Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Sailing on a sinking boat

French designer Julien Berthier has been taking his boat around Europe- a boat that looks like it is about to go down any minute. The 35 year old artist designed the boat in 2007 because he says that he wanted to “freeze the moment just a few seconds before a boat disappears, creating an endless vision of the dramatic moment”. Christened, “Love, Love”, Berthier actually cut a working boat in half, sealed it with fiberglass and fitted it with two engines to get the look he wanted.

Berthier admits that his boat has been the reason for more than one harbour master or coast guard being put on full alert as onlookers report what appears to be a sinking vessel. With its stern up and bow submerged, the boat looks like it is headed straight for the bottom and will disappear any minute. But his sculpture, he says, is fully seaworthy and handles quite well, especially in calm weather."This is like kind of the second before it sinks forever – even though most boats don't sink that way. But anyway I wanted to create this image and freeze it this way, and make it visible and maneuverable in that exact position," Berthier says.

Inspired by the ‘Titanic’ to create his sculpture, Berthier selected a boat after a thorough search of the boatyards at Normandy three years ago. Berthier used the help of a local shipwright to modify the original 21 ft by 8 ft vessel, much to the consternation of the other people in the shipyard who were aghast that a good boat- complete with a small cabin and a sloop rig- was being chopped up. The process was uncomplicated, says Berthier. "It was just cutting it at the right angle, and filling the seams and then taking the keel, filling it with weights, and putting it at the front. There was no special engineering," he says. Twin engines completed the design.

The Paris based artist has built himself quite a reputation designing some weird and absurd artwork; he has also designed a giant skull in the hedges of a European cottage and made holes in an apartment’s wall with the wreckage spelling "Welcome Home." Some critics have said that his engineered artwork seems to ‘occupy the twilight zone between comedy and tragedy’. ‘ Love, Love’ is another case in point. "What I'm looking for, all the time, is you see something, it's not just dark or just funny, it's someplace in between,” he says. "I like when you don't know if you are supposed to laugh or not or what are you actually looking at."

Berthier has not licensed the boat, which would be expensive and, as his says, it would probably not pass inspection anyway. Nonetheless, he has sailed his sinking ‘Love, Love’ down many famous places like Lake Constance in Germany, London’s Canary Wharf and Normandy in France. "We never had any problem moving with it in harbors after having warned the harbor master," he says. The only snag is that the authorities seem to be swamped with people reporting a boat in distress wherever ‘Love, Love’ appears.

As a final oddity, Berthier says he is not a sailor and prefers land any day. "I've been once on a boat for two days, and I threw up for two days,” he says.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Other elements may be behind pirates on Indian coast, says Defence Minister.

There is a ‘doubt' that ‘other elements' are behind sea pirates, “so we have to be more careful” while dealing with piracy, Union Defence Minister A. K. Antony said yesterday, speaking to the press after commissioning a Coast Guard station at the Mincoy islands off Kerala’s coast. "We can neglect the seas only at our peril as the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai showed," Antony said earlier. He urged the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard to “remain ever vigilant and not to lower their guard at any point of time."

Antony had earlier inaugurated a new Coast Guard district headquarters Kavaratti, Lakshadweep islands. Named ‘District headquarters No 12’, this will have operational control over ships, aircraft, hovercrafts, fast patrol vessels, interceptor boats, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft in the general area. Although the beefing up of maritime security post the Mumbai attacks is not complete, observers believe that the present moves come after a spate of pirate attacks close off the Indian coastline in recent months, and the interception of foreign nationals off Lakshadweep just a month or so ago.

The new stations will have advanced surveillance and communication systems, besides armaments and other sensing equipment that would enable the security forces to keep a twenty-four hour watch on the Arabian Sea. “The southernmost island in the Arabian Sea is of prime strategic importance. So this is an important step towards ensuring fast and effective response to any fast developing security challenge at sea,” Antony said, indicating that the present airport on the islands would be expanded and modernised soon to take larger aircraft.

Antony implied that there were more complex factors behind piracy. “That is why, in spite of all important nations joining hands against pirates in the Gulf of Aden, it is not coming down; in fact it is expanding,” he said. Nevertheless, he said that hundreds of threats had been successfully met after the Mumbai attacks. “India is on the radar of terrorists. We are under threat every day on a 24x7 basis. So we can't take rest. We have to be constantly on the vigil. Last year, 14 attempts were made by pirates near the Minicoy islands”, Antony said, pointing out that many of these islands were small and uninhabited.

Coast Guard Director General Vice-Admiral Chopra said the waters around the islands were vulnerable. “Proximity to other island nations, busy shipping lanes and wide geographical stretches make it an attractive destination. The fact that these islands could be used as safe havens by anti-national elements for launching attacks cannot be ruled out.” He added, “The eight degree channel between the Maldives and Minicoy witnesses traffic to the tune of 40 large ships a day, and here piracy is a major concern not only for the transiting vessels but also for the Indian security establishment.”

Antony revealed that three Coast Guard district headquarters and eight stations had been commissioned after the Mumbai attacks. “We are also setting up 38 static radars. These radar stations coming up across India will be commissioned by November 2011. The force levels of the Coast Guard are being doubled. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is manufacturing 12 Dornier aircraft for the force. We are strengthening the Coast Guard and the Navy and, along with them, the Coastal Police under various State governments,” he said, adding that a new Coast Guard station at Androth would have facilities to dock larger naval ships.


Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Thousand man strong private anti-piracy militia being trained in Somalia

A secret anti-piracy army of more than a thousand is being privately trained in northern Somalia, reports the Associated Press. Financed by an unknown nation in the region, those involved in it include a former CIA functionary, an ex-US diplomat and a shadowy private security company. The training camp is about 200 kilometers away from a pirate anchorage and home to Islamist fighters that complain that they have been kept away from oil exploration activity in the region.

The anti-piracy militia seems to have the blessings of the Puntland government; its first batch of around a 150 trainees have completed a 13 week course, confirmed Mohamed Farole, the son of Puntland President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole. Farole told AP that the new force will “hunt down pirates on land in the Galgala mountains”.

Although details of militia armaments were not revealed, up to 120 new pickup trucks have already arrived to equip the force. Interestingly, the militia will also have six small aircraft for patrolling the coast, Farole said. “No other force in Somalia, including the Mogadishu-based central government or African Union peacekeepers, has air assets,” says the newswire. Also arrived for the militia: four armoured vehicles with gunner’s turrets donated by a Muslim country. Some analysts speculate that US $10 million on equipment, salaries and other costs has already been spent.

The semi autonomous area of Puntland in Somalia is thought to have reserves of oil and gas. It is also a transit point for arms and Al Qaeda fighters crossing over from Yemen and Eritrea and has several pirate strongholds within it. Questions are obviously being raised as to what the ultimate purpose of the militia will be. The appearance of an unknown donor with deep pockets is troubling, E.J. Hogendoorn, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, told AP. "We don't know if this unknown entity is operating in the interests of Somalis or their own self-interest," he said in an interview. "If it's a company, there has to be a quid pro quo in terms of (oil and gas) concessions. If it's a government, they are interested in changing the balance of power."

Analysts say that the new militia may well be another destabilising force in the region. An unidentified UN representative told AP that the organisation was investigating to see if the new military force violated a UN arms embargo in force.

Pierre Prosper, an ambassador-at-large from the George Bush era, told AP he is being paid by a Muslim nation he declined to identify to work as a legal adviser to the Somali government. In a separate interview, Michael Shanklin, the CIA's ex deputy chief of station in Mogadishu 20 years ago, told AP he is employed by the unidentified donor country as a security adviser and liaison to the Somali government. Shanklin and Prosper have reportedly met diplomats in Kenya to discuss contracts between Mogadishu, Puntland and Saracen International, a private security company led by Bill Pelser, a former South African mercenary. Prosper says that Saracen is doing the militia training. Many Saracen employees are ex workers of Executive Outcomes, the South African mercenary outfit “credited with helping defeat rebel forces in Sierra Leone in return for mineral concessions,” says AP. Pelser says that its company being named in the anti-piracy training is "definitely a mistake or a misrepresentation."

Despite these worrying connections that indicate that the new militia may be more interested in protecting private players as they explore Puntland’s energy reserves, Farole, the Puntland President’s son and spokesperson, insists that the new force will fight pirates. However, he hoped that greater security in the region would bring more investors into "public-private partnerships" with the government.

"You cannot have oil exploration if you have insecurity," Mohamed Farole said. "You have to eliminate the pirates and al-Shabab."

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Industry needs to ‘get all over the media’ on piracy: Peter Cremers

“500 people held for ransom from third world countries is apparently not newsworthy!”

Anglo Eastern CEO Peter Cremers has, in his inimitable style, criticised the industry for its media handling of the longstanding piracy menace. Commenting on the release of the two British citizens Paul and Rachel Chandler from captivity in Somalia a year of being taken by pirates off their yacht, Cremers said he was extremely happy to hear the news but would like to see the media showing the same kind of response over ‘commercial kidnappings’.

“I am extremely happy for Paul and Rachel Chandler to be finally released by their Somali pirates after so many months. I am a bit of a yachtie myself – which adds to the understanding of how close a nightmare can be from heaven. Their happy faces all over the news, worldwide, was the kind of news that makes a day a good one.”

However, Cremers went on to pointedly add, “But – hang on – was it not within the same fortnight that one or two commercial ships were released from captivity – each with 20 odd people on board?” He was obviously referring to the overwhelming media coverage of the Chandlers release and comparing that response to the silence that rules when pirates release seafarers and their ships.

“Are we shipping professionals just amateurs in playing the public?” he asked, going on to point out that the industry has not managed, so far, to get the media on their side. “Have we managed to get one cameraman on board a just-released ship, to see for ourselves – and show the world – the physical and psychological damage caused by the piracy? Have we managed to get a cameraman and show the world the home-coming of fathers and husbands somewhere in India, Philippines or China – much to the relief of so many family members depending on their income?”

“Are we getting Governments and their diplomats involved to make things happen, as was so successfully demonstrated by the Chandlers?”

Mr Peter Cremers was subtly biting on the industry’s seeming failure to manage the electronic media or and press so that the issue that the maritime industry has been facing over the last so many years could be highlighted, and so get public and political attention. “Can we imagine-just for a minute- what would happen in case of the hijacking of a plane in Somalia for ransom – with 20 people on board? It would be on CNN and BBC news within 30-60 minutes.”

However, as he sardonically commented, “500 people held for ransom from third world countries is apparently not newsworthy!”

“In the shipping industry we have, on average, up to 500 seafarers held hostage for up to 6 months – and all we seem to be told is to learn to live with piracy and try to outsmart them”, Cremers said. “Is it because insurance companies help ease the problem? Or because most of the crews are from developing countries, therefore any media interest is minimal? We saw what happened when an American ship was hi-jacked – suddenly massive interest from the media, hero worshipping for the Captain, intervention of US Navy ship using maximum force and so on.” Cremers continued.

Cremers feels that the maritime industry needs to do whatever it takes to get the attention of the media, because only then might it see some political support. “We need to be all over the media – get them on board to help us get rid of piracy. At the right time, without endangering any of our seafarers, we need to get them witnessing the drama and suffering caused by piracy.”

In an obvious reference to the business that has sprung up around piracy- including in many Western nations, Cremers added, “We are now supporting a piracy industry – at both sides of the conflict – from pirates to negotiators to armed guards to cash suppliers – and we have to stop this before it considered as an integral part of conducting our business.”

Tongue in cheek, the Anglo Eastern CEO concluded, “Maybe we can use the Chandlers as our ‘get rid of piracy’ Ambassadors, spearheading an international awareness campaign. Since we professionals can’t manage to solve the piracy issue on our own - let’s ask the ‘yachties’ for help!”

Monday, 13 December 2010

Branson’s ‘Carbon War Room’ inappropriate, says industry.

Even as countries contemplate charging port dues based on a ship’s carbon emissions, the industry has strongly objected, at the UN Climate Change Conference at Cancun in Mexico, to Virgin Atlantic airline’s head Richard Branson’s ‘Carbon War Room’(CWR) initiative. Branson claims to have an online database of 60,000 ships based on their carbon emissions. Branson says that the information will allow customers to compare the carbon footprints of the vessel’s they use.

International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) Secretary General Peter Hinchliffe claims that the IMO’s Energy Efficiency Design Index has been used out of context in the database. ICS is an international shipowners’ association that represents about 80% of the global merchant fleet. Expressing serious concern about the CWR initiative, Hinchliffe says, “While the EEDI is an important benchmarking tool to help ships reduce their carbon emissions, it was not created to compare individual ships of different types with each other. Ships have very different construction and safety requirements, depending on their type and trade, which can cause their energy consumption to vary greatly. Also, the IMO methodology has not been approved for use with all types of ship. It is therefore inappropriate for the Carbon War Room to use this methodology to derive scores for completely different classes of ships.” The ICS concludes that the EEDI cannot be used by charterers as a benchmark to compare ships, or by ports to charge dues.

Branson’s ‘Carbon War Room’ website does seem a trifle sensationalist. Under a heading interestingly titled, “Operation Rock the Boat”, it claims to be developing a rating system “that differentiates vessels based on their pollution levels and creates a benchmark efficiency that influences key stakeholder decisions.” ‘Rock the boat’ highlights, additionally, the more than one billion tonnes of annual emissions that maritime emissions are responsible for, making them the sixth largest emitter compared of countries. The website states that the ethos in the industry, slated to be responsible of 18% of emissions by 2050, is ‘business as usual.’ CWR claims to be putting together a coalition of shippers, ports, NGOs, financiers and technology partners to address this.

"This data hub for shipping will help the key players in the industry and their customers make better decisions for their businesses and ultimately, the planet," says Branson.

In connected developments, reports suggest that some countries are contemplating charging port dues based on carbon emissions from ships. The government of Papua New Guinea is pushing this at Cancun, asking other nations to get involved. Papua New Guinea's delegate Kevin Conrad told the BBC that his country was considering this. "Our duty is to find those that are leading the charge in the private sector and work with them to achieve our climate goals," he said. Ships would be rated on an A-G scale according to their efficiency, with differential port dues levied according to their emissions.

Meanwhile, Peter Boyd of the Carbon War Room is hoping that “companies like Nike or Walmart will go for it (their database) for two reasons."Firstly, they're concerned about greening their brands, but also about securing their supply chains."

The CWR idea is not new: schemes exist in the EU that rate consumer electrical goods similarly. However, the industry is peeved that shipping, at least 30 times more fuel-efficient than aviation, is being unfairly singled out by interested parties from that sector. “We have nothing at all against the aviation sector,” said Hinchliffe. “But for Sir Richard to claim that ‘the shipping industry was doing pretty well nothing’ suggests that he has not been well briefed on the tremendous steps that shipping is taking to maintain its position as the most carbon efficient transport mode by far.”

IMO pressurised to take action on overweight container menace.

7 The International Chamber of Commerce and the World Shipping Council has urged the International Maritime Organisation to legislate that all loaded containers be weighed at ports prior to loading. In a joint statement, the ICS and WSC said, “The issue of overweight containers has been a subject of industry, insurance, and at times government, concern over the years, and has from time-to-time become an issue of concern to the general public after incidents involving overweight boxes”.

A recent Maritime Research Institute of the Netherlands research project recommended compulsory weighing of containers prior to vessels loading: the project included studies on the widespread impact of incorrect weights on cargo securing, including collapsing container stacks. The IMO has reviewed these recommendations earlier; its subcommittee said at the time that, in the interests of safety, “there is a need to consider ways and means to ensure that the correct weight of the containers is declared to the carrier and communicated to the ship’s master in order to allow for correct and well-informed handling and stowage”.

These moves are somewhat hampered by the fact that there are no statistics available regarding the dangerous practice of under declaration of container weights. Industry sources agree that this practice is rampant in certain trades, resulting in ships being overloaded by sometimes as much as ten percent of the total cargo tonnage declared. The ICS and the WSC believe that this problem is “significant and widespread”, and managers say that a 3 to 7 percent under declaration is “normal”

This malpractice obviously puts crews and ships at risk of capsizing if there are stability problems- container ships commonly sail, in any case, with lower levels of stability compared to other vessels of the same size. However, this malpractice has other ramifications as well. Collapsed container stacks, damage to ships because of load densities being exceeded, cargo and other insurance claims, boxes lost overboard, stress risks for ships and, as the organisations say, “impairment of vessels’ optimal trim and draft, thus causing impaired vessel efficiency, suboptimal fuel usage, and greater air emissions”. Additionally, decisions on stowage and stability are nullified somewhat by misdeclared box weights. Masters know that there are many incidents of especially feeder boxships shutting out cargo because their loadline limits have been reached with overweight containers loaded on board, and before the total cargo has been put on board.

An overweight container can also pose danger on land. As things stand, road and rail weight limits and crane safe working loads may be exceeded at any leg of the logistics chain, posing particular dangers to operators, workers and third parties.

The WSC and ICS say that an international regulatory requirement is essential to ensure that containers are weighed before loading, and that actual container weights be made available to the vessel so that they can be used for stowage and stability planning. A law already exists in the United States that requires the weighing of every export container before a vessel is loaded. As a report in the Handy Shipping Guide says, “there seems no logical reason why all nations should not be bound by the same regulations”.

It is believed that the IMO Maritime Safety Committee is to meet in May 2011 to deliberate an amendment to the SOLAS convention to address this issue.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

SCI tanker attacked by pirates 336 nm off Goa

Fourth incident in area this month

Singapore based piracy monitoring centre ReCAAP ISC reports that the Indian registered Crude Oil Tanker Guru Gobind Singh was attacked on the evening of 25 Nov 10 just 336 nautical miles off Mormugao, Goa. The 274-metre vessel’s hull and superstructure was left riddled with bullets before the pirates abandoned the attack thanks to some quick thinking by the Master. Indian military planes and surface vessels are now reportedly scouring the area trying to find any trace of the pirate mother vessel and to thwart any further attacks. There have been four pirate incidents in the general area this month alone. 

The information centre of ReCAAP has put up an incident report on its website, confirming that the Guru Gobind Singh was attacked at about 1640 hours on the 25th of November in position 14° 52' N, 068° 00'E (see map), when “one small skiff with about seven pirates approached the vessel from her stern. Realising the threat, the Master immediately raised general alarm and took action in accordance with the industry's BMP including increasing speed and carrying out zigzag manoeuvres. Armed with guns, the pirates approached the vessel from her starboard quarter and fired at the vessel causing some bullet scars on the hull. The shipmaster immediately manoeuvred to take the pirate skiff on the windward side thus making it roll vigorously, compelling the pirates to reduce speed and finally move away from the tanker towards the mother vessel, which was seen on the starboard beam at a speed of 8.9 knots. The crew was not injured.”

