September 3rd, 2009
06:22 AM GMT
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Look out from the bridge of a container ship like the Svend Maersk and it's easy to see why the crew is prepared to ward off pirates.  This vessel is a gold mine of goods, loaded with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of toys, computers and mobile phones.  That's a lot of loot.

Piracy is a scourge on the shipping industry.  World trade depends on container ships.  The vessels and their routes are required to be as efficient as possible so any disruption raises costs.  As the Svend's chief officer Christian Vium told me, in this business, time is money.

The ships are most vulnerable in confined waters near countries in economic turmoil.  "There is no doubt in my mind that whatever happens at sea is connected to the law and order on land," explains Captain Bo Nikolaisen.  The crew is most on alert when they travel through the Gulf of Aden where one of Maersk's ships, the Alabama, was hijacked by Somali pirates earlier this year.

The Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia used to be another danger zone until Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia decided to take action to protect the well-trafficked thoroughfare.  The threat in the strait today, Nikolaisen says, has dissipated "considerably".

Captain Nikolaisen hasn't had trouble with pirates for over a decade, but he still takes precautions, especially in the Gulf of Aden.

1)  Speed up near maximum speed. The ship burns ten tons of oil per hour, but, he says, the fast movement makes it tougher for pirates to come aboard.

2) Turn off all unnecessary lights. Ships keep their navigational lights on but otherwise are cloaked in darkness.

3) Black out the portholes. Sheets of black plastic are fastened to portholes on every door.  The crew covers the portholes with the plastic to obscure the view of the ship's interior in case pirates make it onto the vessel.

Captain Nikolaisen says most pirates are thieves rather than hijackers.  They sneak on board to steal equipment or rob the captain of his laptop, cellphone, or maybe some cash, but usually they leave the crew unharmed.  However, given the economic crisis, better to be safe than sorry.

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soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Segun

    In my country, Pirates are on different than armed-robbers... once you're touched by their fingers, you'll be scared for life. I can only hope for a better security for those who risked their lives to maintain a continuous relationship with countries.

    September 3, 2009 at 8:10 am |
  2. André Kruger

    Pirates should simply be shot and attacked with all available "force". If the world did this from the start of airline hijackers, 9/11 would never have happened. It would have saved thousands of lives, billions of dollars. There might have been a few "losses" initially, but much less over the long run.

    September 4, 2009 at 3:57 pm |
  3. Terry, TX

    How about shooting them on sight.....if captured....mandatory death sentence?

    September 5, 2009 at 1:05 pm |
  4. Max Catt

    Seems to me that an electrified handrail or laser beams would be a grear way to warn the ships....and a bounty on each dead pirates head would be another way to decrease piracy.Fight violence with violence and hire ex gulf war veterans or even old Vietnam war vets. One dead pirate is a good pirate...soon you would run out of pirates AFTER a while.

    September 6, 2009 at 2:30 am |
  5. Don Themon

    To prevent piracy, with the current problem, would be easy and inexpensive, compared to the costs of a recovery of a pirated vessel. The home company could easily hire professional, previously military trained specialists, to accompany each of their vessels while underway. Obviously, as that cost is minimal in comparison with the price the pirates demand for a seized vessel, the owners gamble with their not taking precautions and putting their crews at risk. It is the old story, "it just costs too much".

    September 6, 2009 at 5:09 pm |
  6. Ray

    Many people, including a few on this site, have recommended arming the merchant ships. While this would be effective, saving lives and property, it is illegal under many international treaties. This is just another example of how when you criminalize owning guns, only criminals have guns.

    September 7, 2009 at 6:19 am |
  7. Raphael Kahn

    As long as pirates don't get on board a ship, it has a chance to escape an attack.
    We, as Secure-Marine have a solution to prevent pirates from entering the ship.
    Our new patented 90 deg Celsius Secure-Waters system surrounds the complete ship.
    It creates a curtain of hot water, that even special forces can't circumvent.
    For use in cargo ships such as the Maersk Alabama, in Tankers, Cruise Ships and Super Yachts as a permanent installation against pirate attacks.
    We are planing a live demonstration of the system on September 18th.

    September 7, 2009 at 11:34 pm |
  8. Arun

    Well,my feeling on this we need to take a holistic approach to the crime.This crime is committed due to poverty and unemployment on the land which the ship is close by.Militray style solution of fighting sea piracy with guns and latest technology is not going to see lasting suceess for the simple reason that unless the root cause of poverty,unemployment is addressed by wealthier nations, we are not going to see the dissaperance of high seas piracy anytime soon.It would be merely wishful thinking!

    September 9, 2009 at 7:11 am |
  9. nemo


    Sounds like you are going to cook a bunch of fish too! I am sure Green Peace will like your system not at all.

    September 9, 2009 at 7:23 am |
  10. David Gravel

    It seems like one guy with a rifle who can shoot reasonably well could stand off most pirate attacks makde by small boats who only possess small arms for weapons. Why isn't it considered self defense to repel pirates who are boarding a ship without the consent of the captain?

    September 9, 2009 at 1:19 pm |
  11. Julius Torwald

    Raphael Kahn: your "post" is blatant advertisement. Shame on you!

    September 10, 2009 at 2:43 am |
  12. Capt Mehran Wahid

    Dear Mr.Kahn

    And what about RPGs – can they get through your curtain of hot water? I believe every well-dressed pirate has one. They fire one across my bows, I stop my ship and switch off your hot water.

    Maybe the system I read about in a recent science magazine where the police fire a wire net across the bows of a boat and immobilize their propeller would be much better – I can then keep going at full speed and leave the boat and its RPGs far behind then!

    Thank you everyone for being concerned now with a problem we have faced for a very long time in different parts of the world!

    September 10, 2009 at 7:21 am |
  13. Scott

    Remote control water cannons to cover the entire length of the ship to prevent boarding would work. However, in lieu of water my personal preference is boiling oil to scald and kill as they attempt boarding. Also, any pirate motherships without hostages should be summarily sunk with all hands on board.

    September 10, 2009 at 12:36 pm |
  14. David

    Boiling Oil!!! I like it.

    September 11, 2009 at 4:12 pm |
  15. Samuel Courtney

    Ceasar and Pompey had a simple solution. On one occasion 500 pirates were crucified, one per mile, along the road. Not much trouble from pirates after that.

    September 11, 2009 at 4:23 pm |
  16. Messernacht

    What about the microwave 'pain beams' the military has deployed on several occasions. I remember one instance of a cruise ship that used a similar method to discourage borders. While I know it certainly won't stop incoming fire, it does provide a means to prevent boardings

    September 13, 2009 at 8:58 am |
  17. Joe Mama

    Im a pirate and werrrr tryin to make a livin argh, and im lookin for the black pearl

    September 14, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  18. isabel marant sneakers

    "bathe" isabel marant sneakers

    August 22, 2012 at 5:15 pm |

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