsay thinks that the security guards who saved 1500 ordinary people from fear and possible death are morally unworthy. Not to mention the economic and political effects of the hijacking of a cruise ship.

Perhaps she believes that the use of such guards is literally in violation of international law, which bars the use of mercenaries, http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/44/a44r034.htm If she means that, she's wrong, because armed guards on a ship, or for any purpose involving protection of property or persons, don't qualify as mercenaries.

But no, she explains that she calls them mercenaries, metaphorically and pejoratively, because of the skill set that they have to offer. This is peculiar. The skill set involves knowing how to use fire-arms, and being able to work at sea, and being knowledgeable about radar and ships. Is it a bad thing that security guards against pirates have the skills needed to fend off pirates? Or is her point that there's a moral objection to fending off pirates?

But then there's the comparison with Blackwater. Well, Blackwater was engaged in providing services in a war zone in support of an occupying army. And in doing so murdered many innocent Iraqis. This compares with providing security to vacationers? How does that work?

It's really hard not to conclude that the real problem Lindsay has with these security guards is that they're Israelis. She thinks they are bad people because they were trained by the IDF, which she thinks is a bad organization, so whatever they do must be bad. I'm trying as hard as I can not to reach that conclusion but I'm struggling.

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