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Crews get anti-pirate training

PORTLAND, Maine — With an alarming number of tankers and cargo ships getting hijacked on the high seas, the nation’s maritime academies are offering more training to merchant seamen in how to fend off attacks from pirates armed not with cutlasses and flintlocks but automatic weapons and grenade launchers.

Colleges are teaching students to fishtail their vessels at high speed, drive off intruders with high-pressure water hoses and illuminate their decks with floodlights.

Anti-piracy training is not new. Nor are the techniques. But the lessons have taken on new urgency — and more courses are planned — because of the record number of attacks worldwide in 2008 by outlaws who seize ships and hold them for ransom.

At the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo, Calif., professor Donna Nincic teaches two courses on piracy. Students learn where the piracy hotspots are and how they have shifted over the years.

“If I’ve done anything, I’ve shown them that this isn’t a joke, it’s not about parrots and eye patches and Blackbeard and all that,” Nincic said. “It’s very real and it’s a problem without an easy solution.”

The International Maritime Bureau reported 293 piracy incidents in 2008, an increase of 11 percent from the year before. Forty-nine vessels were hijacked, and 889 crew members were taken hostage. Eleven were killed and 21 reported missing and presumed dead, according to the bureau.

Piracy hotspots have been identified off East Africa and in Southeast Asia, South America and the Caribbean.

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