Infographic: How to pirate-proof a freighter

Our security experts show how to protect your cargo and crew from the modern scourge of the seas.

On May 23, the Maersk Texas, a Danish freighter flying the U.S. flag, was sailing out of the Strait of Hormuz when it was attacked by pirates. Multiple skiff s of armed men began shooting at the cargo ship, but it escaped after its onboard security team returned fire. Welcome to the new reality of commercial shipping off the east African coast, where the threat of piracy and thin military protection has forced vessels to turn to mercenaries for help. According to the international maritime bureau, the number of pirate attacks worldwide rose from 239 to 439 between 2006 and 2011, with Somalia’s coast accounting for half of all cases. Here’s some advice from the experts on how to take protection into your own hands.


A well-trained team of armed guards is key to winning a firefight with marauding ocean outlaws. American security contractor the Greyside Group recommends a minimum of four men per ship, each one packing heat. better-equipped teams shoulder heavier M4 carbine-style assault rifles, a variant on the M16. Accurate to 500 metres, and capable of firing armour-piercing rounds, these rifles can help take out pirates long before they make it to your ship.


Pirates forcibly board a ship by hooking ladders to the edge. they tend to target the lowest points above its waterline, which are typically on either quarter or at the stern. Secure large coils of razor wire along the sides of your vessel to deter them, especially in low areas.


A cheap and easy method to protect the bridge crew from AK-47 gunfire is to install barrels filled with water along the wing of the vessel. They’re just a bulwark, however—they won’t replace armed personnel standing guard, warns Richard Madden of Madden Maritime, a security consultant who lived through three separate Somali pirate attacks.


A high-tech upgrade to the modern anti-pirate arsenal is the Long range acoustic Device (lRAD), a first line of defence that helps to distinguish pirates from legitimate vessels. With a range of more than 3,000 metres, its powerful alert tone and multi-language warning message is usually enough to scare off harmless fishermen. if the boat continues to advance, it’s probably up to no good. the lRAD’s painfully piercing tone will help delay the attack while you prepare.


This holdover technique was first used to fool pirates in the Straits of Malacca in the 1970s: set up mannequins to mimic extra crew members on deck. from afar, it will look like you have guards everywhere. best of all, they don’t eat rations.


Although supported by larger mother ships, pirates tend to mount attacks from small skiffs outfitted with outboard engines. they look a lot like fishing boats—except fishermen won’t be armed to the teeth with PK series machine guns and rPG-7s. remember, though: if you can outrun them, you won’t need to outgun them. it is nearly impossible for pirates to board a ship doing 18 knots or more, according to advice from the international chamber of Shipping. So aim your vessel for the open seas, and step on the gas.

Illustrations by Remie Geoffroi