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Technology Made Here Helps Ward Off Cruise Ship Attackers

A cruise ship attacked by pirates off the East African coast escaped the incursion with the help of technology invented in San Diego.

The Seabourn Spirit was en route to Mombasa, Kenya, when it was attacked at sea about 100 miles from Somalia early Nov. 5.

Somalia, a largely lawless country of 8 million people, has been virtually anarchical since 1991. Its capital, Mogadishu, was the site of the battle between Army Rangers and local fighters, made famous in the film “Black Hawk Down.”

When the ship came under attack from two small boats, the crew used a Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, to target the pirates with a high-powered sonic blast, said Robert Putnam, a spokesman for San Diego-based American Technology Corp.

The hailing and warning device, created in response to the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, targets a set of high-pitched 140- to 150-decibel tones, Putnam said.

Sounds at 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. But at 140 decibels , the equivalent of a firecracker or shotgun blast , the sound becomes painful and causes immediate damage.

The LRAD targets sound within an intense 30-degree beam, Putnam said.

The 33-inch-wide, 45-pound device is deployed on some U.S. Navy ships, Putnam said. And though it was originally conceived for the Defense Department, Putnam said about 25 commercial ships use it , including the Seabourn Spirit.

Bruce Good, a spokesman for Seabourn Cruise Line, a subsidiary of Carnival Cruises, declined comment on safety measures the ship’s crew took. The Associated Press previously quoted Good confirming the use of the device.

After the attack, the ship continued its 16-day trip from Alexandria, Egypt, and was docked in the Seychelle Islands on Nov. 9.

While life was returning to normal for the 151 passengers aboard the ship, American Technology Corp. found itself the focus of national media attention.

Before dashing off to a radio interview, Putnam said the company hopes to seize on the attention it has garnered from the incident.

The company has developed a smaller version of the LRAD for use by police cruisers and harbor patrols, Putnam said, and hopes to create a portable size for law enforcement officers. Putnam said he expected commercial sales of the LRAD to increase.

American Technology Corp., which employed 53 people in September 2004, has historically posted losses, according to stock filings.

It trades on the Nasdaq under the symbol ATCO. It was up 4 cents to $5.41 from its previous close in after-hours trading Nov. 9.

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Deep Sea Diving:

General Atomics, a San Diego-based contracting firm known for its work on the Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, is expanding its development of drones.

This time, the company is heading underwater.

General Atomics, Washington-based Kongsberg Maritime and Louisiana-based C & C; Technologies signed a cooperative agreement Nov. 7 to develop Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, or AUVs.

While the Navy already has AUVs for oceanographic, mine warfare and underwater sonar work, this project is expected to be different.

Company officials say it will address new missions for the Navy, including anti-submarine warfare, and will be marketed for surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.

The announcement comes as General Atomics continues to expand in the region. Once solely based at its Torrey Pines Mesa headquarters, the privately held company has facilities in Sorrento Valley, Mira Mesa and Kearny Mesa.

The company is adding a 150,000-square-foot engineering facility in Rancho Bernardo.

It is scheduled to open in the spring and will provide support to military and commercial programs in General Atomics’ electromagnetic work.

The company is developing magnetic levitation technologies as well as an electromagnetic launch system for aircraft carriers. Jets are currently launched with a steam-based system.

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The USS Nimitz and 5,300 sailors, their families and support personnel returned to San Diego on Nov. 8, after a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf.

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce has estimated that with salaries and defense contracts, one aircraft carrier pumps at least $270 million yearly into the local economy.

While in the Gulf, airmen flew more than 1,100 sorties and logged 6,000 flight hours in support of troops on the ground.

The carrier, which has a crew of 2,500, also helped rescue seven Iraqi fishermen who were aboard a ship that sunk. The Nimitz’s medical department treated another Iraqi fisherman who had been shot by an unknown gunman while at sea.

On its return home, the Nimitz participated in a joint-training exercise with the USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Ronald Reagan, marking the first time three aircraft carriers had joined in a training exercise.

Send any news about defense or technology to Rob Davis at rdavis@sdbj.com. He can be reached at (858) 277-6359.


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