Another website,, says that the Guru Gobind Singh is due to arrive at Ras Tanura on Tuesday. The 147495 DWT Guru Gobind Singh is a 1995 built crude oil tanker owned by the Shipping Corporation of India, which is due to come out with a follow on public offer tomorrow, Nov 30, as the Government of India plans to divest a ten percent stake in the giant.

ReCAAP has also confirmed that the pirates are operating from a mother vessel, suspected to be the MT Polar, hijacked on October 30 about six hundred miles from Socotra in the Somali basin. It is assumed that the pirates are capable of launching further attacks in the near future. The ReCAAP ISC has advised all vessels to exercise extreme caution within a hundred miles of the position where the Guru Gobind Singh was attacked.

No doubt, the Master and crew of the Guru Gobind Singh need to be commended for their courage. The fact remains, however, that repeated incidents of pirate attacks along the Indian western coastline- from off Mumbai southwards and alarmingly close to the Indian coast- raise extremely serious concerns about the security of our coastline, ships and our maritime trade. One is surprised that there has been no follow up of any of these incidents in the mainstream media.


Monday, 29 November 2010

US confirms M.Star blast was terrorist attack

Marad issues advisory to vessels in region

The United States Maritime administration confirmed last week that the attack on the Japanese Mitsui owned tanker in July was a terrorist attack. The MARAD statement that militants were behind the incident has resurfaced questions about security in the Strait of Hormuz. Intelligence agencies are also increasingly concerned about piracy incidents close to the eastern and western shores of the Arabian Sea.

MARAD has issued an advisory for ships transitting the Strait of Hormuz, Southern Arabian Gulf and the Western Gulf of Oman. Advisory 2010-10 on Nov 19 says that that the claim by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades (AAB) that the group had attacked the tanker M.Star is ‘valid’, that the AAB remains active and can “conduct further attacks on vessels in areas in the Strait of Hormuz, Southern Arabian Gulf, and Western Gulf of Oman. Furthermore, it recommends “all ships transiting the subject waters exercise increased vigilance and caution, particularly during night transits with increased monitoring of small vessel/boat activity”.

Silence from the West ever since the July incident had bred much speculation about the M.Star attack. Although agencies in the Gulf had clearly indicated that a suicide boat rammed the tanker in an attack that fortunately did not result in casualties or environmental catastrophe, the industry and much of the rest of the world has largely ignored the incident so far. Confusion about the AAB- a relatively little known shadowy Al Qaeda linked group that was hitherto seen to be operating mainly in Lebanon and the Egyptian Sinai – added to the speculation. Industry experts questioned the AAB’s ability to mount such an attack in the Arabian Gulf at the time.

The MARAD advisory will undoubtedly change this perception. "This is an important wake-up call," said James Burnell-Nugent, former Commander in Chief, Fleet, of the Royal Navy. We don't want to over-react, but we have 30-odd warships moving around in the Indian Ocean on piracy and one periodically moving through the Strait. It does seem a bit out of balance." UK’s mariner union Nautilus says their members were "profoundly disturbed" at the news. "We don't feel that the threat is being taken seriously either by the industry in general or by governments." Peter Hinchliffe of the International Chamber of Shipping said it was advising all ships to maintain vigilance and caution in the region. Other observers say that premiums will almost certainly rise for traffic in the region.

Critics allege that monitoring of small craft in the Strait, including many fast moving boats used by smugglers, is poor. More robust systems and policing would undoubtedly help in a strait that sees forty percent of the world’s seaborne oil move through it. "We are in for a greater shock unless coordination improves," says Sami alFaraj of the Kuwait Center for Security Studies.

One hopes that the brief advisory will serve as a wake-up call. There has been little reporting or industry concern publicly expressed on the many disturbing elements that have inevitably reared their heads in recent times. Incidents of piracy off the Indian coast, the hijacking of another ship a few hundred miles off Oman recently, confirmation that some Somali pirate groups are believed to be operating from areas held by the extremist Al Qaeda linked Al Shabaab in the country and the fact that Al Qaeda has attacked shipping in the past- and threatened more such attacks in the future-are each, on their own, worrisome. Put together, they are alarming.

Some analysts are suggesting that the US display some evidence to back their advisory, pointing out that the results of the official Japanese investigation are not yet known. John Dalby of security company MRM thinks that the M.Star attack was a collision that is being covered up. Others disagree. With the overactive Yemen based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the immediate vicinity, they say, the world cannot afford to ignore the threat to one of the most important chokepoints to seaborne trade.

"Failed attempts can become unintentional trial runs for successful attacks as the perpetrators learn their lessons”, says terrorism expert Jeremy Binnie. "The USS Cole bombers (in Aden, Yemen) made an earlier attempt to bomb the USS Sullivans on 3 Jan 2000, but their boat sank. They learned their lessons and got it right on the next attempt. That's why it’s important to keep an eye out for these kind of things."

Of course, nobody is answering an important question just yet- from which country did the suicide boat come from?


Port State Control or extortion?

Cash strapped Spain makes ‘fine’ move

P&I club Skuld has warned the industry that Spanish PSC inspectors are targeting foreign ships in a bid to raise revenues to help the country’s shaky economy. Skuld’s caution is based on a report by its correspondents Bull Marine Surveyors of Spain. “Due to the current financial situation in Spain, and due to the fact that the Spanish government urgently needs income, they have instructed the Treasury office inspectors to increase their surveys/inspections in all companies in order to get an extra income of EUR 4 billion”, it says. “In our opinion, the Spanish government has also instructed the Head Office of PSC in Madrid to trace, arrest and fine vessels in order to get extra income”.

“According to this new regime, PSC Inspectors will aim to find detainable deficiencies, resulting in large fines and delays”.

It is believed that Treasury inspectors in Spain leaked the government’s plans to local newspapers. Skuld says that ships have been fined between EUR 60.000-90.000 in the past- normally EUR 60.000, which is the minimum amount that has to be guaranteed in order to release the vessel.

Masters are always liable to find their vessels arrested if any serious deficiency is found anywhere in the world. However, there is a world of difference between not allowing a vessel to sail on genuine grounds and targetting foreign ships for revenue. Spanish law, like in some other countries, requires a Master to declare any material or serious deficiencies in the ship to the authorities before arrival. Shipowners fear that the authorities in Spain will misuse this law, finding small deficiencies at PSC inspections and claiming that they were not properly notified by the Master beforehand.

Bull says that “even a small failure or lack of an official stamp in the normal books can be a reason to arrest and fine a vessel. As everyone knows, anyone who wishes to find things amiss on board can find them without any problems, as even new ships are not perfect ships. We recently had a detention and fine of a vessel which was only 6 months old.”

The Club says that Spanish Flag vessels are not being targeted, and neither are passenger vessels or those owned by bigger owners because of obvious implications. “The focus is on non-ECC flags and medium to small tonnage”.

Worse, the Notification of Arrest is delivered on board in Spanish, and the amount of fine must be deposited before any appeal can even be made. “After approximately one month, depending on each port and workload they have, the final fine is imposed, and then this new amount must be placed before the first guarantee is returned,” Skuld says. “No matter if the Owners agree or not with the deficiencies traced, the only way to release the vessel is to place the amount without any arguments. The vessel is released and allowed to sail only after the amount requested by the PSC has been transferred”. Payment normally takes three hours after the money and documents have been gathered by the shipowner’s representatives.

“Presently the situation is so drastic that any silly excuse is used to detain vessels following all laws and regulations, including article 105.3 lay 27/92 which states that the Master must advise of any deficiency on board. The article considers this a minor offence, but the fine imposed is EUR 60.000, so perhaps it’s a minor offense with expensive consequences”, Bull says. The Club says that the matter can take between one to three years to be finally resolved, in case the owners or their P&I Club allege unfair detention.

Shipowners can only hope that other countries in the Eurozone- with more than a few shaky economies- do not follow the Spanish ‘model’ for raising revenues through unfair fines. Although PSC has been misused by officials in many parts of the world for extortion, that is very different from an official policy that threatens to promote this practice. Moreover, from one of the Paris MOU countries too.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Nuclear powered merchant ships on the horizon?

Environmental concerns and long term economic advantages are raising the possibility of nuclear energy being used as the main means of propulsion on cargo ships; the IMO’s increasing thrust on controlling emissions from ships is making technocrats reconsider various business models that will make the idea palatable. Marine and energy consultants BMT Group and Enterprises Shipping and Trading have joined with start-up small reactor firm Hyperion and the Lloyd's Register. They will "investigate the practical maritime applications for small modular reactors," says World Nuclear News, a service supported by the World Nuclear Association and one that covers nuclear power developments.

"We will see nuclear ships on specific trade routes sooner than many people currently anticipate," it quotes Lloyd's Register CEO Richard Sadler as saying. Lloyd's Register has now reportedly redrafted its rules for nuclear ships and submitted the draft to its technical committee. Vince Jenkins of the organisation says, however, "National maritime regulators have little nuclear capability, so land based nuclear regulators will be needed in support. Our nuclear powered ship rules have suggested a framework which may allow nuclear powered shipping to operate”.

Nuclear power for merchant ships was an idea that first surfaced in the late 50’s in the US, where the then 47 million-dollar ‘Savannah’ (see pic) was built with government support. However, she was in service for only ten years, and another nuclear powered ship, the ‘Otto Hahn’ was refitted with diesel engines within nine years. For various reasons, the idea never took off. In recent times, the success of the Russian icebreaker fleet and major Russian initiatives to have floating nuclear power plants around the Arctic has rekindled interest in the possibility of nuclear power for commercial shipping. One obstacle is that High Enriched Uranium, which allows for smaller reactor design, is controlled by the recognised nuclear powers. The alternative, Low Enriched Uranium, makes for bulkier reactors.

