Sound cannons that produce sounds with the intensity of an F-16 fighter jet with afterburner, disorienting searchlights, blinding lasers and anti-climbing structures to efficiently deter pirates, were just some of the products that were tested and displayed during a testing day for several suppliers of these maritime self-protection systems. Can merchant vessels be safe during their transit in high risk areas without private armed security guards or navy vessel protection detachments?
The Maritime Security Alliance (MSA) organized a testing day for these non-violent self-protection measures against pirates on Friday the 13th of May. The test took place on board the historical restored sea-going tug ‘Elbe’ and the tug ‘SD Salvor’ of KOTUG. Suppliers of the protection systems were asked to equip the test vessels with sound cannons, razor wire systems, crew armed with a laser rifle, ballistic protection against incoming rockets as well as anti-climbing systems.
The result of the test? “When ship-owners apply a smart combination of these measures and know well how to use them effectively the chance of a successful hijacking is minimized. The best protection is still navy resources on board, especially for the large, slow sailing vessels with a low freeboard”, says Rear Admiral Michiel Hijmans RNLN ret, who leads the MSA. Hijmans was Commander of Operation Ocean Shield by NATO in 2010 and 2011 and was involved with anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
Private armed security guards and navy seals are not allowed by local authorities in most places in the world. The MSA is a platform for collaboration between non-violent self-protection equipment suppliers that aims to build the best integrated non-violent self-protection platform in the maritime industry.
Lights and sound
The non-violent protection of merchant vessels starts with keeping a potential attacker at a safe distance, which, in turn, starts with extreme acoustic hailing devices that produce warnings and pre-recorded messages that can warn maritime criminals at a distance of 1 nautical mile.
If this does not deter a potential pirate the force can be escalated to include blinding laser lights, disorienting searchlights and /or heavy sound cannons. “These heavy sound cannons produce up to 140-150 decibel, which is more noise than a F-16 fighter jet with afterburner. Earplugs don’t help much at this stage and the vibrations of the sounds are so intense that they shake your entire body. We tested up to 119 decibel (real pain starts at 120 dB) with hearing protection – this was impressive.” In addition the laser rifle was quit unpleasant and threatening according to the guest on the Elbe.
When pirates manage to approach a merchant vessel, there are several anti-climbing systems used to harden the vessel. On board, several stainless steel razor systems were shown. Some of the systems shown on board are used in the US for protection of nuclear and high-detention facilities.
“Normal razor wire deteriorates significantly during the first journey at sea and is often thrown away after a short period in operation. The systems we show on board do not corrode and are easy to deploy and retrieve”, according to Hijmans.
Remarkable was an aluminum anti-climbing system using un-foldable lightweight plates which form a triangle shape with sharp edges on the outside. This system is deployed on the railing of the vessel, after which it becomes impossible to climb by ropes or ladders over the railing. Westmark demonstrated a model of the P-Trap (pirate trap) anti-boarding device which drags a series of lines alongside the vessel which trap the propeller of a pirate vessel and release the P-Trap line, leaving the attacker with an inoperable attack vessel. It is not an exception that pirates attack vessels with RPG’s (rocket propelled grenades). Therefore a RPG protection grid was shown which protects bridge wings and bulkheads against these hostile incoming grenades.
During the last three years piracy has reduced significantly in the Gulf of Aden. This is because of anti-piracy operations by cooperating navies, self-protection of merchant vessels and finally by initiatives in Somalia, for example, which encourage the Somalia youth to stay away from criminal activities.
Armed robbery is increasing in West-Africa. The goal is not to hijack the crew, but to violently rob the vessel. Pirates often target valuable crew belongings and vessel cargo. Piracy and maritime crime is also increasing in the regions of the South-Chinese Sea, Strait of Malacca and the Strait of Singapore.
Video 2011 P-Trap testing: