Most Innovative Pirate Proofing for This Season’s Somalia Seafarers

Don’t be caught off guard this season. Here, Fast Company lists the most innovative and effective solutions for dealing with Somali pirates.

Most Innovative Pirate Proofing for This Season’s Somalia Seafarers
Pirate rescue


Autumn is in the air. The weather is cooling, the leaves are falling, and we all know what is coming soon: pirate season. Somali pirates continue to terrorize the sea trade off the coast of their troubled nation, but ships doing business in those waters are beginning to get wise, employing basic strategies to avoid, fend off, or thwart the would-be buccaneers. Here, a few anti-pirate innovations currently on the rise. We hope that, in the best tradition of service journalism, this article may save the lives of some of Fast Company‘s readers.

Bulletproof citadels

The best offense is good defense. Last month, pirates abandoned a Greek ship after the crew locked itself in an engine room, writes Reuters. Bulletproof panic rooms could prove effective, provided they are stocked with rations and have communications equipment to send out an SOS. The perfect panic room would also enable to crew to retain navigational control of the ship, preventing the pirates from steering their victims into a Somali port. “The whole concept of the Citadel approach is lost if any crew member is left outside before it is secured,” grimly notes the Best Management Practices 3 (BMP3) handbook of the Maritime Secuirty Centre – Horn of Africa.

Stealth technology

What better way to avoid a run-in with pirates than to never tip them off that you’re there? A model of maritime stealth technology is the Swedish navy’s Visby corvette (above). Commercial traders with large budgets might take a few pages from the Swedish navy by building ships with a sleek arrow-like hull made out of carbon fiber, both features which help reduce radar signature.

Aids to vigilance

Let technology be your eyes and ears. Closed circuit television can be a godsend once an attack is underway; if you’re not already equipped, consider outfitting vulnerable regions like the poop deck. Orlaco, for instance, is one of many CCTV specialists. CCTV footage also comes in handy as evidence when bringing the pirates to justice later. Consider, too, using a distinctive “pirate alarm” to avoid confusion in the event of an attack. The last thing you want is for your crew to think it’s a fire drill when they’re supposed to be running for the weapons cache.

Barriers old and new

If you don’t want to fight a pirate, don’t get boarded to begin with. First, survey your ship for potential points of entry, bearing in mind that pirates don’t only board using ladders; they often also use grappling hooks with rope. Once weak spots are identified, a solution can be as simple as spirals of Concertina razor wire. A more high-tech and innovative solution is to co-opt water spray systems traditionally used in firefighting–such as those manufactured by Tyco, among others–and use them to deter pirates. Sets of high pressure spray nozzles can be used to create entire impassable walls of water, keeping the would-be pirates at a safe distance.


The need for speed

Sometimes the best innovations are really just the implementation of old-fashioned common sense. The BMP3 notes that to date, reported pirate attacks have only happened on ships moving under 18 knots (about 20 mph). Going full throttle is essential, particularly in the high risk area bounded by the Suez to the north, 10° south, and 78° east. Of course, since pirates can innovate as well, cautious seafarers are counseled to regularly check the website of the Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa for updates on pirate speed capabilities.

[Visby images:]

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.