Saturday, 28 March 2009

Industry Snapshots

Foreign Flag cruise vessels can now call multiple ports in India, the Government of India has announced. The move is aimed at promoting cruise tourism in the country, and, given that not enough Indian Flag vessels are available in this specialised segment, the GOI felt that the law needed to be amended. No licence from the DGS will be necessary for cruise operators, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Shipping, which notes that the action has been taken keeping into account the ‘unparalleled growth of cruise shipping worldwide’. The authorities are obviously eyeing the employment and revenue generating multipliers of the cruise industry. Industry figures suggest that an average cruise tourist spends around 300 US dollars and the staff about 100 USD per call, with a decent sized ship carrying a thousand passengers and almost half that number of crew. Meanwhile, the Kochi port reports a good season this year, with eleven cruise ships scheduled to call the port this month. Amongst them, repeat calls from the ‘Queen Mary 2’ and her sister vessel, the ‘Queen Victoria’, and also the ‘Oriana’ and ‘Arcadia’. A total of 22000 passengers and 10000 crew will arrive in Kochi during March. Equally heartening is the fact that the ‘Azamhara’ made her maiden call to the port in December last year, signalling new interest in tourism even in the present economic climate.

IMO Secretary General Mitropoulos says seafarer shortage “of fundamental importance to the future of the shipping industry” and calls on the Industry to “not only retain existing seafarers, but also to attract young people to the seafaring profession”. Speaking to delegates at the IMO, he said, “In the face of a grave looming manpower crisis it is important to portray shipping as an industry that can provide a career path that matches the aspirations of the ambitious and capable young people it urgently needs to attract and retain. Indeed, if the global pool of competent and efficient seafarers, who are properly qualified and certified, is to meet demand, then seafaring must be presented to young generations as a viable career choice for people of the right calibre.” This speech comes after the IMO launched its “Go to Sea!” campaign late last year in a bid to make the industry an attractive career of choice for the young across the world. The IMO boss also called on governments, industry and other organisations to ensure a favourable public perception of the industry, to take steps to educate youngsters on the options available at sea and, finally, to improve ‘quality of life’ at sea.

2008 one of the worst years for ‘catastrophic losses’, says Swiss Re. The Zurich based global reinsurer has published a report that says that manmade and natural catastrophes caused the loss of 240,500 lives and cost $269 billion last year. Maritime casualties cost $548million, out of which 41 maritime losses were ‘major disasters’. This included 32 passenger vessels and 5 cargo ships. The largest number of deaths was aboard the ‘Princess of the Stars’ ferry, which was lost in Typhoon Fengshen off the Philippines and was responsible for almost half the 1600 maritime fatalities for the year. They typhoon also resulted in the loss of about 120 fishing vessels. Also notable amongst casualties caused by tropical storms were the statistics for Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar in May 2008. The storm, which made landfall from the Bay of Bengal, killed more than 84.000, with another 54,000 missing. It also had a catastrophic impact on maritime activity, with 168 ships and almost 11,000 boats lost. Total losses: $10bn. Other big casualties mentioned are the loss of the Fedra off Gibraltar, the disappearance of the Rezzak in the Black Sea, fire on the containership Und Adriyatik, the loss of the Atunera Sant Yago II off Africa and the Mississippi ‘Tintomara’ collision. In February alone, there were at least 10 reported incidents of vessels packed with illegal immigrants capsizing in the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Aden, with an estimated death toll of 700.

Cunard unveils Queen Elizabeth plans at Cruise Shipping Miami convention. The luxury liner will roll out in 2010 and will boast of a new 'studio' cabin concept, according to Cunard. The 90,000 tonne ship will carry about 2100 passengers. Six suites will be themed around the six Cunard commodores who have been knighted over the past two centuries. A Midships Bar with live piano music, a ballroom, private dining rooms, premium accommodation and an outdoor games area are some of the other facilities well heeled passengers will enjoy. Three quarters of the cabins will have attached balconies. A first: a Supper Club where one can dance under the stars. The QE’s maiden voyage will be from the UK to the Canary Islands. Starting prices? Around three thousand dollars per head.


Friday, 27 March 2009

Australian Beaches Disaster Zones as ‘Pacific Adventurer’ Spills Oil

Brisbane, March 18: Last week’s ‘Pacific Adventurer’ oil spill, the worst in Queensland’s waters in the last thirty years, has infuriated Australians and reinforced opinions of an industry that always hits the headlines for the wrong reasons.

