Ship Protection Measures

8.1 Introduction 
The guidance within this section primarily focuses on preparations that might be within the capability of the ship’s crew, or with some external assistance. The guidance is based on experience of piracy attacks to date and may require amendment over time if the pirates change their methods. The Ship Protection Measures described in BMP are the most basic that are likely to be effective. Owners may wish to consider making further alterations to the vessel beyond the scope of this document, and/or provide additional equipment and/or manpower as a means of further reducing the risk of piracy attack. If pirates are unable to board a ship they cannot hijack it.

8.2 Watchkeeping and Enhanced Vigilance 
Prior to entering the High Risk Area, it is recommended that preparations are made to support the requirement for increased vigilance by:

  • Providing additional lookouts for each Watch. Additional lookouts should be fully briefed.
  • Considering a shorter rotation of the Watch period in order to maximise alertness of the lookouts.
  • Ensuring that there are sufficient binoculars for the enhanced Bridge Team, preferably anti glare.
  • Considering use of night vision optics.
  • Maintaining a careful Radar Watch.

Well constructed dummies placed at strategic locations around the vessel can give an impression of greater numbers of people on watch. A proper lookout is the single most effective method of ship protection where early warning of a suspicious approach or attack is assured, and where defences can be readily deployed

8.3 Enhanced Bridge Protection 
The bridge is usually the focus for any pirate attack. In the initial part of the attack, pirates direct weapons fire at the bridge to try to coerce the ship to stop. If they are able to board the vessel the pirates usually try to make for the bridge to enable them to take control. The following further protection enhancements might be considered:

  • Kevlar jackets and helmets available for the bridge team to provide a level of protection for those on the bridge during an attack. (If possible, jackets and helmets should be in a nonmilitary colour).
  • While most bridge windows are laminated, further protection against flying glass can be provided by the application of security glass film, often called Blast Resistant Film.
  • Fabricated metal, (steel/aluminium), plates for the side and rear bridge windows and the bridge wing door windows, which may be rapidly secured in place in the event of an attack.
  • The after part of both bridge wings, (often open), can be protected by a wall of sandbags.
  • The sides and rear of the bridge, and the bridge wings, may be protected with a double layer of chain link fence which has been shown to reduce the effect of an RPG round. Proprietary anti-RPG screens are also available.

8.4 Control of Access to Bridge, Accommodation and Machinery Spaces 
It is very important to control access routes to deter or delay pirates who have managed to board a vessel and are trying to enter accommodation or machinery spaces. It is very important to recognise that if pirates do gain access to the upper deck of a vessel they will be tenacious in their efforts to gain access to the accommodation section and in particular the bridge. It is strongly recommended that significant effort is expended prior to entry to the High Risk Area to deny the pirates access to the accommodation and the bridge.

  • All doors and hatches providing access to the bridge, accommodation and machinery spaces should be properly secured to prevent them being opened by pirates.
  • Careful consideration should be given to the means of securing doors and hatches in order to afford the ship the maximum protection possible.
  • Where the door or hatch is located on an escape route from a manned compartment, it is essential that it can be opened by a seafarer trying to exit by that route. Where the door or hatch is locked it is essential that a key is available, in a clearly visible position by the door or hatch.
  • It is recommended that once doors and hatches are secured, a designated and limited number are used for routine access when required, their use being strictly controlled by the Officer of the Watch.
  • Consideration should be given to blocking or lifting external ladders on the accommodation block to prevent their use, and to restrict external access to the bridge.
  • Where doors and hatches are required to be closed for watertight integrity, ensure all clips are fully dogged down in addition to any locks. Where possible, additional securing such as with wire strops may enhance hatch security.
  • Pirates have been known to gain access through portholes and windows. The fitting of steel bars to windows will prevent this even if they manage to shatter the window.
  • Prior to entering the High Risk Area procedures for controlling access to accommodation, machinery spaces and store rooms should be set out and practised.

8.5 Physical Barriers 
Pirates typically use long lightweight hooked ladders, grappling hooks with rope attached and long hooked poles with a climbing rope attached to board vessels underway. Physical barriers should be used to make it as difficult as possible to gain access to vessels by increasing the height and difficulty of any climb for an attacking pirate.

Before constructing any physical barriers it is recommended that a thorough survey is conducted to identify areas vulnerable to pirates trying to gain access.

  • Razor Wire

Razor wire (also known as barbed tape) creates an effective barrier but only when carefully deployed. The barbs on the wire are designed to have a piercing and gripping action. Care should be taken when selecting appropriate razor wire as the quality (wire gauge and frequency of barbs) and type will vary considerably. Lower quality razor wire is unlikely to be effective. Three main types of razor wire are commonly available:

  • Unclipped (straight strand),
  • Spiral (like a telephone cord) and
  • Concertina (linked spirals).

