Monday, 25 January 2010

Jessica Watson reaches halfway mark after three months of sailing

Teenager on non-stop 23,000 mile solo trip around the world

pic courtesy the razor, Australia

Jessica Watson rounded the tip of Cape Horn last Thursday as her parents Roger and Julie circled overhead in an airplane; they had flown down especially from Australia to have a look at their teenage daughter who is halfway through her world solo sail bid. Sixteen year old Jessica plans to be the youngest person ever to sail across the world alone and unaided.

The 16 year old was buzzed earlier by a British RAF Typhoon fighter near the coast of the Falkland Islands; an event that gave her "quite a fright" over her breakfast. The first half of Jessica’s 23,000 nautical mile odyssey has taken her to a region known well for treacherous high waves, gale force winds, strong currents and icebergs: ‘The Everest of ocean sailing’, some say.

Jessica’s voyage almost never began; she was heavily criticised when, two weeks before sailing, she hit a bulk carrier on a trial run off Stradbroke Island, Australia. An inquiry was conducted, and there were accusations that, amongst other things, Jessica may have ignored safety procedures and was asleep when the incident occurred. Many said she was too young to undertake such a perilous journey, and that the authorities should intervene to abort her voyage.

All that seems to be history. On board her 10-metre sloop ‘Ella's Pink Lady’, Jessica is thrilled today. She has been sailing along for three months now, having left Sydney on October 18, and says, “It's great to have come this far with so few signs of wear and tear. With Cape Horn being the subject of all my attention for so long, it's strange now to refocus and start thinking ahead to the rest of the voyage and the other milestones along the way. Even though it's all been very exciting and a total novelty, I am also glad to again be clear of land and the shipping that comes with it. It's nice to be able to settle back into some sort of vague attempt at a routine and to be able to sleep better knowing that it's just Ella's Pink Lady and I again."

Jessica is now headed for the Cape of Good Hope, and intends to be back home in Australia before her 17th birthday, a feat that which would make her the youngest person ever to sail solo around the world unaided. After months of rough seas and tough sailing, she hopes to get better weather on this leg. "As the voyage is nonstop I won't be pulling into port, so calmer seas and refuge behind land will feel like a holiday,'' she says.


Thursday, 21 January 2010

Industry snapshots

Yemen navy provides escort services to ships at a price. British based Gulf of Aden Group Transits (GAGT), along with Yemeni company Lotus projects are providing ships with Yemeni naval vessel escorts. Nick Davis from GAGT says that they have an exclusive contract with the Yemeni navy; one ship a week, on an average, is already using this service that provides protection from pirates in the Gulf of Aden at a cost of up to $55,000 per ship. For that price, you get a dedicated warship with armed guards to travel alongside your vessel in transit. Other military support is also available, at varying prices (see table). “It is the only dedicated, military supported full escort protection available in the Gulf of Aden at the moment. There's nothing better. We'd all like it to be free but that's not possible," Davis told an Australian newspaper.

Armed Vessel Escort  $55000
Armed Embarked Team $35,000
Unarmed Embarked Team $7,500
Ship Support Service FREE

Mercator and SCI plan to buy second hand vessels. Mercator, the second largest private shipping firm in India, is tight lipped about its acquisition plans, says the Hindu’s Business Line, with Mr H. K.Mittal, Executive Chairman of Mercator Lines, declining to comment. However, other company officials say that up to six second hand tankers may be purchased by Mercator soon; the budget for this shopping list is anything from Rs 400 crore and Rs 600 crore. The vessels will be a maximum of five years old; Mercator is simultaneously planning to scrap three single hull tankers. Meanwhile, State owned Shipping Corporation of India is contemplating something similar: sources say that SCI may pick up two tankers, two bulk carriers and two offshore vessels from the resale market. Both Mercator and SCI obviously want to take advantage of the prices in the second hand market that have tanked after the global meltdown. Besides cost, these plans make sense for another reason: almost half of the Indian fleet (by capacity) is more than 20 years old and needs to be replaced soon. “The timing is just right for acquiring ships because you can buy ships today at 10 year average low prices,” says an analyst.