The Swire Shipping owned container vessel was on a voyage from Newcastle to Brisbane when it was caught in tropical cyclone Hamish early on March 11, and thirty one containers of ammonium nitrate were washed overboard from the deck stow in gale force winds. What caused the oil spill was the fact that at least one of these containers hit and ruptured the Adventurer’s fuel tanks in rough weather, spilling bunkers into the sea. Matters were made worse by Swire’s initial declaration that only about 30mt of oil had leaked. Although that figure was revised later to 43mt, the true extent of oil spill is now believed by the Australian authorities to be around six times greater, at around 250mt.

The initial mix of oil and ammonium nitrate, a chemical used in explosives, formed a slick ten miles long and two miles wide, washing up on Moreton Island and on the beaches of the Sunshine Coast. Moreton Island is a marine sanctuary for birds, pelicans, dolphins and turtles. One week after the incident, rescuers are still struggling to protect this delicate ecosystem.

Post incident, Swire shipping offered ‘all possible assistance’ to Queensland to clean up the oil spill, flying in an expert and equipment from Dubai and announcing that the company and its insurers would meet all obligations and responsibilities. They also appointed a media consultant in Australia. Regardless, there has been widespread criticism in the Australian press that the company did not divulge the true extent of the oil spill and that its media consultants were either unavailable or unable to provide basic information about the spill, especially outside office hours. Swire’s public relations nightmare is undoubtedly compounded by the fact that the affected coast hit by the oil spill boasts of the most pristine beaches in that region, as also because the company made a statement a day after the accident saying that just 42 tonnes or “a small quantity” of oil had leaked. Although this statement was corrected later, Australian authorities and media allege initial action would have been on a much larger scale had the oil spill figures been accurately known. The Australian media has criticised the owners for ‘intentionally misleading authorities’.

Initial speculation that the ammonium nitrate might provoke an explosion has now been put to rest, even as tonnes of the chemical are reportedly loose on the Adventurer’s main deck. Meanwhile, navy teams have been called to find the missing containers. Although one expert described the exercise ‘like finding a needle in a haystack’, the mine hunter vessel HMAS Yarra reports at time of writing that it has probably identified 21 containers with its sonar about 270 miles away from where they had been washed overboard.

Australian politicians have criticised the effectiveness of the oil spill response, some suggesting that criminal action should be taken against the Master and the Owners of the ill fated ship. Queensland premier Bligh has declared the area affected by the spill a ‘disaster area’. A major wildlife rescue operation is reportedly in progress.

The Pacific Adventurer, a 1991 built 25561DWT vessel registered in Hong Kong, has reportedly been detained by AMSA, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Queensland authorities have threatened the ship and the crew with multimillion dollar lawsuits. AdelaideNow reports that ‘papers have been served on the Master of the Pacific Adventurer, asking him to remain on board’. They also report that the Owners may face fines of up to $2 million dollars and an environmental damage bill of $250 million, and that the Adventurer’s Captain could be fined $200,000. Meanwhile, tourism operators are said to be irate at the incident, as it has decimated their revenues. In response, authorities have launched a media campaign to address the plummeting tourist numbers, although people are staying away from the blackened beaches.

Industry experts are certain that this latest incident will undoubtedly result in the Australian authorities tightening up regulatory mechanisms. They point to the extremely bad press the industry has elicited in Australia and the strong statements emerging from the Australian authorities as ominous signs of things to come.


Friday, 20 March 2009

More Gloom and Doom for Shipping?

Mumbai, March 11: Recent industry reports emerging last week forecast an even more tempestuous future for the industry. Bloomberg reports that Singaporean ship finance company Seafin Pte expects about a third of shipping companies to become insolvent this year. This alarming number comes even as the Baltic Dry Index touched its highest levels since October this month, doubling in 2009. However, the BDI is still at about a quarter of last May’s highs. Meanwhile, four major shipping lines have declared insolvency and sought protection since October. Dimitris Belbas, Seafin’s head of shipping finance is quoted as saying, "Everyday there is an auction for ships, but who wants them?"

