Real life often is every bit as fascinating, suspenseful, and unbelievable as a bizarre movie plot—sometimes even more so. The past few days, I watched with incredulity the coverage of the recent Somali pirate attack on the U.S. ship, Maersk Alabama, in which Captain Richard Phillips was taken hostage. U.S. Navy Seal snipers freed Phillips when they shot the three pirates who were holding him aboard a powerless lifeboat. It was an amazing ending to this particular episode, but the saga continues.
Since Phillips rescue, pirates have captured four vessels and 60 hostages off the Horn of Africa. Today they attempted to hijack a U.S. freighter, the Liberty Sun, which, like the Maersk Alabama, was carrying humanitarian aid. The attempt was unsuccessful, but the ship was damaged by rocket and automatic weapon fire. Reportedly, no crew members were injured.
The Obama administration has pledged to confront the pirates. The Bush administration had issued plan for pirates in December. Moscow Mills Manufacturing Services, Stowe, Vt., produces something that just might be an effective component of any plan—as long as it doesn't fall into the pirates' hands.
Although it's making the headlines these days, Somali piracy isn't new. As Popular Mechanics. reported last year, "from ramshackle beginnings four years ago, Somali piracy has evolved into a lucrative industry, reportedly bringing in 10 times as much cash as the country's once-thriving fishing industry."
The pirates claim they are fighting illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters but are operating hundreds of miles from Somali waters in a 1.1 million square-mile area.
They can extort $1 million and more for each ship and crew. Kenya estimates they raked in $150 million last year. Clearly the pirates are cleaning up more than Somali waters.
How can the U.S. combat the pirates? According to Associated Press writer Ann Gearan, "The United States is considering new military and diplomatic strategies in the aftermath of the high-seas hostage drama, including adding Navy gunships along the Somali coastline and launching a campaign to disable pirate 'mother ships.'"
Gearan reported that "U.S. officials privately outlined several options Monday, even as the Pentagon cautioned that the solution to the piracy scourge won't come at the point of a gun."
Until a formal plan is announced, we can only speculate about what it will entail. We can also wonder if a device manufactured by Moscow Mills will be part of that plan. WCAX, Burlington, Vt., ran an item yesterday entitled, "Could Vermont-made device curb pirate attacks?."
The company makes metal and plastic parts for the aerospace, defense, and high-tech sectors. Apparently one device has been the "talk of the mill" since Vermont-native Phillips' ordeal. Company president Anderson Leveille said, "It hits close to home, very close to home!"
Moscow Mills and a Massachusetts engineering firm have developed a device they call the Boat Trap. It launches a 30-foot net that tangles a boat's motor and disables the vessel. Leveille said ships could use this tool, which originally was meant to curb drug running, or block terrorists from another USS Cole-style attack, to keep pirates far away.
Leveille said, "[Piracy is] an issue that's been brought to the fore because they did it to a U.S.-flagged ship, whereas it's been an issue in other countries for years and years."
The company reportedly has been in touch with the Navy, Coast Guard, and other agencies, but can't talk about sales because of security agreements. It did say that early tests were well-received by security officials.
In the right hands, this device could be an effective weapon in the fight against piracy. In the wrong hands, it could make some vessels even easier targets for pirates.