Updated: May 18, 2021
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An armed Somali pirate along the coastline while the Greek cargo ship, MV Filitsa, is seen anchored... [+] GETTY IMAGES
I have been fortunate to have experienced some of the very best superyachts in the world. Days spent drinking champagne while moored off tranquil Mediterranean coves, evenings spent traversing Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas, and waking up to the most amazing ports from Positano to La Paz.
Bonding with the captains and crew is always one of the highlights of yachting and I am constantly amazed at the new technologies and amenities added for comfort and safety. On one particular voyage, I was a bit apprehensive about some of the places we would anchor at every night. Small villages filled with inquiring eyes; large groups of natives would greet us when we disembarked to explore. It wasn’t until a month after I returned home that I heard about armed pirates boarding a similar boat, pistol whipping the captain and stealing the guest’s passports and money.
We are, after all displaying massive amounts of wealth floating to remote areas in these extravagant vessels with cocktails in hand, and it would only become a matter of time before enterprising and often desperately poor natives would take advantage. Such is the case currently in Venezuela and Trinidad, two areas previously safe to yachts but now on the red alert watch list as piracy is increasing dramatically.
The shipping industry is continuing its fight against pirates with The International Chamber of Commerce International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center detailing that 27 vessels were boarded, seven vessels were fired upon and four attempted attacks occurred in the first quarter of 2019.
Thus, my fascination with security and how superyachts are finding new ways to protect their assets, crew, and guests. I spoke with numerous yacht owners and experts about how they are spending millions setting up their mega yachts with military-style technology while training their crews to avoid conflicts.
George Clooney and his wife Amal are chased by media and security boats as they cruise the Grand... [+] PIERRE TEYSSOT/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
From secret escape pods and hidden armed panic rooms to the best non-lethal weapons, these are the top 10 products now being used to deter pirates as well as unwelcome guests:
1. Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD)
The Long Range Acoustic Device is a non-lethal anti-piracy device which uses pain inducing sound beams to drive away invaders. The sonic weapon produces a high-pitched noise that is higher than the tolerance level of an average human being. LRAD has been previously used only on cargo and cruise ships until now being integrated on megayachts.
LRAD, a long-range directable audio-broadcasting device. Credit: Getty Images GREGORY REC/PORTLAND PRESS HERALD VIA GETTY IMAGES
2. Underwater Sonar Detection Systems
Sonardyne Sentinel diver detection sonar detects, tracks and identifies divers and underwater vehicles approaching a superyacht from any direction and alerts security personnel to the threat. The device has the ability to identify targets at ranges of up to 1,200 meters. Sentinel is small and lightweight and is quick to deploy from a boat, install in a port or fix along a coastline giving yachts an instant underwater security shield. Sonobuoy also offers a similar DDS-03 Diver Detection System but is used primarily by the Navy.
3. Anti Drone Protection
Using a superyacht drone detection & defeat system, the anti-drone device detects and identifies commercial drones within a 20+km range, providing GPS positioning of both drone & pilot together with the drone’s speed & heading. Once a real drone threat has been established, the system enables a 500m+ electronic ‘exclusion zone’ to be created around the yacht. Should the drone approach this exclusion zone, its control/video signal will be blocked, initiating its fail-safe mode forcing it to land or return to its operator. Sparrowhawk offers up an autonomous anti-drone device that is designed to capture, and recover intact, a rogue drone and its payload safely.
5. Cloaking System
The GOST Cloak system is designed to provide protection in the limited time between the alarm's activation and the response team's arrival at the scene. The Cloak wireless boat alarm system mist fills the intended area with an impenetrable cloud of smoke that confuses the intruder and forces them to retreat until help arrives. The organic smoke is created by a special glycol solution and reduces visibility to less than one foot.
Life-pod concept design for emergency escape capsules EDWIN VANDERMARK
6. Citadel Armored Escape Room and Escape Pods
Hidden Citadel rooms are increasing in popularity in many existing and new build superyachts. They are equipped with their own ventilation systems, water, and food supplies and communications. Developers are also attempting to create a Life-Pod emergency escape pod that features high impact resistant pods with temperature control, global positioning system, watertight, fire barrier control, and air purification.
7. Exterior lockdown system
MAST offers maritime security systems and services including locks and sensors for total lockdown used on many yachts. The company also provides crew vetting as well as security teams that travel with you on your journey. Ben Stewart, Maritime Director for MAST tells me "Our approach is to use fairly simple/reliable technology and couple it with people that can actually respond to a detected threat."
