Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

When will the Merchant Shipping community tighten security?

October 8, 2008 by Roger Tomberlin  
Filed under Maritime Security

German Surface RaiderAccording to the Associated Press (2008), pirates seized the 530-foot-long freighter Faina off of the coast of Somalia. The ship was carrying 33 T-72 tanks, a substantial quantity of ammunition, and spare parts. This is a series of lucrative business adventures of coastal pirate groups who undertake these swift measures to financially assist themselves and their friends. Many of these close knit pirates organization provide funding to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

Many research papers and articles have been written about this subject, but it appears to have fallen on deaf shipping owners and Captains ears. Immediate action can be taken to help alleviate the pirate problems. This article is not declaring the total problem can be avoided or cured, but the cause can surely be avoided. We must look back to the 1940’s and consider what the allies in World war II were surviving in their attempts to avoid the ravishing attacks of the German submarine “Wolfe packs” which plagued the merchant vessels in the Atlantic. Today’s merchant mariners do not have the problems of German submarines hounding them in their day to day operations, but they do have the problem of the “new age” pirates cursing mariners in and around Somalia and the Malacca Straits.

D. Urquhart(2006) and others state many of these attacks can be avoided by following these few simple measures:

The Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) instituted a regulation for all passenger ships, mobile offshore drilling units, and cargo ships of 500 tons or more to be equipped with an alarm system to ensure security. Any ships thereafter built must comply with the regulation. This regulation went into affect on July 1, 2004.

In accordance with the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System distress procedures, the alert system must obtain power from the ships primary power source as well as another appropriate source. The activation points of the alert device must be accessible from the bridge of the ship and the distress codes should be directed to shore and identify the ships location and identity through a unique code generated.

Ship Security Alert Systems have shown to be a great asset to the shipping industry. A Turkish bulk carrier was saved from a pirate attack in January 2006 by an SSAS alert when five pirates armed with machine guns and rocket launchers attacked the Turkish carrier. After activating the SSAS alert, a coalition warship was notified and responded to the alert within thirty minutes along with a helicopter which caused the pirates to stop firing, saving the carrier

Ship Loc

The ShipLoc system provides ship owners with long range tracking of their ships. It has the capability to provide the owners with exact locations and routes of travel. The system reports between 6 and 24 times a day and immediate alerts if triggered. Once installed on the vessel, ShipLoc transmits via satellite to the fleet operator information such as speed, heading, location, as well as meteorological information that could cause issues with the vessel. This divide is in compliance with SSAS regulations; ShipLoc alerts are silent and provide information the shore installations only. ShipLoc has been approved by the International Maritime Bureau as the only SSAS system which is 100% reliable by using a second location system independent of GPS, to verify the GPS fixes. ShipLoc is also equipped with a silent alarm that can be triggered from any location on the ship.

Secure Ship

Secure Ship electrifies a ships hull using a 9,000 volt electrified fence that is erected around the ship. Secure Ship is a non-lethal system to prevent the boarding of a ship allows the sailors on board the ship to work and can be activated at any time. Secure Ship utilizes the same technology that has been used at military installations; Secure Ship protects the crew and guests from unwanted intruders and robberies while still allowing the ship to conduct normal business. The device is armed with a siren that is activated when the electric fence is touched. Secure ship is marketed to commercial vessels as well as private mega yachts as a means of protection from the threat of a piratical attack.

The way that the Secure Ship is designed, the electrified fence is erected around the perimeter of the boat extending outwards to prevent someone from boarding the ship. In the event of an emergency and there is a need for the crew to abandon ship, Secure ship has many points on the ship to turn off the device.

Long Range Acoustic Device

The Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) is a breakthrough long-range hailing and warning device designed to communicate with authority, affect behavior and help determine intent. Developed by American Technology Corporation, the LRAD focuses sound waves at a particular target without interference from ambient noise. To note the deterrent effect of the LRAD, the noise level that is the normal threshold of pain for a normal person is 130 dB, and because the LRAD works at a low level of 145 dB then it is easy to see how it could be a deterrent for an attacking boat. An example of its use was seen in November 2005 when the luxury cruise ship Seabourn Spirit used the LRAD to repel pirates attempting to attack the vessel with rocket propelled grenades off the coast of Somalia.


There are many theories for improving piracy prevention including uniform jurisdiction, convoys, privatization of anti-piracy efforts, and allowing crew members to defend themselves among others. Some experts in the maritime industry believe universal jurisdiction allows for the exercise of jurisdiction over certain actors or activities wherever they occur without regard to nationality or territoriality. In the past, Universal jurisdiction has been traditionally applied to piracy where any state has the right to seize a pirate ship and try those on board under states laws. An example of this is the United States vs. Furlong case where the United States Supreme Court found that the U.S. courts retain jurisdiction over a piratical murder committed on the high seas against a U.S. vessel by a foreigner upon a foreign vessel.

Many pirates who roam the seas are connected with land based criminal organizations that would give them a nation to be tried under. A good example is the recent attack of a French vessel by Somalia pirates in June 2008. If seized in another jurisdiction, their home nation would require extradition to be tried in a court likely ran by the criminal organization the pirate is connected.


