Yacht security consultant Ed Hill has just finished installing a citadel deep within a client's superyacht. A citadel is the nautical equivalent of a panic room to retreat to if personal safety is under threat. A bit extreme? In this day and age, not necessarily.
As managing director of Intrepid Risk Management, Hill counts Russian oligarchs, British businessmen and A-list celebrities among his clients. These high-net-worth yacht owners come to him looking for safety and privacy on board their floating palaces. The citadel, for example, is sited "with access to the yacht's controls and satellite communications, and fitted with strong bolstered doors and ballistic protection on the surrounding walls", according to Hill.
Individuals are taking their yachts to ever more dangerous and far-flung places from remote islands in the Pacific to the chilly waters of the Arctic. Developments in technology, including improved satellite communications, allow them to go further and for longer while remaining connected.
This new breed of adventurer will not compromise on security. According to industry expert Harley O'Neill, owner of SuperyachtME, defence and security accounts for as much as a quarter of the construction cost of a superyacht and 30 per cent of daily running costs. Keeping the world's rich and famous safe on the high seas has become a billion-dollar industry.
An American owner of an 85-metre vessel, located in South America, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells us that his security concerns are two-fold. "A yacht is not a toy, it's an asset in my portfolio. Besides that, I need to know the security and privacy of myself and my family is guaranteed so that I can feel comfortable on board," he says.
Risks to superyacht owners include theft and burglary, being photographed by paparazzi, personal attacks and abduction, and even being attacked by pirates. Developing technology has changed the nature of these threats. A vessel's sophisticated central computer system is at risk of cyber attacks from hackers. Privacy is also under threat from remote-controlled drones in the sky and submersibles under the water. These evolving threats have compelled yacht owners to install cutting-edge military-grade technology. "Using infrared thermal imaging cameras, short range radar and diver detecting sonar, we now have the ability to create a 'virtual bubble' around the vessel, ensuring that any target, surface, airborne or underwater will be automatically identified and tracked day or night," O'Neill says.
Small one-, two- or three-man submersibles such as the Ortega are used to patrol the yacht's vicinity and can be launched from the hull of the boat without the need for cranes or winches. Also in development is Lifepod, an escape-pod that can be deployed directly from the side of a yacht in a matter of seconds.
Tackling drones is a contentious issue within the industry. Technology exists to jam a drone's communication and GPS systems and immobilise it - though the potential for collateral damage discounts this as an option for many. Britain-based security consultants Search Systems has developed SparrowHawk, a device that physically intercepts a drone mid-flight.
Technologies like these are making older security options look outdated and clunky. Less subtle pieces of kit include the Long Range Acoustic Device which deters unwanted visitors with an ear-splitting sound. Incredibly strong deck lighting by a German company called MYLK can be used to dazzle paparazzi and render images unusable. Today's technologies are cleverly incorporated within a yacht's impeccably designed interiors.
An integrated yacht security system by Frankentek presents data from deck sensors, high resolution cameras, thermal cameras and access control, radar, sonar, and satellite in a user-friendly touch screen panel. Vice president of Frankentek Michael Pavluk describes the system as "elegant".
There are some dangers on the high seas that cannot be confronted by technology alone. Although piracy has been in decline in recent years, areas such as the Gulf of Aden off the Horn of Africa and the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Sumatra are still high risk areas.
Ed Hill has a staff of ex-British special forces and Royal Marines commandos that can be dispatched to support a superyacht crew in particularly dangerous waters. Their "missions" can last anything from a few days to a few months. In one recent incident in the Strait of Malacca, Hill's team sprung into action when a pirate skiff was seen approaching the 55-metre yacht they were stationed on in the dead of night.
An intense spotlight was shone on the approaching pirate boat and the presence of a security team on board was made clear. Hill began powerfully zig-zagging the yacht to create a wave to knock the smaller boat off balance and trailed ropes in the water to snag in the pirates' propellers. As the crew and owner retreated to the citadel for safety, the pirates turned around and gave up.
Owners are scrupulous when choosing what is often referred to as a "security concierge". A superyacht is, after all, the place the world's wealthy relax and safety should not come at the expense of a refined atmosphere. "Our personnel fully understand superyacht culture and the on board etiquette required, they take their job very seriously and possess a calm yet reassuring demeanor," Hill says.
Effective yacht security, therefore, requires not only James Bond's gadgets but also his suave charm. More superyacht owners are finding the lifestyle of a secret agent appealing and they have the budgets to splash out on hi-tech security options to match.
A NUMBER OF TECHNOLOGIES AND SECURITY MEASURES CAN BE DEPLOYED TO PROTECT A SUPERYACHT FROM UNWANTED INTRUDERS
An ARMED SECURITY TEAM may be necessary for particularly dangerous routes, although this comes with its own set of hassles.
A LONG RANGE ACOUSTIC DEVICE is a non-lethal option to ward off attackers with a deafening noise.
INFRARED IMAGING of the yacht and SURROUNDING WATER can be used to spot threats during the night.
BULLET-PROOF and tinted windows are common sense for peace of mind when it comes to privacy and security.
QUICKLY AND EASILY DEPLOYED SUBMERSIBLES may be used as escape-pods if an evacuation is needed.
A yacht’s CITADEL is a FORTIFIED PANIC ROOM within the boat with satellite access to the outside world, often a last resort in the event of boarding.
HIGH-RESOLUTION CCTV CAMERAS on deck and below the water are essential for monitoring potential threats during the day.
RADAR, SONAR, AND SATELLITE IMAGERY can be combined to produce a detailed picture of the vicinity of the intruder’s vessel.
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