Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mendi testing LRAD?

The Department of Defence remains mum on the deployment of the Valour-class frigate SAS Mendi to Durban for operational training in reported anticipation of an anti-pirate patrol in the Mozambique Channel. Sources in the city say the ship spent the day at sea yesterday, conducting training and tests. 

Sources elsewhere say the ship has been fitted with a Long Range Acoustic Device. The Armscor Bulletin System shows a device was acquired “for evaluation” from LRAD Corporation of San Diego in the US at a cost of R202 778.63 in September last year. 

The wikipedia explains the LRAD is a crowd control and hailing device developed by LRAD Corporation. According to the manufacturer's specifications, the device has a mass of 20kg and a diameter of 83cm. It can emit sound in a 30° beam at high frequency. The maximum usable design range is aid to be 300 metres, where the warning tone (measured) is less than 90dB. 
The device was originally intended to be used by American warships to warn incoming vessels approaching without permission, and some reports claim that it is now regarded as a "non-lethal weapon". Its output up to 155db, focused at a distance, is sufficient to produce permanent ear damage and temporarily disrupt vision, the wikipedia says. It may also be used simply as a very effective megaphone prior to any use as a weapon. Although mildly disorienting, LRADs are tactically ineffective against deaf individuals. It is not yet clear how the SA Navy plans to employ the LRAD. 

The device has also been used against pirates. Tthe luxury cruise ship Seabourn Spirit employed an LRAD while repelling pirates off Somalia in November 2005. The wikipedia writers say the effectiveness of this device during the attack is not completely clear, but the pirates did not succeed in boarding the vessel and eventually fled. But in November 2008 pirates did seize a ship, the Liberian MV Biscaglia despite the use of a LRAD. A security detachment aboard the ship used the LRAD to deter armed attackers. “Following a one-sided shootout, the ship was seized and the unarmed security contractors forced to abandon ship or be killed. The incident caused the usefulness of LRADs to be called into question by Lloyd's List.”

LRAD has also been used by the Japanese whaling fleet operating in Antarctic waters to ward off the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The activists have since reportedly acquired their own device. 

The Afrikaans daily Beeld earlier this month reported the deployment of the Mendi into the Mozambique Channel was being held up by the absence of a signed Memorandum of Understanding setting out rules of engagement. Minister of Defence and Military Veterans last year July told a small group of journalists, including defenceWeb, that her deputy, Thabang Makwetla, had that month attended a Southern African Development Community (SADC) conference in the Seychelles. There “we did commit ourselves to protecting the waters around SADC from piracy.” She added: “We are ready to deploy in SADC waters because it is part of our responsibility.”

Business Day also reported this month the SADC meeting was followed by a ministerial antipiracy conference in Mauritius in October last year. South Africa’s delegation was led by the ambassador to Mauritius, Madumane Matabane. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in its annual report last month said pirates murdered eight seafarers and seized a record 1181 hostages as well 53 ships last year, a new lowpoint. According to the IMB, the number of pirate attacks on ships around the world has risen every year for the past four years, with 445 incidents in 2010, which is an increase of 10% over 2009. 1050 crewmembers were taken hostage in 2009 compared with just 188 crew in 2006. 293 incidents were reported in 2008 compared to 263 in 2007. The 2010 attacks included two confirmed cases of piracy in the Mozambique Channel between Africa and Madagascar near the Comoros in late December and two failed attempts some 200 kilometres east of Quelimane, capital of the central Mozambican province of Zambezia. The city is about halfway up the Mozambican coast and some 300km north of Beira. 

Institute of Security Studies military analyst Henri Boshoff told the Pretoria News the response was not only South African but also “part of a larger SADC military response” to piracy. “The government is keeping a tight lid on how it is going to respond to these latest attacks.” Boshoff said while South Africa’s navy had conducted operations in the Mozambican Channel area and off the country’s East Coast, the latest attacks had triggered a strong response from South Africa. 
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