Thursday, 25 February 2010

Industry Snapshots

Platinum-II controversy in Supreme Court, as the Gujarat State Government’s attempt to declare it a wreck and move it is challenged by Gopal Krishna of the NGO Indian Platform on Shipbreaking. IPoS has filed a petition in the Supreme Court, asking that the ship be sent out of Indian waters as it was toxic and laden with asbestos. In addition to demanding a full enquiry into how the Platinum II was allowed into Indian waters in the first place, IPoS has asked for full details from Alang on the 5,000 or so ships that have been dismantled there since 1982. The Platinum-II reached Alang in suspicious circumstances in October last year and immediately stirred up a storm amongst environmentalists, who called it a toxic ship that should not be allowed to beach at all for breaking. The Union Ministry of Environment & Forests then sent a committee that confirmed, after investigation, that hazardous material was on board the ship; the MoEF banned the ship’s dismantling at Alang. Around a month later, in a move that made the environmentalists cry foul, the Gujarat government wrote to the ministry that the ship would be removed off the Gopnath coast as it was a wreck; they did not specify where they wanted to move the ship. The ship continues to lie at Alang with the alleged support of the politically powerful shipbreaking lobby. Ironically, the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) had fined the Platinum-II’s last owners $518,500 for exporting the ship for scrap without removing toxic substances like asbestos from the ship.

Vallarpadam plans to take on Colombo. In an attempt to gain market share for the upcoming Vallarpadam Container Transhipment Terminal, the Ministry of Shipping is planning to take on Colombo, where more than 90% of Indian cargo goes for transhipment. Plans are afoot to make port charges and connected fees at Vallarpadam on par with the Sri Lankan port. Mr K. Mohandas, Shipping Secretary, confirmed this to the Hindu’s Business Line on the sidelines of a workshop on National Waterways Development. The Ministry, he said, “is aware that port related charges currently collected by Colombo Port are far below Kochi, and it is working out proposals for attracting mainline vessels to the proposed terminal, which is expected to be commissioned by June end.” Although some plans like four lane highway connectivity to the port are behind schedule, rail connectivity has made good progress, according to the Secretary, and that the important works planned towards the LNG Terminal will be completed on schedule early next year. Market watchers say that the port charges in Colombo are almost a third of those at Indian ports and something needs to be done urgently to make Indian ports competitive. Some point out that the Vallarpadam move may well spark a price war with Colombo, to the detriment of both.

Indian port growth slow because of underutilised funds and delay in awarding port projects. "The government had an ambitious target of completing Rs 500 billion worth of port projects by 2012. But only projects worth Rs 120 billion were awarded. A substantial proportion of port projects worth Rs 380 billion are still to be awarded," says Jose Paul, former acting chairman of JNPT and former chairman of Mormugao Port Trust, as quoted in the media. In other cases, it looks like an increased allocation of funds is not working too well, with ports unable to utilise them appropriately and quickly enough. The fund utilisation rate fell from around 69.4% in 2006/2007 to just 64% last year. Worse, it is at a dismal 36.4% in the current fiscal year until now. Observers say that this is nothing new: an earlier committee appointed by the Planning Commission had remarked, in an appraisal report, that it was dissatisfied with the then Ministry of Shipping. “The committee is of the view that the reasons given by the MoS for delays etc are not of such nature that are beyond its control,” the report had said at the time.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Amfibus runs into rough weather.

 Scotland’s new amphibious bus service has run into a series of glitches during ‘sea trials’; the latest one being a mini crash into a ramp when one of the suspension airbags worked loose. The two day trial on the River Clyde was axed in just half an hour after engineers were unable to fix the damage.

The amphibus, a unique floating bus concept, is designed to run on roads as well as in the water. The Dutch made vehicle combines a bus chassis with a boat like hull. ‘Stagecoach’, the huge bus and rail company that intends to roll out the £700,000 vehicle as a ferry between Renfrew and Yoker in Glasgow, was left embarrassed at the trials when the rear suspension was damaged as the vehicle drove up a slipway at Renfrew; the bus apparently came up the ramp too fast. Crowds that had gathered to watch the trial run of the yellow coach heard a thud and scraping sounds as the amfibus ascended onto land; it was later taken away for repairs.

