With piracy looming, MMA teaches mariners how to deal with attacks

Posted Feb. 12, 2010, at 9:24 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:47 a.m.

CASTINE, Maine — Maine Maritime Academy has partnered with International Maritime Security Network to offer a pilot anti-piracy course through its continuing education division.

The course, taught by IMSN staff, will offer MMA credits to mariners to learn techniques to deal with pirate attacks against their vessels, according to Victoria Blackwood, coordinator of the college’s continuing education division.

International Maritime Security Network was created by three maritime captains, including MMA professor Ralph Pundt, to prepare its clients to identify and deal with maritime threats worldwide, including the growing threat of piracy.

According to the IMSN Web site, in 2009, pirates attacked 217 ships resulting in 47 successful hijackings and the collection of more than $60 million in ransom payments. Those attacks represent an increase from 2008, when there were 111 attacks on ships, and 2007, when there were just 50.

The two-day course, scheduled for March 9-10 on the college campus, will introduce techniques and technologies that will better prepare licensed mariners to keep their ships safe.

“The classes will help them to understand how to detect potential pirate attacks and how to deter them, and, if necessary, how to defend their ships in a nonlethal way,” Blackwood said.

Although the March course will be conducted at the MMA campus, Blackwood said it could be adapted to be offered onboard vessels and can be further adapted to address unique situations onboard different ships. The course also offers a component on hostage training.

“It covers situations if you take a prisoner — how to do it safely and legally,” she said, “And it also deals with how to respond if you become a hostage.”

Two shipping companies, Horizon Lines and Maersk, will send employees to the course at MMA. Last April, the Maersk vessel Maersk Alabama was attacked by Somali pirates and its captain, Richard Philips, taken hostage, the first such attack on a U.S.-flagged vessel since the 1800s. The ship’s crew retook the vessel, and a U.S. Navy SEAL team rescued Phillips, killing three of the pirates. A fourth Somali has been charged with piracy in New York.

Maersk Alabama was attacked again in November, but, according to news reports, an onboard security team repelled the attackers using small-arms fire and long-range acoustical devices.

According to Blackwood, six MMA seniors also will take the IMSN course in March.

Capt. Jeff Loustaunau, MMA’s vice president for enrollment management and the commandant of midshipmen, noted that for the past four years, the college has offered a course for upperclassmen that certifies them as a vessel security officer. Loustaunau said MMA has considered adding an anti-piracy component to that course and is requesting proposals from qualified organizations to offer that piece.

At this point, he said, it was not clear how quickly that component could be developed or whether it would be in place in time to be included as part of the annual training cruise which begins on May 4.

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