Nov. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Pirates may encounter a skunk-smelling water curtain or propeller-tangling ropes the next time they approach a U.S. merchant ship. A warning to turn away may be accompanied by an ear-splitting squeal, if not rounds from an AK-47.
Short of raising private armies, shipping companies will consider “anything to keep pirates off,” Deborah Hennen, a manager at Crowley Maritime Corp., said in an interview Nov. 1 after a demonstration in Baltimore of the latest anti-piracy equipment.
The event for shipping officials showcased technology that enhances or replaces armed security teams, which can cost $5,000 or more per day and are forbidden by some countries. It was organized by the U.S. Maritime Administration and the Ship Operations Cooperative Program, an industry group that includes maritime academies and shipping companies.
Piracy costs the international economy as much as $12 billion a year, and the maritime industry spends as much as $2.5 billion a year on deterrent and security equipment and services, according to a 2010 report by the One Earth Future Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Louisville, Colorado.
“Piracy is going to get worse before it gets better,” Glen Paine, president of the Ship Operations Cooperative Program, said in an interview after the demonstration. “It’s just the nature of shipping now.”
There hasn’t been a successful pirate attack on a U.S.-flag vessel since the April 2009 hijacking of A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S’s Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia, which ended with U.S. Navy snipers killing three pirates.
Still, the attempted attack that same month of the Liberty Sun, chartered by the World Food Program, brought piracy to the attention of U.S. shipping companies, Maritime Administrator David T. Matsuda said at the demonstration.
“The response to the Maersk Alabama was not to put the Navy on every commercial ship,” he said. “It was to take common sense measures that will work.”
There were 369 pirate attacks this year as of Oct. 21, according to the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau, which maps piracy attempts and incidents. Somali pirates were responsible for 208 incidents, the bureau reported.
Last month, Maersk, the world’s biggest container-shipping line, said it will use armed guards for the first time on oil tankers to fend off pirates.
“Armed personnel is very touchy in the industry,” said Hennen, whose Jacksonville, Florida-based Crowley company manages 40 ships, including the Maritime Administration’s Cape Washington used in the demonstration.
‘Layered Piracy Defense’
Maersk Line Limited, A.P. Moeller-Maersk’s U.S.-flag subsidiary, “in some instances has elected to purchase and implement such equipment as part of a layered piracy defense,” Kevin Speers, senior director of marketing, said in an e-mail. He declined, citing security reasons, to specify what it has purchased.
Anti-piracy efforts work best as “a support-force continuum” in which the seafarers use slightly more aggressive tactics than the pirates, Jay Stock, chief operating officer of International Maritime Security Network LLC, said in an interview. The company, based in Wellsburg, West Virginia, provides anti-piracy training and equipment.
“We don’t advocate going out there and shooting them with a 50-caliber or something like that,” he said.
More shippers are beginning to use equipment ranging from razor wire to water curtains to rope traps, Harry Yerkes, president of the American Hull Insurance Syndicate, based in New York, said in an interview.
“It’ll take a long time before it’s common and has a calculable impact” on insurance rates, he said. Anti-piracy equipment “is not cheap,” he said.
“It’s a cottage industry,” he said. “At this point I don’t know if anyone can measure the efficiency of these methods.”
International Maritime Security Network sells a product called the Triton Shield Anti-Piracy System, which features specialized cameras and a water spray meant to act as a sort of force field, Stock said.
“What it effectively does is create an impenetrable wall of water,” Stock said. “We’ve tried with the strongest marines to get ropes up and climb, and it can’t be done.”
‘Skunk on Steroids’
The water can be made more menacing by adding “The Original Buford,” a slick, lime-green-glowing substance that Ralph Pundt, the company’s senior maritime officer, described as “a skunk on steroids.”
The water component can be installed on ships for about $50,000, Stock said. The closely held company employs about 100 people and has $3 million to $5 million in annual sales, Timothy Nease, chief executive officer, said in an interview. The company hasn’t sold any water devices, which are new on the market, Nease said.
The Triton Shield also incorporates a modular armor-and-glass protection unit called the Rail Cap, made by Defenshield Inc.
Defenshield sells its Rail Cap for about $5,000, Theresa A. Brigandi, vice president of marketing for the East Syracuse, New York-based company, said in an interview.
“Piracy has certainly become more of an issue over the last couple of years,” she said. “The interest and need for equipment like this is growing, unfortunately.”
Scott Stuckey, vice president of business development for LRAD Corp., warned about 100 spectators at the Baltimore demonstration to stand back before blasting the San Diego company’s long-range communications device.
“You might want to cover your ears at first,” he said to the crowd. The alarm on some versions reaches 150 decibels, louder than a jet engine that’s 100 feet away. It also warns in languages including Arabic that the authorities will be called if the intruding boat doesn’t turn back.
More than 130 of the devices, which sell for $21,000 or more, are on U.S. Navy ships, Stuckey said. They also serve as a deterrent, he said, “like putting an ADT Security sign at your house.”
The International Maritime Security Corporation Inc. manufactures 300-foot ropes with sinewy tendrils designed to jam the propellers of would-be intruders’ boats.
An “entanglement system” large enough to outfit the 697-foot Cape Washington, for example, sells for about $50,000, Scott Brewer, president of the Alexandria, Virginia-based company, said in an interview. The company, which also provides piracy predictive analysis, has not yet made any sales, he said.
Approaching pirate boats caught in it will be spun backward, he said at the demonstration.
“It’s going to be a very bad day for them,” he said.
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