Coincidentally, Craig Eason of Lloyd’s List reports a DNV analysis indicating that the industry has a tonnage overcapacity of up to ten thousand ships. The Norwegian classification society also says that a thousand ships are currently lying idle, and that 43 of its own ships have been cancelled. That number represents 10% of the global number of vessels cut from the order book to date. The situation has gone downhill so fast that Singapore, a favourite idling ground, has no more space for vessels headed for layup, with similar reports coming in from elsewhere. Collisions between ships manoeuvering in congested layup anchorages are on the rise.

However, what industry experts will find even more dismaying is DNV President Henrik Madsen’s worrisome assessment that the number of cancellations of ships was likely to increase dramatically over time. “Something will have to happen on the supply side but here it is not one nation now, but all nations that somehow have to agree to take out capacity which may be difficult,” Lloyd’s List quotes him as saying. “To believe it will be over in one or two years is a bit naive.” DNV estimates that even if the economy were to improve to a 3 percent growth rate after 2010, there would still be an overcapacity of four thousand ships.

The Bloomberg report quoted earlier reinforces this view, saying that although the recent Chinese US$585 billion economic stimulus plan has helped the BDI, the global credit squeeze is very much on. It quotes HSH Nordbank AG, the biggest ship finance company in the world, as saying that the industry will be hard pressed to source finance for at least another year and a half.

Shipping lines will likely continue to struggle to borrow funds for at least 18 more months because of the global credit crunch and recession, according to Nordbank. The company has faced problems too, and has had to seek a bailout from its shareholders.

Recent widely circulated industry reports had hinted that the financial crunch was far from over. Marex had earlier reported that Thailand’s largest shipping company, Precious Shipping, was expecting about a third of existing vessels to be scrapped within two years as available capacity exceeded demand by a huge margin. Precious’ CEO Hashim now says, "The banking system is destroyed”, adding that while China's stimulus plan would help, it wouldn’t improve things anytime soon.

In other related news, Maersk announced plans last week to layup twenty five more containerships this year, in addition to the six it idled in December. Maersk CEO Kolding told Reuters that this was a move to maintain Maersk’s market share, adding that at least some industry players would go out of business this year if the market does not improve.

Meanwhile, the World Bank says that the global economy will move at a snail’s pace this year, growing at just 0.9 percent; other economists say even that even this figure is optimistic. Japan’s trade deficit has risen to alarming levels because its exports have come down by almost 50%. China, too, is slowing down; exports fell 26% last month, the fourth month in a row that this has happened. In addition, DNV’s Senior VP Magelssen has warned, in other reports, that box ship and bulker cancellations could mount to 30% of the order book in the next few years.

In fact, the only glimmer of hope out there for the industry seems to be the relative resilience of the BDI. Platou’s market research report is encouraging in this regard, saying that “In the second half (of the year), fiscal stimulus may support tonnage demand sufficiently to prevent freight rates to fall back to the extremely low levels seen at the beginning of this year”


Industry Snapshots

Goa’s offshore casinos under scrutiny. The spat between the BJP and the Congress coalition government over ‘offshore’ casinos in Goa has been going on for some time now. The BJP alleges corruption in the awarding of licences to casino operators, and says that the six casinos anchored in the Mandovi River should be moved further away. Capt. Hazari, former director of SCI and an alumnus of the World Maritime University in Malmo, was in Panjim this month. He commented that the definition of ‘offshore’ was internationally accepted as ‘12 nautical miles from shore’. “India’s territorial waters end at 12 nautical miles from the shore. By definition, the offshore casinos should be anchored beyond this distance,” he said. Capt. Hazari’s comments are expected to boost critics’ who argue that the anchored casinos are an obstruction to the free flow of traffic in the river. These casinos are also under fire for other reasons: customs and excise officials are investigating tax evasion and the Goa Pollution Board alleges that these ships are discharging untreated sewage into Goan waters.

Cosco Busan pilot pleads guilty to two environmental misdemeanour charges in exchange for two other felony charges against him being dropped. Capt. John Cota pleaded guilty to the lesser charges of illegally discharging oil and killing birds as the Cosco Busan hit the San Francisco Oakland Bridge in November 2007, when he was the pilot on board. The plea bargain may see Cota serve between two months and ten months in jail. About 50,000 gallons of oil was spilled in the incident. Prosecutors had alleged that Cota was responsible for the accident, citing improper use of navigational equipment and communication with the Chinese bridge crew as Cota’s main errors. "Captain Cota's actions that day fell below the standard of care," the prosecutor said. Cota’s lawyer, in his brief, told the court that others shared the blame. "The crew was incompetent. The Coast Guard made mistakes," he said. The National Transportation Safety Board has said that Cota's abilities were hampered by the medication he was taking, but added that the crew of the Cosco Busan was poorly trained, and the Master did not oversee the pilot’s performance satisfactorily. Other factors mentioned by the NTSB included poor communication between the pilot and the Master and poorly trained crew. Meanwhile, the management company involved was charged with ordering one crewmember to alter documents after the incident.