Stagecoach intends to have the fifty seater amfibus replace the 500 year old Renfrew ferry service in March; the company thinks that the uniqueness of the concept will guarantee its commercial success. The Amfibus runs like a normal bus on the road, but in water twin jets come into play and the Amfibus cruises at a stately speed of about eight knots.

Stagecoach spokesman Steve Stewart explained the accident at the trial: "When we came back on one of the journeys part of the suspension which involves an airbag popped out. But it's all part of the challenges that you face when you have a technical trial and that will go back into the evaluation process."

The venture is expensive and somewhat risky; the amfibus costs thrice as much as a standard passenger coach. Stagecoach intends to run the service between a shopping centre at Braehead on the south side of the river and the town of Clydebank on the north bank. Money will have to be spent on the construction of slipways on both banks that will extend deep into the water to allow the service to operate at low tide. Although the bus complies with European regulations, Stagecoach has still to get a final clearance from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency of the UK.

The company has been testing the amfibus in Rotterdam harbour and claims it is satisfied with its behaviour and general seaworthiness, having tested it in the backwash from tugs and cargo ships. The bus has been borrowed from the Dutch tour operator Splashtours; they intend to run a similar service on the Maas River in Rotterdam. Stewart says that a voyage on the amfibus is safe: "I was on the journey this morning. It was a very, very smooth journey. You hardly felt any different from the sensation you would get on a normal stretch of road. You don't get buffeted about," he said.

But just in case, there is a lifejacket under every bus seat.


Monday, 8 February 2010

Sailing again on old trade routes: ‘The Jewel of Muscat”

The ‘Jewel of Muscat’, an 18 metre long hand faithful replica of a 9th century Arab sailing ship, will travel ancient routes across the Indian Ocean from Muscat to Singapore via India later this month. Displacing just 55 tonnes, she will replicate voyages Arab navigators undertook eons ago. Like them, she will do this under wind power alone, and with old instruments for navigation.

The hull of the Jewel of Muscat has nearly 32,000 stitching holes; over 100 kilometers of hand laid rope was used to sew the hull planks together as was the fashion in the good old days. She has no engine and the crew will navigate traditionally using the sun and the stars and the ‘kamal’, a strange instrument that looks like a piece of wood with a cord attached; Arab navigators used to tie knots on the cord at known ports, placed so that Polaris could be sighted along the instrument and so latitudes calculated. In this way, they sailed down Latitudes to reach ports.

The Jewel of Muscat is officially a collaborative project between the governments of Singapore and Oman, but is actually an an international endeavour. Experts from India, Australia, Italy, Oman and the US worked together to produce the ship; ten professional carpenters and eleven ropeworkers from India were involved. The crew will be mainly Omani. On her first leg, she will sail for about a month from Muscat to Cochin, where she will undergo a full hull inspection after being hauled out of the water. Her next leg of the voyage, to Galle in Sri Lanka, will take two weeks; another four weeks to Penang and then onto Malacca in Malaysia and thence to Singapore to end her voyage. The ship will be handed over to Singapore as a gift from the Omanis, after which she will probably be converted into a museum to mark a bygone and romantic era.

The Jewel of Muscat project is almost two years old; started in June 2008,traditional wood was sourced from across the world before the keel was laid in October 21, 2008. The project was set up under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is the reconstruction of a 9th century western Indian Ocean ship, using as its blueprint the ‘Belitung’ wreck that was found off Indonesia in 1988 carrying over 60,000 pieces of Chinese ceramics, silver and gold artefacts, spices and other commodities.: the ‘Tang treasure.” The project thereafter became a means of deepening ties between Oman and Singapore, besides giving Omanis a glimpse into their national heritage. Using ancient techniques, "Jewel" was hand stitched using coconut fibres; no nails have been used. Layers of goat fat mixed with lime seal the wood and prevent ingress of water. Her timber planks come from Ghana, her sails from Zanzibar palm leaves, and her masts are made from Poona teak trees.

Saleh Said al Jabri, an instructor with Oman Sail, was selected last year to be the Captain of Jewel of Muscat for her voyage to Singapore. “This project is of utmost importance to Oman and bringing our maritime history to life. I am honoured to be selected as the Captain of Jewel of Muscat and nothing will make me prouder than steering her along the old trading routes from Muscat to Singapore via India and Malaysia, just as our forefathers did before us.We have tried to think back a thousand years." Jabri and his 16 man crew will live in tough and spartan conditions, eating the same food as their forefathers did: dried fish and dates.


