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Piracy News & Commentary

Anti-Pirate Sonic Lasers

Lloyd's List, a publication of the venerable insurance firm Lloyd's of London, not to mention the world's leading maritime newspaper, reported today that Somali pirates have released the US-owned chemical tanker Biscaglia and its crew of twenty-eight, almost certainly after payment of an undisclosed ransom. The capture of the tanker last November was notable for the failure of a non-lethal "sonic laser" weapon (or several of them), also referred to as a "long range acoustic device," to prevent the successful pirate attack. The three man team assigned to the weapons system abandoned ship when they realized that capture was inevitable. All there were later plucked from the sea by a nearby coalition helicopter. Reportedly, the Somali pirates fired upon the men while in the water. So far, the details on what actually transpired during the attack have not been confirmed. Some critics have questioned whether the sonic laser weapons worked properly, and whether the system's operators were properly on watch. Did the system work as designed but still failed to deter the pirates? A MarineLog article states that according to Anti-Piracy Maritime Security Solutions (Non-Lethal), the firm which provided the security team, the three defenders were overwhelmed by the severity of the attack, but did manage to provide time for the crew to seek cover and contact coalition warships.

The system has been used successfully in the past, most notably during a Somali pirate attack on a cruise liner. However, tactics can be developed against all weapons systems, and non-lethal weapons systems of any sort have generally had only limited ability to stop aggressive attackers armed with modern lethal arms. Further, if the sonic weapon or weapons were still aboard the ship when it was captured, the Somali pirates have by now had plenty of time to become familiar with the system, and in particular with its limitations, and may have done so.

The Lloyd's List article is available here, and the MarineLog article here.
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