Of course, there are other issues, the main one being the lack of acceptability of nuclear power driven merchant ships by Port States. The technical requirements of radiation shielding, crew training and the cost of setting up a nuclear plant on a ship- with additional grounding, collision, fire and such risks- will undoubtedly be other major factors that will have to be considered, even though fuel savings will make the cost worthwhile in the long term. Another advantage: there would also be no need of slow steaming to save on fuel or to control emissions, as is the case today.

The Industry is already reported to be toying with various commercial models using nuclear power and making initial evaluations. It is possible, for example, that two countries agree to use a specific nuclear powered vessel for a port-to-port service. On bulk carriers that are part of a ‘moving pipeline’, large volumes could be moved by fewer and faster ships, thus defraying initial capital costs somewhat.

Another interesting variation of this is the ‘Supertug’ concept, where a nuclear powered tug attaches itself to a conventional ship for the sea voyage, thus saving on fuel costs and making the passage emission free. It then stays in international waters while the ship steams in on her diesel engines into the port, reattaching itself again for the return voyage.

Analysts say that a luxury liner- which has the power demand curve of a small town, would be an ideal ship to use nuclear systems, with conventional diesel generators being used for back up and to handle ‘peak load’. However, this is unlikely to happen in a hurry, given the stiff resistance that will probably be faced from passengers and ports both.

These are early days and the debate on the possibility of nuclear powered merchant ships- a controversial idea, to be sure- is just beginning. One cannot help thinking that this road is likely to be a rough one. Perhaps some countries will promote these ships on their domestic routes first, hopefully after stringent regulation.


Monday, 15 November 2010

Indian Navy rescues cargo ship from pirates 450 nm off Mumbai


                                          Indian marine commandos board: pic, Indian navy.

In yet another alarming incident of a piracy attack close off the Indian coast, and less than two weeks after an assault on the ‘Starlight Venture’ off Mangalore, the Indian Navy has repelled boarders aboard the multipurpose ship ‘BBC Orinoco’ and rescued the crew. The incident is even more shocking because it occurred just 450 nautical miles off Mumbai, when the vessel was on a passage from Aqaba to Singapore.

About 6 am on Nov 11, the Orinoco- with a reported Filipino, Russian, Sri Lankan and Ukrainian crew of 14- informed the Indian Navy through UKMTO Dubai that pirates were attacking them. The Navy dispatched missile corvette INS Veer to intercept the distressed vessel. Another ship with Marine Commandos aboard, the INS Delhi was also pulled off exercises and diverted to the Orinoco; a long-range IL-38 aircraft was additionally deployed for aerial surveillance.

Early the next day, the commandos rappelled aboard the Orinoco from a Sea King helicopter that covered their descent. Although full details are unavailable at the time of writing this report, it is believed that the pirates were scared off the vessel by the naval action. The crew were rescued; a detailed search of the vessel found no pirates aboard, although tools such as crowbars- and knives -were found aboard.

The 2008 built 17335DWT Orinoco is registered in Antigua and Barbuda and is believed to be chartered by Beluga shipping and sub-chartered to Germany’s BBC. Manager Reedereigruppe Freese has confirmed that the crew are safe. “MV BBC Orinoco has successfully been prevented from being hijacked and is now safe,” the company said. “Thanks to the crew, the Indian Navy, as well as to UKMTO,” the statement concluded.

Beluga connected ships have been in the eye of the pirate storm before. On the 24th of last month, the Beluga Fortune suffered an almost identical incident off Somalia, with the crew locking itself in a ‘citadel’ before being rescued by the Royal Navy the following day. The ‘BBC Trinidad’, another Beluga vessel, was not so lucky two years ago, being taken in the Gulf of Aden towards the end of August before being quickly released by the middle of September.

Critics allege that many owners still push Master’s to sail by the shortest possible route between the Bab-el-Mandab straits eastwards with no protection. With piracy in the Arabian Sea off the Indian subcontinent now a well-established fact and with no armed guards aboard, these crews and owners are simply asking for trouble.

From an Indian standpoint, the by now many piracy attacks off the Indian coast and an incident where Somali pirates were caught in Lakshadweep in August after they had swum ashore, all point to dangerous holes in our maritime security. Observers say that these incidents have the security establishment rattled. Whether that is true or not, the fact is that India continues to ignore piracy and associated terror threats at its own peril. Although it can afford – cynically speaking - to ignore seafarers, it just cannot afford to be sanguine about threats from the sea any longer. As one mariner says, “Mumbai has already paid the price once.”


Friday, 12 November 2010

Foreign ships on Indian coast will have to use Indian crews, proposes DGS

A draft circular taken out by the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) says that foreign-registered ships licenced to operate on the Indian coast will have to ensure that a percentage of their crew is Indian. They will also have to reserve training berths for Indians. The move is in line with rules prevalent in some other countries governing the employment of local seafarers in their coastal trades, and is seen as another step by the DGS towards streamlining regulations pertaining to foreign flagships plying domestically.

“Procedural regime in many countries have imposed crewing requirements on ships doing business in their coastal waters”, notes the DGS. INSA and other Indian maritime bodies had represented to the regulator that Indian rules should be streamlined. This new regulation, if formalised, will obviously boost Indian seafarer employment opportunities.

Foreign ships are licenced to operate along the Indian coast after DGS licencing only when Indian vessels are not available. These new draft rules propose a scaled system that will be conditional to granting that licence to a foreign ship. For example, a foreign ship operating with a licence greater than 180 days will require a minimum of half the crew (as per Safe Manning norms) to be Indian, and one with a licence period exceeding 90 days will have to employ Indians totalling to at least a third of their crew complement. These must be Indian nationals holding certificates issued by India, and the rules will be applied to both officers and ratings.

“Many countries have imposed crewing requirements on ships doing business in their coastal waters. It is only appropriate that similar crewing requirements are also imposed on ships engaged in shipping and related activities in Indian Coastal Waters,” the DGS says.

The circular notes, for compliance with the STCW conventions, that the crew must be certified by the DPA of the company as to their suitability and familiarisation with the ship. Additonally, the ship owner must indemnify the DGS and the Central Government from liability arising out the grant of the dispensation.

The DGS has proposed a tiered system for training requirements as well; this is to be indexed to the Tonnage Tax regime. Regardless, it says that the rules on training and crewing will apply even to those ships not enjoying Tonnage Tax benefits. The regulator says that a ship owner can enter into a mutual agreement with an Indian ship owning company to effectively outsource the training requirement. Whichever way it is done, this initiative in particular is a very welcome step, as thousands of officer and ratings trainees graduate annually in India and often struggle to get training berths thereafter.

The draft circular has been uploaded by the DGS on its website for comment.


‘Magna Carta’ for Filipino seafarers

Recent statistics confirming a significant increase in overseas remittances from Filipino mariners have rejuvenated calls in that country for greater concern about their welfare. The Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives is believed to be pushing through a bill dubbed ‘The Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers’ through the country’s legislative process.

Senator Loren Legarda, who filed the bill in the Philippines’ Senate, said, "Seafarers make up a significant 25.83 percent of the country's migrant work force yet most of the policies and programs catering to the needs of migrant workers are designed for the conditions and situation of land-based workers. We need to establish the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers, which would address the specific needs of our seafarers. We welcome any move that would support such efforts, and I encourage my fellow legislators in the two Houses of Congress to push for the immediate passage of the measures filed for the benefit of our sea-based workers”.

Filipino sea-based workers remitted a total of US$ 4,339,407,000 for the first three months of 2010. On a Year-on-Year basis, there is an 11.31 percent increase in remittances from sea-based overseas Filipino workers between January to August this year; these remittances are growing twice as fast as those from land-based workers.

Under the bill, seafarers will be guaranteed their right to humane working conditions and just compensation. Manning and crewing agencies will be required to provide, by law, adequate information about on-board conditions as well as local and international laws that apply to the Filipino seafarer. Senator Legarda says that “their (sea-based workers’) contribution to the country is worthy of recognition and it is a must that the State protect and uphold the rights of the Filipino seafarers and address their specific needs”. The bill provides for access to affordable and quality education to ensure that Filipinos maintain an edge over others; it also seeks to ensure ‘retraining or reintegration’ of the seafarer after his sea-service. The bill also establishes added services for the families of maritime workers.

"The Filipino seafarers are one of our country's important human resources. They should be given attention and protection for their continued growth and development which will translate to the improvement of our country's socio economic conditions," Legarda said. The bill also addresses issues of illegal recruitment and bars government employees of maritime organisations or their relatives from the mariner recruitment business. It seeks to lay down conditions of employment of seafarers in detail, including social welfare and benefits, besides detailing mechanisms for settlement of disputes.

Senator Angara, who authored the ‘Magna Carta’, feels that a comprehensive and definitive legislation to address mariner issues is long overdue. “To maximise the potential of this industry, we must prioritise the development and training of our seafarers," said Angara. "We must push for the development and implementation of a strong, consistent legislative agenda for Filipino seafarers. We need to create a new system to recognise and advance their issues and concerns, through reforms in our maritime industry."

The Filipino political system is clearly light years ahead of its Indian counterpart when it comes to seafarer issues. Although critics in that country say that the ‘Magna Carta of Filipino seafarers’ has been in the pipeline for far too long, the fact is that the initiative now being pushed recognises the seafaring industry as different, critical and one that requires to be uniquely addressed. If their legislative process passes this bill, it will be a victory for thousands of Filipino seafarers and will boost the profile, in that country, of a career at sea.


