With an alarming number of tankers and cargo ships getting hijacked on the high seas, US maritime academies are offering more training to merchant seamen in how to fend off attacks from pirates armed not with cutlasses and flintlocks but automatic weapons and grenade launchers.
Colleges are teaching students to fishtail their vessels at high speed, drive off intruders with high-pressure water hoses and illuminate their decks with floodlights.
Anti-piracy training is not new. Nor are the techniques. But the lessons have taken on new urgency and more courses are planned because of the record number of attacks worldwide in 2008 by outlaws who seize ships and hold them for ransom.
At the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo, California, professor Donna Nincic teaches two courses on piracy. Students learn where the piracy hotspots are and how they have shifted over the years.
"If I've done anything, I've shown them that this isn't a joke, it's not about parrots and eye patches and Blackbeard and all that," Nincic said. "It's very real and it's a problem without an easy solution."
Emily Rizzo, a student at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, worked aboard a 230-meter cargo ship last year as part of her training. As the vessel sailed the Malacca Straits in Southeast Asia, she served on "pirate watches," learned to use hoses and took part in drills with alarms indicating the ship had been boarded.
The training "brought to light just how serious it is," said Rizzo, 22. "The pirates can get on board these huge ships and they know what they're doing.