US study says shipping industry major contributor to climate change, claiming that ships worldwide pollute as much as half the cars in the world. The report, published in the Journal of Geophysical research, calls for an improvement in the quality of fuel at sea, saying that the 100,000 commercial ships worldwide pollute half as much as the world’s 600 million cars. US researcher Daniel Lack of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that this amounts to the emission of a million kilograms of particle pollution into the air every year, claiming that pollution from ships is not noticed as much as from cars. "But these ships are actually burning really low quality fuels. They are literally burning the bottom of the barrel. After oil refining, there's a black sludge left and that's what ships are burning, so they're burning a really dirty fuel," he says. Professor Lack claims his study “exposes shipping as a major polluter and more regulation is needed to ensure the industry cleans up its act”.

Containers now being moved from JNPT to Dharamtar Port by barge instead of the land route, reports Livemint. Lower costs and time are cited as two main reasons. “Transportation by sea is faster, cheaper and safer. Plus, waterside operations makes the cargo free from the congestion bottlenecks on the land side,” Livemint quotes Nrupal Patil, director, Dharamtar Infrastructure Ltd as saying. Consignments bound for the hinterland in Maharashtra and Gujarat will go by shallow barges to Dharamtar, less than 30km from JNPT, instead of Panvel or Bhiwandi. Dharamtar, traditionally a bulk port in the Amba River, had recently upgraded its services to including container handling equipment. Two barges operate at the port, which can take a maximum draft of only four metres. More are in the pipeline, as the present total capacity of 130TEU between the two barges is seen to be insufficient. The railways are slated to become operational later this year, and will undoubtedly improve connectivity to the rest of the country. Tuscan Ventures Sameer Varma says, “Most major container shipping lines accept and deliver cargo at Dharamtar Port now.” Amongst the customers: Nitco Tiles Ltd and Indian Seamless Metal Tubes Ltd.


Friday, 13 March 2009

Somali Piracy ransoms fund Terrorism

Mogadishu, March 5 The new Somali Defence Minister Mohamed Abdi Mohamed made a statement last week, saying that piracy emanating from his country must be fought on land. In fact, he felt that it was one of the first things that needed to be done. Talking to Reuters, he said, "If anyone wants to fight piracy, it has to start from mainland Somalia, because the unstable situation on the mainland is largely responsible for the piracy on the water." His statement assumes greater importance as elections are scheduled in Somalia later this month, although many observers say that these are likely to be postponed in the present chaos in the country. This is a clear and present danger, as terrorists funded by pirate warlords plan to bomb Somali cities and destabilise the country, they say.

Although he candidly admits that his experience of defence issues is limited, Mohamed, called ‘Ghandi’ within the country, is widely seen as a moderate who intends to make efforts to stop the fighting in war torn Somalia. “I don't have experience in the affairs of defence, but I will try to understand how we can get a new Somali army that can stabilise Somalia," Mohamed told Reuters.

Contrary to claims made by international navies patrolling the region, piracy off Somalia seems to be actually increasing. The International Maritime Bureau says there have been 49 piracy attacks this year, up from 35 in the same period last year. That is actually a staggering 40 percent increase.

The Defence Minister wants to talk to the Al Qaeda linked al Shabaab and another smaller group, Hizbul Islam, to stop the civil war raging in Somalia, one that has made pirate warlords extremely powerful. Just one of them, Colonel Abdullahi Ahmed Jama (Ilka Jiir) runs an illegitimate government in the Puntland region, and is said to be a major financier and controller of scores of pirates. He has also been implicated in the kidnappings of foreign aid workers across Somalia. Intelligence sources quoted in Western media say that Ilka Jiir plans to use piracy ransom booty to send terrorists to bomb Somali cities in the run up to the March elections: they also allege that Jama’s pirates include fighters trained by Al Qaeda, pointing once again to the alarming depth of the menace facing commercial shipping.

