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OPS: SATCOM Assets Can Assist In Offsetting Piracy
SATCOM brings communication assuredity to tracking and requests for aid


Of growing concern across the globe are the deadly pirate attacks on commercial and leisure vessels. How many have died in these maritime attacks? It’s unknown, and probably will never accurately be determined. In some cases the attacked ship has disappeared—some may have been sunk or taken to a hidden locale by the pirates, and further complicating the situation, such attacks are bereft of witnesses as no survivors have been found of such incidents.

PiracyFig1 Only just recently during 2012...

July 4th
Six pirates in a long wooden boat powered by sail and oars came alongside an anchored LPG Carrier at the Visakhapatnam Anchorage, India. Two of the pirates boarded the tanker and stole property belonging to the ship.

July 2nd
Approximately 25 nautical miles southwest of Guayaquil, Ecuador, five to six pirates in two speed boats approached and boarded a container ship that was underway using hooks attached with ropes and monkey ladders. The ship’s Master raised the alarm, the crew was mustered and armed themselves with crowbars and proceeded to the boarding area and the location of the pirates. The ship’s Third Officer noticed that one of the robbers was armed with a gun and the Master immediately ordered all crew members to retreat back to their accommodations and to lock all of the doors. The robbers then commenced throwing some boxes into their boats. The Master was unable to increase speed or take evasive maneuvers due to the limited depth and width of navigable water. Once the robbers’ boats were full of stolen items, they jumped back into their water craft and moved away. Due to the darkness and distance, the Master was unable to determine if the pirates stole cargo from the containers or ship’s stores.

PiracyFig2 June 25th
Estimated to be 50 nautical miles southeast of Lagos, Nigeria, 12 pirates armed with guns in a speed boat boarded a drifting chemical tanker. All of the crew were forced to muster in the mess room—the Master and Chief Engineer were allowed to remain on the bridge and the engine room, respectively. The vessel was then ordered by the pirates to sail toward Togo and back. The pirates raided all of the crew’s cabins and stole cash, personal effects as well as the ship’s cash. They then disembarked off Escravos Terminal after 45 hours aboard the tanker. Fortunately, all of the crew are reported as safe. The Officer of the Watch noticed the boat and informed the duty A/B watchstander to investigate. Upon seeing the robbers at the poop deck, the duty A/B chased them. The pirates jumped into the water and escaped with the stolen items as their accomplices were awaiting them in the boat. An alarm was raised, port control was informed and a search was conducted with negative results.

June 30th
Around 120 nautical miles southwest of Bonny Island, Nigeria, a container ship adrift awaiting berthing instructions was approached by five armed pirates in a wooden speed boat with two outboard engines. As the pirates approached the vessel, they fired, causing damage to some bridge windows and equipment. The vessel raised the alarm, activated SSAS (Ship Security Alert System), started main engines and maneuvered away from the approaching boat. Non-essential crew retreated into the citadel—all the crew are safe.

PiracyFig3 According to ICC Commercial Crime Services (www.icc-ccs.org), the world’s only manned center that receives and disseminates reports of piracy and armed robbery 24 hours a day across the globe, there were 168 piracy attacks, worldwide, as of June 25th, 2012. Hijackings number 19. For the Somalian area, there were 67 incidents, with 13 total hijackings and 195 hostages taken prisoner. There are currently 13 vessels being held by Somali pirates, as well as 13 hostages. (Please see the sidebar for additional ICC IMB information.)

The preceding information is courtesy of the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

According to a 2008 BBC report, the pirates can be divided into three main categories:

Local fishermen, considered the ‘brains’ of the pirates’ operations due to their skill and knowledge of the sea. Many think that foreign boats have no right to cruise next to the shore and destroy their boats

Ex-militiamen, who previously fought for the local clan warlords, or ex-military from the former Barre government used as the muscle

Technical experts who operate equipment such as GPS devices for the pirates


PiracyFig4 Protection
According to Wikipedia, international ships equipped with helicopters now patrol the waters where pirate activity has been reported. However, this area is extremely large. Some ships are equipped with anti-piracy weaponry, such as an LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device, developed by LRAD Corporation). This device directs a sonic wave toward a target, creating a sound so powerful that it shocks and bursts the eardrums of pirates—they then become so disoriented they drop their weapons—the vessel under attack increases speed and engages in evasive maneuvering.

Additionally, while the non-wartime 20th century tradition has been for merchant vessels not to be armed, the U.S. Government has recently changed the rules so that it is now “best practice” for vessels to embark with a team of armed private security guards aboard. The crew themselves can also be given weapons training, and warning shots as well as the use of less-lethal ammunition can be fired legally in international waters and/or when sailing under an Israeli or Russian flag. Similar to weapons training, remote weapon systems can also be implemented.

Other measures vessels can take to protect themselves against piracy are implementing a high free-wall and vessel boarding protection systems (e.g., hot water wall, electricity-charged water wall, automated fire monitor, slippery foam).

