As a way to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean waters near Somalia, Iridium Communications is allowing its users to place free calls to the U.K. Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) center in Dubai. From the UKMTO, air and naval forces can be vectored to your location. This is a useful service — though it’s hard to believe anyone under attack by pirates is going to worry about the cost before they dial for help!
From the press release: Iridium Communications Inc. announces an important new component of a comprehensive program for combating piracy on the high seas, by providing mariners with global, reliable, cost-effective voice and data communications. Effective immediately, all calls from ships equipped with Iridium’s reliable communications terminals to the U.K. Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) center are now free of charge.
“As a service to our important maritime customers, we strongly support the improvement of communications for ships who may encounter piracy,” said Dan Mercer, vice president and general manager, Europe, Middle East, Africa & Russia, Iridium.
Ships are increasingly using ‘citadels,’ where crew can take refuge and wait safely for rescue when pirates board. A key element in the citadel strategy is a stand-alone, secure Iridium communications link to the outside world, so the crew can connect with the military forces to coordinate rescue operations. Several companies within the Iridium partner ecosystem offer citadel communication packages with a concealed external satellite antenna and cabling that cannot be easily disabled by the pirates on the ship.
“Recognizing that Iridium can provide a critical communications lifeline in a potentially life-threatening situation, it is our responsibility to support the crew by removing any barriers to free and open communication with authorities,” said Mercer.
The UKMTO office in Dubai is the primary point of contact between merchant shipping and naval forces patrolling the danger zone off the Somali coast. UKMTO has direct communication to all naval assets in the area and plays a key role in coordinating the naval response when pirates board and attack ships. Under Iridium’s calling plan, all calls to the UKMTO +971 number will be connected through the Iridium network free of charge.
“We commend Iridium for taking this step to support the seafarers who are increasingly becoming the targets of piracy,” said Ken Coffey, managing director, International Operations for ASE, one of the companies providing citadel satellite communication packages. “This will be an important tool for naval forces in combating the scourge of maritime piracy.”
“The anti-piracy patrol zone is so large that naval forces are seldom able to come to the aid of a vessel under attack before the pirates take over the ship,” said Michael Capocchi, president and CEO of Beam Communications, another company offering Iridium-based citadel communication solutions. “It becomes difficult, if not impossible, for a rescue attempt to be made without endangering the lives of the hostages. This is why it is critically important for military authorities to confirm that all crewmembers are safely barricaded inside the citadel before any attempt can be made to storm the ship.”
The International Maritime Bureau reports that pirates were holding 28 ships and 518 hostages for ransom as of the end of April 2011. More than 117 ships were attacked, and 20 seized, by pirates off the coast of Somalia since January 1, 2011 alone.