Pirates are widely regarded as heroes in Puntland, move freely there and live lavish lifestyles. Reports have recently emerged in Somali media speaking of large gangs of pirates that go out every morning to ‘hunt’ ships, just as fishermen go fishing. The local administration and police are allegedly involved.

Somali media says that Fu´aad Warsame Seed (Fu´aad Xanaano), a friend of Ilka Jiir, is another leading figure in piracy and kidnapping the foreigners. He is supposed to be the mastermind behind the ‘Sirius Star’ hijack, and has made millions of dollars from the piracy ‘business’.

Fu´aad Xanaano has purchased anti aircraft missiles and has formed his own army. He has also financed Ilka Jiir in his political ambitions. Somali observers call the Puntland ‘government’ the ‘Pirate Government’, since most members of the illegal administration are involved in piracy. The ‘President of Puntland’, Cabdiraxman Faroole, apparently does better: He prints fake Somali currency at his office.

The situation on land is now getting worse. Reports in the local newspaper ‘Hargeisa Times’ suggest that militia linked to the pirates have now mounted anti aircraft guns on vehicles around Eastern Sanaag (Ceel Buh village) and are forming a new pirate ‘base’, one that will attack ships between Elayo and Lasqoray, relatively safe areas thus far. Another aim is to destabilise Somaliland during the upcoming elections.
The prospects for anti terrorism in the region in general, and for commercial shipping in particular, are indeed frightening if this base is fully operational.

Mohamad, the new Defence Minister in Mogadishu is hopeful that “wisdom will prevail over violence, because the Somali population is very tired and fed up with war."

However, many intelligence analysts stress that the menace of Somali piracy will not be solved without international intervention in that country. Not least because the link between piracy and terrorism is getting stronger by the day.


Industry Snapshots

World Bank says Indian ports not favoured destinations for foreign investment because of bureaucratic hurdles and red tape. The Wall Street Journal quotes George Tharakan, lead transport specialist of World Bank for South Asia saying, "Unless conditions for private investment change radically and planning capacity at these ports improve, this level of investment is unlikely to materialise in the timeframe envisaged”. Other reasons cited for investors shying away from investing in the Indian port sector include lack of non uniformity and clarity in regulations, overlapping areas of operations between private and public berths and lopsided labour laws. The comments come even as the GOI finalises plans to improve the infrastructure at around 200 ports in India at a cost of $ 20 billion to meet the projected doubling of cargo movement in the next five years: the 12 major ports and around 190 minor ports earmarked handle about three quarters of the country’s trade. Mr. Tharakan says that the rate of capacity increase of Indian ports is slowing as the country struggles to attract investments here. One case in point, the fourth terminal at Jawaharlal Nehru Port, the contract for which has not been awarded since 2005 when the project was first cleared. Other issues include slow operations and inadequate draft availability at Indian ports: for example, operations are four times slower than other ports in Asia. "Given the challenges facing the port sector with regard to the rapidly expanding demand, this slowing capacity growth is worrisome," Mr. Tharakan said.

The Indian Navy to form Sagar Prahari Bal (SPB) and take complete charge of coastal security, says Defence Minister AK Antony. Speaking in Cochin, he said that the SPB would have a thousand personnel and 80 interception boats for patrolling. Citing security failures during the Mumbai terror attacks, including a lack of coordination between the
Navy and the Coast Guard as reasons for this move, Antony told reporters, “This eliminates the possibility of any blame game such as the one witnessed between the Navy and the Coast Guard after 26/11”. He added that joint operations centres would be set up in Mumbai, Vishakhapatnam, Kochi and Port Blair. Analysis of the Mumbai attacks underlined the fact that there were too many agencies involved in coastal security. The government is also increasing manpower and logistical support here, including sanctioning dedicated men and material to protect India’s coastline. There will be more ships, aircraft and helicopters provided. Antony said that nine additional Coast Guard stations have been mooted, and will be located at Karwar, Ratnagiri, Vadinar, Gopalpur, Minicoy, Androth, Karaikal, Hutbay and Nizampatnam. A new regional headquarters would also be set up in Gujarat under the newly created post of Commandant, Coast Guard (North West). This, to particularly guard against threats from Pakistan. The naval commanders in chief would be now designated as Commanders in Chief of Coastal Defence, Antony said, speaking at a ceremony where he laid the keel of India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier being built at the Cochin Shipyard. Other changes: AIS systems on boats and coastal radar chains.

