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System being tested against piracy

System being tested against piracy
BAE Systems, Europe?s largest defence company, is working with BP to test a system capable of protecting oil tankers against pirate attacks.

BAE Systems, Europe"s largest defence company, is working with BP to test a system capable of protecting oil tankers against pirate attacks.

BAE Systems, Europe"s largest defence company, is working with BP to test a system capable of protecting oil tankers against pirate attacks.

The two companies are expected to run trials of the system early next year and, if it is successful, it could open a ship-protection market worth up to $20 billion (£12 billion) for BAE.

Piracy has become a major threat to shipping in areas such as Somalia, the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of West Africa. There were 111 reported attacks last year and 42 ships were successfully hijacked. The ships were then ransomed and between $30 million and $50 million was paid out to the pirates. Defence sources believe that the number of attacks this year may already be double the 2008 total.

Ship owners have been seeking ways to protect their vessels, which can often be carrying cargos worth up to $100 million, but the existing technology on board ships is not advanced enough to detect the small, fast boats favoured by pirates.

BAE said yesterday that it had developed a surface wave radar that was capable of spotting the smallest skiffs even beyond the horizon. BAE"s radar has a range of up to 25 kilometres (16 miles) and covers a 360-degree arc around the ship, while existing radars usually face forward and have a range of only a few kilometres.

The radar will be linked to software that has been developed for the military and is capable of analysing a target"s behaviour to determine whether it is a threat. BAE hopes that this will allow the system to differentiate between fishing and pirate vessels.

Once an attack has been identified, the ship"s captain will be able to speed up and take evasive action. At present, many ships are boarded before the crew even realise they are in danger.

BAE is also working on a system that will prevent attacks if the pirates get close. A number of options are being developed, including a laser that dazzles attackers.

Nick Stoppard, director of solutions development at BAE, said: ?Once a pirate has his hands over the railing, it is all over. The priority therefore has to be surveillance, detection and then prevention.?

BAE has said that it plans to make the system available at a price that will allow ship owners to install it across their fleets. With an estimated 36,000 oil tankers and other large cargo ships around the world, the potential market is enormous.

The problem of piracy in the Gulf of Aden has forced European countries and the United States to send naval vessels to the region but the area is so large that their ability to intercept attackers is limited.

Some ship owners have hired armed guards to protect their vessels but there are fears that this could make the situation worse by encouraging pirates to adopt increasingly aggressive tactics.

Ships also use sonic weapons and water cannons to repel attackers but the effectiveness of these systems has proved limited.

Last year, the MV Sirius Star, a Saudi-owned oil tanker, became the largest vessel to be hijacked when it was attacked off the coast of East Africa. The attack marked a leap forward in the pirates" ambitions. The ship, which is more than 300 metres (330 yards) long and worth $150 million, was carrying oil worth more than $100 million.

A ransom of $3 million was reported to have been paid but one of the pirate boats later sank in a storm. News reports at the time suggested that the body of one pirate washed ashore with a plastic bag containing $153,000.

Crime on the waves

111 Attacks on shipping reported in 2008

$50m Maximum paid in ransom to pirates last year

25km Range of BAE Systems" new surface wave radar

36,000 Total number of large ships on the world"s seas

www.TurkishMaritime.com.tr

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