Thursday, 31 December 2009

Pirates attack tanker off Indian Coast!

Details sketchy, but incident likely to send shockwaves across the country.

MUMBAI, 24 December: An Indian ship with a 41 member crew was attacked by pirates in the Arabian Sea alarmingly close to the Indian coast on Monday. Although details are yet sketchy, quick and decisive action by the Master is said to have foiled the attack, which saw the Indian Navy and Coast Guard swinging into action.

The Shipping Corporation of India owned tanker Maharaj Agrasen was carrying carrying crude oil to Visakhapatnam from Min Al Ahmadi in Kuwait when she was reportedly attacked by pirates with rocket propelled grenades and machine guns barely 370 miles off the West Coast of India. PTI quoted the National Union of Seafarers of India's General Secretary Abdulgani Y Serang as saying, “"The incident took place late on Monday night when a group of pirates in speedboats attacked the vessel with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. However, quick thinking by the ship's captain saved the crew members."  Other officials have confirmed the attack; one said that the Captain tried to ram the tanker into one of the pirate boats, then altered course and increased speed to prevent any pirates boarding the vessel. The crew is apparently unharmed.

The Times of India quotes officials from the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) saying that SCI had contacted them to report the incident. "The owners contacted the directorate and informed us that the vessel was under attack by eight unlit boats about 366 nautical miles west of Ratnagiri," said a DGS official. The ‘Maharaj Agrasen’ was carrying 1.34 lakh metric tonnes of crude oil when she sent out a security alert at almost midnight that day.

Last Friday, Somali pirates had hijacked the Indian vessel 'MV Neseya' with 13 crew off the coast of Kismayo about 170 nautical miles North East of Mombasa; the vessel is reported to have been taken to one of the pirate havens in the country.

In another incident, the Syrian Master of the Panamanian ship Barwaqo was shot dead when he refused to alter course away from Mogadishu; the attack took place close to the harbour when the vessel was approaching the Somali capital, much of which is not under Somali government control. African Union peacekeepers and Somali forces later took control of the ship after a gun battle. Some reports claim that the master may have been killed by “friendly fire”.

The Agrasen attack will undoubtedly send shock waves across the Indian shipping Industry and the security agencies in the country. This attack, if actually just 370 miles off the coast, is new territory for Somali pirates; questions will be asked if this is some new group operating from closer than Somalia.

Analysts say that it also exposes, as an earlier incident this month where two Indian Coast Guard sailors were kidnapped for 24 hours by Sri Lankan fishermen before the Indian forces freed them, that the country’s coastline remains our Achilles’ Heel. Pirate attacks even a thousand miles from Somalia are one thing; a pirate attack just 366 miles off Ratnagiri is indeed alarming, especially in the backdrop of possible Al Shabaab, Pakistani and Al Qaeda terrorist links to the criminals.

It may be premature to comment since details of the Agrasen attack are not known so far, but it is clear that the Indian Navy and Coast Guard will have to do much more to safeguard our coastlines from any future attacks; one Mumbai is more than enough.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Copenhagen's impact on Shipping

The strained United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen is proving to be anything but united as far as member states are concerned. However, even as nations negotiate with the many contentious issues on emissions that have emerged, it appears that the pressure on the shipping industry to do something about its carbon footprint is very much on. Critics allege that the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has done precious little to push for a reduction in greenhouse emissions from ships and that the maritime industries should be now forced to fall in line with others around the world.

Media reports suggest that many options have been tabled to regulate emissions from shipping. Included are market based mechanisms of emissions trading gaining momentum elsewhere in industry, offset crediting, a 'bunker fuel charge', or indeed a  workable combination of all these. The consensus is that the IMO must be made responsible for the final plan that should be robust and sustainable. There are, however, some voices demanding that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) be responsible for the bunker levy fund that would be collected. Although details are sketchy since the negotiations are secretive, observers at the conference believe that the IMO option would be best for the industry.

If the tax is approved, a £100bn “climate aid fund" will be setup to help poorer countries deal with climate change. Almost a quarter of this fund will come from taxes or an emissions trading system specifically for industries such as shipping as aviation, amongst others. Although the official British view is that emissions trading is preferable over taxes on aviation and shipping, political parties in the UK are divided on this stand. The opposition parties there say that 'polluters must pay', rather than taxpayers.

Shipping always has suffered a bad reputation amongst the general public; Copenhagen proved to be no exception. Chanting the slogan, "Hit the Production" demonstrators confronted police outside the Oesterport rail station close to the headquarters of Danish shipping giant Moeller-Maersk last weekend. Although 200 protestors were detained, the industry's cause was not helped by the media headlines and images that flashed around the world.

Industry opinion within shipping is as divided as it is at Copenhagen. Some European shipowners agree that something needs to be done to regulate
Greenhouse gas emissions, and point out that 5pc of all global carbon dioxide emissions come from ships. Unsurprisingly, many developed countries agree.
Initial resistance from developing nations has thawed somewhat, though many say that this would have a negative impact on their industries. However, a few delegates told reporters privately that the bunker tax proceeds going to the climate aid fund was a good idea. Increased pressure on shipping was seen to mount; airlines enter the European emissions trading scheme in 2012, and critics allege that it is high time shipping paid its share too.

Meanwhile, the IMO is said to be keen to be part of the administration of any scheme that is approved at Copenhagen; it probably fears that a move to get the UNFCCC to control the fund would challenge its regulatory authority. However, most analysts say that a tax regime would be extremely difficult to implement or enforce with so many vendors of bunkers located in unregulated or poorly regulated countries.

The tax regime is hardly a done deal, anyway, with negotiators saying that any agreement will be very difficult, and more so in the present tense atmosphere at the Cophenhagen summit. Nevertheless and regardless of the final outcome at the talks, it appears obvious that the maritime industries are slated to come under increasing pressure on global warming in future.


Thursday, 17 December 2009

Four and a half years on a catamaran!

Family of four back in Hong Kong after epic voyage

Arni Highfield and his family have just completed an epic four and half years at sea, living and sailing on a catamaran halfway around the world. They returned to Hong Kong two days ago to a world that their daughter Molly (11) said was 'unfamiliar' in her blog even as she was thrilled to be back in Hong Kong.

Arni, a former British merchant mariner and retired Hong Kong marine police officer, his wife Cam, a Hong Kong Chinese who was once a Cable News reporter, have visited twenty countries along with their daughters Molly and Nancy in their herculean voyage. Their path took them to the South Pacific, Guam and Micronesia, Japan and South Korea, with long halts in many places. The daughters were homeschooled by Cam aboard the Jade; Cam says, laconically, that it was just like school except that they did not have any classmates.

It was always Arni Highfield's dream to travel around the world in a yacht and "to go to places and meet people together as a family." Nearing retirement, Arni read 'mountains of yachting magazines', finally buying a yacht called Paloma at the Hebe Haven Yacht Club in Hong Kong, which he later swapped for the Rafiki, a 40 foot yacht, before finally deciding to buy a 42 foot catamaran from the United States, one that he eventually christened "Jade". The entire family sailed out of Hong Kong for England on the QEII; the voyage on the liner was a benefit given to Arni on retirement. They then flew to Florida to take over Jade, setting sail from the US in the summer of 2005.

They traveled up and down the East Coast of the United States before moving south through the Panama Canal. They then followed the West Coast of South America, before sailing on to the Galapagos Islands, Micronesia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Australia. From there they sailed to Guam and Japan, and on to South Korea and Taiwan.

