Iridium Developing Satellite Communications Solutions for Maritime Piracy Situations

Thursday, March 03, 2011

As you know, maritime piracy has been in the news lately. As of Feb. 28, the International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Center ( reported that pirates were holding 33 merchant vessels and 711 crewmembers pending ransoms. In 2011 alone, these gangs captured 13 ships and 243 hostages - an average of more than one ship per week. The seafarers are being used as human shields to forestall rescue attempts by military teams, and are being subjected to increasing levels of severe mistreatment by their captors – including torture and even execution. Despite the presence of scores of warships from multiple navies, the area of operations is too vast for them to prevent attacks, and a military response after the seizure only puts the hostages in greater danger.

One tactic that has proven effective has been for the crew, when attacked, to disable the ship’s propulsion plant and barricade themselves inside a pre-prepared “citadel”– a hardened safe room - that pirates cannot break into. There, the crew can wait for rescue from naval patrols without exposing themselves to danger in a crossfire between their captors and rescuers. 

A key element in this strategy is a reliable communication link the crew can use from inside the citadel to inform patrolling naval forces that they are under attack. This is more difficult than you might think, since the pirates onboard can quickly disconnect the ship’s primary satellite and radio antennas. There needs to be a separate dedicated, secure satellite phone line to the citadel with a concealed installation above decks. To that end, Iridium, the global provider of mobile satellite communication services, is working with its service partners to develop and deploy satellite phone solutions specifically designed for this unique application. I thought you might find this aspect of the story interesting, and I hope you will keep it in mind as you cover the subject.

Source: Marine NewsWire

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