Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Technology against Pirates

Incidences of piracy off of the Somali coast are threatening the safety of commercial ships increasingly. The pirates seem to be getting bolder and requesting higher ransoms. Two weeks ago, the Saudi oil tanker Sirius Star was hijacked and currently $25 million is being requested for its release. The ship is said to be carrying around $100 million worth of oil. The problem is that these commercial freighters have small crews, International Maritime law forbids commercial vessels to carry any weapons for self defense and they are thus easy prey for pirates who are equipped with small fast speedboats and only a hand full of weapons.
A report by the German navy caught my attention a few days ago that reported on a technological development that is now increasingly being considered by the owners of commercial shipping vessels to protect them from an attack by pirates. The International Defense Online Magazine also reports on this device, which is called the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). Its was originally developed as a crowd control device and is also used by American warships to warn vessels approaching without permission, like a megaphone.  But the interesting part is that the LRAD also has an impact on the hearing, vision and overall well-being of people.  Thus, it serves s a non-lethal weapon.
The LRAD looks like a big loudspeaker, weighs about 40 pounds and is around 30 inches is diameter. It emits sound in a 30 degree beam at a high frequency that, at its maximum volume, permanently damages hearing and exceeds the normal human threshold of pain (120-140 dB) at a distance of one meter. At around 300 meters, its volume is around 90 dB. The sound also causes loss of balance and nausea. The device is used to transmit warnings and high pitched sound.
Recently, the LRAD has been used in the port of Basra and other places in Iraq for communication purposes and it has been used on cruise ships. The Seabourn Cruise Line had the device installed as part of its defense system and in 2005, it was activated to effectively counter a pirate attack 160 km off of the Somali coast. There have recently been new orders placed by the U.S. military to the manufacturer American Technology Corporation for force protection in the Middle East, especially Iraq. It is expected that commercial orders will follow soon, if the piracy activity stays at the current level.

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