Concertina razor wire is recommended as the linked spirals make it the most effective barrier. Razor wire should be constructed of high tensile wire, which is difficult to cut with hand tools. Concertina razor wire coil diameters of approximately 730 mm or 980 mm are recommended. When deploying razor wire personal protective equipment to protect hands, arms and faces must be used. Moving razor wire using wire hooks (like meat hooks) rather than by gloved hand reduces the risk of injury. It is recommended that razor wire is provided in shorter sections (e.g. 10 metre section) as it is significantly easier and safer to use than larger sections which can be very heavy and unwieldy. A robust razor wire barrier is particularly effective if it is:

  • Constructed outboard of the ship’s structure (i.e. overhanging) to make it more difficult for pirates to hook on their boarding ladder/grappling hooks to the ship’s structure.
  • Constructed of a double roll of concertina wire - some vessels use a treble roll of concertina razor wire which is even more effective.
  • Properly secured to the vessel to prevent pirates pulling off the razor wire, with for example the hook of a boarding ladder. Consideration should also be given to further securing the razor wire with a wire strop through the razor wire to prevent it being dislodged.

Other options

  • Some vessels utilise fixed metal grilles topped with metal spikes as an effective barrier.
  • Electrified barriers are not recommended for hydrocarbon carrying vessels but, following a full risk assessment, can be appropriate and effective for some other types of vessel.
  • It is recommended that warning signs of the electrified fence or barrier are displayed - inward facing in English/language of the crew, outward facing in Somali.
  • The use of such outward facing warning signs might also be considered as a deterrent even if no part of the barrier is actually electrified. 


8.6 Water Spray and Foam Monitors 
The use of water spray and/or foam monitors has been found to be effective in deterring or delaying pirates attempting to board a vessel. The use of water can make it difficult for a pirate skiff to remain alongside and makes it significantly more difficult for a pirate to try to climb onboard. Options include:

  • Fire hoses and foam monitors – Manual operation of hoses and foam monitors is not recommended as this is likely to place the operator in a particularly exposed position and therefore it is recommended that hoses and foam monitors (delivering water) should be fixed in position to cover likely pirate access routes. Improved water coverage may be achieved by using fire hoses in jet mode but by utilising baffle plates fixed a short distance in front of the nozzle.
  • Water cannons – These are designed to deliver water in a vertical sweeping arc thus protecting a greater part of the hull. Many of these have been developed from tank cleaning machines.
  • Ballast pumps – Where possible to do so ships may utilise their ballast pumps to flood the deck with water thus providing a highly effective water curtain over the ship’s side. This may be achieved by allowing ballast tanks to over-flow on to the deck, by using existing pipework when in ballast condition, or 33 by retrofitting pipework to allow flooding of the decks whilst in loaded condition. Care must be taken to ensure that ballast tanks are not over-pressurised causing damage to the hull and tanks, or vessel stability compromised. If in doubt it is recommended that the relevant Classification Society be contacted for advice.
  • Steam – Hot water, or using a diffuser nozzle to produce steam has also been found to be very effective in deterring attacks.
  • Water spray rails - Some ships have installed spray rails using a Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) water main, with spray nozzles to produce a water curtain to cover larger areas.
  • Foam can be used, but it must be in addition to a vessel’s standard Fire Fighting Equipment (FFE) stock. Foam is effective as it is disorientating and very slippery making it difficult to climb through.

The following points are also worthy of note:

  • Once rigged and fixed in position it is recommended that hoses and foam monitors are in a ready state, requiring just the remote activation of fire pumps to commence delivery of water.
  • Where possible no maintenance should be carried out on the vessel’s sea water systems whilst on passage in the High Risk Area. Note that in order to utilise all pumps additional power may be required and therefore these systems should also be ready for immediate use.
  • Practice, observation, and drills will be required in order to ensure that the results achieved by the equipment, provide effective coverage of vulnerable areas.

8.7 Alarms
Sounding the ship’s alarms/whistle serves to inform the vessel’s crew that a piracy attack has commenced and, importantly, demonstrates to any potential attacker that the ship is aware of the attack and is reacting to it. If approached, continuous sounding of the vessel’s foghorn/whistle distracts the pirates and as above lets them know that they have been seen. It is important to ensure that:

  • The piracy alarm is distinctive to avoid confusion with other alarms, potentially leading to the crew mustering at the wrong location outside the accommodation.
  • Crew members are familiar with each alarm, including the signal warning of an attack and an all clear, and the appropriate response to it.
  • Exercises are carried out prior to entering the High Risk Area.

8.8 Manoeuvring Practice 
Practising manoeuvring the vessel prior to entry into the High Risk Area will be very beneficial and will ensure familiarity with the ship’s handling characteristics and how to effect anti-piracy manoeuvres whilst maintaining the best possible speed. (Waiting until the ship is attacked before practising this is too late!)

Where navigationally safe to do so, Masters are encouraged to practise manoeuvring their ships to establish which series of helm orders produce the most difficult sea conditions for pirate skiffs trying to attack, without causing a significant reduction in the ship’s speed.  

