Singapore: Piracy in Southeast Asia shows no sign of abating and unmanned surface vessels could have a role to play against the pirates and potential terrorists going forward, says James Soon, the president of Singapore-based Zycraft.
Zycraft uses a unique escort vessel called the Shomari LRV-17 that follows closely behind an escorted vessel providing a visible deterrent. The vessel has long endurance in excess of 1500 NM and a high speed exceeding 35 knots. Zycraft also uses high technology sensors like broadband radar, high definition day and infra red night vision stabilised electro-optics, plus gunshot detection technology.
“Piracy in the Southeast Asian region has been around for a very long time. It is not going away anytime soon despite the best efforts of regional governments,” Soon says.
A main reason, he says, is that the shipping lanes are very dense and close to land boundaries. This enables pirates to get in and out to attack ships very easily and makes it very hard for patrol ships to know friend from foe. Fishing vessels that dot the entire shipping lanes also add to the noise.
“The nature of the terrain will continue to favour the attacker,” Soon maintains. Attacks normally take place at night in these waters unlike off Somalia which is predominantly daytime.
Night cover provides natural camouflage on top of the fact that small pirate boats are still hard to detect even with the best radars, Soon relays. “Even with good night vision, the situation will still be ambiguous regarding whether the particular boat is indeed a pirate vessel or one about to commit an act.”
The other worry that emanates from the nature of sea areas is one of maritime terrorism, Soon says.
“Ships can be easily turned into weapons,” he says, “and even more so when carrying flammable liquid cargoes. The ease with which pirates are boarding ships means that the threat of terrorism at sea is not far off. Massive pollution along coastlines or choking off shipping traffic especially at the very narrow passages are probably what keeps the governments awake at night. This potential problem is not easy to fix.”
Zycraft currently operates two Shomari escort vessels and is also building an advanced unmanned surface vessel.
“We believe that unmanned vessels have a role to play in counter piracy surveillance and escort,” Soon says.
Zycraft plans to also buy more Shomari vessels later this year.