Seabourn Ship Used Sonic Defense to Ward off Pirates

Published Nov 9, 2005 12:01 AM by The Maritime Executive

Security personnel on the 'Seabourn Spirit' cruise ship used a new sonic defense system against pirates off the coast of Africa.

According to cruise line sources, the failed assault, which was a possible a terrorist attack aimed at American passengers on the 'Seabourn Spirit,' was repelled by a new sonic defense system known as a 'Long Range Acoustic Device' (LRAD), which blasts earsplitting noise in a directed beam. The LRAD was installed as a part of the ship's defense systems.

The attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at the 10,000 ton liner. They may have intended to damage the vessel and hurt passengers, rather than to seize the ship, as is more usually the case with pirate attacks off the Somali coast.

The ship, based in Miami, had a number of Americans on board, as well as two dozen Australians and passengers of other nationalities. The attackers may very well have seen the vessel as a U.S. target. The vessel is now docked in the Seychelles, and the cruise line is investigating the role of the LRAD in warding off the pirates. The ship's captain had increased speed and headed out into open sea to try to outrun the attackers' two small boats.

The LRAD is a non-lethal weapon developed for the U.S. military after the 2000 attack on the USS "Cole" off Yemen. It is meant to keep operators of small boats from approaching U.S. warships. The military version is a 20kg dish-shaped device, which is directed as a high-pitched, piercing tone with a tight beam.

American Technology Corp, the maker of the device, said earsplitting 'bangs' were directed by security personnel toward the pirates. The company compares the shrill tones to that of smoke detectors, only much louder, in the range of about 150 decibels. About 120-130 decibel sounds starts to produce pain. The system has been deployed on commercial and naval vessels since 2003, the company said.