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May 22, 2018


Sea School: Fight Off Pirates

Art Levy | 6/1/2009

Sea School instructor Bill Hays teaches a class on handling firearms.

Sea School

» Founded: 1977

» Faculty: 37 full-time and 42 part-time instructors

» Students: 4,360

» Popular class: $550 fee to earn a master’s license, which enables the graduate to operate a ship up to 500 gross tons and earn up to $300 to $400 per day at sea.

» Wahl’s favorite anti-piracy tactic: “Don’t be caught taking a billy club or a knife to a gunfight. Repel boarders with fire power.”

» Wahl’s advice for dealing with seasickness: “Change jobs and join the inland towboat industry.”
For more than 30 years, Ron Wahl has taught sailors the basics of working onoceangoing ships. The coursework at his St. Petersburg-based Sea School includes navigation, seamanship, boating terminology, knot-tying and first aid. Responding to concerns about increased piracy at sea, particularly off the horn of Africa, Wahl has expanded his curriculum this year to include classes on handling firearms and repelling intruders. One course simulates an attempted takeover and includes would-be pirates crawling over the sides of the ship. Part of the lesson involves ducking for cover behind bulkheads and making sure that when firing a gun on board, the bullets don’t ricochet and injure someone on your own crew.

Wahl’s Sea School uses classrooms and on-site visits to ships. Students include maritime newbies and experienced seaman looking to earn the licenses and permits required to move up a ship’s hierarchy. Wahl says many of his students want to learn how to defend themselves against pirate attacks.

He tells them to get a gun and learn how to use it, although Wahl acknowledges that for liability reasons many shipping companies don’t allow crews to be armed. Some of the other tactics he recommends include repelling boarders with water cannons, nets, fences and other barriers, but he thinks unarmed crews are at a big disadvantage against Somali pirates who have been hijacking ships. “Ships at sea are like islands,” Wahl says. “Having the Coast Guard or Navy in the area is like calling a cop while you’re being robbed. By the time they get there, you’re cleaning up the mess.”

Tags: Dining & Travel, Southwest, Education

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