Rs 3,686-cr Chennai port container terminal cleared. When completed, the port’s capacity will increase by 4 million TEUs annually; the present capacity is a little over2 million TEUs. “We hope to issue the project contract by March,” Capt. Subash Kumar, Chairman, Chennai Port Trust (ChPT) says. ChPT will call for a ‘Request for Proposal’ (RFC) shortly; amongst others, DP World, L & T Transco and IL &FS Maritime Infra Co Ltd have shown interest. The project is estimated to cost Rs. 3686 crores and will be India’s first mega container terminal to be built on a BOT (build, operate and transfer) basis. With a straight line quay length of 2 km and a new breakwater, it will have about 90 hectares of land, some reclaimed, as backup and storage area.


Friday, 15 January 2010

Industry Snapshots

Whale Wars! Anti whaling boat claims Japanese whaling ship rammed it in the Antarctic.

The New Zealand 18 tonne catamaran Ady Gil had its bow ripped open in the collision with the 1000 tonne whaling ship Shonan Maru 2 last week. Six crewmembers on the catamaran escaped unhurt.

Japanese whalers and protesters from the Sea Shepherd activist group are blaming each other for the mishap that occurred in remote Antarctic waters. The Ady Gil is a Sea Shepherd activist vessel that was protesting Japanese whaling in the Antarctic when they collided; she is now being repaired. Meanwhile, Japan has complained to New Zealand about the incident, calling it ‘felonious’. Japan stopped commercial whaling in 1986 but international law allows it to continue the activity under a ‘research programme’ that conservationists say kills more than 1,000 whales per year for their meat.

Whalers and activists regularly confront each other in the frigid waters around the Antarctic. Sea Shepherd representative Paul Watson said the incident had turned the confrontations into a "real whale war"; the group has vowed to continue its protests. Meanwhile, New Zealand and Australia have both said they will investigate the collision, calling on both sides to ‘stop activities that could endanger lives’.

The Jack Tar “Sexy Women of Maritime Calendar” 2010 is now out:

The brainchild of Kim Carver, a mariner who roped in other female mariners from around Seattle, USA and got them to pose in various stages of undress on ships and other locations, the calendar was started in 2009 to help Kim finance her maritime magazine.

Carver says, “There are plenty of women out there in the maritime industry. And you can be a girl. You can be sexy and you can travel and you can have fun and you can make money, and it’s fine working with men.” The calendar models include Elaine, Miss September, who has a 500-ton Master license and has images of tall ships she has sailed on tattooed on her thigh. Weronica is a Bosun who lives in Poland. Meegan, who appears on the cover of the 2010 calendar wearing only rubber boots and overalls, has worked on a salmon boat and cage dived with great white sharks. Then there’s Lia, a stunning six-foot brunette from Seattle who is a scientist and plans to appear for the 100-ton Coast Guard Master license.

“They’re sexy and strong and funny and motivated and ambitious,” says 36 year old Carver, who has sailed on tall ships as Captain and crewmember, besides having worked on tugboats and water taxis. She is also Miss January. She started a maritime magazine called ‘Jack Tar’ in 2007 and has published four issues so far. Kim is presently publishing on her blog until she raises more cash selling the calendars via, a ‘print on demand’ company. Carver says the calendar is supposed to encourage more women to work at sea, and demonstrate that tough and sexy aren’t mutually exclusive. We think it is enough to encourage men to run away to sea too.


Thursday, 7 January 2010

US Gulf Ports gear up for 2014 Panama Canal expansion

“When it gets good again, it's really going to get good."

The United States Gulf Coast has started gearing up for the Panama Canal expansion project slated to complete in 2014. Proposed port expansion projects in the Gulf of Mexico total over $1 billion, media reports say. The Gulf ports hope that they will get a much larger share of the boxship pie as the US economy recovers and larger container ships call ports in the East Coast directly from Asia instead of transiting containers via West Coast ports.

About five percent of global cargo passes through the Panama Canal today. The $5.25 billion Panama Canal expansion project will allow the largest container ships to cut through to the eastern side of North America. Analysts say this may be a game changer; US West Coast ports will no longer enjoy a monopoly on big boxship calls.