S. Eklof (2006) said, “In many cases, the waterways that are the most prone to piracy do not have adequate naval forces to properly patrol those waters, thus leaving pirates to plunder at will”. A solution to this problem is the privatization of anti-piracy efforts. If nations cannot patrol their own waters, then privately owned, armed ships should be allowed to patrol the waters.

With more stringent restrictions on private efforts to battle piracy, security companies could bid for areas of the seas that are prone to pirate and terrorist attacks. Privateering could be a solid prevention method for piracy.

These contracts would be taken from the members of the nation state involved in this enterprise, from individuals willing to pay for the private protection, commercial vessels requesting an escort, as well as any payment through prizes collected from seizure of a pirate ship, be it a finders fee for its return or the ship itself.

German Surface Raider

German Surface raider of WWII, notice the false side hiding the guns on the bow. (Goggle Photos)


According to Dr. J Molyneux (2008), another solution is the use of the lesser reported events of World War II. During World War II, Germany had immense success utilizing the “Surface Raiders” or Armed Merchant Ships. During the 1930’s and 1940’s the worlds oceans became home for the “Marauders of the Sea. These vessels carried a slew of names such as Atlantis, Orion, Widder, Thor, Pinguin, Komet, Michel, Stier, and Togo, and, the best known, Kormoran, who was involved with the disappearance and death of the famous Australian Cruiser.

US Convoy during WWII (Goggle photos)

By arming the crew members and the vessel it would offset the advantage that the pirates have by using smaller and faster boats. By arming sailors it allows them to defend their livelihood as well as their lives. Arguably crew members should be as equally armed as the pirates they risk encountering. One of the huddles the ship encounters is the laws of the state in which are flagged. Although, countries have no laws over the high seas, each ship and crew need only adhere to the laws of the home state. If states refuse to change their laws regarding arming sailors on their ships then it is arguable that pirates will learn of this and begin to target those nations’ ships, knowing that they will be easier targets because they are not armed.

Stringent Security Runs

As in the days of the North Atlantic in World War II, the merchant marine vessel had to defend itself from German U-boats by the use of convoys. Safety in numbers is a key aspect of anti-piracy practice.  Vessels traveling in a convoy present as a much harder target for pirate vessels.  One problem with this solution is that convoying is costly to smaller in the terms of burning extra fuel to maintain uniform speed.

As with the avoidance of crime, it is important to vary routines as much as possible to avoid piracy.  Unfortunately, many vessels are unable to vary their schedule due to strict deadlines or lack of feasible alternative routes.  However, even the appearance of variance may be beneficial should your vessel be the target of a planned attack.  One example would be the removal of exact time and date information from online cruise line itineraries, easily accessible by all Internet users.

Some companies have kept routes but have either cut down on the number of runs or have changed the cargo aboard their vessels to items less attractive to pirates.  In Nigeria, one bank with branches on islands only accessible by boat had experienced a rash of cash-in-transit robberies on the waterways between their main location and their branches.  Bank management decided to maintain only electronic transactions at their branches, allowing them to stay in business; electronic transactions meant no cash was necessary, and all cash-in-transit deliveries were rendered obsolete.

Tracking Beacons on Goods

Although there are tons upon tons of cargo being carried by vessels traversing the high seas everyday, there is very little chance of ever getting back that cargo after a successful pirate raid. One way to prevent piracy from flourishing is to plant tacking beacons into cargo containers and other items that are primarily taken by pirates.

Once the pirates have stolen the cargo, they have unwittingly caused their own downfall because the naval forces or private pirate hunting forces will be able to track the cargo to wherever it is being held. Beacons could become a prime way of targeting pirates, getting back stolen cargo, or at least apprehending the pirate. With technology available today, tracking beacons could be placed on any size cargo, from commercial to personal effects and made of any type of material from wood to metal. Although there are tracking programs in use such as ShipLoc, those systems are not adequate when cargo has left the vessel. With tracking beacons though, many ships and their cargo could be spared by pirates for fear that the naval forces could be knocking on their doors at any minute no matter where the pirate may choose to hide his loot.

In conclusion, over the years piracy has evolved from being a profession of praise to being condemned as an act of mere thievery. With prevention of pirate attacks motivating the shipping industry, many companies have introduces innovative ideas such as ShipLoc, Secure Ship, the long range acoustic device and many security alert systems to aid in the deterrence of attacks. Although all of these products aid in the deterrence of pirate attacks, without the nations of the world coming together to battle piracy uniformly, piracy will continue to flourish as ways around methods of deterrence are found.

If piracy is to be fought effectively, the pirates must be put on the defensive. Employing private entities to act as privateers would be highly effective as long as proper motivation is given. Privateering was a successful deterrent before to aid in the fight against piracy and it can be so again. Privateering can only aid other vessels if those crew members stay informed of the piracy statistics and readily report conflicts with pirates to the International Maritime Bureau and the Piracy Reporting center.

In the end, any method of piracy prevention is useless unless nations prepare for incidents by instituting safety measures for their waterways, and sailors take measures into their own hands by regularly reporting incidents of piracy and staying informed of current news.

This article reflects my own views.

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