Anti-piracy advice offers a few theatrical surprises, says Justin Stares
Pirates are once again the scourge of the open seas, although combating them is a little different in the 21st century.
In the olden days, the Royal Navy would have simply tied pirates? hands and feet before throwing them back overboard. But nowadays, even pirates have human rights.
Legal niceties mean it is often simpler to disarm culprits and drop them back on to the beach from whence they came.
Protection, therefore, is largely the responsibility of the merchant ships themselves. It has led to some surprisingly low-tech innovation. Armed defence is a hot topic but has been discouraged due to its potential for escalation. Pirates have, until now, preferred ransoms to killing crew.
The security advice given by the UK-led European Union anti-piracy mission reads like a list of props in a theatre comedy.
Preventing them scaling on to deck with their grappling hooks and ladders is instead achieved using barbed wire, high-pressure water hoses, a water "curtain," foam, dyes, sound, light and smoke.
Pirates? skiffs can be "swamped" with the correct use of a fire hose, the advice reads. "Ox blood or urine additives used to produce foam are particularly unpleasant for anyone who is covered by the foam." Yuk.
If you sound the ship?s horn in their ears for long enough, pirates might get so annoyed they will simply leave, it is suggested. Puffing smoke into their eyes can be equally vexing.
Ships are today transiting the Somali basin and the Indian Ocean with "anti-boarding pendulums" swinging over the side: basically buckets filled with cement or sand. The bucket swings and knocks the ladder away, hopefully preventing an attack.
Pirates are after easy pickings; they like to attack ships that are unprepared. "The single greatest self-protection measure you can employ is vigilance," the EU Navy team points out.
And if you simply don?t have the manpower, why not use dummies? "The use of dummies strategically placed in visible areas can enhance the effect of maintaining a proper lookout."
The tools for combating piracy seem as oddly anachronistic as the phenomenon itself.
Justin Stares, Brussels
Added the 18 January 2010 in category Innovation blog