Large Cargo Ship

Picture the scene; you are the Captain of the Israeli-based cargo ship, MV Africa Star. Nine pirates approach the ship in an attempt to board the vessel to steal the cargo. The only defence you have are coils of barbed wire hung from the edge of the ship. This was the reality for that particular ship in April 2009. Fortunately the barbed wire held off the pirates long enough until a British Patrol Aircraft attended the area.

Maritime security and the fight against pirates has come a long way since then. Below we have listed some of the weapons and tactics used today by the security companies who guard large vessels from pirates:

Armed Guards

Armed guards are the obvious choice to prevent piracy attacks. Oftentimes pirates are armed so the proverbial fire must be fought with fire. They can offer a genuine deterrent to anybody considering approaching a ship and stealing it’s cargo and they can offer significant protection to the crew in the event of an emergency.

Anti-Piracy Laser Device

These devices, developed by BAE Systems, transmit a beam that provides a visual warning to pirates at distances of over 2 km, while at lesser distances it can sufficiently disorientate attackers so that they are unable to target their weapons effectively, similar to the Dazer Laser. The laser has been shown to leave no long lasting effects but can be very effective in deterring pirates as a non-lethal option.

Electric Secure Fence

These fences protect the perimeter of the ship with a barbed wire fence that is electronically charged to prevent pirates climbing over the edge. These are effective to a point but can be bypassed by using non-conductive material to cover the fences. APS Perimeter Security have developed an electric net-style fence that attaches to the foot-well or rail of the deck at an angle of 45 degrees and extend outwards for approx 50cm which makes climbing aboard from below without touching the net impossible.

Anti-pirate Launcher

BCB International are a UK based manufacturer of the Buccaneer Ship-Borne Shore Launcher (SBSL). This device can fire a solid object at relatively high speeds over 300m. This is another non-lethal option for maritime security personnel who can use it as a way of combating pirates without having to use traditional firearms or other lethal force. The SBSL can also be used to fire life rafts into the water in the event of a ‘man overboard’ scenario. 

Stun Grenades

Stun or flash grenades are a tried and tested way to prevent pirate attacks. They are a hand held device that when deployed creates a loud bang and a bright white flash that stuns anybody who happens to be nearby. This is a great tactic to deter potential pirates as shows the intention of using force if they don’t desist. It is also a good way of distracting pirates to create time to use other tactics.

Active Denial System (ADS)

The ADS, otherwise known as the ‘Pain Ray’ is a high-tech device that transmits a beam of electromagnetic energy towards approaching pirates. If the beam makes contact with human skin it causes an excruciating burning sensation under the skin causing them either to turn around and desist or to jump overboard. Even though the Pain Ray causes the skin to heat it does not cause lasting damage so is a good non-lethal option.


Long range rifles are a good way of using lethal force if the situation requires such extreme action. An example of when this has been used could be when a hostage has been taken from a ship and there is a threat to that person’s life. A sniper could be used to take out the hostage taker with precision whilst protecting the life of the hostage. Snipers are trained to an incredibly high standard so the movement of the ship shouldn’t be a problem. A well trained sniper can hit a moving target from a moving vessel from a considerable distance.

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