April 20, 2009 By Blake Harris
As efforts to protect ships from pirate attacks are stepped up internationally, the question of a long-term solution is now receiving attention. Piracy on the high-seas has actually been escalating for years, a fact detail in recent books such Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas by John S. Burnett. The International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center reports seventy-seven pirate attacks this year, with sixteen of those vessels and 285 crew members still in bandits' hands.
Some experts have suggested that the only way to effectively combat piracy is use the same tactics that were used to virtually eliminate the pirates of old: track them back to their land bases and go after them there.
However, in age when technology allows instantaneous global communications, much could be done to make ships safer. This is especially true where the center of the world's current fight against piracy is focused in one of the world's busiest and most important shipping lanes used by twenty thousand ships each year -- the Gulf of Aden that links the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.
One solution being proposed would use high-speed Wi-Fi wireless communications -- what has been called a Floating Area Network (FAN) -- and security buoys to create a universal maritime security net.
"These technologies eliminate awkward satellite delay, aid communication between crews and rescue teams, and provide live, real-time video logs of events as they occur on board ships, which can prove to be invaluable training aids for future missions," says Dr. Nelson Ludlow, CEO of Intellicheck Mobilisa, Inc., one company developing and marketing wireless and identity systems for maritime communications and security.
"This system would allow for the on-board placement of covert devices-such as motion detectors, cameras, and infrared night sensors-that the military typically use, but requires high bandwidth to enable communications," added Dr. Ludlow in a news statement. "The buoy would provide high bandwidth and communications link directly to the pirated ship, with all communications controlled by the rescue ship."
Recently Intellicheck Mobilisa began pilot testing a multi-purpose security buoy project with the U.S. Department of Defense, and the University of Washington Applied Physics Lab. These buoys provide real-time queuing of potential waterborne threats.
The company's Wireless Over Water (WOW) technologies allow Wi-Fi to work in-motion over water and over great distances. The company provided the Washington State and British Columbia Ferry systems with a continuous Internet connection while customers traveled on board those vessels. Similarly, the company's Floating Area Network (FAN) technology allows ships within line of sight to communicate with each other wirelessly at speeds faster than current-and overtaxed-satellite communications. The U.S. Navy's SPARTAN unmanned surface vehicles, for example, use this WOW technology to transmit high-speed video in real time over several miles.
This type of advanced communications, according to Dr. Ludlow, would allow for direct audio and video feed from the Navy or rescue ship to the boarding team without satellite delays. And linguists could use the technology to translate commands and orders given to the crew from the boarding party to facilitate in safety and conduct security operations.