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Firm Uses Non-Lethal Methods to Thwart Somali Pirates

Despite the international naval presence off the coast of Somalia, full protection against pirates cannot be given to all the tankers and cargo ships sailing in the Gulf of Aden. However, there's an alternative being offered that does not involved the use of warships. A company called Anti-Piracy Maritime Security Solutions (APMSS) uses non-lethal methods to prevent pirate attacks.

Nick Davis, chief executive of the firm, spoke from London to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about why piracy has grown to be a serious problem in the Gulf of Aden.

"Primarily because of the amount of ships that are…transiting the area. Obviously, it is a pinch point to the Suez Canal. So, there's an average of between…50 and 70 ships a day using the canal. Then you have those at anchorage. And with the busy Arabian Peninsula, you get them from all directions. So, incredibly busy area…certainly a lucrative one, as the pirates can see," he says.

All of the APMSS methods are non-lethal. Davis says, "We don't carry weapons at all. We use acoustic devices, which are basically long-distance, very directional, loud hailing systems. And these emit…150 decibels over a distance of about a nautical mile…. And to give you an idea of…the human pain threshold for sound is 121 decibels. So, it's pretty excruciating when you get within a short distance of this equipment, firing warning tones and messages at you."

So far, he says that APMSS has been 100 percent successful and gives a recent example. "We ourselves had an encounter with pirates last Thursday in the Gulf of Aden, where our teams managed to…thwart and repel an attack by pirates that did come quite close to the vessel. But once we activated the evasive maneuvers and increased the speed of the ship and had all the fire hoses going and used the magnetic audio device, the acoustic device that we had on board, then the pirates just turned…and went for a vessel that was unarmed further south behind us," he says.

As the piracy problem escalated in the Gulf of Aden, ship owners faced the prospect of paying millions of dollars extra in insurance premiums. But says the cost of APMSS is much, much cheaper. "The cost of our service is $20,000 and that's a fairly small price to pay to have an effective security solution on board," he says.

Analysts have said that international naval vessels are too few in number to provide full protection for all the ships sailing in the Gulf of Aden. "They're there with great big warships manned with between 300 and 700 people on board them. So, we're effectively a three-man team with the necessary security equipment and experience to repel attacks. And our teams are embarked on these ships…. And they're on board for 48 hours and then they get off again," he says.

However, Davis says that no matter how much security is provided to ships, the solution to the Somali piracy problems lies in a political solution to the crisis in the country, which includes "infrastructure regeneration to the Somali people. Where they have no government, they have no ability to control their waters."

He adds that poverty is a driving force behind the piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden. "You know, these people (pirates) live in mud huts on the beach. So, they're not really aware of what's going on in the world. All they see is these ships that come in, these big fish factory ships that have sucked up all the tuna so that they can't catch a single fish anymore. And these nice ships, moving cargo around the world that pay Egypt for the use of the canal…pay them nothing at all. And yet it's destroyed their coastal development and abilities to earn money," he says.

Davis adds, "They're not out to be violent and killing crews…. They need money. They're desperate for money and the money is shared within the communities. Yes, there are a couple of kingpin warlords that are controlling it all, but they are distributing the wealth along the coastline to the different villages and groups."