More VLCCs being used for crude oil storage. Media reports confirm that around 45 VLCCs with 80 million barrels of crude oil are now being used for storage purposes. Speculators are said to be buying crude oil at low prices, storing it on mammoth tankers in expectation of quick profits after prices rise. The VLCCs are ‘parked’ in the US and Persian Gulf regions on short term charters. It is estimated that around ten percent of the world’s VLCC fleet is being used for this purpose. This has resulted in a situation where the reduced supply of tankers has supported freight rates. Analysts feel that this trend is worth watching, as it has direct implications on the crude freight market.

Honda joins the boat race, soon after Mahindra and Mahindra announces its own foray into the Indian boat manufacturing business. Honda Siel India Limited, the Indian subsidiary of the Japanese automobile giant, is conducting a feasibility study and analysing the market, revealed HSIL President and CEO Takedagawa. Honda will sell boat engines in India at first, though it intends to use the expertise of Honda Marine, its boat building subsidiary, to penetrate the Indian market soon. Meanwhile, Honda will sell imported boat engines, and is expected later to offer stiff competition to Mahindra Odyssea, which announced plans to manufacture fibreglass and other boats in India recently.


Friday, 6 March 2009

Industry Snapshots

Indian port and dock workers to go on indefinite strike from March 10 over pay even as they reject an 18.5 percent pay hike. The five federations of port and dock workers together account for more than 65,000 employees at more than ten major ports. The Water Transport Workers Federation of India, All India Port and Dock Workers Federation, Port, Dock and Waterfront Workers Federation of India and Indian National Port and Dock Workers Federation have served notice to managements to this effect after a meeting in New Delhi. Their demands? A 35 percent pay hike and a reduction in periodicity, which they say is standard in other Central Government undertakings. Critics say that the ports are Trusts and not really public sector undertakings as defined. Meanwhile, the ongoing strike of workers of Cochin’s CTT (Cochin Thuramugha Thozilali Union) has already hit operations at the port, with two bulk carriers stuck at outer anchorage at Cochin. Operators fear that the threatened strike will cripple movement at ports and hit the industry hard in difficult times. One immediate fallout may be that Cochin will lose business to other ports like Tuticorin and Mangalore if the situation in the port persists.

Chinese and Russian spat after Chinese ship sinks off Vladivostok with seven crew missing. China has lodged a formal protest with Russia saying that a Russian warship fired on a Chinese cargo vessel, the New Star. Three crewmembers were rescued, but seven are still missing. The Russian media quotes the Russian foreign ministry denying this, saying that the Chinese ship violated border laws, refused to stop when warning shots were fired, and sank in a storm. Interfax said the New Star, carrying a crew from China and Indonesia, left the port of Nakhoda without notifying authorities, and was fleeing border guards when the incident occurred. “We regret the tragic consequences of these events. However, we lay the whole responsibility for what happened on the New Star Captain, who acted extremely irresponsibly," Russian agency Interfax quoted a ministry representative as saying. The war of words between the two countries continued last week, with China claiming that the Russians did not try hard to find survivors, and that a Russian warship fired on the Sierra Leone flagged ‘New Star’. A Chinese official said that the “attitude of the Russian foreign ministry is hard to understand and unacceptable. Some reports suggest that the New Star had been held on suspicion of smuggling in Nakhoda, left port without notifying authorities and was forced to turn back after a Russian naval vessel fired 500 rounds at it. The New Star subsequently sank, with the crew abandoning the vessel.

Vessels to be registered under a uniform coastal security system. It was decided at a meeting on coastal security chaired by Cabinet Secretary Chandrashekar on Saturday that all vessels would be uniformly registered while keeping security on the highest priority. The meeting of top bureaucrats included the Secretaries of Home, Defence, Shipping, Border Management and Fishing, besides Deputy National Advisors and senior Naval and Coast Guard personnel. The new coastal security system would go further, with the issuance of Multipurpose National ID cards (MNIC) to fishermen and ID cards to coastal populations, besides new communication and navigational equipment on fishing vessels. Attendees are apparently pursuing questions on how best to have the ID cards interoperable, although there is broad agreement on the streamlined installation of tracking and other navigational devices on water craft. These initiatives have taken priority post the Mumbai terror attacks, with the Nautical Advisor reportedly working closely with ISRO, the National Informatics Centre and technical personnel to expedite the process. The modalities of issuance of ID cards to coastal and fishing populations are still being worked out.

