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Navies to float science robots in pirate waters

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[July 15, 2011]  SYDNEY (AP) -- Driven away by Somali pirates, international scientists are asking the Australian and U.S. navies for a favor: Deploy 19 robotic instruments in the Indian Ocean to record critical data on climate and monsoon.

InsuranceThe Australian and British robots will be released by the two navies over the next six months, said Ann Threhser, a lead scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia's national science agency.

"Everyone is concerned about climate change and this is the first big program that can monitor climate change in the ocean," Thresher told The Associated Press on Friday.

The robots collect key data used for forecasting monsoon and rainfall in Australia and South Asia. A "hole in our observations means our errors are much larger, our uncertainties are much larger and we can't tell farmers what to do because we don't know ourselves," she said.

The nearly 2-meter (6.5-foot) -long robots are programmed to drift 1,000 yards (meters) for 10 days, then fall 1.5 miles (2-kilometers) into the ocean to collect data before ascending to the surface and transmitting information to satellites.

They provide near real-time observations of conditions such as heat and salinity patterns, which drive the climate and monsoonal systems that bring rain to Australia.

The multinational program, which deploys 3,000 instruments globally, relies heavy on commercial shipping and research and chartered vessels to deploy the instruments.

"With the region north of Mauritius being a no-go area for most vessels due to pirate activity," scientists have been unable to seed about one-quarter of the Indian Ocean since the increase in piracy, Thresher said.

The International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center reported Thursday that 163 of 266 attacks globally in the first half of this year, or 61 percent, were carried out by Somali pirates, largely in the Indian Ocean. This was up from 100 attacks by Somali pirates in the same period last year.

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The pirates also hijacked 21 ships, down from 27 in the first half last year, thanks to increased ship vigilance and action by international navies including the U.S., Malaysian, South Korean and Indian.

"This level of international and military cooperation is tremendously important to us in building a sustainable operating ocean-borne system," said Thresher.

She said no scientist has been threatened by pirates.

Australia has more than 300 robots actively working in the multinational program, the second highest after the U.S., reporting to international data centers from the Indian, Pacific and Southern oceans and the Tasman Sea.

Besides the naval vessels, Australia has also chartered a South African yacht, which deployed seven instruments near Mauritius in the relatively safer western Indian Ocean.

It will deploy another 15 instruments between Mauritius and Fremantle in Australia, where it will pick up another 39 floats for deployment northwest of the Australian North West Shelf, an area free of piracy.

[Associated Press; By VIJAY JOSHI]

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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