Armed guards on the Maersk Alabama helped repel Wednesday's attack by pirates. An array of nonlethal weapons – from acoustic devices to a system that fires nets or even golf balls – is coming onto the market.
Got "stingers" or laser guns on your ship?
While armed guards have been credited with repelling today's Somali pirate attack on the US-flagged Maersk Alabama, a separate industry based on the development of nonlethal weaponry to protect ships is booming.
BCB International, a British firm, has developed a pirate-busting "stinger," a device designed to stop attackers by tangling their propeller up in ropes.
In a demonstration last week off England's south coast, the company showed how the device can be fired at short notice into the path of pirate skiffs.
Known as the Buccaneer, the system uses compressed gas to shoot objects such as a net or rope suspended from a small parachute. In the demo, a 300-meter-long rope floated down onto the surface of the water. The pretend pirates at Portland Harbour, England, found that their propellers were hopelessly entangled after they sped over it.
The Buccaneer can also be used to fire anything from bean bags and golf balls to life vests in order help rescue someone who's fallen overboard.
The cost? About $20,000.
BCB has already had queries from shipping companies around the world, and from one, presumably rather wealthy, yacht owner.
"There are enormous difficulties for shipping companies, from the point of view of having armed guards on board," says Peter Holmes, the firm's sales manager.
"We are offering an entirely nondeadly device, which also has an attraction in that it can be fired remotely so that crew members do not have to put themselves in harm's way."
He explains that the Buccaneer's origins lay in another product, the Wall-Breaching Cannon, that's been sold to police to use in hostage-rescue situations. It fires a projectile from a compressed air gun in order to break down walls or doors.