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Sounding Off

When pirates tried to board the Seabourn Spirit off the coast of Somalia in 2005, the luxury cruise liner got lucky. The pirates backed off at the last minute. What stopped them? A deafening sound. Seabourn Spirit was carrying a Long-Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD. The 33-inch black cylinder reduces noise frequencies into a narrow ...

When pirates tried to board the Seabourn Spirit off the coast of Somalia in 2005, the luxury cruise liner got lucky. The pirates backed off at the last minute. What stopped them? A deafening sound.

Seabourn Spirit was carrying a Long-Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD. The 33-inch black cylinder reduces noise frequencies into a narrow beam, giving sound the focus of, say, a flashlight. Part of a growing cache of non-lethal weapons, LRADs send out an intensely painful noise up to 3,000 feet away that is only audible to the people being targeted.

That’s welcome protection on the dangerous waters off the coasts of Nigeria and Somalia, where about 20 of the 175-plus pirate attacks of 2006 occurred. "There are a lot of Navy commanders who won’t leave port without them," says Ken Winter, part of the LRAD’s original design team. It’s one way to keep the scallywags at bay.

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