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Non-lethal Solutions To Combat Pirates

Non-lethal Solutions To Combat Pirates

Non-Lethal weapons that could be used to fight of pirates...

Over the last year, every source of mass media has been inundated with reports on the pirating off Afric’s coast. The loss suffered from these attacks is phenomenal and has lead some of the worlds largest freight companies like Maersk, to re-route cargo at the costs of millions.

Combating the threat of pirates is much more difficult than it may seem. Pirates typically use speedboats out maneuver the slow-moving cargo ships. Once level with the stern of the vessel, they toss grappling hooks upon the rails, and board the ship via rope ladders. Pirates are also heavily armed with a selection of assault rifles, automatic machine-guns and, rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Somalis Pirates

Unfortunately, modern ship crews do not carry arms for a number of reasons, one being that armed vessels are not allow to dock in many of the world’s ports.

Capt. George Quick, vice president of the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots, based in Linthicum, Md:

“The maritime unions, shipping companies and the International Maritime Organization all agree that ship’s crews should not be armed…
“It would only escalate the situation The [Somali] pirates are pretty well funded, and they’d just get bigger weapons.”

With no arms on board, the crew have no way of defending themselves, for that, they rely on the help of US Marines, as well as the US and local Navies. But the military can not escort all cargo that passes through these dangerous waters, so a number of non-lethal solutions have been suggested.

Fire hoses.

High pressure hoses can be used to fend off pirates attempting to board the ship. But if there were more pirates in other boats aiming guns, the crew would have to give up.

Anti Pirate Water Cannon

“Some companies encourage the use of fire hoses, but even that’s controversial,” says Quick. “When you’ve got a boatload of guys with AK-47s pointed at your crew, it’s not really a fair fight.”

Remote-controlled fire hoses.

To solve the obvious problems of guns against water, several companies make remote-controlled high-pressure water cannons that don’t expose the crew to enemy fire.

Molotov cocktails.

Although many shops are not allowed to carry arms, they are allowed to fashion their own kind of defense. In december, the crew of Chinese cargo ship Zhenhua was able to hold off attacking pirates with Molotov cocktails made from empty beer bottles.

The Somali hijackers managed to board the ship but the crew defended themselves long enough for Malaysian Navy helicopters to show up and scare them off.

Quick advises against such heroics, however:

“Standard maritime doctrine is that crews should not resist once boarders are on deck,” he says. “The [Somali] pirates are really just after the ransom money, so it’s best to keep things as calm as possible.”

Sonic weapons.

In November 2005, the cruise ship Seabourn Spirit in the western Indian Ocean fended off pirate speedboats, by blasting them with an long range acoustic device (LRAD). The LRAD is designed to emit a painful blast of sound for up to 300 meters away. During the attack the Seabourn Spirit also managed to run over one of the pirate’s speedboats.

Long Range Acoustic Device LRAD

But the use of an LRAD three years later did not stop a chemical tanker form being seized by more Somali pirates. It is thought that the hijackers had since learned that earplugs greatly reduce the effectiveness of an LRAD.

Slippery foam.

The U.S Marine Corps have developed a material known as the Mobility Denial System (MDS), Non-Lethal Slippery Foam (NLSF) or Anti-Traction Material (ATM).

The material, which can be applied to the deck of a ship, comprises of water, a drilling-mud additive (used for boreholes) and a flocculent – an electrically charged suspension of solids that makes liquids even more slippery.

There are no reports of any ship employing this technology yet, but MDS definitely holds promise as a non-lethal anti-pirate measure.

Rubber bullets.

Firing rubber bullets at attacking pirates would be the first suggestion that comes time mind, however most rubber bullets today are fired from real guns that are not allowed in most ships.

But the crew could use high-powered air guns to fire the bullets, this would certainly cause pain if not serious injury.

Electric fencing.

There is at least one company that offers high-voltage fencing solutions to keep unwanted visitors off the deck of the ship.

“Only a few [ships have that] so far,” says Quick. “I don’t know if it’s worked or not. In the long run, nothing will against a persistent group of pirates.”


In the same way that police lay out nail strips to stop speeding cars, ships could launch small nets into the water to entangle the propellers of the pirate speedboats.

The Coast Guard and the Dept. of Defense are currently testing these by deploying them from helicopters, however smaller versions to come in the future could be launched from the stern of a chip using the sort of catapults that launch clay pigeons in skeet shooting.

Blinding weapons.

The U.S Air Force have developed what they call the Dazzle Gun – a futuristic-looking rifle designed to temporarily blind adversaries who get too close to base. This technology could easily be used by the crew aboard cargo ships.

Non Lethal Weapon The Dazzle Gun

The pain ray.

The Air Force has also developed another non-lethal ray-gun that zaps enemy, this time inducing a lot of pain by focusing a tight beam of electromagnetic waves on the skin.

Click here to read our original article about the ‘Pain Ray’>>>

The Pain-ray, or Active Denial System (ADS), is truck mounted and can zap people up to 500 yards away.

Despite the non-lethal options available, Quick feels that nothing short of a naval engagement can really stop the pirates:

“It’s not really up to the ship owners or crews to solve the pirate problem…
“It’s a governmental issue. It’s why navies were formed in the first place.”

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