Called ‘The Third Set of Locks Project’, the expansion of the Panama Canal will double the canal's capacity and allow more traffic. Two lock complexes, one each on the Atlantic and Pacific sides, will be constructed. New access channels, dredging and widening of existing channels will create a new lane of traffic along the Canal. The new locks will be 426.72 m long, 54.86 m wide and 18.29 m deep. They will connect to the existing channel system through new navigational channels and use rolling gates instead of the miter gates now in use. They will also use tugboats instead of locomotives to position vessels. The canal is limited at present to container vessels with about 5,000 TEUs capacity; post 2014, the Panama Canal will be able to accommodate behemoths that can carry more than 14,000 TEUs.

Although some US Gulf Port officials admit that pumping in money into port development is risky, they say that delaying investment in expansion could cost some US ports dearly. "There are some ports throughout North America that have said, 'Let's wait and see how long term this economic environment is going to last,'" says Don Allee, chief executive of the Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport. "But if a port decides to wait, it could be a costly decision."

Many are not willing to wait. The Port of New Orleans plans to pump in $237 million for expansion of its container terminal. Mobile will spend $75 million on a new facility and a turning basin to manoeuvre bigger ships; the port believes that the Gulf Coast will eventually become a better alternative to the West Coast, despite the additional 4,500 miles ships from Asia have to travel to reach the Gulf of Mexico. "Instead of bringing a container into Long Beach, and dragging it by rail all the way to Memphis, they'll be able to bring it into Mobile, then send it to Memphis,” says Head Jimmy Lyons.

Gulfport is spending $570 million in federal funds to elevate the port to 25 feet above sea level. Tampa is expanding berths and stacking areas, buying two cranes at a cost of $17 million. Tampa's new container terminal hopes to attract freight that would otherwise have to be brought by rail from West Coast ports to Atlanta or St. Louis and put on trucks before coming to Florida, said Richard Wainio, the port's CEO.

Some experts are uncomfortable with the money being spent on expansion of the Gulf ports. Economist Marc Levinson says that there are many post recession factors that could affect shipping negatively. Some of these are known: congestion in the US freight system, new environmental laws and the fact that post recession economics is still murky. In addition, some point out, Gulf ports do not have deep channels, and transfer of containers into smaller ships will cost money. However, many ports believe that the time to expand is now. As Gary LaGrance, executive director of the Port of New Orleans says, “When it gets good again, it's really going to get good.


India clamps down on single hulled tankers.

India has joined the growing group of nations that do not want old and therefore less safe single hull tankers in their waters: the Indian Government has decided not to extend the special exemption granted to Indian tankers registered after December 31, 2009.

Industry watchers say that at least part of the move, announced out by the Directorate General of Shipping in a circular last week, is meant to stop the possibility of single hulled tankers being imported and registered in India. Many countries including China have banned these ships from their waters starting this year, sending their prices crashing to almost scrap rates and raising fears that these would be dumped on countries like India where they would pose an environmental risk; in fact, the DGS circular acknowledges these concerns. Indian shipping companies are not far behind the Government: SCI is considering conversion of some single hull ships and private players Great Eastern Shipping says that it is considering a fleet age limit of 25 years to phase out its single hull ships. SCI has about ten of these single hull vessels, having previously sold five. It is estimated that close to seventy five single hulled Indian tankers will need to be replaced by 2015.

The Directorate General of Shipping circular says that the special exemption for Indian single hull tankers shall only apply to such tankers registered before December 31, 2009. “However, applications for registration of single hull tankers pending on the date of this circular will be processed and will be governed as per the existing guidelines/circulars,” it clarifies. This circular therefore puts a caveat on the 2005 DGS circular that had the administration granting permission to Indian single hull tankers to operate beyond their phase out dates.

The Indian National Shipowners Association (INSA) had represented to the Government of India that foreigners had been trying to take advantage of the relative relaxation of IMO regulations by India as compared, so far, to other countries in the region. “We have been asking for measures to prevent dumping of unsafe tankers into Indian waters. Since 100 per cent FDI is allowed in shipping, bringing in foreign tonnage is easier,” said Mr. S. Ranganekar, CEO of the Indian National Shipowners Association, talking to the media.

Although cabotage regulations give Indian shipping the first right of refusal for domestic or coastal cargoes, these rules are often circumvented by oil companies citing unsuitability of tonnage available. The last few months had seen hectic activity by some operators trying to get single hulled tankers into the Indian market on such pretexts; the decision by the Government therefore seems to be a timely step in the right direction.