Thursday, 11 November 2010

Third Officer dies of ‘malnutrition and distress’ on hijacked ship.

Three others in similar situation-  6 Indians amongst crew

Azal shipping, the Dubai based owners of the Ro-Ro vessel Iceberg1, have now confirmed that a Yemeni Third Officer aboard their ship that was hijacked seven months ago has died. Ecoterra, a piracy monitoring group, had said last week that the sailor had died of ‘malnutrition and distress’. The other 23 crew, including six Indians, are in dire stratis, with three suffering similar conditions as the Yemeni before his death. One had to be tied down as he threatened to kill himself, according to reports. Meanwhile, the ship has run low on food and water and is completely out of medicine and generator fuel. The crew members are from India, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan, Yemen and the Philippines.

This horrendous news comes on the back of earlier reports last month that had the pirates threatening to kill the Iceberg1 crew and sell their body parts; reports later indicated that these may have been just elaborate threats to get the owners to negotiate. The pressures that the crew are under must be tremendous, and are obviously not helped by the owners refusing, for the last two months, to negotiate seriously for ransom, according to news reports. Azal Shipping has held negotiations with the hijackers in September, but is unwilling to pay the ransom demanded from the hijackers. In fact, it seems that the owners have refused to pay any ransom, and even ignored demands for food, water, fuel and medicines for the crew. The two parties are ‘talking but not actually talking’, according to a spokesperson from Ecoterra, who says that a doctor needs to be urgently sent on board. Concerns are also being raised as to what the crew will do with the body of their dead comrade, as the freezer on board is obviously not working.

Meanwhile, the pirates have reportedly brought two skiffs on board and perhaps intend to take the vessel out at sea, using the crew as human shields in further attacks. This will not be the first time this has happened on the vessel: the Iceberg1 was renamed the “Sea Express’ in May and used as a mother ship, according to observers on the US destroyer McFaul. This was two months after the vessel, carrying generators, transformers and empty fuel tanks was hijacked from the Gulf of Aden and taken to Kulub in Somalia.

The ordeal of the crew of the Iceberg1 began on March 29 this year, when the Panama flagged vessel was taken just ten miles off the port of Aden. The international community could only watch as she was repainted with the name the ‘Sea Express’ and seen on May 19, presumably out on a piracy mission. The US McFaul could only shadow the Iceberg1 for a day and a half without taking any action, since about fifty armed pirates aboard made a rescue mission highly risky. Azal shipping refused to pay ransom and the ship is apparently not insured; conflicting reports later suggested that British cargo interests were incharge of negotiations, though Azal denied this.

In any case, nobody seems to have done much to get the crew released, or supplied with even minimal food, water, medicines or fuel. The situation aboard is clearly critical. It is believed that the Indians in the crew have contacted their government at home, pleading for some action to be taken. There seems to be deafening silence, from both the government and the Indian mainstream media, to the plight of our sailors cruelly held in Somalia for most of this year. To add to this usual dismal scenario, it appears that the shipowner is not even responding to requests for information now.


Posco’s Jatadhari port in Orissa under fire.

Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had accused the Centre of conspiring to stall his state’s progress after Vedanta and Posco operations were put under the magnifier not so long ago. Now comes the news that the South Korean steel giant is facing objections, notably from the navy and environmentalists, to the construction of its planned captive port at Jatadhar.

The Indian navy, citing security reasons, has opposed the Jatadhari port project last month. Almost simultaneously, The National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers (NFFPFW) charged Posco with using fraudulent means to get environmental clearances for its $12 billion project in Orissa. They said that the company had ‘unbundled’ the steel plant, power and port projects into smaller units even though they are located within one complex and are part of the same project. Leo F. Saldanha, coordinator, Environment Support Group, who did a study for NFFPFW, said that Posco’s claim that the Jatadhari port was minor is ‘an alarming aspect’, given that the port is designed for Cape size vessels of up to 170,000 DWT. 'The devastation the ships would cause (to the ecology) is unimaginable’, he said. The group claims that the authorities have paid no heed to the social or economic consequences of the port and that the clearances were rushed through without proper due diligence.

To add to Posco’s woes, scientists now say that the port will be very close to the nesting beaches of the endangered olive ridley sea turtles and the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary. These turtles are protected species under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act; not only that, the mouth of the Jatadhar River has been designated a protected area under the Orissa Marine Fisheries Regulation Act.

A study showed that increased illumination and escalating marine traffic would have a detrimental impact on the sanctuary, including on dolphins, turtles and other marine life. “Orissa has the largest nesting population of olive ridleys outside Central America. Also, the olive ridley turtle population in the Orissa coast is unique. Genetic studies show that olive ridley populations in the Pacific and Atlantic originated from India's east coast. Therefore, from the conservation perspective, protecting the habitat along the Orissa coastline takes on greater importance,” said ecologist Kartik Shanker, faculty at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore to the Economic Times. He is part of a group of scientists that intend to report their findings to the environmental ministry in Delhi.

The group criticises the project report initially prepared for Posco, saying that it is not a suitable document as it ‘made no mention’ of the impact the port would have on the marine environment of the area.

The Jatadhari port is just one of many similar projects planned on the sensitive Orissa coast. Security and environmental issues will probably be raised for some of the others as well. Given the stricter approach of Jairam Ramesh’s Environment Ministry in recent times, Patnaik may find that mining projects in Orissa will slow down even more.


Monday, 1 November 2010

VLCC attacked by pirates just 340 miles off Mangalore.

In yet another incident shockingly close to the Indian coast, a VLCC was attacked by two boats and its superstructure riddled with bullets just 340 nautical miles from Mangalore.

The 317,970 dwt ‘Starlight Venture’ was on a passage from Saudi Arabia to Japan when the incident occurred, according to reports from Singapore based Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia(ReCAAP). Around 0030 hours on October 28, the U Ming managed crude tanker was approached by two boats in approximate position 13.16N. 068.59E. Closing in fast from the tanker’s starboard quarter, an unknown number of pirates fired on the vessel, shooting out the ship’s mast lights and leaving about 50 bullet holes in the accommodation, the report says. The ship increased her speed to 16 knots and took evasive action, eventually frustrating the pirates. No injuries to the crew are reported. The 2004 built Starlight Venture is registered in Hong Kong.

Other incidents close to the Indian coast, including the discovery of eight Somali pirates at Lakshadweep earlier in the year and the hijack of the Frisia, have been reported here earlier. Equally alarmingly, another container vessel, the 6673 TEU Maersk Karachi was attempted to be boarded by pirates just a day before the Starlight Venture incident. She was in position 10.51N. 063.28E, well into the Arabian Sea (see map) at the time; fortunately, she evaded the pirate skiffs, probably due to her speed.

The attack on the Starlight Venture will no doubt send shockwaves through the security establishment in India and abroad. VLCCs are infrequently attacked, although the ‘Samho Dream’ was taken in the general vicinity of the Maersk Karachi in April this year; she and her 24 crew still remain hostage. The most high profile VLCC hijack so far was probably the ‘Sirius Star’ in November 2008. The fact that another attack has taken place much closer to the Indian coastline will be additional cause for concern.

The capability of the pirates to operate over a thousand miles off the Somali coastline is no longer in doubt. As it beefs up its coastal security apparatus, India will also have to do much more off her coastline, including identifying and possibly targeting mother ships that straddle critical trade routes from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf going eastwards. It is not enough to protect coastlines or even coastal waters; most of the southern Arabian Sea is now criminal territory. As the Mumbai attacks proved, this threat is not just about piracy.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

‘Vale moves to have major consequences for freight rates’-Zodiac

“Biggest impact in 30 years”

The ambitious plans of Vale, the behemoth Brazilian mining and logistics multinational, involve using its own fleet of iron ore carriers to carry ore between its mines in Brazil to China. These mammoth 400,000 tonne ships will start rolling out next year, says Zodiac, and will drive freight rates southwards across the world.

The first of Vale’s 36 Chinamax ore carriers will be delivered in June 2011. Ian Shirreff, the CEO of Zodiac, says that this move will have “the biggest effect on the market that we've seen in 30 years." Zodiac is involved in importing iron ore to almost two dozen of the biggest steel mills that the State of China owns. Shirreff, based in Shanghai, was speaking in Amsterdam at the annual Coaltrans conference.

Vale is the second largest mining company in the world, besides the largest producer of iron ore and pallets and the second largest producer of nickel. It also mines manganese, ferroalloys, copper, bauxite, potash, alumina, aluminum, potash, bauxite and kaolin. Vale operates nine hydroelectric plants and, after a 5 billion dollar consolidation process that ended in 2007, now controls 85% of Brazil's 300 million tonnes annual iron ore production. It participates in mining operations, through acquisitions and joint ventures, in India, China, Australia, Canada, Finland, South Africa, Chile, Peru, Angola and Mongolia.

The Chinamax vessels include VLCCs that will be converted to carry ore. Shirreff feels that the sheer size and numbers of the ships will severely affect rates, which would fall to the $10,000 to $12,000 a day time charter rate seen in 1977; he expects this to happen within the next decade. Present rates for Capesize vessels, less than half the size of Vale’s future Chinamaxes, are at around $45,000 a day. Sheriff said that the “Vale effect” would be the biggest factor affecting freight rates in the next few years.

