MARITIME SECURITY

How I survived a pirate attack

Wayne Harrison

Founder, Easi-Chock

Author Bio ▼

Wayne Harrison is a former UK Special Forces (UKSF) reservist and founder of Easi-Chock, a maritime security device that can be fitted quickly to give crew valuable time to call for help during pirate attacks.
January 26, 2018

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(Image: Crew of the MV Faina and their captors. The cargo ship was seized on 25 September 2008.)

It was early morning on 31 October 2010, at the height of a wave of Somali piracy attacks.

My security team and I were travelling on a chemical tanker from Beira, Mozambique to Dar es Salamm, Tanzania.

During the early morning handover, the OOW (Officer On Watch) identified a contact at 3.5nm on the radar. The master went to the portside to look for the unidentified vessel using binoculars.

It was then he noticed a skiff fast approaching, and it was immediately clear that a pirate attack was imminent.

With the safety of the crew a priority and time running out, the general alarm was sounded and the crew made their way to the engine room, as previously practiced.

The security team and I began to secure all entry points on the ship with improvised hardening equipment, which consisted of items fashioned from materials we had to hand, including planks of wood, steel bars and grates. These were attached to the doors and portholes.

Gunshots could be heard as the pirates boarded. They proceeded to the bridge where they attempted to shoot through the first door allowing access to the main stairwell, which led directly to the engine room entrance.

The attack laid bare the vulnerabilities of security measures that had done little to prevent the pirates from boarding

Thanks to the crew’s improvised hardening methods however, the pirates were unable to breach the first door. After several hours of being locked in the engine room and the security team confirming all cabins and decks were clear of any pirates, all crew members escaped shaken but unscathed.

Although we managed to survive, the attack laid bare the vulnerabilities of security measures that had done little to prevent the pirates from boarding.

Wayne Harrison, moments after securing the ship after it was attacked by pirates.

Maritime crime

Shipping operates under the constant threat of criminality and piracy, albeit to a lesser degree, in many other parts of the world. In its simple form, this can be the opportunistic theft of valuables and possessions from ships in port by armed intruders or robbers.

This can happen pretty much anywhere, particularly in ports and territories where security is poor or law enforcement weak.

Other crimes include the armed theft of cargo, goods or perhaps fuel, from vessels at sea. In these circumstances the crew may be threatened into submission for a short time, perhaps a few hours.

There have been incidences of the capture of a vessel and its cargo where the officers and crew have been set adrift and their vessel stolen, too. It’s believed that after discharging the stolen cargo these vessels are usually scuttled at sea. They tend to vanish without trace.

The IBM and ICC keep detailed real-time records of where and when numerous incidences of this kind occur.

Current anti-piracy measures

At present, international guidance recommends that ships should be protected by water cannons and razor wire. However, these measures have been found to have limited effectiveness in practice.

Using inflatables and hooked ladders the assailants can often dislodge or surmount the razor wire. Water cannons have limited directional capability. It’s almost impossible to sink an inflatable by submersion and the pirates don’t seem to worry about getting soaked.

The alternative – teams of armed guards – can cost anything between $10,000 and $15,000 per transit. They are often recruited for voyages through the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean but the overall cost of these and other measures, like faster transit speeds and longer routes, still cost the shipping industry billions of pounds per year.

Easi-Chock’s Easi-Block security system

Hardening

The increasing regularity of ‘lower-grade’ acts of piracy raises the question of how individual ship owners and fleets can  adequately protect their assets, cargoes and crew without incurring prohibitive costs.

The current market for ship security focuses heavily on denying access to the ship. Although this should be the first line of defence, there remains a void in the market for defences when pirates have boarded.

From my experience, surviving an attack is about buying time

From my experience, surviving an attack is about buying time. Pirates know they have limited time to gain control of a ship before naval forces and helicopters react.

Our system turns the whole superstructure into a safe haven by introducing several layers of defence with all crew safely located in the engine room. The system’s objective is to delay, deny and demoralise pirates.

They panic if they can’t violently intimidate the crew and quickly gain control of the vessel.

They also know that the vessel’s distress signals will produce a rapid military response. They often choose to abandon their attempts before being caught and brought to justice. They know there are very onerous penalties for acts of piracy in many jurisdictions.

What started as an instinctive form of self-preservation in desperate conditions has ended up as my mission and my business.

When your back’s to the wall, you think fast on your feet and act with urgency. If it works, you remember exactly what you did and why.

There have been zero reports of successful attacks on vessels fitted with Easi-Chock products.

To fit Easi-Chock equipment on a typical tanker involves a non-recurring cost of approximately £10,000.

The Easi-Chock range is designed to delay and deny attackers access to the superstructure and crew by presenting numerous layers of hardened access points.

The complete vessel hardening package is cheaper than one deployment of a security team, provides global protection where armed security teams cannot be deployed, can be installed in a matter of minutes by the crew and remains with the vessel throughout its service. From my experience, there is a huge need for simple, versatile products which would not only save money, but also lives.

Since Easi-Chock was established in 2013, the firm has hardened 150 vessels, including cargo transporters and tankers using sophisticated versions of the devices Wayne fashioned out of necessity during his experience of a pirate attack.

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