In an emergency, warships can be called upon for aid. In some areas, such as near Somalia, naval vessels from different nations are present that are able to intercept vessels attacking merchant vessels. For patrolling dangerous coastal waters (and/or keeping financial expenses down), robotic or remote-controlled sea craft are sometimes used and both shore- and vessel-launched UAVs are used by the U.S. Army.

PiracyFig5 Capture + Release
According to Strategy Page, the anti-piracy patrol off Somalia has captured and prosecuted some 800 pirates so far. However, more than five times that number have been captured and released. More prisons are being built in Somaliland and Puntland but these must be paid for and supervised by Western nations if they are to have any effective role in detaining pirates.

The key problem is that most nations contributing ships to the anti-piracy patrol are not willing to prosecute and imprison Somali pirates. This has led to the “catch and release” method used by most European navies, mainly because the legal systems back home makes it difficult for the pirates to be prosecuted and easy for the pirates to claim asylum if brought back for trial.

Under international law, captured pirates may be prosecuted by any nation. Nevertheless, many countries lack domestic law which conforms to international law—local courts in several nations have denied they have jurisdiction over the pirates. Until the Western nations develop the political will to initiate prosecution, these international criminals will continue to win in the war on piracy. Meanwhile, hundreds of sailors continue to be held captive under horrible conditions by Somali pirates, while offshore the mighty world navies play catch and release. This Old Salt Blog entry also states that more than five Somali pirates are released for every one that is prosecuted.

PiracyFig6 Safe Communications @ Sea
Satellite communications plays a pivotal role at sea and is an affordable way to stay in touch and be tracked anywhere, at any time, across the globe. Most modern commercial vessels cover safety issues in many different ways, but basic satellite communications are normally installed on all vessels.

In example, Beam’s Oceana 800 terminal has been deployed onto more than 500 vessels. This offers mariners a host of features, including global coverage for its voice, text and low-speed data services as well as Inmarsat’s SOS emergency calling capability and an additional SIM for multiple users. The Oceana 800 offers an integrated GPS engine that provides intelligent tracking and instant message (IM) reporting via SMS. The tracking and IM functionality can be configured to support automated periodic polling or IM reporting by pressing a single button.

Time Bandit, the 34.44m-long (113-ft.) boat, from the Deadliest Catch on Discovery Channel, is on a mission to capture king crabs, rather than human beings. Although the exterior of their boat appears to be similar to a pirate ship from yesteryear, the captain brothers Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand and their crew prefer to rely on the latest modern technology, such as the Oceana 800 fleetphone systems, while working off Alaska in the Bering Sea. Captain Andy Hillstrand said, “getting the weather forecast can literally be a matter of life and death for us and voice quality is important because we have to state our position before we can get the forecast.”

Solutions For Sea Safety
Beam Communications recently launched new satellite piracy solutions for secure communications on board a vessel. These solutions use Iridium or Inmarsat satellite networks—the covert antenna systems provides a dedicated system for a safe room or citadel on board a vessel. This ensures that essential communications on board the ship—such as the ability to alert authorities in the event of an attack—can be maintained, even if all power or other communication equipment has been cut off or destroyed by pirates.

PiracyFig7 Beam packaged solution includes a UPS battery that has a talk time of as much as 16 hours and a stand-by time of up to 89 hours. The Covert Piracy Solution is a complete bundled installation that provides an immediate contact/message capability when under threat. The unit’s GPS module provides pinpoint accuracy and enables tracking worldwide. Tracking and alert messages can be sent via SMS or Short Burst Data. Tracking and alert messages can be configured to tracking applications, SMS or email address as required. Alert/Alarm messages can be activated on the unit or alternatively via an additional alert button or other trigger that can be connected to the unit.

Once configured, the alert system is always on and will generate an alert message to the preset destination when triggered. Alerts can be triggered to continually send until the alert is cleared either remotely or locally on the unit. The Beam-designed antenna is intended for covert placement and is far less likely to be spotted and targeted by pirates.

The piracy solutions operate with the Inmarsat FleetPhone service or the Iridium Extreme network and ensure the Captain and crew has access to communications, tracking and alert functionality via the system. In the event of an attack, an alert can be raised and the vessel is immediately tracked.

What Makes Sea Sense
There is no “ultimate” protection against piracy committed upon maritime vessels that does not require some financial commitment by the owners of ships. The alternative to not investing in technologies and communications that can thwart piracy, or bring aid when such is needed, is to continue to have ships pay many insurance agencies that pay huge ransoms...rates will continue to climb, the vessel remains out of service while negotiations are conducted (negating income generation), and experienced crews will be much more difficult to locate as the dangers continue to increase at sea to their lives and to their families.

SATCOM brings communication assuredity to tracking and requests for aid...the investment is certainly worthy of consideration when considering the deadly alternatives.

PiracyFig8 PotsDOCK Extreme Covert Piracy Solution

The solution uses the Iridium Extreme handset and provides an overall feature rich solution including...