They returned from their fascinating journey this month, safely arriving in Hong Kong at after a scary three day 30 to 40 knots downwind voyage from Kenting, Taiwan. They had many cherished moments on their voyage but some of the most fascinating were the wild animals of the Galapagos, the people in the Cook Islands and Guam, and the culture in Vanuatu.

For now, they plan to remain in Hong Kong for a while living on board the Jade, and see if they can adjust to life in their homeport. In any case, their once in a lifetime voyage will be a tough act to follow.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Pirate ‘stock exchange’ flourishes in Somalia

“We have made piracy a community activity”

 Somalia seemed to take another few steps forward in its apparent descent into complete anarchy last week as a suicide bomber wearing the traditional veil worn by Muslim women killed at least ten people at a graduation ceremony in Mogadishu, including two Government officials.  

The tenuous hold of the Somali transitional government, long supported by US backed African troops and military equipment, does not extend much beyond a few streets of the capital Mogadishu. To make matters worse, the war zone threatens to spill over to Kenya as Al Qaeda linked insurgent group Al Shabaab seized Dhobley, a Somali town near the border last week, defeating rival Hizbul Islam rebels whose leaders have reportedly sought refuge in Kenya. Al Shabaab had threatened to attack Kenya in June, and although it has been fighting the government in Mogadishu beside the Hizbul Islam, it is obvious that there are no long term alliances between the two: a fact that bodes ill for stability in war torn Somalia.

As is further proof of lawlessness or anarchy was needed, here it is: Reuters now reports that the pirates in Haradheere, just 250 miles from Mogadishu, have set up a sort of collaborative arrangement. A criminal consortium now allows ordinary residents to participate in the funding of ship hijackings in exchange for a future share of the loot; “a sort of stock exchange meets criminal syndicate”. Although financiers from outside Somalia have long been suspected of underwriting Somali piracy, this new in house retail arrangement for funding piracy says much about the state of law and order in Somalia and about the depth of pirate support.

This is how it works. An ‘exchange’ was setup to manage pirate investments and finances. Much like a legitimate business would, pirate ‘companies’ seek financial participation from ordinary residents of Haradheere; this will fund future pirate activity and gets them local support and protection. Up to 72 ‘companies’ have been listed in the Haradheere exchange so far, up from fifteen when they started the exchange during the monsoons this year. Ten of these companies boast proven success in hijacking ships, a record of accomplishment that could make them more attractive to investors. This pirate "stock exchange" is open 24 hours a day and is booming.

A pirate told Reuters "The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials ... we've made piracy a community activity." They have also transformed Haradheere from a sleepy fishing village to a dusty pot holed town complete with traffic jams caused by brand new luxury SUVs purchased with ransom pickings, and a town in which Mogadishu has no control.  A local official says, “Piracy pays for everything.”

From the story of Abdirahman Ali, an exile from Mogadishu’s fighting who guards a hijacked Thai fishing boat to that of ‘piracy investor’ Sahra Ibrahim waiting for her cut of a ransom payment, piracy has stakeholders everywhere in a region with close to zero employment opportunities otherwise. Sahra got a rocket propelled grenade from her ex husband as alimony and contributed it to the pirate syndicate. Now she awaits her profit.

"Piracy related business has become the main profitable economic activity in our area and as locals we depend on their output," said Mohamed Adam, the town's deputy security officer. "The district gets a percentage of every ransom from ships that have been released, and that goes on public infrastructure, including our hospital and our public schools."

As coalition navies fight pirates at sea and merchant mariners dread transits through the region, people like Sahra Ibrahim are the fresh investors who drive booming pirate syndicates. As with other stock markets, greed overcomes everything. "I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the 'company'," she says.


Friday, 4 December 2009

ITF gets tough on piracy

The ITF says that merchant ships should not transit Somali piracy affected waters except in exceptional circumstances. In a strongly worded statement, the organisation also asked Flag States and shipowners to take immediate action to end piracy. “Save in exceptional circumstances (clarified later as having sufficient naval escort protection or protection on board), ships should not transit the (affected) area. The risk of attack is now so great that putting seafarers in harm’s way amounts to a breach of the shipowner’s duty of care,” the statement said.

ITF Maritime Coordinator Steve Cotton explained: “There are countries actively fighting piracy and there are owners training and supporting their crews to resist it. Then there are others who are shirking responsibility and as good as accepting its steadily growing menace, which has now brought us to the point where one of the world’s great trading routes is now almost too dangerous to pass through. Today’s statement reflects the frustration of all those who work at sea at the dire situation we’ve reached. It calls into question the very legality of continuing to send ships through much of the Indian Ocean. It is therefore imperative that not only must protective escorts be used but that flag states immediately decide on the protective measures that they must recommend for the ships that are flying their flag and that those ships’ operators comply with them.”

Cotton also spoke scathingly on what he said was an open secret in shipping, "that many of the world’s largest ship registers have provided not one vessel to patrol an ocean that can only be made safe by an increase in the number of warships needed to aggressively patrol and police it. I am not aware of a single flag of convenience country that is acting in this way to protect the ships that are supposedly their responsibility.”  

The ITF statement said that seafarers should not be penalised for refusing to remain on vessels transiting through piracy high risk areas, adding that they had the right to refuse to put themselves in harms way and be relieved prior to such a transit.  "The ITF calls on flag States and shipowners to uphold seafarers’ rights in this regard," the statement said. On a separate note, the Federation restated its opinion that, owing to liability and such issues, armed seafarers aboard merchant ships was a bad idea.

Meanwhile, a Chief Officer has been killed in an attack off Benin as pirates boarded on the Liberian tanker 'Cancale Star'.  The ship was carrying 89,000 cubic metres of cargo and was just eighteen miles off the West African coast of Benin when seven pirates seized it.  Although the 24 man crew captured one Nigerian pirate, media reports later confirmed by the shipowners Chemikalien Seetransport said that the Chief Officer has been killed during the attack. He was a Lithuanian national. Other crew include Russians, Ukrainians and Filipinos.  Chemikalien also said that some of the crew have suffered injuries during the attack.

The tanker's Latvian Captain, Jaroslavs Semenovics, said around six or seven pirates had approached the tanker in a speedboat, boarded and marched a sailor to the Master's cabin at gunpoint. They forced the Master to open the safe and made off with an undisclosed amount of ship's cash. Analysts say that although pirate attacks off the West Coast of Africa are less frequent than those off the East Coast, they tend to be more violent and pose a higher risk to a ship's crew. Benin based journalist Esther Tola told the BBC that the pirates were thought to be from Nigeria.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) says piracy in the waters of West Africa is on the rise, with 100 such incidents recorded last year.  Clearly, the ITF's upping the ante could not have come at a more opportune time, Somalia or not.


Spain to call for EU pirate blockade?

Meanwhile, pirates attacks a thousand miles from Somalia

Reports emerging from Europe say that Spain wants a European Union naval taskforce to blockade three ports in Somalia that are pirate havens. It is believed that the Spanish defence minister will push for the blockade next week, and call for a tracking of ransom payments internationally.

Many media reports had suggested sometime ago that a deal to free the 36 Spanish crewmembers of the fishing vessel Alkrana could be nearing completion after the Spanish PM commented on the hijack on a visit to Poland. There had been speculation that two accused pirates were to be released by Spain in exchange for the Alkrana; this, after the pirates on board had threatened to kill all the crew on the fishing vessel. The two Somalis were captured by the Spanish navy after the Alkrana hijack and are to face trial in Spain. Spain later denied that any deal was on, saying, however, that it would be willing to transfer the two pirates to a prison in Somalia to face trial.  

