MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Modern pirates are creating a market for modern pirate repellents. The owners of ships that ply the waters near Somalia are looking at lasers, electric fences, water cannons and high-intensity sound.
As NPR's John Hamilton reports, they're ready to try just about anything except old fashioned guns.
JOHN HAMILTON: Most shipping companies still don't want guns on their vessels. Crews aren't trained to use them, they're dangerous if you're carrying stuff that burns, like oil or gas. And many ports refuse entry to armed ships. But there are other approaches. Crews have already shown that a blast from an ordinary fire hose can discourage an unwelcome visitor.
And now they can use the Force 80 Anti Pirate Water Cannon.
ROGER BARRETT JAMES (Unifire): Basically the Force 80 Water Cannon is a stainless steel, remote-controlled squirt gun.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HAMILTON: Roger Barrett James is with the Swedish firm Unifire, which makes the Force 80. He says it's no ordinary squirt gun. It has a three inch nozzle that can send 1,400 gallons a minute, 100 yards in any direction.
Mr. JAMES: It is a tremendous force of water and will knock over anything in its path and can also flood a pirate's ship very quickly.
HAMILTON: And since it works by remote control, pirates can't easily shoot the operator.
Another approach is called the Mobility Denial System. It's a slippery foam that can be sprayed on just about any surface. Ron Mathis, of Southwest Research Institute, says the foam was developed for the Marine Corps to control unruly crowds. But, he says...
Mr. RON MATHIS (Senior Program Manager, Southwest Research Institute): The pirate application definitely looks like a strong candidate.
HAMILTON: Spray the decks of an approaching vessel, Mathis says, and the pirates would have trouble staying upright let alone boarding another ship.
Mr. MATHIS: It would essentially be like standing on a grease surface that is tilting back and forth.
HAMILTON: And if water cannons and slippery foam aren't enough, there's always this option.
(Soundbite of promotional ad)
Unidentified Man: In response to the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in October of 2000, American Technology Corporation created a device like no other: LRAD, the long range acoustic device.
HAMILTON: It's a high-powered directional loudspeaker that can be heard more than a mile away. A Japanese destroyer used the hailing function of an LRAD just a few weeks ago to turn away pirates who were attacking a tanker from Singapore. LRAD usually comes with recordings of useful phrases, like "You must leave the area immediately," in lots of languages including Somali.
Robert Putnam of American Technology says that keeps fishermen at a safe distance and gives pirates pause.
Mr. ROBERT PUTNAM (American Technology): Knowing that they've lost the element of surprise is half the battle. Most pirate incidents would never occur once they know at that distance that they've been discovered.
HAMILTON: For pirates who keep coming anyway, the LRAD has another feature.
(Soundbite of a high pitched tone)
HAMILTON: A deterrent tone, loud and focused enough to cause severe pain and even deafness if you're directly in its path. But Captain John Konrad, who blogs for the Web site gcaptain.com, says no anti-pirate device is perfect. Ear protection can defeat an acoustic device. Goggles can nullify blinding lasers. Electric fences can be cut.
Konrad, who's in Korea at the moment, says the best solution is to spot pirates before they get close.
Captain JOHN KONRAD (Blogger, Gcaptain.com): The best case scenario is that you find these vessels early enough, that you can get a Navy ship detached to your location and let them handle the situation.
HAMILTON: So he's a big fan of small unmanned spotter planes that can be launched from a ship's deck.
John Hamilton, NPR News.