Gurinder Singh, Director of shipping at Vale, told the conference that Vale created the cape market by building Capesize vessels and egging the Japanese to build deep-water ports to take them. Today, "It's all about iron ore, it's all about China," he said. "Since 2009, Vale has tried to be part of the shipping market moving from selling free on board at ports to CFR (delivered), and freight and iron ore has decoupled so freight is now a much lower proportion of the delivered cost," he added. "Freight is now 20 per cent of the delivered cost or even lower”.

Zodiac expects China's growing demand for coal and iron ore imports to continue, given drivers like urbanisation, modernisation and general economic growth. It revealed that the Chinese are building ten ports to take the Chinamax vessels, out of which three will be ready next year. "Our customers and Vale need low and stable freight because when the Australia-Brazil differential is $40-60 nobody will buy ore from us but when the freight is low the differential is automatically very little," Singh said.

Elaborating on Vale’s expansion plans, Shirreff told the conference, "They're planning 80-100 vessels to drive the market down so low that the differential between Brazil-China freight and Australia-China is minimal”.

“Make no mistake, this will happen," he added.


Thursday, 21 October 2010

PCV Samudra Prahari: Indian Coast Guard goes state-of-the-art

Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan commissioned the state of the art Pollution Control Vessel (PCV) “Samudra Prahari” at the naval dockyard in the city yesterday. The sophisticated vessel will join the growing fleet of Coast Guard vessels that will protect Indian waters against both environmental and security risks.

The CG says the Prahari, built at a cost of Rs 20 crores, is extremely technologically advanced and is said to be the first of its kind in South Asia. ABG Shipyard at Surat has built the 4,300 ton 95 m long vessel. It boats 3000 KW twin diesel engines and twin shaft generators, reaches a peak speed of 21 Knots and can go 6500 nautical miles at economical speed without refuelling. Equipped with the latest pollution monitoring and response equipment, the Prahari also has a helipad, Dynamic Positioning, advanced navigational and communication sensors, an Integrated Platform Management System, Power Management System, an infra-red surveillance system that can detect even small boats in rough seas, a gun mount and a High Power External Fire Fighting System. The Prahari will carry five high-speed boats and four water scooters for security, marine pollution response, SAR and law enforcement purposes. It will have a crew of ten officers and a hundred men, will be based in Mumbai and be deployed in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The Chief Minister said at the commissioning that the PCV would help to tackle environmental issues such as the ones seen after the recent MSC Chaitra collision with the Khalijia. He also revealed that two more such PCVs are in the pipeline, as are another 26 interceptor boats that will be used for maritime security and surveillance. The CG is being augmented in other ways, he added, revealing that a new station had been opened at Murud Janjira and Ratnagiri along the Maharashtrian coast. “I am aware that the CG is facing an acute shortage of land for developing its infrastructure. The government is committed towards strengthening coastal security measures and would facilitate land acquisitions for infrastructure development,” Mr. Chavan said, pointing out that land had already been allotted to the CG in some areas in and around the city.

Across India, the Coast Guard expects to induct, in all, two Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), 13 Inshore Patrol Vessels (IPVs) and 61 Interceptor Boats (IBs), besides the three PCVs. These should be all in place by 2014, sources say.

Vice Admiral Chopra, Director General of the Indian Coast Guard, said at the Prahari commissioning that CG stations in the country would double by 2012. “On an average, more than 20 CG ships are out on the sea. With the threat of terrorism, the role of coastal security has gone up. It is essential that pollution control operations are launched immediately. The CG's response to the oil spill was swift and professional. They launched operations in rough weather. The task would have been more effective with a PCV,” he said.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Pirates threaten to ‘slaughter crew and sell their kidneys and hearts’

Just days after reports that the Sri Lankan Captain aboard the Ocean Trite was killed in a pirate raid, and a few months after the Pakistani Captain was killed as Somali forces overran the hijacked QSM Dubai, comes another shocker. Pirates holding 24 crew hostage, including six Indians, aboard the cargo vessel ‘Iceberg 1’ have threatened to kill the crew and sell their body parts that they say are “more expensive than the ransom.”

The Iceberg I was taken just ten miles from the port of Aden on March 29 this year on a passage to Jebel Ali carrying expensive machinery and other equipment; the UAE owned and Panama-flagged vessel has 24 crew (6 Indians , 9 Yemenis, 4 Ghanaians, 2 Sudanese, 2 Pakistani and 1 Filipino). She was later apparently renamed the ‘Sea Express’ by the pirates and presumably used as a mother ship. Believed to have about 50 pirates aboard, reports say that the crew have long run out of food, medicines and water; some are sick and the ship has no diesel for the generators, according to communication received from the crew. The owners Azal Shipping in Dubai have reportedly refused to pay any ransom, and the Iceberg 1 apparently has no insurance. The owners are believed to have abandoned negotiations with pirates, which are now being handled by British cargo interests. The sailors have no more food, water or medicines left; some food has been supplied by local villagers and humanitarian groups at Garacad, Somalia, where the ship is presently anchored.

One of the Ghanaians spoke to a journalist towards the end of last month saying that the pirates had said, “If we don’t come up with anything reasonable they will kill some of us and sink the vessel”. Recently, however, the captives sent a more alarming text message to Citi FM, saying that the hijackers had threatened to kill them all and sell their organs. A Ghanaian crewmember later said at an interview that the hijackers had “come [to an] unkind, inhuman and terrible decision last night. Immediately after one of their commanders arrived on board, he said officially that if they don’t get their ransom ASAP they will slaughter us and remove our kidneys and hearts which are even higher than the cost of ransom they are requesting. Kindly forward this urgent news to all other embassies in Nairobi and human right watch worldwide ASAP.”

The crewmember begged for help. “The health situation is very bad because people are suffering from cough, diarrhoea, some dangerous skin diseases and others are also suffering from spinal cord problem…we are suffering- please, it is becoming unbearable. Please help us.”

The ongoing ordeal of the crew of the Iceberg 1 is almost six and a half months old. Ransom amounts for ships and instability within the Somali government, which is closer to being overrun by the rebel Al Shabaab, have both escalated during this period. The pirates seem to be getting more violent, perhaps seeing that there is no effective response to their criminal actions. The question begs to be asked: How long will we continue to hang out our seafarers to dry like this?


Shipping needs 55,000 crores to stay afloat.

The shipping industry and the Ministry of Surface Transport have asked Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to consider subsidies to the 35,000 crore maritime sector, media reports say. Although the country’s tonnage has grown today to more than 10 million gross tonnage (GT), with a record 63 new ships totalling nearly a million GT being added to the Indian fleet since January, Indian shipping share in its own domestic maritime trade has plummeted to 8 percent, and India’s share of global tonnage is just 1 percent. These, and the cost of operations, are the main issues that the industry wants to address.

The 8 percent figure is half the 2009 share and has prompted the industry to lobby the Finance Ministry for subsidies once again. "Subsidies will definitely help us and Indian shipping. Out of the 9.45 gigatonnes of shipping capacity, about four million tonnes will need to be scrapped and replaced by 2012," says Mr Sabyasachi Hajara, CMD of SCI. His company, which has approval for a stake sale recently, is looking for interest subvention similar to the Technology Upgradation Fund that has been raised for the textiles industry; a portion of the loan interest for upgradation is borne by the State as per the scheme.

Indian companies say that they would buy more ships if the climate for investment was better and a level playing field ensured. At present, only 10 per cent of the India's exim cargo is carried on Indian ships. “Our operating cost is nearly 30 per cent higher than that of foreign flag vessels,” says Mr Anil Devli, CEO of the Indian National Shipowners' Association (INSA). Indian flag vessels pay a service tax of 13.2 per cent which foreign ship’s do not. Moreover, crew working on foreign vessels do not pay income tax: all this results in the market being tilted in favour of foreign ships.

Amongst these grievances, the industry is now seeking an acquisition fund of 400 crore that would be interest-subsidised. INSA estimates that the total cost of replacing Indian tonnage is a staggering Rs. 55,000 crore, given that the average age of the Indian ageing fleet is down to 18 years today; half the vessels are older.

"The fall in share of Indian shipping companies is alarming. Indian ships are considered more expensive than foreign ones, but our companies are heavily taxed," said Atul Aggarwal of INSA to the newsmagazine Tehelka; the organisation also wants Cabotage rules to be strictly enforced by Indian authorities, thus protecting Indian bottoms.

Government officials admit that finance for shipping remains a problem in India. With banks not keen on offering loans for new acquisitions and with little government support, shipowners are in a difficult situation. Indian companies are obviously keen to exploit the low acquisition prices presently prevailing in the global market but are hamstrung by lack of funds. Even so, many, including SCI and Great Eastern, are going ahead with ambitious expansion plans.

Shipping tonnage has grown steadily in the last seven years after the advent of the Tonnage Tax: From 6.94 million GT in April 2004, it stands at 10 million GT- 1029 ships- today, a smart rise by any standards. As of September 1, 2010, 1,029 ships totalling 10.10 million GT were registered under the Indian flag. About two thirds of these- 693 ships- are coasters. “Moving from single-digit gross tonnage to double digits is a significant achievement. However, this tonnage is peanuts when compared with that of the other maritime nations such as Singapore, China, and Japan,” said Devli, quoted in the Hindu. “It is a paradox that Indian ships do not carry the bulk of Indian cargo,” he added. “The government must adopt a policy of ‘Indian cargo for Indian ships.’”


Friday, 1 October 2010

Greenpeace continues protest against Dhamra port

accuses Environmental Ministry of double standards

                                pic: Greenpeace

Environmental group Greenpeace has alleged that the Ministry of Environment and Forests is displaying double standards in Orissa: although it has stymied Vedanta’s mining activities in Niyamgiri in eastern Orissa, the Ministry is doing nothing to safeguard sensitive ecological areas against the joint Tata Steel/Larsen and Toubro Dhamra port project in the same state.