The last week or so has witnessed new worrying signs that Somali pirates are back in action after the SW monsoons. Not just that, but all indications are that they are now looking to up the ante in a region far beyond their expanded attack zones. In addition, there seem to be, sometimes, additional political and other dimensions to the attacks.

As an example, there are persistent reports that Al Mizan, a ship hijacked last week, may have been carrying short and medium range missiles. Although a pirate in control of the Al Mizan told the Voice of America that this was not true, media reports suggest that the ship had, in the past, been carrying arms to Somalia in contravention of the UN embargo on the country. Al Mizan has 15 Indian crew on board in a complement of 18. Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme told a newswire that he believed the ship was using a fake name.

A day after the Al Mizan incident, in the longest range pirate attack ever, a Hong Kong Registered crude oil tanker was fired at a thousand miles from the Somali coast and 400 miles NE of Seychelles. The 330 metre, 160,000 tonne BV Lion caught fire briefly but evaded capture; the long range nature of the attack sent shockwaves throughout the industry, showing once again that the pirate's logistical, seamanship and navigational skills extended far beyond the Somali coast. The EU Naval force Navfor, while confirming the attack, is obviously not in a position to patrol thousands of square miles of the Indian Ocean. "This was the longest range of a pirate attack off the Somali coast ever," EU Navfor said in a statement. Pirate attacks continued unabated elsewhere in the region: 12 in the last month alone. Up to a dozen vessels and 200 crew are said to be held by the pirates presently.

Meanwhile, the figures for casualties on land in Somalia have been rising as well. The country has suffered 18 years of civil war and hardline Islamist insurgents linked to Al Qaeda are now fighting President Ahmed's U.N. backed government. In the last two years alone, a reported 19,000 civilians have been killed and a million and a half made homeless.

A blockade, in fact, seems to be the only solution. That, and finding a solution to the civil war within Somalia.


Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Madras High Court rules on Maritime Course jurisdiction.

Chennai, November 24 The Madras High Court has set aside two notices of the Director General of Shipping (DGS) that sought to limit the power of the Uthandi based Indian Maritime University. Justice S Manikumar was making a ruling on petitions filed by Mr. C. Jothikumar of the Maritime Institutes' Association and the International Maritime Academy. The Court's ruling appears to indicate clearly that the IMU should be, in its opinion, the sole authority for approval, affiliation and regulation of marine courses.

Media reports carried in the Hindu and the Times of India quote Justice Manikumar of the High Court saying that the impugned notices, which were in the form of executive instructions purported to be issued in exercise of statutory provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, could not override statutory provisions of the IMU Act. While passing judgement on the writ petitions, Justice Manikumar said that institutions such as the AICTE, MCI and DCI were statutory bodies created and empowered to grant recognition, approve courses, permit intake, etc, but the DGS was not specifically created to do so.

The DGS notices were issued in April and May of this year, after which petitions had been filed in Chennai asking that these notices be quashed. The petitioners had pleaded to the court that IMU's 'power of affiliation, approval of courses and regulations, supervision of member institutes of the petitioner’s association and of the petitioner institute' be not interfered with, as these powers arose from the IMU Act. This, according to the Maritime Institutes' Association and the International Maritime Academy, included regulating the intake of students to Maritime Education and Training institutions, Pre Sea and Post Sea training and fixing eligibility criteria for students, all of which they said should be in the IMU's domain.

The petitioners claimed that the DGS had issued notices that restricted the powers of the IMU; the formation of a 'Monitoring and Implementation Committee' (MIC) was also mooted, with representation from the DGS and IMU. The MIC was proposed to, amongst other things, look at new approvals and additional capacities for MET courses. The petition claimed that the DGS was a subordinate officer under the Union Shipping Secretary whereas the Vice Chancellor of IMU was an independent authority. Justice Manikumar agreed with the petitioners, saying that executive instructions issued under the statutory provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act could not override statutory provisions of the IMU Act, and that the DGS was not specifically empowered to grant recognition of institutes or approve courses or additional intake. Doing so would infringe upon the rights of the University as set out in the IMU act, in the court's opinion. The DGS could not usurp the powers of the IMU, Justice Manikumar said. "The contentions that the DGS is a regulatory body for the entire maritime education cannot be countenanced."


Thursday, 26 November 2009

WWII 'Samurai Submarines' found

Subs could surface & assemble bomber aircraft in minutes.

Marine archaeologists have found two World War II era Japanese attack submarines near Pearl Harbour, decades after they were sunk by the US navy to keep their revolutionary technology away from the Soviets, who were demanding access after the war.

During WWII, the Japanese designed these submarines as the ultimate stealth weapon; they could pop up, assemble and launch bomber aircraft within minutes and then submerge. They were almost certainly built to target the critical US East Coast cities of New York and Washington as well as Panama further south. Fortunately for the Americans, WWII ended before these subs could be used, as they were developed late in 1944 and in small numbers. In fact, up to five of these subs were part of the Japanese fleet that fell into US hands after the war. They were towed to Pearl Harbour for inspection. Later, the US, chary of sharing the advanced technology used with the Soviets, scuttled the subs south of Oahu outside Hawaii without bothering to record the exact location.

Archaeologist Terry Kerby of the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory has looked for these submarines in manned submersibles since 1992. One, the I401, was found in 2005 and two more (the I14 and I201) were discovered this year. Two more remain missing, the I400 and the I203; the former is supposed to be one of the largest non nuclear submarines ever built.

Each sub kept up to three aircraft in a watertight hanger, each of which could be armed with 1800 lb bombs. Part of Japan's Sen Taka class, these were the fastest submarines on earth in their time, zipping along underwater at 22 knots. They could also dive deeper than any other Japanese submarine and stay underwater for up to a month. Conventional features included retractable deck guns, retractable diving planes and a sleek profile for speed.

The submarines were designed to carry and launch folding wing plane bombers by catapult within minutes after surfacing and dive underwater immediately. Experts say that the I14 could go 37,500 miles, or one and half times around the earth, without refuelling and then launch its bombers. The largest I400 submarines were 400 feet long with technology that was way ahead of the time. Nobody on earth had that kind of long range capability until the era of nuclear submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles much later.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Van Tilburg says that these samurai subs now belong to the ocean and that people should protect them as they would protect reefs and wildlife. "It is a very fitting place for them. It's dark and quiet, it's deep and cold. They can rest there for quite a while," he told the National Geographic.


Monday, 23 November 2009

Indian Merchant Naval Officer’s killer gets eighteen years

“Incomprehensible and evil attack,” says British judge.

Kunal Mohanty (pic courtesy Crown Office)

London, Nov 14 Christopher Miller has been jailed for at least eighteen years for his unprovoked racial killing of Indian merchant naval officer Kunal Mohanty in Glasgow in March this year. Mohanty had chosen Glasgow to appear for his Masters exams. His wife was expecting their first child at the time of the murder.

Judge John Beckett found the attack "as incomprehensible as it was evil" at the sentencing. Miller, a 25 year old unemployed man, had slashed Mohanty’s neck with a knife in Central Glasgow as the Indian officer and friends were walking down the street. Miller had approached Mohanty and asked for a cigarette. When Mohanty replied that he did not smoke, Miller pulled out a lock knife without warning and slashed his neck. A doctor who tried to save Mohanty testified that the 18cm wound, which severed the carotid artery and jugular vein, was one of the worst injuries he had seen in 29 years of practice.

While Mohanty lay bleeding, Miller was caught on CCTV cameras whooping and celebrating the attack in a nearby car park with a friend. He later burned his clothes to destroy evidence.

