Five new weapons the Maersk Alabama could use to foil pirates
Armed guards on the Maersk Alabama helped repel Wednesday's attack by pirates. An array of nonlethal weapons – from acoustic devices to a system that fires nets or even golf balls – is coming onto the market.
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While armed guards have been credited with repelling today's Somali pirate attack on the US-flagged Maersk Alabama, a separate industry based on the development of nonlethal weaponry to protect ships is booming.
BCB International, a British firm, has developed a pirate-busting "stinger," a device designed to stop attackers by tangling their propeller up in ropes.
In a demonstration last week off England's south coast, the company showed how the device can be fired at short notice into the path of pirate skiffs.
Known as the Buccaneer, the system uses compressed gas to shoot objects such as a net or rope suspended from a small parachute. In the demo, a 300-meter-long rope floated down onto the surface of the water. The pretend pirates at Portland Harbour, England, found that their propellers were hopelessly entangled after they sped over it.
The Buccaneer can also be used to fire anything from bean bags and golf balls to life vests in order help rescue someone who's fallen overboard.
The cost? About $20,000.
BCB has already had queries from shipping companies around the world, and from one, presumably rather wealthy, yacht owner.
"There are enormous difficulties for shipping companies, from the point of view of having armed guards on board," says Peter Holmes, the firm's sales manager.
"We are offering an entirely nondeadly device, which also has an attraction in that it can be fired remotely so that crew members do not have to put themselves in harm's way."
He explains that the Buccaneer's origins lay in another product, the Wall-Breaching Cannon, that's been sold to police to use in hostage-rescue situations. It fires a projectile from a compressed air gun in order to break down walls or doors.
Lasers, acoustic devices
The Buccaneer is the latest in a growing arsenal of weaponry which is being amassed to counter the pirate threat off the coast of Somalia.
Other systems include a military-grade laser that can cause temporary blindness.
The SeaLase, which has been developed by the Finnish company Lasersec Systems, is advertised to have a range of four kilometers (2.5 miles) and becomes harder to look at the closer an attacker comes.
At a cost of $104,000 per unit, the device does not come cheap, however.
Other options for worried shipowners include the "L-Rad," a long-range acoustic device that emits an unpleasant noise in the direction of attackers. At the other end of the scale, the $450,000 "SeaOwl" tracking system can detect threats from as far as five kilometers (3 miles) away using radar and infrared technology.
Maritime security experts caution that defense systems such as the L-Rad are far from being perfect solutions to the pirate threat. They point out that they have to be seen in the context of naval strategy, which is about "layers."
The noise, for example, emitted by the LRad or other acoustic devices is as much about letting the pirates know that they have been spotted, and that an armed naval response may be on the way, as about repelling them.
But it's not just maritime firms that are taking an interest in the array of sophisticated antipiracy technology on offer.
According to a report last month in The Times, Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch whose possessions include England's Chelsea soccer club, has installed an antipaparazzi shield on his latest yacht, which also is reported to be the world's biggest and most expensive.
The Eclipse, measuring some 557 feet in length, is said to be equipped with lasers intended to blind any digital camera lenses pointed its way.