Greenpeace has been campaigning against the Dhamra project for more than five years now. The port is scheduled to begin operations at the end of the year, according to the Tatas. Greenpeace activist Ashish Fernandes now says, “The Government is selectively applying forest and environmental laws to corporations.”

Greenpeace is fighting the project because it says that the port is too close to the breeding ground of the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles, and another similar project is home to the saltwater crocodiles. In any case, says Greenpeace, the entire project is situated in ecologically sensitive wildlife areas and should be stopped. It says that government released documents clearly show that the port is in violation of the Forest Conservation act; it says it has documents from the Orissa authorities to prove this, quoting a report by Mr JK Tewari of the Environmental Ministry’s eastern office as saying, "It is clear that Dhamra Port project site was never developed as a Port and is a part of the protected forest under the Kanika Protected Forest [Orissa]."

A 2009 Supreme Court ruling had referred the entire matter to a committee, which agreed with the Government’s stand that no laws had been violated. The government had submitted to the Supreme Court an affidavit saying that the project is not built on forest land, something that Greenpeace aggressively disputes.

The website of the Dhamra Port claims that the port area is “30 kms away from nesting area by sea and 15 kms as the crow flies”, and that findings show that it is sufficiently away from the limits of both the Gahirmatha Sanctuary and National Marine Sanctuary. Critics say that Greenpeace wants to compare the Vedanta mining episode with the Dhamra project in order to give fresh impetus to their protests. It also hopes to get Environmental Minister Jairam Ramesh to react to the allegations.

Meanwhile, the first phase of the port is nearly complete. Nevertheless, Greenpeace hopes that the Environmental Ministry will stall the port development now. "For years, we have had this 'fait accompli' situation in which big companies would simply create huge constructions in violation of environmental laws and later pay a small penalty to regularise it. Vedanta was the first case where the minister broke with this tradition. But we are not sure why the same yardstick is not being used against the Dhamra project. If you can shut down Vedanta project for building without getting forest clearance, you should be able to punish Dhamra as well," says Fernandes.

"It is a matter of fairness, if you are applying one law for Vedanta, you must apply the same to other groups also."


Monday, 27 September 2010

Judge gives “Iorana” whistleblowers $125,000 each.

Owners Irika shipping to pay $ 4 million.

Four crew members that blew the whistle on a ‘magic pipe’ bypassing the oily water separator aboard the Greek owned ship Iorana have been awarded $125,000 each by a judge in Maryland, USA. The owners, Irika shipping, had already agreed to a $4 million fine after they pleaded guilty in July.

When the Iorana arrived in Baltimore in January this year, a Filipino crewmember passed on a note to a customs inspector, saying that a bypass ‘magic pipe’ had been used on instructions of Chief Engineer Marmaras to pump out about 23 m3 of oily water directly overboard. The note said: “We are asking help to any authorities concerned about this, because we must protect our environment and our marine lives.” The four whistleblowers had taken photographs with a cell phone as evidence.

Some oily rags were also thrown overboard at night at sea. An investigation discovered the magic hose arrangement; Marmaras pleaded guilty in June and the owners followed suit a month later. Interestingly, Irika Shipping was prosecuted for a similar offence three years ago in connection with another vessel, the Irika, and fined $500,000; the Irika’s then Chief Engineer was reemployed as Marmara’s predecessor on the Iorana and continued the illegal practice, a fact that must have contributed to the court’s displeasure and the much heavier fine this time.

A US Department of Justice press release says that the Panamanian registered Irika Shipping has entered into a multi-district plea arrangement with the Districts of Maryland, Western Washington and Eastern Louisiana (States where the Iorana used to call) and will pay a $4 million total penalty, be placed on probation for a maximum period of five years and be subject to the terms of an Enhanced Environmental Compliance Program.

The owners admitted that 23 cubic meters of oil contaminated sludge and bilge waste were dumped overboard in December 2009 during the voyage from Gibraltar to Baltimore using the 103-foot bypass hose. Additional illegal discharges were also made in previous months. Logbooks were doctored. The company also admitted to hiring back the convicted Chief Engineer from the Irika who committed similar offences on the Iorana before Marmara. In addition, authorities had charged senior officers of the Iorana of lying to authorities in the US and pressurising crew to do so.

The $4 million penalty includes a $3 million criminal fine and $1 million in organisational community service payments that will fund various marine environmental projects. The whistleblowers were awarded a total of half a million dollars out of the fine: US law entitles them to up to half the fine.

“This was a case of wilful and deceitful pollution, and the corporation responsible is being held accountable,” said Rear Adm. Lee, Commander of the Coast Guard’s 5th District. “This case should serve as a deterrent to those who would violate marine pollution laws.”

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Landlocked Indian States to have ports in Gujarat?

Coming close on the heels of the successful Gujarat Pipavav Port IPO recently, media reports now suggest that the Gujarat Government will rebrand itself as a “Global Business Hub’ in the ‘Vibrant Gujarat Global Investment Summit' (VGGIS) to be held in January 2011. A path-breaking proposal at that summit will be the invitation to landlocked Indian States to set up ports in Gujarat: amongst the states being targeted include Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. This is the first time in India that such an initiative will be proposed.

Gujarat has a coastline of more than one and a half thousand miles and its administration has long been applauded for bold steps taken in the maritime sector. The State has been in the forefront with forward looking policies in the port privatisation and shipbuilding, besides others. Pipavav, Dahej and Mundra are successful privately operated ports, and APM Terminals at Pipavav and DP World at Mundra are well known international brands. The successful listing of Pipavav’s IPO early this month will no doubt help Gujarat in attracting interest in these new plans: the counter opened at a premium of more than twenty percent to its issue price at the Bombay Stock Exchange, ending the day with a combined trading volume of more than 167 million shares between the BSE and the National Stock Exchange. The IPO was subscribed almost twenty times.

“We will facilitate the landlocked States to take advantage of our coastline,” Maheshwar Sahu, Principal Secretary of the Gujarat Industries and Mines Department, says in the Hindu’s Business Line newspaper. Mr Sahu is in charge of the VGGIS summit and is understood to be in touch with more than a dozen States across India to seek partnerships for the future.

The VGGIS Summit is held every two years. In the last one in 2009, Gujarat was marketed as ‘The Growth Engine of India'. Two years later, the ambitious administration wants to rebrand the state as a global business hub. It intends to rope in investors, opinion makers and other think tanks to push this initiative. Japan and Canada are official partners for the 2011 event that the Government calls the 'next Davos in action'. Chief Minister Narendra Modi is said to have been behind the move to invite port proposals from landlocked Indian states as well. The Government is also pushing what it calls its record of good governance with interested parties. It intends to take a road show across India before the event to showcase Gujarat’s attractiveness as an investment destination.

Besides shipping and ports, next year’s VGGIS will zero in on sectors such as oil and gas, infrastructure, financial services and shipbuilding. The state also has plans to attract talent from the premier Indian Institutes of Technology before the inauguration of the summit on Jan 10 next year. “Our objective is to have a platform on which about 80 to 100 IITians, having an interest in Gujarat, assemble for brainstorming on the important technology interventions required in the State for leapfrogging in economic development”, Mr Sahu says.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Nordic Barents: going over the Arctic top

The Norwegian bulk carrier ‘Nordic Barents’ will be the first non Russian cargo ship to use the alternate Arctic route between Europe and China. It started last week from Norway even as a series of accidents in the frigid waters of the north had scientists raising questions on environmental consequences of such voyages. Nevertheless, "We're pretty much going over the top," said John Sanderson, the CEO of the Norwegian iron ore mine.

Carrying a full load of 40,000 tonnes of iron ore, the bulker will save up to two weeks and a couple of hundred thousand dollars by using the northern route from Europe to Asia; the alternative normal route would have been via the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean. Tellingly, the with lower piracy risk by avoiding Somali piracy is stated to be a factor in the decision.

Two German ships did make voyages to Arctic Russia last year, but the Nordic Barents is the first foreign ship that Russia is allowing to pass through without stopping. Rostomflot, the Russian state owned icebreaking company, has earmarked two icebreakers to escort the Nordic Barents for 10 days of the voyage between Novaya Zemlya and the Bering Strait; no doubt the Russians see this as a great business opportunity, though officials are tight lipped on icebreaker or fee costs.

Meanwhile, the receding Arctic ice cap, matching the worst seen on record, has scientists worried. While global warming is being blamed for this phenomenon, there are growing concerns about the increasing willingness of shippers, owners and charterers to send ships through the huge and frozen expanse of northern water. There are also questions that much of the route, used by only domestic Russian vessels, has insufficient emergency facilities or places for refuge.

The polar ice sheet is as big as the U.S. even after the present summer melt, according to experts, and the waters are incompletely charted. They point to the Canadian tanker Nanny that recently ran aground on an uncharted sandbar in the Simson Straits of the Northwest Passage carrying almost 10 million litres of diesel meant for remote Arctic Canadian communities. Although no fuel has leaked from the double-hulled tanker, a Canadian coast guard ship is standing by to assist at the time of this report. The Nanny is the third ship in the last month to run aground in the Canadian Arctic. The cruise ship ‘Clipper Adventurer, ran aground on Aug. 27 on an uncharted rock between Port Epworth and Kugluktuk; it was two days before the 128 passengers could be transferred to an icebreaker and safety ashore. Earlier, another tanker ran aground off Baffin Island before being refloated at a later high tide.

