A Rundown of Anti-piracy Tactics Employed by Bulk Cargo Ships

March 1, 2010

Somali pirates are likely to increasingly target ships taking coal and other commodities over the Indian Ocean because smaller bulk vessels are an easier target than large oil tankers and trade to Asia is booming.

A 75,000 ton vessel carrying South African coal at current prices of $85.00 a ton has a cargo value of $6.4 million. Companies are trying a variety of anti-piracy measures short of engaging the pirates in gunfights.

Pirates are well-equipped and have invested profits in their business by buying satellite navigation systems, speedboats and grenade rocket-launchers.

Pirates operate in speedboats at short range from larger ocean-going mother ships. They depend on the element of surprise and aim to get within rocket-launching range – 200-300 meters [620 to 930 feet] – of a target vessel before the crew is aware of an attack.

— Alert crews are the key, shippers and security experts say. Pirates need to be spotted and evasive action taken long before they are within rocket range.
— Vessels are recommended to sail at least 600 nautical miles from the shore to avoid attack.
— Captains are advised to drill their crews in simulated attack to practice evasion techniques.
— Maritime organizations advise ships to put barbed wire and barriers around the ship and dummies to simulate lookouts.
— A distress call to naval forces should be made when a pirate boat is sighted.
— Ships are urged to speed up and maneuver to increase the choppiness of the water around the pirates’ speedboats.
— Pirates allow 30-45 minutes on average for boarding and will give up if boarding proves too difficult, the IMB says.

— South African coal shippers have installed a sonic device with a 3 kilometer range on a trial basis which has successfully halted attacks on tankers and naval ships off the African coast.
— The LRAD device, made by American Technology Corporation and costs $175,0000, can warn off pirates not responding to radio calls and disorient them preventing boarding but causes no permanent harm, shippers said.
— “LRAD is not a sonic death ray, it gives the crew time to react,” ATC media head Robert Putnam said.
— for a graphic on how the LRAD works please click on: http://graphics.thomsonreuters.com/0210/CMD_LRAD0210.gif .

— Maritime organizations have urged ships to leave an armed response to foreign navies.
— Some coal vessels from South Africa are already using armed guards in accompanying launches in coastal hotspots.
— Owners and charterers for the most part are reluctant to have ex-special forces armed men on their ships, although some are already discreetly doing so, shippers say.
— Armed, ex-Special Forces guards on ships could provoke pirates into an escalation of violence, shippers say.
— Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea off the West African coast have shown willingness to use deadly force against crew and no desire to hold them for ransom.

(Compiled by Jackie Cowhig; editing by James Jukwey)

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