Miller’s brother Jamie testified that the killer had told him later that he had “done a Paki”. Miller had claimed all through the trial that the attack was not racist but a botched drunken mugging attempt that had gone “horribly wrong.” His lawyer had claimed that the fact that Mohanty was an Asian was “irrelevant” to the tragic death. The jury did not buy this, convicting Miller unanimously of murder. Neither did the judge, who told Miller in the courtroom that his behaviour after the murder suggested that he was anything but sorry at the time. "You went on to commit further crimes and appeared to celebrate them,” he said, referring to Miller’s behaviour later at an Asian takeaway, where he behaved aggressively with staff, threatening them, shouting racial abuse and spraying them with ketchup. “There can be no justification for slashing the neck of a man who had done you no harm whatsoever. Everyone in this country should feel shame for what you did.”

Kunal’s brother Kanishk is justifiably angry. “This is supposed to be a developed country. I fail to understand what kind of developed country it is where citizens of that country can do something like this to someone simply because they are different,” he said. Meanwhile, back home in Jalandhar, Kunal’s father Devendar Mohanty expressed some satisfaction that the killer had been convicted. He told the media, "Yes, I know my son will not come back, but I am happy that something has been done". Kunal’s mother Suman is less forgiving. “This sort of criminal should be hanged,” she said. “I wish there was the death penalty in England.”

Postscript: In connected developments, British authorities have expressed concern over the activities of racist and neo Nazi organisations in recent days after the far right British National party achieved its best result so far in a Scottish election; at least some British newspapers, including the Guardian, fear that the Miller verdict will only increase tensions in Glasgow. The BNP has been accused of orchestrating racist confrontations in the past.


Sunday, 15 November 2009

Locomotive Breath

All systems are go now. Lock and load time.

Goals: Neutralising any threats to corporate profitability, our vibrant democracy and the American-oops, Indian- way.

the moolah that can be made by the ongoing pillage of resources in India.

Collateral damage:
A billion people, give or take. The environment. Small stuff like that.

Threats: Pesky tribals who worry about their piddly pieces of land. Annoying environmental groups who carp about the decimation of heritage. Doomsday prophets who whine about Climate Change. Naxalites and Maoists. Humanists and other such endangered species. Governments who waver on the road to globalisation and capitalisation, especially before elections.

Biggest threat: Country emerging from stupor with faculties intact.

Action taken:
• Unlimited money, legal and other muscle lined up? Check.
• Capitalism and globalisation sold as the only way to salvation? Check.
• Laws suitably amended for plunder? Largely; work in progress.
• Privatisation polices in line with corporate expectations? Check.
• Industry still blinkered and focused on bottomlines? Check.
• Middle class neutralised? Sensex ticker still mesmerising? Lemmings still stuporous? Check.
• Governments and bureaucracy in pocket? Check.
• Foreign firms with prior experience at managing fallout of greed on board? Check.
• Corporate media co-opted? Check. Other media browbeaten? Not enough.

To Do List
• More of action taken stuff, see above.
• TV anchors to be more self righteous: helps in a billion people letting off steam impotently.
• Government to be persuaded to take the law and order path instead of the equitable one wrt tribals, while solving the Naxalite issue.
• Cultivate more Kodas.
• Beef up PR departments. (Note: Use the term ‘corporate responsibility’ a lot.)
• Browbeat and buy media. (Note: Use model successfully used in the US, UK and Australia)
• Outsource dirty tricks department to companies like Monsanto, if possible, as blaming foreigners works as a good substitute for solving problems. (Note: examine possibilities of the GM and mining lobbies partnering in ongoing plunder)


From Tull: The train it won’t stop going, now it won’t slow down.


Or Yipikaye etcetra. That’s from Die Hard and is more appropriate.


Thursday, 12 November 2009

Security Update

Israeli commandos board and arrest containership near Cyprus.
Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Israeli parliament that the 'Francop' had been seized about 100 miles off the Israeli coastline and those elite Israeli commandos had found that arms and ammunition on board. The Francop, an Antiguan registered 2003 built vessel, apparently claimed to be on a humanitarian mission and tried to evade capture. The BBC reported that the Francop has been taken to Ashdod port in Israel for inspection. Israeli defence sources claim that the arms were destined for Hezbollah and had been shipped by Iran. However, the operators of the Francop, Cyprus based UFS, told the media that they were unaware of the contents of the owners, were not the owners of the ship, and were in any case legally not permitted to check what was in the containers. "That is the responsibility of the customs authorities at the ports we call", a spokesperson for UFS said. The containers in question originated in Iran, according to Israeli sources. The Francop was on a voyage from Iran bound for Syria or Lebanon, with intermediate calls in Yemen and Sudan. The crew of the vessel has denied any knowledge about the armaments in question.

Senior NATO adviser criticises British government for not investigating piracy links to terrorists. Lord Jopling says "paying off pirates could encourage terrorist groups into further acts of piracy." Jopling has written a report for NATO. Titled, "The Growing Threat of Piracy", the report says that much greater effort is needed to examine links between piracy and terrorism. “There is as yet no evidence that money goes to terrorists, but given all of the rumours that al Qaeda has active cells in Somalia, it would not be of huge surprise if there is a connection there," it says. "We will not find out until the government takes the initiative with other interested states to look at the magnitude of the sums involved and where the money is going.” Industry analysts say that a declared link between terrorism and piracy could queer the pitch for ransom payments, as they would then become illegal in the UK, being considered as funding terrorism. The British Home office had promised four months ago to investigate links between Somali pirates and Al Shabaab in Somalia, who many believe is part of the Al Qaeda network. The present scenario allows shipowners to pay ransoms and be reimbursed by insurers. If this is the reason for the government dilly-dallying, observers say, it is a dangerous game they are playing.

Union Home Ministry refuses to confirm Nov 2 intelligence alert warning of sea based terrorist strikes. Earlier, an ANI/Times Now report had said that an alert had been issued by the Intelligence Bureau for Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata following information that about three dozen members of the Lashkar e Taiba were planning to attack from the sea, and that the Navy, police and Coast Guard had been put on a nationwide high alert in all these cities as well as in Ahmedabad.
The alert was based on specific information, the news channel claimed. The reasons for the authorities refusing to confirm the IB warning are unclear, but security experts say that these attacks are linked to plans of Pakistan based terror outfits to unleash a major attack to mark the first anniversary of the Mumbai attacks. The arrest of terror operatives in the US and the subsequent FBI warning to India alerting authorities to possible attacks on prominent boarding schools in North India as well as on a military establishment in Delhi bear this thinking out.


Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Billion Dollar Baby

Turku, October 31 It is the largest and most expensive cruise ship in the world, with a price tag of anywhere between 1.4 and 1.9 billion dollars. Oasis of the Seas, probably the most opulent passenger ship the world has ever seen, has sailed after it was handed over to the Royal Caribbean Cruiseline by STX's shipyard in Turku, Finland last week.

The luxurious Oasis of the Seas has a massive passenger capacity of 6360 and will carry 2160 crew. It has 2700 staterooms and 28 loft suites, the largest one with an 80 square metre balcony and a Jacuzzi. Sixteen decks high, with a LOA of 360m and a beam of 47m, it is the epitome of extravagance.

Other statistics are equally staggering: Twenty one swimming pools and an ice cube making capacity of 50 tonnes a day guarantee that guests are kept cool and refreshed. Other on board facilities include a casino, spa, shops and restaurants, pool surfing, rock climbing and a zip line. The liner has 5000 kilometers of electrical wiring, 90,000 m2 of carpeting, a science lab, twelve thousand plants including real trees and an aqua park. A veritable museum and cultural centre, with 7000 pieces of art on display, not to speak of the hosting of Broadway and ice shows, the 225,000 behemoth will carry its high living passengers at a speed of just over 20 knots.

