Gurkhas aboard prepared to repel pirates

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 12:00am

Some leading shipowners and operators, including the world's top cruise companies, are employing Gurkhas on their vessels for anti-piracy duties.

According to Anglo Marine Overseas Services, P&O Princess Cruises, Radisson Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Star Cruises and Barber are among its customers.

The British-based company claimed it offered former crack Nepali troops as guards on board these ships.

However, Anglo Marine said the soldiers were unarmed and primarily employed for deterrence purposes, according to a Lloyd's List report.

The Gurkha teams offer round-the-clock surveillance in all but extreme weather conditions. The aim is to make their presence highly visible, so that potential attackers are aware they are on board.

Their presence will be indicated by illuminated signs, pennants, flags and high-visibility uniformed patrols.

Responses to attempted pirate boardings include noise alarms, loudspeaker notification of the presence of Gurkhas and warning that a radio alarm has been broadcast, high-power lights, flares, pressure hoses, equipment to remove grappling hooks and co-ordination of crew activity.

Anglo Marine said only when deterrence failed and in self-defence would the Gurkhas respond with 'an acceptable level of force', including batons, incapacitating prods and gases.

Gurkhas had been at sea since 1993 and about 375 were presently on 75 ships operated by 16 companies, serving as security guards, deck hands, engine room ratings and hospitality staff, the company claimed.

Teams comprising at least eight men, including a former Royal Navy or Royal Marine officer, join vessels before they pass through a high-risk area. One day is required for familiarisation, briefings, the formulation of procedures and practice runs.

If potential pirates are sighted, four of the men will form a reserve, to be deployed to any area where the attackers board.

In the event of boarding, the teams will defend themselves and the crew unless the pirates are too heavily armed or too numerous.

According to the Lloyd's report, spokesmen for P&O and Royal Caribbean confirmed that Gurkhas were used as security staff on cruise vessels, but said they were for general security rather than anti-piracy purposes.