Thursday, 4 February 2010

Growing frustration at global impotence to address piracy

“Royal Navy running welfare system for pirates?”

Close on the heels of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association (HKSOA) expressing frustration at “ the seeming impotence of the international community to address the continuing piracy crisis in the Indian Ocean, with around 1,500 seafarers having so far been taken hostage for ransom”, comes criticism in the British media about their Government’s handling of the crisis.

The UK Daily Mail reports that the “extraordinary revelations by Defence Minister Baroness Taylor will add to concern about the role of the Navy in tackling piracy. Suspected Somali pirates captured by the Royal Navy are being given fuel, food and water and sent on their way”. Reports say that pirates were released on three occasions even though hostages had been found and released from on board their vessels!

Baroness Taylor said there had been four instances in the last year when heavily armed Somali gangs had been given supplies on humanitarian grounds. None of the 66 suspects captured by the Navy in the last year has been taken into custody. Media reports have been very critical of the British stand after British sailors Paul and Rachel Chandler were kidnapped even as a naval ship stood by. Their captors have threatened to kill them after several attempts to ransom them out failed.

To add to the mess, former Tory Chairman Lord Tebbit says that ministers had indicated privately that suspected pirates were not being arrested because of fears they might claim asylum in the UK. He said that the Royal Navy seemed to be “hamstrung by the 'morass of human rights laws and political correctness'. Lord Tebbit revealed that the fear of asylum seekers goes back to November 2008, when the warship Cumberland arrested eight Somali pirates attempting to hijack a Dutch cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, killing two others. Lord Tebbit said he had been told the arrests had caused 'panic' at the Foreign Office and Home Office because of fears about legal claims for asylum.

Since then, the Royal Navy has boarded six pirate ships off Somalia that had on board a total of 66 armed pirates. Weapons seized included rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles, pistols and ammunition. Baroness Taylor said the men were all released, as there was 'insufficient evidence' to arrest anyone. In fact, the Navy provided water, fuel and food to the pirates! One former naval officer is quoted as saying that the Royal navy “appeared to be operating a 'maritime welfare system' rather than enforcing law on the high seas”. Lord Tebbit says that the seized weapons should have been enough evidence.

It is small wonder that the HKSOA has been so scathing in its statement, calling attention to “an unacceptable situation now, with seafarer’s lives being threatened on a daily basis, and Somali pirates still operating with impunity”. The statement tellingly adds, “If a similar number of aircraft passengers had been taken hostage there would undoubtedly have been a more robust response. However, many governments seem oblivious to the fact that ships carry around 90% of world trade. In effect, pirates are being given a message that their criminal activity carries very few risks in comparison to the payments. As a result, the number of pirates is growing, and there is real danger that, in the absence of a firm response, their methods of hijack and violent kidnapping will be successfully emulated by others elsewhere”.


Indian Coast Guard in major ramp up of facilities

Strength to ‘triple in the next ten years’

 The defence ministry has announced a slew of measures that attempt to plug the loopholes in coastal security following the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

For a start, The Indian Coast Guard (CG) will install radars atop all lighthouses along the country's 7,516 km long coastline. Coast Guard chief Vice Admiral Anil Chopra told media personnel that along with the radars, AIS systems and cameras have also been mooted to be fitted.

The plan is actually five years old. "All over India, there are light houses and they are fairly tall structures. In 2005-06 plans were made to put radars atop them to pick up contacts of anything close to the coast," Chopra said. Security analysts say that identification of the radar contacts would become easier provided AIS systems were integrated and robust. Chopra is hopeful. “Radars and cameras have become so sensitive that they can take real time pictures of the coastal region," he says. The budget for the upgradation is Rs 350 crore.

This is not all. 96 coastal police stations are to be setup soon, followed by another 131 in a second wave of expansion. A coastal road along the coastline is under construction and will help in patrolling. About 200 boats will be provided to coastal stations, a plan that will double the CG strength by next year and triple it by the end of the decade.

