As we have all seen in the news in recent weeks, commercial shipping has, over the years, been more and more at risk from several different quarters, be it piracy, terrorism or disputes between countries.
To give an idea of the threat, in 2018 there were approximately 200 – 250 acts of piracy or armed robbery on commercial ships reported around the world. That’s just what was reported, there may have been many others that were not documented for a variety of reasons.
In the past, commercial shipping has generally not been required to maintain a high level of protection (with the exception of wartime), but times have changed and now it’s proving to be more important to have at least some level of countermeasures to prevent hijack or damage to vessels.
I am going to try and cover at least some of the systems below ranging from the simple but effective to the complex (and terrifying) …
Water, water everywhere…
One of the simplest and most common methods is the use of water cannons.
Essentially, these are high-pressure water jets that are placed around the vessel, that are powerful enough to deter pirates who usually travel in much smaller vessels, allowing ships to make use of the abundant seawater for their own advantage without running out of ammunition.
Did you hear that?
Another solution is using sound to deter attackers. Specifically, a system called an LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device). This system uses a high frequency “beam” of sound and is designed to cause pain rather than inflict permanent injury.
It is effective at a reasonably long range and apparently, the sound is unbearable. The idea is to impair the attacker’s concentration whilst also driving them away from the ship.
It’s a trap!
A seemingly gentler, but very effective method now in use, is to use high strength netting to disable attacking boats that wish to get close enough to board your ship.
Essentially, the netting is designed to get caught in the boat’s propellers and effectively stop them in their tracks – there are environmental impacts to this, in the case of lost or discarded nets injuring wildlife.
A close shave
If the attackers have gotten up close and personal, it’s time to make it a little more difficult for them to actually board your ship.
One of the most common methods nowadays is to use canisters filled with razor wire, which can be drawn along the sides of the ship to prevent attackers gaining access to the deck (this works in a similar way to wall-mounted spikes on buildings to prevent climbing vandals).
A guarded response
There has been a real upwards trend for having armed security guards on vessels travelling through some of the riskier parts of the world.
These folks are generally ex-military and can be heavily armed, this acts as a deterrent and a last line of defence in case all other methods fail. It’s not cheap, but it is effective.
There are quite a few other systems that are either being rolled out or are in development. As the world tragically gets more dangerous, shipping companies weighing up cost vs. risk will certainly be demanding more options to ensure their crew and cargo arrive safely at port.
Written by Julian Maynard – Recruitment Consultant, Shipping and Logistics at Alchemy Global Talent Solutions