The Marine Firefighting Institute

Newsletter # 13

Please do not reprint in any form without the permission of the author.

Shipboard Security...The "Shocking" Truth

As the pirate ship edged quietly closer to the unsuspecting merchant vessel the pirates were ready to secretly board and then kill the crew. With knives and machetes gripped in their teeth these villains of the sea started climbing up the side of their intended victims ship. Using rope ladders and even climbing up the anchor chain the pirates crept ever closer. Once on deck they sprang onto their surprised victims slashing each of them to death. Then after removing whatever plunder and booty they could carry, the pirates scuttled the merchant ship and sent it to Davy Jones's Locker along with it's lifeless crew...

While this may seem like a swashbuckling chapter out of the Robert Louis Stevenson book "Treasure Island" depicting a pirate attack from the seventeen hundreds, it's not! Scenes like the one just mentioned are actually taking place as you read this.

Modern day pirates are a troubling fact in the marine shipping industry. "The shipping industry suffered 234 attacks from Jan. through June this year, up 37% compared with 171 incidents during the same period in 2002, the Int'l Maritime Bureau said in a report released by its Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Watch Center. This was the 1st time in more than a decade of the bureau's record-keeping that more than 200 pirate attacks were recorded in the first 6 months of any year. Indonesia's waters remained the world's most dangerous. The sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago suffered 64 attacks in 6 months, far outstripping the next worst - Bangladesh with 23 attacks. India & Nigeria followed with 18 each. Bandits who once relied on knives & crude weapons were becoming more organized & better equipped, the Maritime Bureau warned. The number of attacks using guns climbed to 53 this year compared to 31 in the 1st half of 2002. Sixteen seafarers were killed in attacks, mostly in Bangladesh, the Philippines & Indonesia - almost tripling the 6 casualties reported in the same period last year."1

Hey.....What the heck does this have to do with Firefighters?????

OK, OK, I'm getting to that!!! With all of this piracy and the recent threats of terrorism, the marine shipping industry is trying to make their ships more secure and safer for their crews. Posting ARMED lookouts is one method. Conducting background checks on crew members is another way of increasing security aboard. But, these have nothing to do with the title of this article!

A new form of security, now available to vessel owners and operators, is an electric fence which will electrify the entire perimeter of the main deck of a vessel. Manufactured by Secure Marine, the 9,000 volt fence's electric charge is advertised as not being enough to kill anyone touching it but I think that the 70 foot fall from the main deck wires down to the deck of the pirate vessel might ruin the pirate's day. This is an excellent product for providing security for vessels and protecting our endangered mariners. Due to the possibility of the presence of flammable vapors you will not find these systems on tankers carrying flammable cargo.

The reason I am informing you of this new security measure is that it may not be a pirate attempting to board the vessel, it might be a Land Based Firefighter coming aboard to fight a ship fire. There are sections of the fence which may be deactivated to allow authorized persons to board but that assumes that there is still someone aboard who is alive and knows how to operate the system. Remember, Firefighters will be boarding because some disaster has already taken place. If there had been an explosion or fire in the engine room then the engineering staff may not be around to shut the power.

I don't have an answer for you yet except to warn you about this new device. If you see wires strung along the outside of a vessel, as depicted in the photos on this page, attempt to contact someone aboard by radio to see if the electric current is still on. Even then proceed with caution. The manufacturer informed me that the system should have conspicuous warning signs and that the 9000 volt current would stop, and an alarm would sound, if the system were somehow grounded. We must now find a safe way to ground these wires before our Firefighters attempt to board.

Above photos courtesy of Secure Marine. Please visit their website for further information about this innovative product.

Many new technologies are emerging due to the War on Terrorism. Firefighters must be aware of these as they become available in order to avoid any dangers associated with them, but also to make use of any tactical benefits they may present. One case in point is the Drone Aircraft being deployed in our major ports by the US Coast Guard. They are being used to examine ships before they enter a harbor to see if they might present a threat.

Firefighters may be able to make use of this reconnaissance tool to view a burning vessel miles from their harbor to determine what type of response might be needed. Based on the video sent back by these Drones the Chief in Charge may discuss with the Coast Guard how and where the ship fire may be fought, or if the vessel will even be allowed to enter your harbor. Decisions about where and if a ship fire would be fought are covered in our "Marine Firefighting for Land-Based Firefighters and Mariners" informational seminars.

Another use of these Drones might be at a marine Haz Mat incident. Drones can approach the vessel close enough to actually read the Haz Mat placard on a leaking intermodal tank. Infrared cameras will also be able to "see in the dark." Your Firefighters will not have to endanger themselves with a close approach to identify the leaking product. The Three Million Dollar "Eagle Eye" drone (pictured) can fly up to 220 knots and has a range of 750 nautical miles but will not be in service for a few years. However some older models may be in service now. Contact you local USCG Marine Safety Office (MSO) to see if one is available in your area. Some of these Drones may now be fitted with chemical, biological, and radiological monitoring equipment which may be able to alert Firefighting personnel about dangers near leaking cargo.

Another tool which has come about as a result of the increased security after the cowardly attack on US and world civilians on September 11, 2001 is the "Container Security Initiative" (CSI) to prescreen cargo bound for U.S. Ports. This should make the vague term "Freight of all kinds" disappear from cargo manifests and be replaced by more accurate lists of a containers contents.

We at The Marine Firefighting Institute will continue to keep you informed of any new dangers, or benefits, from innovations affecting fire in the marine environment. Please sign up below for notification of future important newsletters and while your at it, why not contact us now to set up a date for a seminar in your area for either our "Small Boat and Marina Fires", "Commercial Fishing Vessel Fires, or for our main seminar dealing with shipboard firefighting. Please also pass along our website address to your adjoining Fire Departments. If you get a ship fire in your area you may be relying on many mutual aide Departments.

As always....Stay safe,

Tom Guldner (FDNY ret.)

1. The Law Offices of Countryman & McDaniel website at

The President of MFI, Tom Guldner, will be appearing on the History Channel documentary entitled "Fire On The River" which is scheduled to air on September 8, 2003 at 10 PM. This feature will discuss the history of the New York City Fireboat fleet and will examine several of the dramatic ship fires that were fought in New York Harbor. Check your local papers as the time or date may change.

See our latest seminar dealing with fires and emergencies aboard "Tow Boats and Barges" on our inland rivers and waterways. (Click on title to go there now!)

Please leave you comments about this article (Good or Bad) in my Guest Book Or give me your comments about any future topics you would like to see. If you would prefer, email me at

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Previous Newsletters: Enjoy but please do not re-print without permission.

Newsletter # 1 "Marine Firefighting Training, Who needs it!"

Newsletter # 2 "Shipboard Basics"

Newsletter # 3 "Straight Stream Vs Fog Stream"

Newsletter #4 "Immigrants in Shipping Containers"

Newsletter #5 "Hazards of Refrigeration in the Shipping Industry"

Newsletter #6 "Stability at Shipboard Fires"

Newsletter #7 "2 in 2 out at Shipboard Fires"

Newsletter #8 "What Happened To the Air"

Newsletter #9 "What Else Can Fireboats Do - WTC Response"

Newsletter #10 "Port Security - Are We Missing the Boat"

Newsletter # 11 "Let the Coast Guard Handle It"

Newsletter # 12 "Marina Fires ... We've Gotcha Covered!"