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WatchStander provides non-leathal solution to pirate attacks

Modern day piracy is a costly issue for ship owners and many other stakeholders in the maritime industry. Although the latest report from International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has indicated that the number of attacks have been falling, it’s only as a result of hefty counter measures and increased navy patrols that this has occurred. Not to mention that the fall in Somali piracy has been partly offset by the rise in piracy incidents of the coast of West Africa. As a result, the evolution of cost-effective and more efficient measures to avoid vessels hijackings is more than imperative.
WatchStander promises to provide exactly that, a modern day solution to modern day piracy. Based on US Navy technology. the system has been developed to identify and employ non-lethal countermeasures to deter pirate attacks. According to today’s interview with Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide, Mr. David Rigsby, Founder and President of WatchStander LLC, the system was recently certified as correctly operating and meeting its goals.

First of all, could you tell what exactly is WatchStander?

WatchStander is a fully integrated anti-pirate system that identifies and attacks pirates before they get close to a vessel. The system is based on a technology developed for the US Navy.

How does the system work?

We use a commercial marine radar as our sensor. Our system receives data from the radar and builds tracks on everything the radar detects. Then we use a unique intelligent controller incorporating our own continuous inferencing networks to analyse the tracks. The tracks generated by pirates are distinguishable from most other tracks. Tracks that are identified as probably pirates are then put on notice that they’ve been detected. If they fail to withdraw, they will be attacked using increasingly violent but non-lethal means.

In terms of counter measures, what do these include?

Initially, we use a 12 million candle power searchlight developed and used by the US, and made by Peakbeam. We add to this a laser disrupter that also has a strobe mode. These two systems can be seen at more than 2km and ensure the pirates know they have been detected and are being monitored. If the pirates choose to continue, at 800 metres the system goes into a strobe mode that effectively and temporarily blinds them, making it virtually impossible for them to continue.
Our customers will be able to select from a variety of other non-lethal countermeasures that can easily be incorporated into the system. These include a compressed air launcher which propels things such as pepper liquid balls and blunt munitions out to 400 metres and beyond.

Does the system decide for itself what measures to use in each occasion?

Yes. The countermeasures employed are based on a variety of criteria, mainly imminence and range of threat. The closer the attacker, the more violent the countermeasure selected.
In situations where several pirate skiffs are attacking, the system automatically turns its attention to the closest.

Is it safe proof, in terms of detecting pirate activity?

Our system was demonstrated in a series of on-water tests on the Chesapeake Bay in the US. An independent company, Flag Victor, attended the tests and determined the system met our stated objectives. This means, among other things, that the system always correctly detected pirate vessels and rejected non-threatening ones.
Clearly, if a vessel is innocently going about its business and comes under scrutiny from the WatchStander system, it will be alerted and merely needs to change its course to avoid being targeted.

Who’s behind it?

WatchStander LLC is a start-up company. The founder and driving force behind WatchStander is David Rigsby who has over thirty years’ experience working in the perimeter protection and defence industry. He has worked closely with the Applied Research Laboratory of The Pennsylvania State University to modify WatchStander for commercial use and holds an exclusive licence to take it to the global commercial shipping market.
His colleagues in the venture have a wide variety of backgrounds including force protection, perimeter defence, finance, marketing and general anti-piracy and military operations at the flag level.

Has it been proven worthy in real action?

The technologies have been successfully used by the US military for years. We have adapted this proven technology for commercial use and have no doubt it will perform equally well. Extensive on-water trials underpin this confidence.

What is the cost of installation?

A notional system consisting of two sensor suites (radars, computers, intertia measuring units, cabling and communications) and two countermeasure suites (pan/tilt units, lights, cameras and system communications) will cost approximately $300,000 installed and maintained for five years. The costs will vary widely depending on the size and type of vessel.
The cost of the system is considerably less than many of the current alternatives, especially when you consider it is a one-off installation.

Can it be installed on board all types of vessels?

Yes, although safety considerations for some ships and cargo may have to be taken into account, the system can be installed in all types and size of vessel.

Does it need an operator, or are all functions fully automated? Are there any overrides in case something goes wrong?

The WatchStander system is designed to be fully automated and requires an operator only to turn it on and off. Our research, however, has indicated that many customers would like some control over the system and the information it provides.
We will work with our customers to develop graphical user interfaces that give each operator the level of control they require. These interfaces will also be used to display tactical environment information. The latter should be particularly useful to armed teams if they are on-board.

When do you expect to launch WatchStander commercially?

Now that performance testing has been successfully conducted, we are already talking to several fleet owners and scheduling installations.

Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide

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