The liner used a sonic blaster to foil the pirates. Developed by American forces to deter small boats from attacking warships, the non-lethal weapon sends out high-powered air vibrations that blow assailants off their feet. The equipment, about the size of a satellite dish, is rigged to the side of the ship.
Sonic "weapons" have reportedly been used by Israeli military in Gaza and Lebanon. This "poor man's system" (not cheap when considering the cost of operating a jet but cheap in the terms of R&D) uses jet aircraft to create a sonic boom, intentionally creating shock waves that locals (Palestinians) say is similar to "an earthquake or huge bomb. They describe the effect as being hit by a wall of air that is painful on the ears, sometimes causing nosebleeds and 'leaving you shaking inside.'"
The device used by the cruise ship was a "proper" sonice weapon, designed and developed for a specific purpose.
The weapons technology the cruise ship apparently had, according to the TimesOnline, is an LRAD (Long Range Accoustic Device). This 45-pound, dish-shaped non-lethal weapon is response to the 2000 USS Cole attack as a deterrent to small boat attacks. Apparently, these devices have been used on US ships since the summer of 2003.
Now, the Army and Marines have added this auditory barrage dispenser to their arms ensembles. Troops in Fallujah, a center of insurgency west of Baghdad, and other areas of central Iraq in particular often deal with crowds in which lethal foes intermingle with non-hostile civilians.
In the growing stable of non-lethal weapons is a Star Trek phaser gun made real: the Active Denial System will repel enemies with a painful energy beam.
I am curious if the TimesOnline got it right since other sources, including the WashingtonPost, CNN, and BBC did not report on this (as of this writing / posting). CNN reported the cruise ship outran the pirates. The BBC reports 'the crew simply took evasive action without returning fire'. According to Daily International Vessel Casualties & Pirates Daily Report, "gunmen sailing in 3 boats later abandoned chase as they could not venture into high seas".
Or, are they being fanciful. I would tend to believe they got it right if their description of the cruise ship is correct. It was odd to read in BBC / CNN the ratio of crew to passengers by better than 1:1 on the US-owned ship. The ship, owned by a Miami-based subsidiary of Carnival Cruise Lines, must be an "ultra-luxery" boat with such a high complement of sailors / staff to passengers. Hence, their ability and desire to have such a device.
Modern weapons for modern, indiscriminate war. It will be interesting to see if news starts to report the use of the LRAD or if it disappears. This defensive measure is conceptually similar to equiping airlines with counter-measures against SAM (surface-to-air missile) attacks.
[UPDATE: CNN reported 7 Nov 05 -- one day after I wrote this article -- that a 'sonic weapon' was used. They did no indicate their source.]
:: SEE UPDATE 9 November 2005 ::