Piracy remains a real threat to the maritime community. According to the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) most recent piracy report, there were 27 recorded piracy incidents in the first quarter of 2023, with the Gulf of Guinea, Singapore Straits and South America leading the pack in recorded attacks. These modern-day piracy attacks bear no resemblance to the romanticized scenes depicted in Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean of wooden-legged, rum-sipping, swashbuckling buccaneers. Today’s piracy stories are not fantasy, but a harsh and sometimes brutal reality for seafarers. Armed pirates frequently hijack ships and hold crews members to ransom, thefts, and raids, all of which represent a significant risk to ship owners and the lives of mariners. For instance, in 24 of the 27 recorded attacks, perpetrators boarded vessels. The report noted that among these boarding, six crew were kidnapped, two were taken hostage, two were threatened and one was assaulted – proving the threat of violence is very real.
Ensuring a ship has reliable anti-piracy communications is essential to safety at sea for mariners, and satellite communications (SATCOM) plays a critical role.
When a ship enters a High-Risk Area (HRA), the crew undertakes procedures to both prepare themselves and the vessel for potential pirate attacks. One such method is a secure room that allows the crew to remain safe in the event of boarding. Although no two piracy attacks are the same, a common tactic used by the raiders is to destroy the vessel’s communications antennas, rendering the crew unable to communicate or pass information to coastal authorities. During an attack the crew remain isolated in the safe room, with a single voice line vessel owners and coastal authorities rely on for enacting search and rescue plans.
The Next-Gen Ship Citadel
Vessels operate in many diverse areas around the world, which may fall outside the satellite coverage of many geostationary or even Low Earth Orbit (LEO) networks. The LEO-based Iridium® network provides coverage to all the world’s oceans, meaning a vessel can stay connected wherever it may operate. The Iridium network also operates on L-band frequencies which are more resilient to interference by inclement weather or sea conditions. The antennas used by Iridium terminals are small and lightweight, which allows easy deployment onto any vessel and allows for more discreet placement.
Iridium has a long history in anti-piracy, with several citadel solutions produced by Iridium’s partners–including the ASE MC-05G, Lars-Thrane 3100 and Beam RST100. These solutions have been used to help protect the lives of countless seafarers.
Iridium Certus® 100 has ushered in a new era of anti-piracy technology with multiple voice lines and IP-based, midband data technology that will dramatically expand the capabilities of a vessel’s citadel communications system. Currently, crew likely have access to limited voice capabilities which can only do so much to help search and rescue efforts.
With Iridium Certus Connected™ terminals like the Blue Sky Network SkyLink Citadel and the Lars Thrane LT-4100 terminal–both with two voice lines, midband data and tracking capabilities–provide crews with a new situational awareness dynamic during piracy attacks. Features such as automatic vessel position tracking, video streaming through onboard security cameras and WhatsApp messaging between crew and authorities can dramatically change the situation and lead to a swifter resolution. Additionally, the antennas for these solutions can be situated over 100m away from the terminals located in the citadel.
As international piracy continues to increase, it is critical that mariners have access to the most secure and capable ship citadel solutions, and they must include SATCOM.