8. Robots for Surveillance
The Throwbot® 2 is a throwable micro-robot that enables operators to obtain instant video and audio surveillance indoor and outdoor. Helpful for anti-pirate operations where a remote-controlled, robot-mounted video will be able to safely board a ship and send back footage. Low light isn’t a problem either as the Throwbot has infrared illuminators to see in total darkness. Also in development from several builders are robotic skiffs that will be used to be sent out to distress calls which are often a tactic used by pirates to lure targets.
9. Propeller Entanglement System
The Running Gear Entanglement System is a compressed air launched net made from spectra rope with weighted loops. The weighted loops help stop propeller propulsion of the vessels by entangling the propeller.
Helios lightweight Dazzle gun B.E. MEYERS
10. Dazzle Gun
Dazzle gun is a type of laser weapon which uses green light to disorient and temporarily blind the pirates. The concentrated blast of green light can be used during both day and night. The GLARE HELIOS is an FDA approved non-lethal visual disruption laser (dazzler), perfect for yachts and maritime use. When a suspect individual approaches a restricted area, the eye safe laser is able to hail and warn them before shots have to be fired. The gun also has a red dot laser for aiming during daytime use.
More aggressive techniques which are not legal on many private yachts include a Pain Ray (Electromagnetic wave) non-lethal weapon which transmits a narrow beam of electromagnetic energy to heat the skin without causing permanent damage. The wave penetrates beneath the skin which causes an unbearable burning sensation, forcing pirates to run away or jump overboard. And, stun grenades, rubber ball grenades, and anti-missile defense systems which are not commonly used.
MARSS surveillance products and services MARSS
I spoke with Johannes Pinl, the CEO of MARSS in charge of developing maritime asset protection and saving life using special sensor long range surveillance in the air, on the surface and below yachts. He explained the increased desire from superyacht clients in adding extreme protection for their voyages
Tell me about what superyacht owners are requesting for security on their boats.
Johannes Pinl: "Owners want to know what is going on onboard and around their yacht. As such, clients are requesting security systems that can automatically monitor, detect, track, classify and alert operators to approaching objects in the vicinity of a yacht. This can refer to drones, small fast moving boats and even underwater for divers and mini-submarines. However, vessel security is not just concerned with detecting unknown objects, but also keeping track of a yacht's own assets and personnel, for example, tenders, jet-skis, and guests such as family members ashore or doing watersports.
Generally, the capability of a security system will depend on the profile of the client, the asset in question and the locations where it is likely to be operating. The key is building awareness around a vessel to increase reaction time and for crew or security teams to make better-informed decisions based on a clear appraisal of a situation.
Advances in technology have meant that a more complete situational awareness picture can be created that provides a 360 perimeter security bubble around a vessel. This is achieved by linking hardware and sensors such as radars, sonars, cameras, searchlights, monitoring and tracking devices with software that is able to intelligently asses approaches as potential threats and filter out false alarms."
Are there are new revolutionary projects being introduced to protect yacht owners?
"Drone detection is becoming more of an issue, mainly from a protection of privacy point of view for yachts but also where there are helicopter operations around a vessel. The technology related to drones themselves and also detecting them is changing fast, and much faster than the regulatory environment. While it may be technically possible to interfere or jam drones, legally this remains a gray area in many jurisdictions very much. As such, the best form of defense against drones from a yachting perspective is early detection and early warning. The conditions and environment associated with vessels make this particularly challenging as it is tough to detect a small, fast-moving object against a moving background using sensors mounted on a moving platform.
Man-overboard and climber detection sensors that utilize micro-radars and cameras within a self-contained ‘pod' have been developed to monitor areas around a vessel and detect humans falling over the side or threats trying to board by climbing up the sides. Security relevant information can now be presented via head-mounted glasses, essentially an augmented reality lawyer overlaid on an operators field of view."
What security devices are the most popular in the market right now being used by superyachts?
"Onboard CCTV, access control (door locking systems) and deck mounted pressure sensors will likely form the basis of most standard superyacht security packages. These will be connected over an onboard network and managed from the bridge or a central control security room.
Long-range daylight and thermal imaging cameras can have a dual function for both navigation and security use cases. Such cameras can be equivalent to military specification and are mounted on the mast to provide a long distance visual capability around a vessel.
Non-harming 'countermeasures' such as searchlights, loudhailers, and laser-pointers can be used to de-escalate threatening situations by communicating to approaching objects thus removing the element of surprise. Tracking devices that provide a regular update of a particular asset location such as tenders and jet-skis or guests and crew are popular requests, especially for expedition style vessels that travel to more remote locations."
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