Lesson from foiled pirate attack on Maersk Alabama? Fire back.

Monday's thwarted pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama was the first time a large cargo ship with an armed security team were able to repel an attack, according to US Navy commanders.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The lesson from an unsuccessful pirate attack in the Gulf of Aden this week was simple: Guns talk.

The Maersk Alabama, the American-flagged ship infamously attacked by pirates in April, was attacked again Monday when Somali pirates opened fire on the ship in an attempt to board it. But the pirates didn't get far this time, after a four-man security team aboard the ship fired back, thwarting the attack.

It's the first time a large cargo ship with an armed security team aboard is known to have repelled an attack, says Vice Adm. William Gortney, who commands the Pacific region for the US Navy.

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Still, only about 10 percent of the shipping industry's ships employ "best practices" that include hiring an onboard security team, Gortney said.

In Monday's attack, the Maersk Alabama used a powerful loudspeaker system, called a long-range acoustic device, or LRAD, that can be painful to the human ear and fend off attackers. But the nonlethal device was not effective, Gortney said at the Pentagon Wednesday. The pirates were stopped only when the Maersk Alabama began returning fire, he said.

"A well-placed round from an M-16 is far more effective than that LRAD," he said.

The Maersk Alabama was the first American-flagged ship to be attacked by pirates. The April incident escalated when Somali pirates boarded the ship and took the crew prisoner, holding Capt. Richard Phillips hostage for ransom. US military sharpshooters killed the pirates, and the crew and captain were rescued.

The rising number of pirate attacks this year has led international organizations and individual navies, including America's, to deploy ships to the region. This has helped to stem attacks, but they remain high. About 667 pirate "encounters" have occurred since August 2008. Of those, 257 pirates have been turned over for prosecution, of which 46 were found guilty, 23 were released for lack of evidence, and 11 were killed during operations at sea, according to Navy data.

There are 11 ships currently being held by pirates in the region.

Gortney said both lethal and nonlethal means are recommended for protecting cargo ships. Nonlethal means include a slippery foam substance to stop pirates who have boarded a ship, "water cannons" to spray high-powered water at pirates, and barbed wire placed around areas of the ship that pirates could use to board. Posting a lookout is one of the most common-sense approaches, Gortney said.

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See also:

Maersk Alabama repels Somali pirates in second attack

Should ships use armed guards to stop Somali pirates?

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