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Piracy and Lasers

Piracy Map

It’s hard to believe that it’s the 21st Century and we’re still talking about pirates, but high-seas bandits are a big problem for ships, including oil tankers and container ships. Last year, there were 430 reported attacks and in 2009, 406, according to reports from the ICC’s International Maritime Bureau.

Piracy MapPirates are also expanding their range. We’re becoming accustomed to hearing about attacks off the coast of Somalia, but reports of pirate attacks are coming from vessels off the coast of Bangladesh, Nigeria and around Indonesia. The map at right shows piracy and armed robbery events reported to the IMB during 2010.

London-based BAE Systems has come up with a prototype device that they hope will deter pirates from attacking ships altogether. The device shoots a nonlethal laser beam that can be seen at distances greater than 1.2 miles away. The laser provides a visual warning to not come any closer. Attackers who do, will be subjected to the disorienting effects of the light. At all distances, the laser does not cause any harm to eyes.

“The effect is similar to when a fighter pilot attacks from the direction of the sun,” Roy Evans, BAE Systems capability technology lead for laser photonic systems said in a press release from the company. “The glare from the laser is intense enough to make it impossible to aim weapons like AK47s or RPGs, but doesn’t have a permanent effect.”

Tests showed that the laser works well both in daylight and at night.

BAE sees this device as something that could be combined with a ships targeting and radar systems to help aim the device. And they’ve built in security features that would prevent the laser from being used if pirates managed to take over the ship.

As of January 10, 2011, Somali pirates hold 25 vessels and 586 people hostage.

Caption: Instead of a laser, sailors aboard the French Navy ship “La Somme” direct a high-powered light at a small craft after a pirate attack during the night. Credit: Corbis