In other developments, a new Coast Guard station was inaugurated by the Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Bhupinder Singh to beef up security of maritime zones in and around the islands. Vice-Admiral D K Joshi, Commander-in-Chief Andaman and Nicobar Command, says that the islands are particularly vulnerable due to their geographical separation from the mainland and the political, economic and strategic development in the Indian Ocean region. The new CG station at Hutbay will facilitate effective sea control, he said. A ship E146 at Porbandar in Gujarat will augment the security apparatus on the West Coast as well.

Overall, it is learnt that the government has sanctioned 40, ships, 20 boats and 42 aircraft to augment the Coast Guard arsenal. Seven offshore patrol vessels, 20 fast patrol vessels and 12 Dornier aircraft have also been approved. These will add considerably to the present CG fleet of 43 ships, 23 boats and 45 aircraft .The defence ministry hopes that these additions would make the Indian Coast Guard a force to be reckoned with in times to come. Vice Admiral Chopra says that more than 3000 personnel will be inducted into service this year alone, almost a third of its existing roster of 7500 personnel. A coastal surveillance network is being established; the network will have fully integrated infrastructure to monitor and control the coast from remote locations. A total of 40 stations are envisaged by 2012.

Training and exercises have been honed as well. In 2009, the Coast Guard conducted 14 coastal security exercises and 18 operations based on intelligence inputs. Surveillance and joint exercises with other maritime agencies have also been increased, and regular exercises will be conducted in the future.

The Indian Coast Guard intends to become a major player in the region, and indeed across the world. "We will become the fourth largest Coast Guard in the world... people can come and attempt to attack but we are prepared now. And this gives us confidence to take on any attack," Chopra says.


Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Greenpeace to start build of $23 million dollar flagship

Rainbow Warrior III will be one of the greenest ships afloat

Work will start soon on Greenpeace International’s new flagship ‘Rainbow Warrior III’. The sailing ship, which will be launched in time for the environmental organisation’s 40th anniversary in 2011, will include cutting edge green technology and facilities to help the organisation fight catastrophic climate change. This is the first time in the history of Greenpeace that a purpose built high seas ship will be commissioned; earlier vessels were all second hand and converted.

To be constructed at German and Polish shipyards, the Rainbow Warrior III will be one of the biggest yachts to have been commissioned in the last decade. It will have a staggering 1,300 sq metres of sail flying on two A frame masts, its own helipad and satellite video systems that will enable activists to stream videos from anywhere on earth. With numerous inflatable craft at their disposal, the crew of 30 will have an easier time going about their efforts than they had onboard the earlier flagships that were, basically, converted fishing boats.

The ‘Rainbow Warrior III’ will have diesel engines in addition to sails, but will use them for less than 10% of the time at sea. This is in line with the organisation’s mission to reduce greenhouse emissions. Says Greenpeace spokesman Ulrich von Eitzen, "We have converted ships for 30 years and it's time we practised what we preach. Upgrading the existing ship was not technically or financially feasible and converting a second hand ship would compromise our campaigning and energy conservation needs. The aim is to drastically reduce emissions and to burn far less fuel, and so its main propulsion will be by wind."

Eitzen’s statements assume significance in view of two recent developments: the spotlight on fossil fuel emissions by commercial ships in Copenhagen and criticism of Greenpeace by other environmental groups that it was holding back from addressing industry emissions because of its own fossil fuelled fleet.

The first Rainbow Warrior was sunk by the French government secret service in 1986 in New Zealand. Since then, the Greenpeace fleet has grown to six ships that operate across the world. Many of the crews are volunteers, facing up to whalers, illegal fishing boats and protesting nuclear testing. The organisation has three million supporters worldwide, and so raising funds for the Rainbow Warrior III should not be a problem. Other environmental groups like the Sea Shepherd and Oceana are also planning to increase their fleets; Ady Gil, a Sea Shepherd trimaran, sank recently after a collision with a Japanese whaler in Antarctica.

Officials at Greenpeace are understandably excited about the Rainbow Warrior III’s green technology. The A frame design of the mast and the sail positions have been optimised for efficiency and the shape of the hull has been designed for maximum fuel conservation. Heat created by the generators will be reused to heat water on board and for engine preheating.

Its predecessor, the Rainbow Warrior II, is 52 years old and will be retired after twenty years of environmental campaigning. The new ship has been designed by a company in Amsterdam, Netherlands and will be primarily built by Fassmer, Bremen, Germany.