Hello again readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. In maritime news today, the USNS Rappahannock opened fire on a small motorized vessel after the vessel repeated ignored warnings to stop approaching her. Since the attack on the USS Cole, ships have been exceedingly wary of small boats approaching them for fear of suffering the same fate. The matter is currently under investigation, and further information can be had here.
This incident comes almost exactly 149 years after a similar violent episode in the world of maritime commerce. In 1863, the unarmed American mail steamer Pembroke was not only approached but fired upon by an armed Japanese gunboat in the Shimonoseki straits. The Japanese gunboat was under the command of the rebellious Choshu clan that controlled the land on the northern bank of the strait, and the internal political tensions of the time lead the Choshu to disregard the laws of neutrality and directly attack foreign ships trying to use the straits, including the Pembroke. On July 16th 1863, the USS Wyoming arrived at the straits and quickly destroyed the Choshu forts and ships there, making the way temporarily safe for commercial traffic.
In today’s world, the United States – or any nation, for that matter – should consider carefully before responding to threats against our commerce with the heavy-handed tactics more commonly seen before the Cold War. The USNS Rappahannock tried to mitigate the damage done to both parties by warning the approaching vessel repeatedly that it should reverse course. That being said, a vessel must have the right to defend itself. The Pembroke could only rely on the USS Wyoming for its safety: the USNS Rappahannock is capable of defending itself, so that the peaceful flow of commerce can continue with as few acts of violence as possible.