It also has seven themed 'neighbourhoods', a new concept which allows passengers to choose their surroundings based on their personal preferences or moods. For example, one neighbourhood, Boardwalk, will take holidaymakers to the nostalgic seaside piers of their youth. The first amphitheatre at sea, AquaTheater, will be the biggest freshwater pool at sea, ever. This will be a pool and rock climbing area by day and a theatre by night. The Royal Promenade will have, in addition to the more common luxury features of present day ships, a skylight and a ' Rising Tide bar', which is a bar that will move between three decks of the ship, allowing customers to get on and off at different level promenades. There will also be a shopping mall, shops and cafes, a champagne bar and a horde of other coffee shops and salons. An 'adults only’ solarium at the bow will feature whirlpools. The sports deck will have basketball, two flowriders, two rock walls, "oasis dunes" and mini golf. An indoor theatre seats 1,300 guests.


Central Park

Amongst some other 'neighbourhoods, the Royal Promenade, Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Centre, Entertainment Place and Youth Zones will each offer a whole gamut of mind boggling activities in a setting of your choosing. If you want more excitement, you could always stroll in the first park at sea, or use a zip line that races diagonally nine decks above an open air atrium. Moreover, if you want to retire to your loft suite, you can enjoy panoramic views of the ocean with floor to ceiling windows.

Richard Fain, the chief executive of Royal Caribbean, told reporters at the launch, 'Part of the thought process of the ship is to overcome the old myths people have about cruising. It's very hard to look at a vessel like this and think that cruising is secondary when you can choose rock climbing, surfing or zip lining.'

The splendorous ship, that took two and a half years to build, is now en route from Turku to its home port of Fort Lauderdale in the US, where some further upgradation to its amenities will take place before it makes its 4 day maiden voyage to Labadee in Haiti on December 1. She will be cruising mainly in the Mediterranean thereafter, or at least until her equally lavish sister vessel, "Allure of the Seas" hits the waves in 2011.

As for the billion dollar question, “What will a trip on the most expensive luxury liner in the world cost? Well, as they say, "If you have to ask, you can't afford it."



Cleaning up the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’

Knowledge of the existence of the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is hardly new: believed to be roughly twice the size of Texas, the “Plastic Vortex”, another name for this area, is a vast area of the Pacific awash with garbage. It does not have strict boundaries, which vary seasonally. Moreover, although floating patches and small pieces of plastics and garbage have been long reported by fishermen and seamen transiting the zone little was known about the magnitude of the problem until Project Kaisei was launched last year.

Project Kaisei (Kaisei is Japanese for Ocean Planet) uses the Tall ship Kaisei to determine the best way to clean up this ‘8th Continent’: research is being conducted to determine whether the all pervasive plastics found in this huge area can be collected and recycled effectively. Plastics kill marine life, enter human food chains and have an overall detrimental effect on human and animal health. Unfortunately, over 60% of plastics and other wastes (including rubber and aluminium) in the ocean come from land based sources and move around with tides, currents and winds once they are waterborne. Even worse, plastics degenerate into smaller pieces over time and with ultraviolet effect. It is a huge problem: we produce 260 million tonnes of plastic annually, and National Geographic says that 85 million plastic bottles are used every three minutes.

The ‘Garbage Patch’ is not all pervasive or dense; it consists mainly of millions of minute pieces of degenerating plastic and other garbage that accumulate or are trapped within spiralling clockwise currents between Japan and the American continent. Nevertheless, signs of the degeneration are ominous and obvious in good weather. Mary Crawley, one of the founders of the project, says, "I've been out to the same part of the ocean 30 years ago, and then it was clean oceanic wilderness. Now it's like a dump." Crawley was on board the ‘Kaisei’ along with two dozen other scientists and key personnel to research the gyre and find solutions. She told CNN, "When you're first out there, you see this beautiful, beautiful deep blue ocean. And then you look closer, and you see that there's this proliferation of floating garbage. And depending on what part of the ocean one's in, you can stand on the bow of the boat and count 400 pieces of garbage. Or in some places, you might only find 25 to 50 pieces."

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, also lent its research ship ‘New Horizon’ to the Project. Along with the Tall Ship Kaisei, the vessels covered 35000 miles in the region, collecting and analysing samples and examining options. They found some larger pieces of plastic and other garbage, but what shocked them was “the density and the pervasiveness and extent" of small plastic particles they found. Both ships started sampling the water to collect organic life about 400 miles off the coast of California. Out of more than a hundred samples, not a single net returned without little plastic particles. “Because they (plastic pieces) are so small, it's hard to find water without it," Crowley said. Experts say that the effect on the health of other marine life and humans eating this contaminated fish could hardly be positive.

Project Kaisei is busy researching ways to recycle the deadly plastic. Crowley says the goal is to fund multiple expeditions every year, including on commercial fishing vessels, to do so. "We would go out there with large commercial fishing vessels and bring back tons of garbage. And then we would work with our recycling partners and we'd recycle this material."

One problem is that calm weather is required for collecting the garbage. The Project is contemplating the possibility of installing a recycling plant on a ship, which could collect garbage round the clock in good weather. Also being examined: ways to convert plastic to fuel or building material using advanced and patented technology.


Saturday, 31 October 2009

Jessica Watson sets off around the world

Four days, ago, Australian sailor Jessica Watson finally set sail on a 22,000 nautical mile around the world solo trip from Australia. Jessica is just 16, and wants to be the youngest person to complete the journey nonstop and unassisted.

Jessica's plans had raised a raging controversy in Australia and across maritime circles, as an earlier trip from the Sunshine Coast resulted in a near disaster: she ran into a 60,000 tonne Chinese bulk carrier, probably while asleep, and broke her yacht's mast. Critics point to Maritime Safety Queensland's report into the collision, which criticised her navigational skills: she had dozed off without turning on a warning device, did not have any clear plan and had kept a log with "irregular latitude and longitude entries". Media reports after the collision had alleged she kept a safety checklist on a scrap piece of paper, was otherwise unqualified to undertake such a perilous journey and was way too young for such an exacting expedition. Psychologists warned of the effects of prolonged loneliness on one so young; it is an eight month solo voyage, after all.

Her supporters, including her family, friends and corporate sponsors, claimed otherwise. They said that the media 'was being sexist and criticising Jessica's determination because she was a girl. They claimed that the boat and safety measures had been augmented, that Jessica was more than capable and that her determination to undertake the voyage after the collision showed the kind of grit that was required to succeed in the epic voyage. Jessica's mother Julie said that the collision had provided the opportunity to reexamine Jessica's safety and fatigue management systems, and that everything had been done to guarantee the girl's safety: "Everything has been revisited and ramped up, so we've just left no stone unturned,' she said. "She probably has more gear on board than most ships," the mother said.

These arguments are now moot anyway: At the time of writing this report, Jessica is 150 miles off Sydney and doing six knots, according to reports. She has enough technology to assist her on the 'Ella's Pink Lady', her Sparkman and Stephens 34 yacht. Besides improved radar equipment subsequent to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's preliminary report on the earlier collision, the 10.23 m yacht is equipped with satellite navigation and tracking, communication, radio, weather and storm tracking, satellite phones and internet for the eight month voyage.

Jessica's route will take her from off Sydney towards northern New Zealand, from where she will turn to port towards Fiji. Once past Fiji and Samoa, she goes Northeast past the Line Islands and then turns South past the roaring forties before rounding the 'Everest of Ocean Sailing', Cape Horn. She then sails 'Cape to Cape', rounding the Cape of Good Hope before heading home to Australia.

