- Weather / Traffic
- The Virginian-Pilot
© September 18, 2007
As it tries to weather a worldwide storm of negative publicity, Blackwater USA is hoping to find a little love this week on the Norfolk waterfront.
The Moyock, N.C.-based private military company is hosting an invitation-only open house today and Thursday on board the McArthur, a training vessel recently acquired by its new maritime division.
The ship is docked adjacent to the decommissioned battleship Wisconsin at Nauticus, the city-owned maritime science museum.
The two-day event is not open to the public or media. It was planned well before the fatal shooting Sunday of at least 11 Iraqis by Blackwater security contractors in Baghdad, which triggered a flood of protests and calls for the company's ouster from Iraq.
Whether or not the Iraqi government succeeds in expelling Blackwater, the event at Nauticus signals that the company is actively seeking out new markets.
According to a press release issued by Nauticus, Blackwater's maritime division will operate vessels suitable for training, disaster response, law enforcement, surveillance and security, including anti-terrorism and anti-piracy activities.
"Nauticus is proud to showcase new maritime technology," Richard Conti, executive director of Nauticus, was quoted as saying.
"Blackwater has a proven record of success in preparing Americans for entering hostile environments."
The company has trained thousands of sailors and other U.S. military personnel at its 7,000-acre Moyock compound.
Asked about Blackwater's presence at Nauticus, Mayor Paul Fraim said Tuesday it should not be construed as an endorsement by the city.
"We don't endorse anyone in the context of how they do their business," he said.
As far as he knows, Fraim said, Blackwater is paying the normal docking fees for use of the city pier.
According to the Nauticus press release, the McArthur is equipped with state-of-the-art navigation and communication systems, command and control labs, medical capabilities and a helicopter deck.
Blackwater did not respond Tuesday to inquiries about its maritime expansion plans.
But the company's Web site says it will soon offer security training services "aboard fully operational maritime platforms."
According to Coast Guard records, the McArthur was decommissioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2003 after nearly 40 years as a research vessel. Built in 1966 by Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., now BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair, the 153-foot ship will be home-ported in Norfolk.
Blackwater also appears to be expanding its air operations.
Several aviation-related Web sites have reported that the company, which already owns more than 20 aircraft, is seeking to acquire a Super Tucano light combat plane from the Brazilian manufacturer Embraer.
The propeller-driven planes, which can be outfitted with up to 1-1/2 tons of machine guns, bombs and missiles, are used by Brazil and Colombia to battle insurgents and drug smugglers. Blackwater is buying a two-seat model to be used for pilot training, the Web reports said.
Meanwhile, Blackwater has developed a remotely piloted airship, equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance and communications gear, and is marketing it for use in combat, coastal patrol, and port and border security. It also has an armored personnel carrier in production.
Staff writer Harry Minium contributed to this report.
Bill Sizemore, (757) 446-2276, firstname.lastname@example.org
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