8.9 Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) 
Once an attack is underway and pirates are firing weaponry at the vessel, it is difficult and dangerous to observe whether the pirates have managed to gain access. The use of CCTV coverage allows a degree of monitoring of the progress of the attack from a less exposed position:

  • Consider the use of CCTV cameras to ensure coverage of vulnerable areas, particularly the poop deck.
  • Consider positioning CCTV monitors at the rear of the bridge in a protected position.
  • Further CCTV monitors could be located at the Safe Muster Point/Citadel (see section 8.13)
  • Recorded CCTV footage may provide useful evidence after an attack.

8.10 Upper Deck Lighting 
It is recommended that the following lights are available and tested:

  • Weather deck lighting around the accommodation block and rear facing lighting on the poop deck, consistent with Rule 20(b) of the International Regulations for Preventing Collision at Sea.
  • Search lights for immediate use when required.
  • It is, however, recommended that ships proceed with just their navigation lights illuminated, with the lighting described above extinguished. Once pirates have been identified or an attack commences, illuminating the lighting described above demonstrates to the pirates that they have been observed.
  • Navigation lights should not be switched off at night.

8.11 Deny Use of Ship’s Tools and Equipment 
Pirates generally board vessels with little in the way of equipment other than personal weaponry. It is important to try to deny pirates the use of ship’s tools or equipment that may be used to gain entry into the vessel. Tools and equipment that may be of use to the pirates should be stored in a secure location.

8.12 Protection of Equipment Stored on the Upper Deck 
Small arms and other weaponry are often directed at the vessel and are particularly concentrated on the bridge, accommodation section and poop deck.

  • Consideration should be given to providing protection, in the form of sandbags or Kevlar blankets, to gas bottles (i.e. oxy-acetylene) or containers of flammable liquids that must be stored in these locations.
  • Ensure that any excess gas bottles or flammable materials are landed prior to transit.

8.13 Safe Muster Points / Citadels
Any decision to navigate in waters where the vessel’s security may be threatened requires careful consideration and detailed planning to ensure the safety of the crew and vessel. Consideration should be given to establishing a Safe Muster Point or secure Citadel and an explanation of each follows:

Safe Muster Point:

  • A Safe Muster Point is a designated area chosen to provide maximum physical protection to the crew, preferably low down within the vessel.
  • In the event of a suspicious approach, members of the crew not required on the Bridge or the Engine Room Control Room will muster.
  • A Safe Muster Point is a short-term safe haven, which will provide ballistic protection should the pirates commence firing with small arms weaponry or RPGs.

If Citadels are to be employed, they should be complementary to, rather than a replacement for, all other Ship Protection Measures set out in BMP5The establishing of a Citadel may be beyond the capability of ship’s staff alone, and may well require external technical advice and support.

A Citadel is a designated pre-planned area purpose built into the ship where, in the event of imminent boarding by pirates, all crew will seek protection. A Citadel is designed and constructed to resist a determined pirate trying to gain entry for a fixed period of time. The details of the construction and operation of Citadels are beyond the scope of this booklet. A detailed document containing guidance and advice is included on the MSCHOA and NATO Shipping Centre website.

The whole concept of the Citadel approach is lost if any crew member is left outside before it is secured. Ship operators and Masters are strongly advised to check the MSCHOA website for detailed up to date advice and guidance regarding the construction and operation of Citadels including the criteria that Naval/Military forces will apply before considering a boarding operation to release the crew from the Citadel. (see contact details)

It is important to note that Naval/Military forces will apply the following criteria before a boarding to release those in a Citadel can be considered:

  • 100% of the crew must be secured in the Citadel.
  • The crew of the ship must have self contained, independent, reliable 2-way external communications (sole reliance on VHF communications is not sufficient).
  • The pirates must be denied access to ship propulsion.

The use of a Citadel, even where the above criteria are applied, cannot guarantee a Naval/Military response.

8.14 Unarmed Private Maritime Security Contractors

The use of unarmed Private Maritime Security Contractors is a matter for individual ship operators following their own voyage risk assessment. The deployment onboard is subject to the national laws of the Flag State. The use of experienced and competent unarmed Private Maritime Security Contractors can be a valuable addition to BMP.

8.15 Armed Private Maritime Security Contractors

The use, or not, of armed Private Maritime Security Contractors onboard merchant vessels is a matter for individual ship operators to decide following their own voyage risk assessment and approval of respective Flag States. This advice does not constitute a recommendation or an endorsement of the general use of armed Private Maritime Security Contractors. Subject to risk analysis, careful planning and agreements the provision of Military Vessel Protection Detachments (VPDs) deployed to protect vulnerable shipping is the recommended option when considering armed guards. If armed Private Maritime Security Contractors are to be used they must be as an additional layer of protection and not as an alternative to BMP. If armed Private Maritime Security Contractors are present on board a merchant vessel, this fact should be included in reports to UKMTO and MSCHOA. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) have produced guidance in the form of IMO Circulars for ship operators and Masters and for Flag States on the use of Private Maritime Security Contractors on board ships in the High Risk Area. The current IMO Guidance on the use of armed Private Maritime Security Contractors is included on the MSCHOA website. (