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Razor wire in Areas threatened by Piracy

Written by Jon Davies 
June 2nd 2017
Written by Jon Davies
It is critical for all vessels entering waters where piracy is a threat, to be well fitted with barriers to prevent boarding by the ill intended. Listed as one of the most basic measures in Ship Protection Measure in Best Management Practices for Protection against Somali Based Piracy (BMP4) is razor wire as a Physical Barrier.

Pig wire, or wire for normal farm use is a poor (effectively inadequate) substitute and razor wire varies in quality (wire gauge and frequency of barbs) with inferior quality proving only a visual deterrence. As a guide, it is recommended to be fitted on all vessels’ freeboard on all outboard edges below 8 metres above the waterline (and obviously used to defend inboard ladders etc.) (for information, 8 metres was established in connection with Somali based piracy, other areas might not be deterred by similar freeboard and use different techniques to board or attack). Concertina wire (with linked spirals) is strongly recommended and of sufficient tensile strength to preclude manual cutting with hand tools. Robust superior quality concertina wire should be mounted outboard of the ships structure and of sufficient strength to preclude pirates using grappling hooks and ladders to board. Double rolls are strongly recommended with a third roll significantly adding to defensibility especially in vessels with low freeboards.

Razor wire - effectively mounted

Properly securing this wire outboard is a challenge for many seafarers, not least as it needs to be frequently removed prior to berth, which is a challenge in those ports restricting or even denying cargo operations in wired vessels alongside. Wire on vessels alongside in port is often quoted as a threat to stevedores, most amusingly in a Mediterranean port for fear of stevedores falling over the side….

The correct preparation of seafarers working with razor wire on board remains an ongoing shipboard management issue. Crew must be briefed, correctly dressed in protective clothing, with heavy duty gloves and facial protection. Certainly, the risk of injury to seafarers is a grave concern, not least of infection from rigging injuries. Alarmingly on some vessels installation adversely affects access to life rafts and fire hoses, prospectively infringing SOLAS.

Further, the challenge to seafarers is to rig/de-rig regularly on calls, and effectively mount the wire itself to be an effective measure. The primary own goal by rigging crews is that the wire is not sufficiently fastened securely outboard to the vessel, hangs (or swings) low and is therefore easier to overcome or displace. Ineffective fastening or razor wire also gives the very visual signal that the vessel is unconcerned about its’ security. Whether securing be effected by binding wire, metal tie/wraps or secured with wire hangers outboard the vessel, it must be sufficiently secured to be a useful and functional barrier. As a minima, it is suggested that wire be secured to the vessel every 0.5m.

Poorly fitted, ageing razor wire – what does it say about your ship?

Finally, the challenge posed by the attackers themselves to the razor wire defence, for example on attacking a vessel, attaching a bucket and line to the wire, dropping the bucket in the water on the line and using water resistance to drag the wire off. This method can put several tons of weight on the wire; can your wire resist that with your vessel manoeuvring to avoid skiffs?

Razor wire also has an effective life. Movement of the wire, rigging/derigging, weather and corrosion reduce a roll’s effectiveness and as a guide, it has a useful life of as little as three months.

Razor wire if properly fitted in the right height, breadth, serviced and maintained is an essential defensive tool. Readers should also consider viable alternatives to razor wire like ARX ABaC system (www.arxdefence.com), DFENCE (www.graypage/DFENCE.com) and GUARDIAN (www.guardian-maritime.com) which, whilst differently priced, many producers argue is cheaper over time (based on longevity of life over wire), has fewer rigging demands, is safer and more effective.