Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pirate Update - Attacks on Freight and Cruise Line Shipping Continues

But Latest Laser Weapons May be One in the Eye for the Raiders
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – NIGERIA – UK – Unfortunately once again the past few days have seen much pirate activity with mixed results for the victims. Two days after our last report on the 4th January there were two attacks South East of Muscat by pirates who fired rocket propelled grenades at their intended victims. The Bahamian flagged oil tanker MV Front Warrior was equipped with razor wire and fire hoses which the crew employed to defeat the raiders. Full speed and perimeter razor wire enabled the Norwegian flagged LPG carrier MV BW Austria to similarly escape the two skiffs attacking her.

On the 10th January a NATO warship, part of their Operation Ocean Shield detachment engaged a suspected pirate skiff but, once again, had insufficient reason to arrest the crew. The USS Laboon spotted the small boat and witnessed the crew desperately divesting themselves of potential evidence by jettisoning weapons and boarding ladders into the ocean.

When boarded the skiff was found to still contain excessive quantities of fuel, grappling hooks, sledgehammers and other tools used for breaking and entering hatches and doors. These were all confiscated before vessel and crew were once again released without charge. For those interested in the current operations you can see a video of a Royal Navy vessel, HMS Portland used to support the EU anti piracy effort blowing up a suspected vessel HERE.

There were two unusual incidents which began on the 12th January; the first involved a cruise liner, the Spirit of Adventure, which detected a small craft approaching at speed 100 miles off the coast of Tanzania, despite attacks on passenger craft being the exception. The ship was fully equipped with razor wire and other deterrents but was able to escape her pursuers without being fired upon.

That same day the Danish vessel MV Leopard was attacked by two skiffs 500 miles off the Omani coast and the vessel seized after the crew retired to a safe room. The ship was reportedly carrying a cargo of arms and ammunition and the captain managed to contact a passing Japanese aircraft causing NATO forces to be deployed to the scene. The TCG Gaziantep, which was about 250 nautical miles away, responded and eventually came upon the deserted ship, her cargo apparently intact but her crew gone. A fishing vessel seen in the vicinity proved to be none other than the Taiwanese fishing boat Shiuh Fu No 1, pirated off Madagascar on Christmas Day and now apparently acting as a ‘Mother Ship’ for the pirates.

No attempt was made to retrieve the six man crew of the Leopard after a warning from their captors that this would cause them harm. The ship, which had been immobilised, possibly by the crew, was boarded by NATO personnel to repair and sail to port.

Yesterday (16th January), a South Korean freighter was captured in the same waters about 350 miles South East of Muscat. The MV Samho Jewelry is a near 20,000 tonne dry bulk tanker with a crew of twenty one and is believed to be a fleet sister to the Samho Dream, a supertanker belonging to the Samho Shipping Company which was released with her crew in November last year after payment of what was rumoured to be a record ransom close to $10 million for the near 320,000 tonne vessel and her cargo of crude oil.

Meanwhile the forthcoming elections may be a factor in the continuing disturbances off the coast of Nigeria. We have seen a rise in incidents, some apparently undertaken by groups claiming to be politically motivated, and the past few days have seen two more attacks in the region. On the 9th January raiders reportedly attacked a chemical tanker but seemingly without success as no reports of ships missing in the area have surfaced.

On the 11th January three Filipino crew members were abducted after a raid on the Italian flagged tanker Dominia. The entire crew were held for fourteen hours whilst the robbers stole money and personal possessions before abandoning the 40,000 tonne vessel apparently owned by Greek shipping group Millenia Maritime.

It has been apparent over the past few months that the best way of deterring or defending against pirate attack is for vessels to adopt the Best Management Practices as advocated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) EU Navfor Somalia and others. Now however another weapon in the fight against the marine raiders is likely to become more widely available.

The Handy Shipping Guide has featured several different practical methods of upsetting prospective assaults, including the use of laser weapons. Companies such as Jetlasers from China manufacturers of the world's first FDA compliant portable laser pointers are apparently already marketing their Laser Dazzler system to various military interests. The proposal to deploy such a system as a pirate deterrent has now gathered more interest since the announcement this week that none other than London based BAE Systems are refining their own laser weapon. Commenting on their latest project Bryan Hore, BAE Systems business development manager and the lead for the anti-piracy programme, said:

“Laser distraction is part of a wider programme of anti-piracy technologies being developed by BAE Systems, including radar systems, which utilises expertise and knowledge from the military domain. The aim of the laser distraction project is now to develop a non-lethal deterrent to pirates, which has no lasting effects, which can work in a maritime environment, be operated by the crew at no risk, and be cost effective.”

In order to help combat the growing piracy threat BAE Systems conducted a study of pirate’s behaviour and a company-wide capability survey. This led to the development of the concept of using a non-lethal laser, which would leave only temporary effects, to distract and deter potential attackers from a distance. The laser beam is capable of providing a visual warning to pirates at distances greater than 2km, and of disorientating attackers sufficiently at lesser distances so that weapons cannot be targeted effectively. At all times the power levels of the laser remain eye safe.

The researchers have developed a bespoke Neodymium Yttrium Aluminium Garnet (Nd:YAG) laser which is an effective deterrent at relatively low power levels. By utilising targeting systems and changing beam patterns, the distraction effect can be made more pronounced and be used against multiple targets. The laser was trialled during night and day in varying weather conditions at the Worcester facility. Cameras were placed at the target location to demonstrate the level of beam intensity and divergence produced by the test runs. Beam oscillation techniques were also demonstrated.

Roy Clarke, BAE Systems capability technology lead for laser photonic systems, said:

“The effect is similar to when a fighter pilot attacks from the direction of the sun. The glare from the laser is intense enough to make it impossible to aim weapons like AK47s or RPGs, but doesn’t have a permanent effect.”

With attacks off the Somali coast liable to reduce in the next month or so as the weather deteriorates it is to be hoped that such systems can be put into practical use before the next resurgence of attacks, which with no sign of social improvements in the region, are bound to reoccur.