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Piracy News & Commentary

"Panic Rooms"

Regarding the recently noted potential dangers associated with the use of "panic rooms" aboard ships under pirate attack (a mariner was recently murdered by pirates when he refused to open the "panic room" hatch or door), all defensive measures, lethal and non-lethal, carry a measure of risk. "Panic rooms" are no exception, and indeed, their use aboard commercial shipping is not new. Until significant armament was largely abandoned aboard most merchant vessels in the mid to late nineteenth century, the most common defense aboard these vessels was "closed quarters." That is, bulkheads were strengthened, hatches were locked down, and the vessel was turned into a mini-fortress, forcing an attacker to board and literally hack his way in. The difference, however, between closed quarters and their modern "panic room" version is that in the former, fortified spaces were intended to protect the crew while they in turn brought arms to bear on their attackers. The reality is that an armed attacker, assuming he has adequate arms, a willingness to take a few risks, and the time in which to persist in his attack, can eventually overcome all of the non-lethal defensive measures in place aboard modern commercial shipping. If naval escort is unavailable or naval forces are not nearby, the only way today to ensure that pirates capable of boarding a ship cannot capture it is to arm it, ideally with military personnel. The recent defense of two French two tuna trawlers by French soldiers stationed aboard is a case in point. Piracy "panic rooms" can be used to protect all non-essential crew during such attacks.
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