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Kings Point cadets study, serve time in troubled waters

Just two months ago, Laura Ladd was on a ship in the Gulf of Aden, peering into the black night with a flashlight and walkie-talkie. The 22-year-old senior at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point was on "pirate duty." "We rigged the fire hoses, did everything," said Ladd, of Tampa, Fla. The threat of a pirate attack at the time seemed far-fetched. "We kind of blew it off," said Ladd, who like other midshipmen at the school is required to perform 300 days at sea. "Like we were on a U.S. ship so it wasn't going to happen." Now, with two American ships coming under attack by pirates in the past week, Ladd and other students say the threat of piracy is real and immediate. In fact, the Liberty Sun - the Long Island ship attacked Tuesday by Somali pirates - included among its crew John Tosetto, 22, a third-year student at the school. Tosetto and the rest of the crew were unharmed. "More attention has to be paid to piracy," said senior Ben Lyons, 22, of Cape Cod, Mass. The students are among about 60 in an anti-piracy seminar taught by Capt. Jon Helmick, a professor and leading expert in maritime security. Students are researching the financial and human costs of piracy and developing strategies. "They're very interested in coming up with viable strategies to try to prevent these attacks," Helmick said. Helmick said while hands-on experience at sea is the best anti-piracy training, students are educated in their classes, too. All students studying to be deck officers take a course with a computer-generated pirate attack on a full-sized bridge mock-up. Students are taught to keep the deck lights on while in dangerous waters, to have rotating crew members on night watch, and to sound the alarm and whistles when pirates are spotted. All doors to the ship are locked except one where the watchman stands guard and crew members lock themselves in a room - always one that locks from the inside. When pirates get on the ship, students are trained to ward them off with high-pressure fire hoses or evasive maneuvers, such as fishtailing the ship's stern while moving at high speed. The recent attacks especially hit home for Rocco Musumeci, 21, of Great Neck, a senior in Helmick's anti-piracy seminar. In 2006, Musumeci sailed on the Liberty Glory owned by the same Long Island company whose ship was attacked Tuesday. He sailed the same route, in the Gulf of Aden, to deliver humanitarian aid in Kenya. He remembers the drills on the Glory, the plan of locking themselves in the lounge if there were an attack. Fortunately, he said, they never faced one.

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