Tech

Can Pirate Satellite Network Sink High-Seas Hijinks?

There's a new eye in the sky -- and it's not wearing an eyepatch.

A satellite navigation system originally intended to help out with the World Cup has become a cutting edge tool to fight the growing piracy problem in South African waters, Business Day reported.

The network of long range identification and tracking satellites, launched by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), is designed to monitor sea vessels and track down pirates, who have been capturing oil tankers and other large vessels off the coasts of Africa in increasing numbers in recent years.

According to Fast Company, there were over 400 incidents of piracy off the horn of Africa last year alone, which added up to $238 million in ransoms. The site notes that there are presently pirates off the coast of Somalia in control of 30 ships with 660 hostages.

SAMSA CEO Tsietsie Mokhele hopes the satellites can help cut down on what is a dangerous and expensive problem.

"Until now, we had very limited capacity to identify, track and monitor beyond the horizon," Mokhele said. "Many ships have sailed our waters without our knowledge."

However, experts told Fast Company that the system would only be useful if all ocean going vessels were registered and contained transponders to communicate with the satellites. Pirate ships are unregistered, of course, and therefore usually lack such a system.