Now, an army of fire fighting robots to fight pirates! Engineers at the Centre of Firefighting Robotechnics in Petrozavodsk, Russia, have come up with a novel idea: a robot to fight pirates. Modified by an existing prototype of a robot designed to fight fires, the designers at this small Northern Russian city say that it can ‘wash away pirates along with their weapons and even sink their boats.’ Each robot was originally meant to extinguish fires on ships and in ports; Russian engineers came up with a plan to have a dozen such such robots protecting ships against pirates. The system uses motion sensors and monitors areas on board which are the pirates’ favourites for boarding. Once confirmed by cameras controlled from the navigating bridge, the ‘army’ of robots’ fires high pressure water cannon at the pirate boat. The system can be used in automatic or manual mode; in the latter, the robots are controlled from the bridge. The water cannon are apparently powerful enough to sink pirate motorboats or wash would be attackers overboard. Seafarers may have to wait a bit for these friendly robots, though: they are still being tested under seagoing conditions.


Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Seafarer working hours close to slavery, says UK’s MAIB

London February 24 The maritime industry in the UK was abuzz after the MAIB (the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch) report on the grounding of the “Antari” was made public. The report has rebuked the International Maritime Organisation for not addressing the longstanding problem of maritime fatigue; in fact, it has recommended that the UK government take unilateral action in addressing this issue.

Besides industry channels like Lloyds List, the report was also widely quoted in mainstream newspapers and the BBC, with The Telegraph headline “Exhausted Sailors working 98 hour weeks” saying it all. The lead to the article goes on to quote the MAIB, “Exhausted sailors are regularly falling asleep at the helm, turning their ships into "unguided missiles" which could cause a major disaster off the UK coast.”

The Antari grounded off the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland in June 2008 because the officer on watch fell asleep and remained asleep even as the ship ran aground. Calling the accident part of “a continuing and unacceptable trend”, the MAIB says there was no lookout on the bridge at the time of the incident. The officer fell asleep in his chair on the starboard side of the wheelhouse, in front of one of the radar sets.

The MAIB investigation further revealed that the officer had been working six hours on, six hours off for the previous three and a half months, probably in addition to other duties. He was alone on the bridge at the time, and fell asleep for three hours. The Antari was carrying more than 2300 tonnes of scrap when she ran aground. Nearly three quarters of the hull was damaged and dented, and the bottom ruptured.

The MAIB confirms that, contrary to international requirements, no lookout is provided on many ships at night, leaving the officer of the watch alone on a six hour watch. Given the number of accidents that had occurred with officers falling asleep, it was possible to extrapolate that there were more unreported incidents of ships sailing in UK waters with no one awake onboard, the report continued. “It can only be a matter of time before these ‘unguided missiles’ cause a catastrophic accident,” concluded the MAIB.Stephen Meyer, chief inspector of the MAIB, said that seafarer shift patterns were "as close to slavery that we have in the UK. People are working 98 hour weeks, week after week, and they do not have a single night's sleep in that time. They never get more than five hours and the cumulative effect is enormous."

Five years ago, in a 2004 safety report, the MAIB had said that minimal crewing leading to unacceptable levels of fatigue in bridge watch keepers needed to be addressed urgently by the IMO. It now says, “The IMO has failed to address this issue satisfactorily”. The MAIB has taken the “exceptional step of recommending that the UK administration takes unilateral action to ensure the safety of shipping within UK waters and to protect the environment”.

Going further, the MAIB said that, “In the five years since that earlier report, there have been no changes to international standards or requirements to address this issue and similar accidents continue to occur.” The IMO, in turn, confirmed that the UK had submitted a proposal to MSC 84 in 2007 “to the effect that, through amendment of Solas regulation V/14, an auditable procedure for establishing vessels’ safe manning levels should be introduced”.

The MAIB now wants the UK Government to put pressure on the IMO to urgently address the issue of fatigue and manning on board ships. Meanwhile, the MAIB has asked the UK Department of Transport and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to increase inspections on ships believed to be undermanned.

Mr. Meyer said that in the last few years, the MAIB has investigated nine other groundings. In six of these, the officer on watch fell asleep.