Maritime Academy teaches to evade pirates

April 10, 2009 7:44:08 PM PDT
Until recently, when we thought of pirates on the high seas, we remembered books or movies. But that is not the case for people who work in the maritime industry, where expensive ships with precious cargoes make tempting targets.

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Of all the subjects students master at the California Maritime Academy, there is one they would prefer to avoid, at least in the real world - pirates.

"They know we value life; they don't value life," Michael Durnan said.

Before he enrolled at the academy to become an officer, Durnan spent 28 years at sea. For him, this ongoing drama off Somalia strikes close to home. Michael served on a ship that pirates boarded. He has looked them in the eye.

"They see that millions of dollars are gotten; I think it's going to be extremely hard to stop," Durnan said.

Since January, pirates have captured at least 14 ships, and hold 250 crew members hostage.

In Academy classes, evasion has become part of the curriculum.

"We instruct students on some of the basics, but the real nuts and bolts of what they should do on a specific ship is more often taught on the vessel itself," Doug Webster of the Maritime Academy said.

And in other situations, they learn as they go. Some, they cannot simulate, like a captain taken hostage in a small boat designed for survival, not escape. Pretty much every container ship has one of the covered lifeboats. They are kind of like a space capsule; it is bare bones, not very comfortable.

"It's going to be really hot inside, if there are swells, it will be rolling around a little bit," Maritime Academy instructor Jesse Cartee said.

Inside that type of vessel there are rows of seats, in cramped quarters, just three hatches and no personal facilities. They are pre-stocked with water and food for 69 people. A few pirates could survive much longer.

"They tell us there is enough food on board here for ten people to survive probably a good month, if necessary," Cartee said.

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