Three years ago this month, in the broad light of day, four young Somali men punched the throttle on their small speedboat and aimed the bow at the American flagged container ship Maersk Alabama. Within hours the crew regained control of their ship but at the cost of one hostage. For the next four days Captain Richard Phillips sat in the confines of a small lifeboat unprotected facing armed gunmen who where scared for their life. A Navy SEAL operator soon “took care” of the problem, but it was a close call. At anytime the pirates could have fired just one shot at Phillips and he could have died before the SEALs had eliminated the threat. While we can’t speak for Phillips himself, we think that if he ever returned to dangerous water he might bring along some anti-pirate PPE. Here are some options:
The Ballistic PDF
In the United States you can buy bulletproof vests online or via the internet, but they typically come in only two options; an uncomfortable and ungainly concealed vest that’s worn under your work clothes or a military style vest which makes you more like a para-military mercenary than a ships officer. But there is a third option…. a bulletproof lifevest!
Looking like an inflatable PFD on steroids the Mullion Ballistics Life Jacket is SOLAS approved and provides NIJ3A rated ballistic protection, the highest soft armour level for stopping flying bullets, knife stabs and even spike attacks.
Maritime Body Armor
A ballistic lifevest can save your life both in and out of the water but isn’t foolproof. It can’t stop close range rifle shots or fragmentation damage from an RPG. To take your protection to the next step try Pinnacle’s maritime body armour.
And if you want one that looks more like a traditional lifejacket then try the Northgear Ballistic Floatation Vest which comes complete with reflective tape and an international orange color scheme.
While a bulletproof vest is nice to have it certainly isn’t discreet. One option is the Clint Eastwood method of hanging a steel plate from a string around your neck… but that would be awfully heavy. A better option might be a kevlar clipboard. Weighing in at just under one pound, the Armor Dynamics Ballistic Clipboard is a lightweight, concealable armor panel that slides into a clipboard and is capable of stopping hand and shotgun shots for a fraction of the price of full body armor (one model sells for just $69).
While not a replacement for a ballistic vest this unit looks just like a clipboard and, while not recommended, could be stuffed under a traditional lifejacket.
To avoid pirates you first need to see them and, considering they attack mostly during the day, you need a pair of high quality sunglasses. But rather than spend $200 on our favorite pair of shades you can spend half that on a pair of ESS 5B’s which come complete with U.S. Military Spec MIL-PRF-31013 ballistic high-impact lenses. And while these glasses won’t stop a direct shot to your eye they will protect your vision from shrapnel and during the course of your normal work on deck.
Handheld Thermal Imaging Camera
While the pirates don’t typically attack ships at night, it’s best to keep your guard up and to see in the dark night vision googles are nice but a thermal imaging camera is best. We like the Flir First Mate because it’s lightwieght, portable and is designed for the marine environment. And if the pirates do invade your ship then don’t try to reinvent the wheel, rather take a page from Maersk Alabama Chief Engineer / certified badass Mike Perry… just turn off the lights and wait. For that tactic you don’t need thermal imaging but it would help you track those bad guys.
For handheld VHF radios we like most of the Icom and StandardHorizon submersible models, but for dealing with pirates we’ll take the HX271S! Why? Because the pirates have access to the same VHF and UHF radios most ships use on a daily basis and can listen in on your conversations with ease. But to coordinate a proper defense against attack you need covert communications and the HX271S provides just that with an integrated Voice Scrambler that makes conversations between two (or more) HX271S’ crystal clear but gives eavesdroppers an ear full of ugly static noise. The HX271S has another nice feature, FRS which stands for Family Radio Service. These are those small radios that you see families carrying around themeparks and campgrounds. While not very secure the FRS system limits communications to just 500 milliwatts which contains the signal to less than a couple of miles. The FRS also uses designated UHF frequencies so you can’t listen in on the conversation using a traditional marine VHF regardless of your proximity or the size of your antenna. The HX271S is also rugged, small and waterproof making it an good companion during your nightly security rounds.
The Halligan Tool, which is the standard forceable entry tool used by most fire and police departments, is bar-none the most intimidating weapon you’ll ever see and it’s wholly effective for ripping down burning, battle-damaged walls, prying open locked doors, anchoring repelling line and hundreds of other heavy rescue tasks. Yes, the typical Somali Pirate armed with an an automatic rifle will just laugh at you and shoot if you try to use the Halligan against him but…. it is effective against lowly dock criminals, unarmed looters and other seedy characters that hang out near commercial ports.