Ship Seizure Showed Why America Needs Strong U.S.-Flag Fleet


November 2013


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During some of the recent verbal battles in Washington, D.C., concerning two key American maritime programs, supporters of the U.S. Merchant Marine reminded skeptics about a high-profile incident involving a runaway-flag ship that basically held more 10 percent of Canada’s military might hostage.


The saga involving the GTS Katie happened in 2000, but the lesson remains timely. Namely, when a country relies on a foreign nation to help carry out its military operations – in peace or war – it takes a big risk.


As Vice Adm. James B. Perkins, then the commander of the U.S. Military Sealift Command, put it at the time, “Canada’s dilemma is a classic example of the danger of becoming militarily dependent on ships registered in other countries. Even if foreign ships are available, it’s unwise now or ever for any country to rely on foreign tonnage and foreign seamen to carry out its defense or foreign policy mission.


“The United States should remember this lesson well, and realize once again that it cannot function militarily without a robust maritime fleet grounded on a thriving U.S. Merchant Marine,” Admiral Perkins continued. “We simply can’t do without ships under the American flag, and manned by American crews as a vital part of our national defense arsenal.”


Sailing under the flag of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the GTS Katie was carrying 200 of Canada’s 2,000 armored vehicles, along with five tanks and 390 crates packed with rifles, ammunition and communications equipment. The ship was sailing from Kosovo after a peacekeeping mission when her owners reportedly ordered her to stop short of her destination (Becancour, Quebec) and anchor in international waters. At issue was a pay dispute with the charter company. Shipowner Third Ocean Marine Navigation (based in Annapolis, Md.) refused to send the freighter to port and unload the cargo until the debt was settled.


After two weeks of fruitless negotiations, two Canadian war ships, equipped with torpedoes and deck guns, were dispatched to the cargo ship’s position. Canadian officials eventually secured permission from St. Vincent and the Grenadines to board the vessel and resolve the situation. (Under international law, a vessel can only be boarded after either the captain or the country of registry gives consent.)


No shots were fired, and the crew eventually received its wages after the materiel was secured.



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