General Manager of Desgagn├ęs Transarctik, operating in the area, says that the problem is that Arctic areas are charted very narrowly. "The charts are reliable. The problem is that you have to be able to stay within [them]. The charts are not complete in a sense that if you are not able to stay within, for whatever reason, you might find yourself very easily in uncharted waters."

These concerns are unlikely to deter commercial managers. CEO Sanderson is quoted in the newswires as saying, “Somebody's got to blaze the trail and prove to the rest of the world that this is a commercially viable route that can be transited quite safely."

The problem, critics say, pointing to the potential for environmental catastrophe if something goes awry in the sensitive Arctic, is that ‘quite’ may not be quite good enough.

Cook’s family to get almost half a crore after he dies on board.

CHENNAI: The Lok Adalat (People’s Court) in the city has settled an amount in excess of 46 lakhs that is to be paid to the family of a cook who died on board a ship almost eight months ago. The compensation will be paid to the four legal heirs of Mr. Ramaiah Murugaiah, the crewmember who died on the ‘Siam Sapphire’ while she was in Saldanha Bay, South Africa in December last year, the Adalat has ruled on September 1.

As per the outcome of the Adalat’s proceedings, Rs.46,36,400 will be paid to Murugaiah’s wife and three children. The cook’s wife Mrs M Sethu and the other heirs had represented to the Adalat that her husband had signed on the Siam Sapphire on October 4, 2009 after signing a contract. On December 29, her husband died of cardiac arrest while the ship was in Saldanha Bay. The ship’s owners, M Sethu complained, had not paid compensation under the rules of the International Bargaining Forum accepted by the International Maritime Employees Committee presently in force. Siam Sapphire, a bulk carrier, is owned by Siam Jewels Marine Limited, Bahamas, and represented in Chennai by Pioneer Marine Services Pvt. Ltd of Mylapore.

Ms Sethu said in her complaint that she and her children were entitled to $60,000, i.e. $15,000 for each member of the family. A pre-litigation agreement was finally reached at the Lok Adalat presided over by Justice N.V. Balasubramanian (retired), with two other members present. Lok Adalats are established by the government to settle disputes through conciliation and compromise and accept cases that are pending in the regular courts within their jurisdiction. Presided over by a sitting or retired judicial officer as the chairman, the Adalats are free for litigants and their decisions are legally binding. Their main condition is that both parties should agree to settle. A lawyer and a social worker sit in at the proceedings as members.

In this case, around Rs 3 the owners had already paid lakhs after Murugaiah’s death. The cook’s widow then approached the Adalat for the remainder of the compensation. On notice from the Lok Adalat, the owners agreed to pay roughly Rs 25 lakhs to the wife and about Rs 7 lakhs to each of the three children, totaling Rs 46,36,400. The amount was arrived at after “mutual discussions, negotiations, mediation and conciliation between both parties”, according to the Adalat.

Later, the Adalat and the Chennai High Court felt that the interests of the children would be best served by dividing the total amount equally between the four claimants; the parties agreed to this. Ms Sethu and her children will now share the compensation equally. Since the children are minors, their share of the compensation will be deposited in a fixed deposit in a nationalised bank until they become adults.


Monday, 6 September 2010

Ukrainian Officers sentenced to nine years in Venezuela for drug trafficking.

But are they innocent?

Two Ukrainian officers of the cargo vessel, the “B Atlantic”, have been sentenced to nine years in prison in Venezuela for drug trafficking. Captain Volodymyr Ustymenko and Mate Yuriy Datchenko have already spent two years in Venezuela after 128 kgs of cocaine was discovered welded on to the hull of the vessel in 2007. The August 13 ruling has dismayed many observers. Their lawyer Aurelio Fernandez says that they would have been acquitted in any other country, and the convictions are “purely political.”

Worse, The Komsomolskaya Pravda v Ukraine newspaper reports that the two officers could be sent to the island of Margarita, one of the world's worst prison colonies. "This place is infamous, and few people have managed to return from there," the newspaper says. It is believed that diplomatic pressure is being put by Ukraine on Venezuela, although the two countries have limited relations.

The two officers were arrested while on the 38,056-dwt bulker B Atlantic on August 12, 2007, when Venezuelan divers found 128 kg of cocaine clamped to the ship’s hull while it was moored in Lake Maracaibo. Capt. Ustymenko had told Lloyd’s List later that he was completely innocent. Their delayed trial saw the Ukrainian President and the Foreign Minister sending letters to Venezuela asking that it conduct the trial of the two Ukrainians under proper conditions.

Observers say that the two seem to be caught in a political game being played by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Capt. Ustymenko had indicated that much when he spoke last year, after spending 18 months in detention in an apartment in Venezuela, “I think it is for political reasons. Why should we stay here for so much time? Because the Venezuelan government wants to react about narcotic trafficking. We are not involved in this. How can we be, because these drugs were found about 10 m underwater near the propeller? That is why the crew and my security officer were not involved in this situation. We are innocent.”

Analysts saw that drug smugglers in Venezuela use a technique that was popular in Colombia until underwater inspections became compulsory for all ships leaving the bigger ports in that country. It is a travesty of justice, they claim, that crews and ships are seized in Venezuela if drugs are found welded on to the vessel. The seizure of the B Atlantic is not a unique case. Two years ago, the tanker Astro Saturn had been similarly detained. Two Greek officers were arrested from that vessel after cocaine was found attached to the hull of the ship in Puerto La Cruz in November 2008. Fernandes says, “Any owner that travels to Lake Maracaibo or Venezuela in general, and has the bad luck to have one of these criminal organisations attach a drug device underwater, is at risk of losing the vessel and crew.”

B Navi, the managers of the B Atlantic, had decided after the incident to stop operating in Venezuela. The Italian owners of the B Atlantic estimated the loss of millions of dollars of lost earnings, besides huge losses in the value of the vessel as she is effectively laid up and her condition has deteriorated.

Capt. Ustymenko’s daughter has been fighting a lonely battle on her father’s behalf back in the Ukraine. She had said last year that despite writing to the President of the Ukraine and to human rights organisations, “we don’t get any answer. They just say that the matter is under consideration.

She added, at the time, that her father was innocent. “He has been a sailor for 35 years, 24 years as a master. He has worked all his life as a sailor. He is not a drug dealer”.



Monday, 30 August 2010

Greek Chief Engineer sues owners for US $23 million

Greek Chief Engineer Ioannis Mylonakis, acquitted of five felony charges in a US court in May this year, has now sued Greece’s Mamidakis group and others for a whopping $23m in the US. Mylonakis claims that Mamidakis, the owners of the tanker Georgios M, sacrificed him to authorities in the US as part of a plea-bargain deal. He claims further that the owners had a deliberate policy of dumping oily water at sea and that they lied to the US about their wealth in order to get away with a smaller fine, besides hiding corporate interconnections between different entities of their group.

Mylonakis has sued the vessel and the companies, and, individually, the President of Mamidakis Kyriakos Mamidakis, Director Emmanuel Mamidakis, General Manager Prokopakis and other board members Nikolaos and Alexandros Mamidakis.

Last year, a Mamidakis group company Styga Compania Naviera, the managers of the Georgios M, had admitted in the US that it used permanently installed magic pipelines, some hidden below the floor plates of the engine room, for dumping oily water at sea. Styga struck a plea bargain, paying just a $1.25m fine and agreeing to a three year probationary inspection programme. Interestingly, Styga also agreed to assist the US in prosecuting three ex Chief Engineers as part of the deal.

“The agreed fine is disproportionately small considering the magnitude of the actual wealth of the Mamidakis defendants and Helford,” Houston lawyer George Gaitas had said. Helford is the Mamidakis group company that owns just one vessel, the Georgios M.

Mylonakis had been Chief Engineer for about three months before he was arrested in February 2009 and accused of dumping oily water off Texas. His lawyers submitted, at his trial in May this year, that he was innocent and that, in any case, ordinary due diligence by Mylonakis had not uncovered the permanent magic pipes installed below the engine room floor plates. A jury in Houston agreed with Mylonakis, acquitting him after more than a year after he was first arrested for dumping oil off Houston and Corpus Christi.

Eight crewmembers had testified at the trial saying Mylonakis ordered the magic pipe bypass; the jury found, however, that the crew made these declarations in return for promises of immunity by the US authorities. Judge Kenneth Hoyt also struck down the testimony of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Lab’s expert chemist as “confusing and irrelevant”.

George Chalos, a defense council member had said at the time, “There was good reason that Chief Mylonakis defiantly testified in his own defense and loudly protested the charges. He was innocent. The real shame is that the vessel’s owner and operator were trying to make Mylonakis the scapegoat and blame him for acts he didn’t do, which was compounded by the government’s failure to appreciate the facts as they truly exist ... they tried to convict an innocent man.”

Now, suing the shipowners, Mylonakis says he suffered medical problems while detained in the US; his pension and health insurance expired since he was not working as a mariner and the managers refused him financial assistance for medical treatment. The owner’s say, however, that they have done enough, paying his salary, besides undergoing expenses for his maintenance and stay in the US.

Besides these relatively small claims, Mylonakis is suing for loss in personal income and some $14m in compensatory damages, besides another $7m in punitive damages. He is also demanding another $1.5m in civil penalties to the US government, presumably based on his charge that the owners misdeclared their wealth in the plea bargain arrangement. This is not an altruistic gesture, though. If successful, Mylonakis, as plaintiff, will be entitled to half the 1.5 million amount.