The real tests will be Jessica's responses to the inevitable hairy situations that she will face and her ability to make the right decisions under pressure. There are other questions in many minds: how much risk is acceptable when teenagers too young to vote want adventure at sea? And, is Jessica adequately capable of handling the yacht in all weather conditions over a period of eight months?

We will find out the answers to these questions eventually. Meanwhile, can only applaud this teenager's grit and determination.


Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Seabreacher: The $50,000 dolphin.

Mumbai October 12 Innespace, a California based watercraft design company, has finally rolled out its astonishing dolphin like submersible vessel into the commercial marketplace. By forking out USD $50,000 and upwards, you can now own a boat that will dive, roll and jump at speeds that make you dizzy.

Their two seater Seabreacher J, the latest model, cruises at 40mph and hits underwater speeds of 20mph while the passengers sit in a sealed cockpit. It can dive, albeit for short periods, to five feet, although it often requires to stay just below the water surface with a snorkel sticking out above the water. Safety features ensure that you cannot go too deep; the engine cuts out and the boat pops up to the water surface. Of course, you can use it like a normal boat, keep the cockpit canopy open, and zip along at 40kmph on the water.

Other safety devices include a pneumatically watertight cockpit and engine space, kept dry with the smart use of inflatable pneumatic aircraft seals. Even if water enters, three robust bilge pumps can automatically pump these spaces out. The Seabreacher, in addition, has an impact resistant monocoque structure, a collapsible nose section in the event of frontal impact, breakaway wing tips and an onboard fire extinguisher.

Rob Innes and Dan Piazza founded Innespace Productions in 1997. The company began as a design and development company specialising in high performance submersible watercraft. Their first prototype, ‘The Dolphin’ (also the Sweet Virgin Angel) remains a research and development platform for the new Seabreacher. Says Rob Innes today, “After over ten years of prototyping, we have really developed a design that is very intuitive to drive, safe, and easy to service.”

The basic model of the custom built Seabreacher will set you back USD$48,000. With a tinted canopy, advanced instrumentation including a mounted underwater video camera, customised upholstery and underwater viewports, the price could go up to as much as $68,000. Shipping costs are extra, at $3,000 to $6,000 per boat. The Seabreacher can be operated in either fresh or salt water, and be launched from a conventional boat ramp using a trailer.

Innespace claims that the Seabreacher J combines the thrill of flying a submersible watercraft with the practicality and dependability of a conventional personal watercraft. After watching the videos of this amazing craft in the water, we would have to agree.

Technical profile and Vital Statistics, Seabreacher J

The Seabreacher J incorporates a jet drive for increased safety and better surface performance. The J model is approved for recreational use by the US Coastguard and is able to be registered as a conventional powerboat in most countries. It is powered by a Rotax engine which is available in 155hp or 215hp supercharged variants.

Length: 16' (4.89m)
Width: 3' (0.9m)
Wingspan : 7' 10” (1.9m)
Approx. weight 1250lb (566kg)
Max surface speed: 40mph (65km/h)
Max submerged speed: 20mph (32km/h)
Max depth: 6 feet (1.8m)
Fuel capacity: 14 gallons (52l)

Engine / Drive
ROTAX 1500cc 4 stroke engine
155 hp standard, or 215 hp supercharged
High output, low emission, quiet
Axial Flow jet pump
Forward, Neutral, Reverse


Radioactive ship to be broken up at Alang?

“An international fugitive vessel”: IPOS

Ahmedabad, Oct. 16: As contradictory statements come out from within the Gujarat Government and even as Jairam Ramesh, Union Environment Minister, orders an enquiry into the affair, activists are enraged that a toxic US ship may be broken up at Alang. They claim that the vessel is contaminated with radioactive substances, poses a danger to the environment and worker health and want Washington to recall the vessel “in the same way that the French had recalled Le Clemenceau.”

Platinum II, a cruise ship reportedly bought by a Gujarat merchant, is today anchored waiting for clearance to beach at Alang, one of the largest shipbreaking locations in the world. Meanwhile, the Government of India has announced that a three member team will go to Alang early next week to investigate. The GOI is also trying to confirm ownership of the vessel.

Gopal Krishna of the watchdog NGO, Indian Platform on Shipbreaking (IPOS) calls the Platinum II an “international fugitive vessel. This 682 foot ocean liner is loaded with an estimated 210 tonnes of toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and an estimated 250 tonnes of asbestos as part of its construction, which is lethal to the health of the workers as well to the environment,” he said. IPOS is a coalition of environment, health, labour and human rights organisations. It alleges that the toxic PCB is present in the insulated wiring of the 18,503 tonne vessel, which has nine decks and a passenger capacity of more than a thousand. PCBs are known across the world for their cancer causing affects.

IPOS also accused the Gujarat Maritime Board and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board of having given clearances to the ship without proper inspection. They are demanding that the ship be sent back to the US for having broken international treaties like the Basel Convention, which regulates movement of hazardous substances between States and allows India to permit dismantling only if, as in this case, there is a bilateral deal between the US and India. No such deal exists.

Adding to the confusion, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board seems to have first submitted a report saying that there was nothing hazardous aboard “except asbestos and paint, both of which can be removed under Supreme Court guidelines”. S.K. Nanda, the State’s principal secretary, forests and environment, said that clearance had been given. “We have given the clearance as we have found nothing hazardous on Platinum II, which should be allowed to be dismantled at the Alang shipbreaking yard,” he had said. Later, however, a GPCB member said that clearances had not yet been given and that reports had been sent to “higher ups” to seek their opinion. Both the GPCB and the Maritime Board seem to be silent on the toxic PCB issue.

IPOS also alleges that the earlier owners of the Platinum II, Global Marketing Systems of the US, had been heavily fined by the US Environmental Protection Agency for attempting to export the ship without decontaminating it. They say that violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) promoted the fines: PCB export is banned under the TSCA.

Even as another incident in a series of controversial events at Alang plays out, a new twist emerges in this tale. Environmental groups have warned the media that attempts are being made by interested parties to get clearances to beach the toxic ship on ‘humanitarian grounds’ even now.


Saturday, 17 October 2009

Black Rose incident underlines risks of iron ore loading once again.

Are unprincipled traders to blame?

Mumbai Oct 9 Recent casualties involving ships loading iron ore fines in India have once again focused international attention on the perils crews are exposed to in this trade.
Industry associations and P&I clubs have long criticised the manner in which this loading takes place in India, and had surfaced issues of non transparency in shippers declaring the Transportable Moisture Limit, or TML.

The capsizing of the Asian Forest off Mangalore earlier this year and the Black Rose more recently off Paradip have made the international shipping industry express renewed concern about industry malpractices. Certain well known P&I clubs had issued circulars warning their members way back in 2007, when, over a span of a month during the monsoons, three ships suffered perils at sea post loading iron ore fines at Mangalore and Haldia. Two of those ships were beached to avoid capsizing and the third one diverted to Vizag where her entire cargo was discharged.

Manufacturers produce iron ore of several grades, some of which present risk of liquefaction; these are usually finely powdered ores, or 'fines'. To add to this problem, iron ore in India is frequently loaded from outdoor piles that are exposed to monsoon rains. The IMO makes it incumbent on shippers of any material liable to liquefy to declare this hazard and certify moisture content and the transportable moisture limit (TML, which obviously cannot be lower than the moisture content of the cargo to be shipped). Unfortunately, in India, some shippers have only provided certificates for moisture contents and not the equally important TML numbers, leaving Master's clueless as to the dangers their crews may be exposed. Recent Chinese demand for ore has meant that many unscrupulous traders and ship owners are out to make a quick buck, even at the cost of seafarer lives and environmental damage.

