Wednesday, October 2, 2019
Neil Funnell introduced Tom Anderson, PhD and MD, retired navy captain, who moved to the South Carolina Lowcountry four years ago.
Dr. Anderson said first that the “maritime world” is his world because he has lived next to the sea, over the sea, in the sea and under the sea for more than 70 years. He explained that ethical issues in that world are complicated by cultural differences all over the world, by maritime law, admiralty law and international relations. As a Navy physician, he dealt personally with many of them and became acquainted with others. “To some questions about what to do, there are no good answers,” he said. He identified 10 common maritime dilemmas and then talked in a bit of detail about five examples.
1. A Navy submarine was commanded to submerge and stay submerged for three months. The commander learned that the wife and children of one of the sailors had been killed in a terrible accident. Since the sailor could not be taken to shore immediately, the question was whether or not he should be told of the deaths. Was it ethical to withhold the information? “I advised the commander, and he took my advice,” Anderson said. Later in the presentation, he revealed that he had advised not to tell the sailor on the grounds that both he and the rest of the crew would be unnecessarily troubled by the tragedy for many weeks, with no opportunity to do anything to relieve the pain.
2. The captain of a ship hauling $100 million worth of cargo handed a canal pilot a brown paper bag containing $50,000 in cash as a bribe, called a “facilitation fee,” to get through expeditiously. The ship’s manifest reports the bribe (fee) as $60,000, enabling the captain to pocket $10,000. What is the ethical thing for the ship’s owner to do? Suppose a ship carrying critical medical supplies headed toward a refugee camp is asked for a $20,000 bribe (fee). What then?
3. Somalia is a poor, lawless country run by a group of warlords. Other countries have overfished the adjacent waters and polluted them as well. Its capital is “feral,” Dr. Anderson said. Somalian pirates are forced by the warlords to attack and steal from ships traveling offshore in order to make a living. While piracy is an old problem, it has become more frequent in the area. Navy, cargo and passenger ships have no authority to make arrests or even to use weapons against pirates. If pirates seize a ship and demand a ransom, what is the smart, ethical response? Payment of ransom may result in new attacks. Nonpayment could result in the loss of a whole ship, cargo and crew. Should ships be armed?
4. Refugees crowded into vessels in distress can present troubling ethical quandaries. Suppose two Italian fishermen encounter a sinking boat loaded with African refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. International law and the Geneva Convention require rescue and assistance. Italian law prohibits the importation of more refugees into Italy. Punishment for taking them to the Italian shore could be the loss of their fishing boat. Taking the refugees back to their homeland will almost certainly jeopardize their safety, perhaps even their lives. What’s the ethical thing to do?
5. Tom Anderson asked members of the audience to indicate by raised hands whether they know anyone evil enough to deserve murder. No wants went up. He then described the traffickers of one million children in the United States, and many more worldwide, as enemies of civilization that he believes should be killed. He then described an incident of a Navy ship captain hearing of a fishing ship in distress because of being out of fuel in the open ocean. Suspicious for several reasons, including the lack of a flag and the lack of fishing gear on the ship, the captain ordered an armed boarding and a search of the ship. Under the deck the captain found 18 children. He had the children brought to his ship for medical care and safety. He then had the choice of arresting the traffickers, or sailing away and leaving the sinking vessel and crew, or setting the ship on fire and then leaving.
From the audience:
1. “On the submarine forced to stay submerged for three months, it would be wrong to tell the sailor of the deaths of his wife and children.” Dr. Anderson then said that the case he talked about was based on a 1983 situation, which has now changed so that submarine sailors can be taken to shore by helicopter in emergencies.
2. As for the bribes (facilitation fees) in the Suez Canal, someone suggested that medical supplies should be sent by plane to avoid being subjected to the bribes. Dr. Anderson responded that planes would have been shot down. Someone else said that the bribes have to be accepted as a fact of life, a part of the cost of doing business. Another said that France is known for its stated policies which often are different from its actual policies. International corporations, for example, frequently have policies against paying bribes but they do pay “offset payments.”
3. Thinking of the pirates, the discussion quickly moved to the sense that the only way to stop their activity would be for the international community to take charge of Somalia and push the warlords into a state with laws and a functioning government. Someone suggested using armed mercenaries on passing ships be called “security personnel” to get around the prohibition of arming ships.
4. Refugees, 200 or so in a boat built for 50 passengers, with nowhere to go posed a humanitarian crisis. International law requires rescue when possible. The reason Italy passed a law against accepting more refugees is that the European Union of 28 European countries has failed to address the problem, so African refugees have been pouring into Italy as the first place they can reach. The EU has some responsibility here, one member of the audience said.
5. Dr. Anderson said he believes that in the case of the child traffickers the great need was to destroy them. Someone in the audience said, “Due process does matter.” Someone else said these illustrations are “turning my ethics to pretzels.” The captain in the story he told sent all of his crew and passengers below deck and then destroyed the distressed vessel and the traffickers on it.
In conclusion, Dr. Anderson made the case that society today is not teaching children how to think critically and make ethical decisions. Families, churches and schools are failing them, he said. His recommendation is that the principles of Junior ROTC work very well in that regard. This is the program different from Senior ROTC. It is provided in high schools, not colleges, and is not designed to lead to military careers but it does give young people background for dealing well with some of life’s difficult choices, he said.
Our thanks to Dr. Tom Anderson for his most interesting and thought-provoking presentation. Tom certainly evoked significant audience participation and reaction. Thanks also to Neil Funnell for Moderating, Isam Sakati for acting as our Sergeant at Arms, Marion Conlin for recruiting our Speaker, and, to Fran Bollin for her excellent note taking and providing us with the above summary.