It looks like the McArthur, the 183ft ex-NOAA oceanographic research ship that Blackwater bought and converted for use as a maritime security platform is no longer offering services in the anti-piracy effort.
Life on board the McArthur was apparently not so good. Blackwater, now re-named Xe, now has three separate harassment claims from crewmembers who sailed aboard the ship on its recent voyage to the Middle East. As Virginian-Pilot reporter Bill Sizemore reports, the plan to use the McArthur as a state-of-the-art anti-piracy platform did not quite pan out as planned.
One former crew member says that on the orders of the captain, he was thrown to the deck and handcuffed in retaliation for speaking to a newspaper reporter. He is suing for false imprisonment, saying he was unlawfully detained by being ‘placed in irons.’
Another crew member, who is black, says that he was subjected to racial epithets from the chief engineer and that when he complained, the captain did nothing about the harassment and retaliated by giving the seaman a poor evaluation.
A third man, the ship’s chief steward, says he was fired after he submitted a written statement to his superiors documenting the hostile work environment and racial harassment aboard the vessel.
Last fall as the piracy crisis debuted, Blackwater widely advertised that the McArthur was available to provide convoy escort services and protection for ships transiting high risk areas. Equipped with two Little Bird helicopters, several RHIBs, and a fully armed security team, it was viewed by many as an ideal solution and one that was poised to make some big bucks.
Legal papers reveal a less than ideal scenario on board however. It appears the ship did not perform the role she was intended to in the Middle East. As for the official word from the company, Sizemore writes:
Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell did not comment direct on the litigation, but she said one of the employees was terminated for cause. Regarding the discrimination suit, she told Virginian-Pilot the company “does not condone and will not tolerate discrimination of any kind and takes allegations to the contrary very seriously.” But she also disclosed that the company is no longer doing counter-piracy work.
With the recent Maritime Security Directive issued by the Coast Guard this week, you have to wonder if Xe will be missing out on something big. The Maritime will be interested to see where the McArthur ends up next. We’ll be watching closely.