Capt John Prasad Menezes, President of the Kanara Chamber of Commerce and Industry, blames unscrupulous traders. "Due to the Chinese boom, charterers too sprung up from Kolkata, Mumbai, Singapore and Hong Kong. It is a question of cutting corners and staying competitive. In such a scenario, all aspects of trade tend to be safe in letter rather than in spirit," he is reported to have told a conference in Hamburg.

Greenpeace says that the Black Rose disaster could devastate the Orissa coast if the 924 tonnes of bunkers on the ship would leak out. A statement from the environmental organisation says, "Greenpeace is closely monitoring the effects of the spill, which is close to the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, home to the endangered Olive Ridley turtles, and the Bitharkanika National Park, which harbours India's second largest mangrove ecosystem and has the largest population of salt-water crocodiles in India."

Needless to say, Masters must exercise extreme caution while loading powdered materials. We would have to say with regret that they should exercise particular caution when loading iron ore in India, asking for a recent and independent analysis of figures if felt necessary. Shippers and charterers should also be aggressively queried as to the TML and the moisture content of cargo to be loaded in each hold.

Meanwhile, the DG Shipping has issued a circular dated 25 September. Titled
"Additional Safeguards for safe carriage of solid bulk cargo especially Iron ore fines from Indian Ports", MS Notice 31 recognises that " shippers and port authorities are not extending the support to the Masters of the ships calling Indian ports for loading Iron ore fines" and issues directions to agents to advise ships calling their ports about the risks of loading iron ore fines during monsoons. Ports, too, are directed to "do everything possible to ensure safe carriage & transportation of solid bulk cargo including Iron ore fines" as per existing regulations and guidelines for loading bulk cargoes.



Consternation as MoEF announces moratorium on new port development.

New Delhi, Oct 5 The Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) August 21 order putting new port developments in the country on hold till a policy is in place
has sent shockwaves across the industry. Many investors are reportedly deeply concerned about the state of their projects. There is additional confusion since State Governments as well as the Ministry of Shipping (MoS) have been pushing for capacity addition almost simultaneously; in fact, the Shipping Ministry has been aggressively pursuing port development as part of its promised ‘hundred day agenda’ declared soon after this government came to power.

The MoEF has categorically decided that no new proposals would be entertained till they finalise their policy. The policy is to address projects on the coastline and other activities connected with commercial ports, including any expansion plans. Media reports suggest that the MoEF has decided to impose a three month suspension during which it will not decide on proposals already received, either for new ports or for expansion of existing ones. “The environment ministry has placed a moratorium on clearances to new and old port development projects on the recommendation of a committee headed by MS Swaminathan. We will take up the issue with the Cabinet and other authorities,” shipping secretary APVN Sarma told an Assocham meeting. Rumours suggest that Sarma would be taking up the matter with the MoEF soon.

Sources say that the Ministry’s decision is influenced by the earlier recommendations of the Swaminathan report that addressed the issue of public objections to the Coastal Management Zone Notification. That document had asked for a moratorium on new port capacity till the ‘cumulative impacts of the individual projects on the coast line’ were studied completely. Environment ministry officials say that the coastline is being damaged by a slew of approvals for port expansion and development.

Industry critics allege that the MoEF decision is unilateral and against Shipping Minister GK Vasan’s plans to expand almost 20 ports across the country. Included in these are investments lined up totaling to more than Rs 3300 crore. They add that the MoEF is being intransigent in issuing an order without even consulting their counterparts in the MoS. Others point out that the Coastal Regulation Zone notification of 1991 has given port development a special status, and that, as one industry watcher says, "While amendments can always be added to further improve the New Delhi, Oct 5 The Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) August 21 order putting new port developments in the country on hold till a policy is in place
has sent shockwaves across the industry. Many investors are reportedly deeply concerned about the state of their projects. There is additional confusion since State Governments as well as the Ministry of Shipping (MoS) have been pushing for capacity addition almost simultaneously; in fact, the Shipping Ministry has been aggressively pursuing port development as part of its promised ‘hundred day agenda’ declared soon after this government came to power.

The MoEF has categorically decided that no new proposals would be entertained till they finalise their policy. The policy is to address projects on the coastline and other activities connected with commercial ports, including any expansion plans. Media reports suggest that the MoEF has decided to impose a three month suspension during which it will not decide on proposals already received, either for new ports or for expansion of existing ones. “The environment ministry has placed a moratorium on clearances to new and old port development projects on the recommendation of a committee headed by MS Swaminathan. We will take up the issue with the Cabinet and other authorities,” shipping secretary APVN Sarma told an Assocham meeting. Rumours suggest that Sarma would be taking up the matter with the MoEF soon.

Sources say that the Ministry’s decision is influenced by the earlier recommendations of the Swaminathan report that addressed the issue of public objections to the Coastal Management Zone Notification. That document had asked for a moratorium on new port capacity till the ‘cumulative impacts of the individual projects on the coast line’ were studied completely. Environment ministry officials say that the coastline is being damaged by a slew of approvals for port expansion and development.

Industry critics allege that the MoEF decision is unilateral and against Shipping Minister GK Vasan’s plans to expand almost 20 ports across the country. Included in these are investments lined up totaling to more than Rs 3300 crore. They add that the MoEF is being intransigent in issuing an order without even consulting their counterparts in the MoS. Others point out that the Coastal Regulation Zone notification of 1991 has given port development a special status, and that, as one industry watcher says, "While amendments can always be added to further improve the stipulations, a blanket moratorium is not the answer to the malady."
Another senior port industry official commented, "While it is hoped that MOEF has done their homework before arriving at this decision, banning new projects will not only have a very harsh impact on the growth of coastal projects but also will surely have cascading effect on other sectors of economy, thereby affecting the all round development of the country as a whole."

Meanwhile, the environment ministry has conducted a satellite image survey of the country and is studying the report. “We won’t give clearance to a proposal falling in the ‘hot’ spots,” confirmed a MoEF official to a business newspaper.

stipulations, a blanket moratorium is not the answer to the malady."
Another senior port industry official commented, "While it is hoped that MOEF has done their homework before arriving at this decision, banning new projects will not only have a very harsh impact on the growth of coastal projects but also will surely have cascading effect on other sectors of economy, thereby affecting the all round development of the country as a whole."

Meanwhile, the environment ministry has conducted a satellite image survey of the country and is studying the report. “We won’t give clearance to a proposal falling in the ‘hot’ spots,” confirmed a MoEF official to a business newspaper.


Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The Full City incident: Criminalisation in Norway?

Photo: The Norwegian coastal administration

Mumbai October 4 The two officers charged with negligence in the ‘Full City’ incident are ‘lost, confused and losing spirit’, according to their lawyer. The Captain and Third Officer of the ship, now under arrest in Norway, will hear next week whether they can return home pending investigations. The two seafarers, a Captain who was due to retire for health reasons this year and a first trip Third Mate both face charges of gross negligence in relation to the disaster.

The treatment of the pair has received international condemnation, with Intermanager’s Roberto Giorgi saying that if the case goes to the Supreme Court for trial he would contact Intercargo and the International Transport Workers Federation to discuss a joint industry response to the Norwegian authorities. Mr. Girogi added that it was vital to continue the push for uniform regulation around the world that would protect seafarers’ from unreasonable prosecution, adding that the case seemed to involve “local authorities who know nothing about shipping, and have no clue about the role and responsibilities of seafarers”.
Lawyers for the two officers, as well as those representing Cosco and the London Steamship P&I Club, say that initial charges against the two were relatively minor and pertained to violations of the Norwegian Safety Act. Others have been critical of the fact that the two had their passports impounded even before they were charged.

