The running battle with Somali pirates has a new weapon - the blaring voice of Britney Spears.
Blasting high decibel screeches at oncoming pirates has long been a tactic to keep them from boarding, but it has recently gotten some fresh pop - like in music.
Merchant navy officer Rachel Owens said her security team has used Spears' music six or seven times against Somali pirates while traveling by the African coast.
"'Hit Me Baby One More Time' is a big one," she laughed. "And 'Oops I Did It Again.' The reason why pop songs are very good is because they have a lot of high-pitched noises and bass notes, which are particularly painful when they're played at ridiculously high volumes."
The noises do not harm the crew on board, however. "It's completely directional. You can stand next to the noise cannon and you can hear it, but it's not painful," Owens said. "But if you stand in front of it at a close range, it would rupture your ear drums." Spears did not respond to a request for comment.
Most pirates don't get the pleasure of hearing the pop princess as they try to take over a ship. Instead they get blasted by long range acoustic devises (LRAD). The equipment is complex and expensive, and was "first used on cruise ships - most noticeably the Seaborne Spirit, which was attacked off Somalia," said Steven Jones, maritime director at the Security Association for the Maritime Industry.
"The LRAD is capable of generating sounds of up to 162dB, which is higher than the human threshold of pain (without ear defenders) which is generally regarded as around 130 dB," said Jones. He said that the sheer sound of LRAD - or Britney Spears' voice - is not necessarily what drives the pirates away. It is the actual warning that those aboard are aware of the pirates' presence and are well-equipped enough to be armed.
"Rather than Britney actually making them break off their attack, it could be they are instead going to seek a softer, unprotected target, one which may not be so vigilant and protected," Jones said.
This year, 352 global maritime security incidents have been recorded, ranging from hijackings to smash-and-grab raids on vessels, according to SAMI.