Voice calling—supports standard corded/cordless phones with runs of up to 600m/1800-ft., with multiple handsets, if required, via Extreme handset

Tracking—enables tracking and monitoring and uses a compact covert GPS antenna that is separate from the vessels GPS standard antenna.

Emergency Alert—Panic / Duress buttons on the unit or installed in various locations to trigger an emergency alert.


The BEAM Piracy Solution is a complete bundled installation that provides an immediate contact/message under threat with the added ability to be able to make or receive a telephone call from the “safe room” at any time. Tracking and alert messages can be sent via SMS or Short Burst Data or Both. Tracking messages can be sent via the following means...

Periodic position reporting, preset during the configuration of the terminal

Upon an alert being activated via the Alert button on the cradle or connected alert button

A current location position can be sent at any time by simply pressing a button on the front of the unit


Alert/Alarm messages can be easily activated on the unit or, alternatively, additional Alert buttons can be installed throughout the vessel to trigger an alert. Once configured, the alert system is always-on and will generate an alert message to the preset destination once it is triggered. The back-up battery that comes with the package can last up to 20 hours on standby and/or 10 hours of talk time. The BEAM Covert Piracy Solution is available through Beam major distributors.

PiracyFig9 Oceana 800 Covert Piracy Solution

The Solution uses the Beam Oceana 800 for the Inmarsat network and provides an overall feature rich solution including...

Voice calling—supports standard corded/cordless phones with runs of up to 600m/2000ft with multiple handsets, if required

Tracking—built-in GPS engine enables tracking and monitoring and uses a compact covert GPS antenna separate from the vessels GPS standard antenna

Emergency Alert—Panic/Duress buttons on the unit or installed in various locations to trigger an emergency alert. Emergency Inmarsat ‘SOS’ calling.


The Beam Covert Piracy Solution is a complete bundled installation that provides an immediate contact/message under threat with the added ability to be able to make or receive a telephone call from the “safe room” at any time. Tracking messages can be sent via the following methods...

Periodic position reporting, preset during the configuration of the terminal

Upon an alert being activated via the Alert button on the cradle or connected alert button

A current location position can be sent at any time by simply pressing a button on the front of the unit


Alert/Alarm messages can be easily activated on the unit or alternatively an additional alert button can be installed throughout the vessel to trigger and alert. Once configured the alert system is and will generate an alert message to the preset destination once it -is triggered.

The back-up battery that comes with the package can last up to 20 hours on standby and/or 10 hours of talk time

The BEAM Covert Piracy Solution is available exclusively through the Stratos Global and Vizada worldwide offices

* * * * * * * * *

Expertise published in Marine Insight offers some information into the Citadel anti-piracy method. The citadel itself is a room where the ship’s crew can remain hidden in case of a pirate attack. Such use of a safe room has increased in response to the rise in pirate incursions aboard ships. The publication mentions the following key consideration points for a citadel:

PiracyFig10 The citadel anti-piracy method is recommended to be installed in ships as per the regulations of the International Maritime Security Centre

The citadel requires having not just food and water supplies but also effective communication channels to be able to communicate with the outside world, with a proper system of ventilation and a first aid kit


The room can also be fitted with CCTV cameras and should have the control for switching off the engines— both main and auxiliary

The citadel needs to be properly planned and constructed. The anti-piracy fortification is like a last attempt on the part of the ship’s crew to escape from the pirates. This is why there cannot be any loopholes in the construction of the stronghold

The entire marine piracy stronghold needs to be within a circle of defenses that extend up to 1500 metres


Just as the technique to counter marine piracy should be an effective one, without proper knowledge in the use of the citadel, this technique could prove dangerous. The crew of the ship needs to understand how everything operates in the citadel and what the important points are that require consideration. If these details are not paid attention to, the citadel could itself end up being a fatal prison for the crew who assembled there for protection.

Moreover, constructing a citadel is expensive. This is because the room has to be thoroughly constructed to withstand any kind of weapon impact and should have the necessary equipment within its confines. Due to the cost factor, sometimes the ship’s engine room is used as a citadel to escape from the pirates.

PiracyFig11 Major shipping companies regard the expenditure of the anti-piracy stronghold as one of the biggest expenditures they need to consider and implement for their ships and crews. This level of expenditure, when compared to the amount of ransom demanded by pirates, does appear to be minimal. For this reason alone, many shipping companies have decided to fund the citadel, especially for those ships that have a route that passes through waters where marine piracy abounds.

With the help of a citadel, hostage situations can be successfully thwarted, making the citadel methodology a highly favorable one. Precautionary steps should be taken to ensure the citadel is safe and secure for the ship’s crew. There is further information at this direct website...

And, how would it be if mariners didn’t have to risk human life to fight pirates at sea—Edina Robotics, a robot manufacturing company, has created a magnetized robot that can climb the hull of a ship to spy on pirates. A type of UAV, this robot system has magnetized wheels that help it to climb up the hull of the ship to track pirate activities. This robot, if it successfully passes all of the testing, will serve as a most helpful ally in fighting piracy. There’s a video from TwinCities.com Pioneer Press of the robot available at this direct link.


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