The 15 878 tonne bulk carrier ”Full City” grounded in a storm on July 31st near the town of Langesund in Telemark, Norway. Panama flagged and Cosco owned, she had around a thousand tonnes of bunkers on board and was in ballast. Norwegian rescue teams airlifted 18 crew to safety, five staying behind on board the ship. An unknown quantity of oil leaked out to the sea, polluting the area from Stavern to Grimstad. The spill spread over a 150 kilometre stretch of coastline in southern Norway and severely hit a bird sanctuary and a popular summer resort near Oslo. The news made national headlines a little before the Norwegian elections.

The Captain was initially charged with “not reporting that his ship was in a dangerous situation," police attorney Siri Karlsen had told a news conference in August; the charge carried a maximum two year jail term. The subsequent and infrequently used charge of ‘gross negligence’ came as a shock to the two officers.

The Norwegian Shipowners Association, meanwhile, has issued a statement that says that it is against the trend of criminalising seafarers. NSA lawyer Viggo Bondi says that the police need to ensure they have the full competence to deal with such a case. “If you don’t have the necessary competence it is easy to jump to conclusions too fast, then you criminalise seafarers,” he said. The NSA remained confident that the two Chinese would get a fair trial, though. “We have good regulations for the rights of people under investigation, and seafarers are not treated any differently,” Bondi said.

However, many in the industry agree that uniform regulation is urgently required to protect seafarers’ rights. Unfortunately, as Intermanager’s Giorgi says, “I can’t say we have seen a very strong message from the International Maritime Organisation in trying to deal with this issue.”


Industry Snapshots

M.V. Black Rose off Paradip

Shipping Ministry Committee’s opinion: ships more than 25 years old should be banned from Indian ports. The high powered and Chairman of National Shipping Board led committee feels that exceptions could be made if the vessel in question was “approved by the competent authority”. Concerns were expressed that an estimated 35 per cent of the ships calling at Indian ports are more than 25 years old. Investigations into recent accidents on the Indian coast have thrown up the fact that these ships are particularly vulnerable; besides, there have been major shortcomings in documentation that have exposed fraudulent certificates and insurance documents in at least one case off Paradip recently. It has reportedly been recommended that stringing preloading and post loading inspections be conducted in case of ships carrying bulk, especially iron ore, and that ports ensure compliance with existing safety codes. Members of the committee include the Chairman of Visakhapatnam Port Trust, the Chairman of New Mangalore Port Trust and the Deputy Chairman of Paradip Port Trust. These are preliminary findings: a final report is awaited.

Industry wants government to review FDI rules in shipping, reports Livemint. Although the 100% FDI allowed in shipping since 2001 has proved a damp squib with no takers, shipowners are concerned about overseas competition and are demanding a level playing field. Reports say that representatives will meet commerce minister Anand Sharma to push for a review. “Hundred per cent FDI in shipping has not helped India at all,” says Mercator Shipping’s Anil Devli. “Nobody came to India all these years.” Observers say that the move has been prompted by the impending ban on single hulled tankers next year; with India allowing single hulls for another five years till 2015, the industry is concerned that foreign shipowners will see India as a preferred destination for their older ships. Malaysian AET Tanker Holdings is already looking at registering some ships in India. Critics allege that this is unfair. “If you want to start a company in Malaysia, you should hand over 51% stake to a local company there,” one says. “This should be reciprocal.” Indonesia, too, has reserved all domestic LPG shipments for their own flag; China protects domestic shipping to a much greater extent. “In today’s context, when the world is looking inward, and every government talks about protectionist measures for their indigenous industry, we must do the same in India,” S. Hajara, CMD of SCI told Livemint. “We are saying that the Indian coast should be completely reserved for the Indian flag carriers.”

Moore Stephens Shipping Confidence Survey optimistic. The shipping consultancy firm says that confidence levels in the shipping industry have improved in the last quarter, with global analysts expressing average confidence levels at 5.7 on a scale of 1 to 10; this figure was at 5.5 in May 2009. Although brokers were the most optimistic, owners, managers and charterers were not too far behind. Surprisingly, given that Chinese demand has driven much of this confidence, optimism was lower in Asia, with confidence levels remaining unchanged at 5.9. The industry has mixed opinions on asset acquisition, with some respondents saying that ships could presently be bought at historically low prices while others expecting prices to drop further. Most opined that the worst may be over globally. “The recovery of the global economy will result in strong demand for tonnage as delayed projects get up and running again,” says one. Amongst the less optimistic predictions were concerns about the massive oversupply situation. One analyst said, “Because two newbuildings are being delivered for every vessel scrapped, the shipping market will not be able to pick up over the next three or four years, and it may deteriorate even further, with a number of owners forced into bankruptcy.” Other concerns included high finance costs and fears that ‘confidence would return to the industry more slowly than it disappeared’.



Monday, 5 October 2009

DG Advisory: Indian ships and crews strongly advised to use Naval escort services off Somalia.

Mumbai, Sept. 30 The Directorate General of Shipping of the Indian Ministry of Shipping has issued an advisory to ships transiting the Gulf of Aden and the pirate infected waters off Somalia. The Director General of Shipping advisory “strongly advises all Indian flag ships and ships carrying Indian seafarers to utilise the escort services being provided by the Indian naval ships in the Gulf of Aden to the maximum extent. In the event such merchant vessels are unable to conform to the Indian warships schedule for any reason, they are advised to take the escort schedules of warships of other countries that carry out escort throughout the length of the IRTC.”

The present circular (Merchant Shipping Notice No 33 of 2009) is available on the DGS website and refers to an earlier stronger advisory issued last week, that had asked “all Indian ships and ships with Indian crewmembers not to transit the piracy affected areas in the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters without Indian Naval Escort.” However, “having received representations from INSA, FOSMA and MASSA” in connection with that earlier advisory, the DGS has reviewed the matter before issuing the latest circular.

In the last week or so there have been massive concerns in shipping circles following media reports that NATO has warned the Indian government of the probability that Indian ships and seafarers may be targeted by Al Qaeda linked organisations off Somalia. What is even more alarming is that these threats appear to be particular; NATO has reportedly said that there is specific intelligence available with them to suggest that pro Al Qaida elements are plotting to target Indian ships and sailors in the next few weeks. “Certainly Al Qaeda links and has probably connections with the Al Shabaab which is vying for power in the South around Mogadishu," a senior official says.

What is not so widely publicised is that Earlier, a NATO warship rescued fourteen Indian sailors recently after they were freed by pirates who, they say, had beaten them during 10 days of captivity. Analysts say that numerous such hijacks remain unreported even today. Interestingly traders in Dubai's dhow wharf told Khaleej Times how pirates were increasingly being seen up to the Strait of Hormuz, near the UAE. Officially, just one such record exists. However, as piracy expert Roger Middleton says, "A dhow captain who speaks little English may not know how to report a pirate attack to the IMO or NATO," he said. "There may be many more cases occurring which we simply don't know about."

For many months, we at Marex have often highlighted the fact that organisations like Al Shabaab within Somalia are linked to Al Qaeda; a recent report in this publication also detailed Pakistani involvement, including the fact that trained Pakistani nationals had been caught by a Russian warship with arms aboard a hijacked ship sometime ago. With elements within Pakistan and Yemen involved, and with persistent reports of shadowy players from Europe and the UAE coordinating pirate activities, we are relieved that these warnings are being taken seriously.