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Secure at Sea: As drone risk increases, security plan essential

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Secure@Sea: by Corey D. Ranslem

“What is that annoying buzzing sound?” This is something we’ve all experienced at one time or another. You could be outside at a café, at your house, on the beach or even on board the yacht, when you hear an annoying buzzing sound, look up and see a drone. 

Unfortunately, drones are becoming more common all the time, everywhere we go. There are legitimate uses for drones that help and enhance our safety and security, but there many more cases of nefarious and terrorist incidents involving drones. Military organizations around the world now routinely use drones for surveillance missions, along with delivering limited strikes to small targets. Terrorist organizations are using drones for the same purpose, including the use of unmanned “drone-boats” for attacks. 

In mid-July, military forces reported an attempted attack on a cargo vessel in the Red Sea by an unmanned “drone-boat” filled with explosives. This is not the first reported case of its kind. Yachts have also been the target of numerous drone issues that typically involve the paparazzi trying to get a glimpse of who might be on board. 

Drones can easily become a threat to yacht security. Small drones are inexpensive, easy to purchase and very easy to fly. They can be used for surveilling a potential target or to follow a person, vehicle or vessel without being detected. The midsize drones can carry smaller payloads, including high-powered camera systems and even a small amount of explosives. The largest drones are typically extremely expensive, very hard to obtain and challenging to fly. These drones carry much larger payloads,  including missiles, multifunction camera systems and other military-related payloads. 

Many terrorist organizations operating in different parts of the world have large drone capabilities. For instance, the Houthi rebels operating out of Yemen have carried out several drone attacks on airports and power plants within Saudi Arabia. They are now moving their drone strike capabilities into the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

Several products are commercially available to detect and mitigate potential drone issues. When looking at the different types of devices for detection and mitigation, it is a good idea to look at what might or might not be allowed by your flag state. Also, you will need to understand what is and is not legal in the countries you are visiting. 

There are several different types of drone detection devices on the market of all different sizes and capabilities. Most of these devices search for and detect radio frequencies used by the drones for control. Many of these devices require a hardware installation and might not be a good fit for large yachts. However, there are a couple of interesting devices on the market that work well in the maritime environment. 

It is estimated by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College that there are approximately 235 counter-drone products that are on the market or are in development. There are counter-drone systems that use radio frequency interference to break the communications link and send the drone out of the airspace. Other technologies relay on detection of the intruder and then they send out an autonomous attack drone. There are also counter-drone devices that shoot some type of projectile to disable to intruding drone.

Most yachts, depending on the  area of operation, don’t have to worry about a missile or explosive strike from a drone. But you do need to consider the possibility of detecting and defeating airborne drones that could invade your privacy or that of your onboard owner or guests. 

There are several cost-effective devices on the market that work well with large yachts. If you are transiting or operating in some of the higher risk areas that have the potential for airborne or waterborne drone strikes, you should consider working with an expert security provider to develop a more detailed plan on detecting and mitigating drone issues. 

Corey Ranslem, CEO at International Maritime Security Associates (www.imsa.global), has more than 24 years of combined Coast Guard and maritime industry experience. Commens are welcome below.

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