Indian Coast Guard rescues hundreds of refugees belonging to Myanmar and Bangladesh after they were set adrift on the high seas by Thai officials. The Rohingya boat people are mainly from Myanmar and believed to be economic migrants fleeing to other Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Hundreds are now believed to be missing at sea. Some of the survivors claim that the Thai navy rescued them and took them to camps in Similan Island, detained them and later abandoned them at sea. Most of the Rohingyas are Muslim, and Human Rights activists claim that Thailand has set adrift about a thousand of them after beating them up. There have been fears expressed in Bangkok that the refugees would join Muslim insurgents in South Thailand. Thailand denies these reports, and says it will conduct its own investigation into the allegations. Meanwhile, a dozen bodies have been found washed up in remote Indian islands of the Andamans and Nicobar chain and hundreds have been rescued, according to Indian Coast Guard officials quoted in the Voice of America.
Nigerian militants blow up tanker’s engine, kidnap crewmember. In a dramatic escalation in violence in the Niger Delta region, the MT Meredith, carrying 4000 tonnes of diesel oil, was attacked by militants believed to belong to an affiliate of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). The ship’s engine was blown up with dynamite and a Romanian crewmember kidnapped. The ship was within a military protection zone at the time off the Rivers State coast. At the time of writing this report, the ship, on a passage from Lagos to Port Harcourt, was still at sea and ‘seriously damaged’, according to news reports. Another tanker operated by Royal Dutch Shell was attacked last week and ransacked. Attacks of piracy are becoming increasingly common in the region, although the attack on the Meredith represents a dramatic escalation in militant tactics. Foreign oil workers have been kidnapped earlier and service boats plundered. MEND claims to be fighting for a greater share of Nigerian oil wealth being distributed to Nigerians and not to foreign oil companies. Critics allege that many groups are just plain criminals with powerful patrons in Nigeria. The BBC reports that oil production has been cut by a fifth in the last three years because of the violence. Meanwhile, the Romanian hostage was released soon after MEND sent an email to journalists saying that they were “in touch” with the Meredith attackers and would ensure that the Romanian crewmember ‘was released soon’.
Alang gets 60 ships for scrapping in 45 days, thanks to the downturn in global shipping. As asset prices fall and ships are laid up, many owners have opted to send their vessels to the ship breakers instead of laying them up. Reports in The Hindu suggest that 60 of these have been sent to Alang between December 1 and January 15, and around a 100 in the last two months. The President of the Alang Shipbreakers Association, Vishnu Gupta, is quoted as saying that more than 600 vessels are in the market worldwide for scrapping, and that business in 2009 at Alang may well set a record. The Gujarat Maritime Board has confirmed these figures, saying that 57 ships were beached during the period, a third of them of more than 10,000 tonnes. The number of ‘plots’ operational in Alang have almost tripled in the last three months, with around 80 operating at present. This is good news for the GMB as it charges a tax of hundred rupees per light displacement tonnage for ship breaking. Among the vessels are general cargo, bulk vessels and small tankers. Sources say that vessels are being sold at around 250 USD per tonne. Local scrap sells for Rs 18000 per tonne. The newspaper reports that the recent boom around Alang has benefited steel mills, oxygen and acetylene suppliers and refillers and a plethora of smaller associated businesses. Steel plates and other raw material are also being sent to Northern Indian steel mills.
Chinese crew to get USD 10,000 each for fighting off pirates off Somalia. The Shanghai Daily reports that the 30 crew of the Zhenua 4 would receive the reward for bravery from the owners, Zhenua Port Machinery Corporation. The ship arrived recently at the Changxing Island shipyard to a heroes’ welcome. Pirates attacked the Zhenua 4 on December 17 off the Somali coast when nine men armed with rocket propelled grenade launchers and machine guns boarded the ship. Showing great presence of mind, planning and courage, the crew barricaded themselves in the accommodation and fought back with fire hoses and firebombs. The battle continued for four hours, according to the China Maritime Search and Rescue Centre, when a helicopter from the Malaysian navy arrived on the scene, causing the pirates to flee. Captain Peng Weiyuan of the attacked ship said, "This is an experience that I will remember all my life." Chief Officer Zhen Yutong is even more taciturn. "We only did what sailors always should do, to be afraid of nothing on the sea," he says.