By PAUL REDFERN, Special Correspondent for The East african - Saturday, November 30 2013
A devastating new type of defence system that has been designed to protect merchant ships from attacks could mean the end of piracy off the coast of Somalia.
The WatchStander defence system, designed by a US company, uses advance radar systems and intelligent software to monitor potentially dangerous vessels approaching a ship and is capable of automatically instigating defence mechanisms to deter an attack.
The system has the capability to send out a sensory “bombardment” to potential attackers, including sound canons, laser cannons and pepper dispensing projectiles.
The light cannons are said to induce temporary blindness while the sound cannons are so powerful they are designed to produce “excruciating discomfort,” then intolerable pain and finally irreversible hearing damage.
The system, based on technology used by the US Navy, is now available to merchant ships traversing piracy hotspots such as the Gulf of Aden. With three serious but failed attacks reported off the coast of Somalia last month by the European Union’s Naval Protection Force, there is likely to be substantial demand for the new product.
The company said the biggest issue facing cargo ships passing through dangerous waters off the coast of Somalia is that pirates usually attack in small speedboats, launched from nearby motherships.
“By the time these small boats appear on the horizon, they are usually travelling too quickly for the cargo ships to take a defensive course and raise the alarm, and often the captains take the decision to stand down and allow the pirates to board, rather than risk the lives of their crew by engaging the pirates in firefights,” a statement said.
WatchStander is an early alert system, which employs a series of escalating, non-lethal countermeasures, to warn pirates that they have been spotted, the authorities have been alerted, and that the ship will defend itself.
The founder and driving force behind WatchStander, David Rigsby, has over 30 years’ experience working in the perimeter protection and defence industry sector. He has worked closely with his research partners to modify WatchStander for commercial use.
“The answer to piracy has been eagerly awaited by the maritime industry,” Rigsby said. “The strategies being used at present are piecemeal, uncoordinated, cumbersome or hugely expensive.
The focus has generally been on either sensors or countermeasures with little or no effective integration of the two — until now.
“This one-off technological installation prevents pirates getting on board ships and will change the course of maritime history.”