Iridium Communications Inc. has announced an important new component of a comprehensive program for combating piracy on the high seas, by providing mariners with global, reliable, cost-effective voice and data communications. Effective immediately, all calls from ships equipped with Iridium’s reliable communications terminals to the U.K. Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) center are now free of charge. Ships are increasingly using ‘citadels,’ where crew can take refuge and wait safely for rescue when pirates board. A key element in the citadel strategy is a stand-alone, secure Iridium communications link to the outside world, so the crew can connect with the military forces to coordinate rescue operations. Several companies within the Iridium partner ecosystem offer citadel communication packages with a concealed external satellite antenna and cabling that cannot be easily disabled by the pirates on the ship. The UKMTO office in Dubai is the primary point of contact between merchant shipping and naval forces patrolling the danger zone off the Somali coast. UKMTO has direct communication to all naval assets in the area and plays a key role in coordinating the naval response when pirates board and attack ships. Under Iridium’s calling plan, all calls to the UKMTO +971 number will be connected through the Iridium network free of charge. The International Maritime Bureau reports that pirates were holding 28 ships and 518 hostages for ransom as of the end of April 2011. More than 117 ships were attacked, and 20 seized, by pirates off the coast of Somalia since January 1, 2011 alone

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