Monday, 26 July 2010

Collateral advantage: the Kenyan connection to Somali pirates.

Investigations by the Kenyan newspaper ‘The Daily Nation’ show that many Kenyan outfits are raking in the moolah doing business with Somali pirates. “Piracy and the big money being made out of it is seeping into Kenya’s economic fabric, presenting a serious threat to the economy as well as law and order,” it quotes experts as saying.

This news comes after an earlier US State Department report that pointed at Kenya as the money-laundering hub in Africa, saying that the hawala system was routinely used to whitewash ransoms. This, claims an International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, is a US $ 100 million a year business, parts of which have percolated into the Kenyan financial system. Kenyan observers are concerned that huge sums of money are distorting the economic and social fabric of that country. The director of research, projects and programmes of Tax Watch Africa, a development and integrity watchdog, Dr Bani Orwa, said piracy money is creating “economic elitism” in the country as only a few individuals control the earnings. Money is laundered through transactions in real estate, the stock market, foreign exchange market and imports. The Kenyan Planning Minister has expressed concerns that that this money laundering could hurt the country’s economy.

In an independent report, the World Peace Foundation accuses Kenya of being one of the countries “whose firms play a key role in driving piracy along the Somali coast”. The Foundation says that piracy in Somalia is run by the bosses of seven syndicates with around 1500 pirates. These ‘businesses’ are all connected to Kenya, Dubai, Lebanon, Somalia and some European countries, it claims.

Analysts are concerned that Kenyan law firms, security, aviation and shipping companies routinely deal with pirate gangs, who are flush with ransoms of about $80 million annually. However, the true cost of piracy, according to International Maritime Bureau estimates, is USD 18 billion a year. Kenya attracts a bit of this, as some companies there act as a go between shipowners and pirates, facilitating negotiations and payment.

Andrew Mwangura of the Seafarers Assistance Programme agrees, saying that millions of dollars exchange hands between pirates and ship owners. “It is true that owners of hijacked ships are paying pirates to secure the release of their ships and crew members held hostage with most of the money passing through Kenya,” he says.

Another Kenyan maritime official spoke to the Nation on condition of anonymity. “Law and security firms facilitate negotiations and preparation of agreements, while aviation and shipping companies deliver ransom payments to the pirates in Somalia,” he said, adding that ransoms were taken from Mombasa or Nairobi to be handed over to pirates, sometimes from private airfields. “The money is either delivered to private airstrips around Nairobi from where it is flown and dropped to pirates on hijacked ships or is loaded on ships that go to Somalia from Mombasa port to deliver,” he said.

Pirates then pay off the agencies involved through their agents in Kenya through the infamous hawala system.

Cadet’s rape and death at sea throws up numerous allegations of abuse against senior officers.

“It was like we were dumped in the middle of a game park”

Investigations are ongoing into the death of the 19 year old South African Akhona Geveza, a female cadet in the Transnet National Port Authority's maritime studies programme who was sailing on the “Safmarine Kariba’. Her body was found floating off the Croatian coast last month just hours after she had reported that she had been raped by the Ukrainian Chief Officer. She had just two weeks to go to finish her apprenticeship.

The incident that occurred on a British registered vessel has shocked the maritime community. Although the official word from the Captain is that, "We are still busy with the investigation. Nothing has been found yet," other cadets have alleged a pattern of abuse by senior officers on board the ‘Kariba.’ Cadets claim systematic abuse of power by senior officers at sea "who threatened cadets' careers if they did not perform sexual acts”.

About a hundred young South African women have enrolled in the Transnet National Ports Authority’s Maritime Studies Programme in a campaign that was to encourage girls to go out to sea. However, the programme on the Kariba seems to have gone horribly wrong.

At 10am on June 24, Geveza told Capt Klaudiusz Kolodziejczyk that she had repeatedly been raped by the Chief Officer aboard the ship. Kolodziejczyk reported later that he immediately confronted the officer and convened a conference with him and Geveza for 11am. However, she never arrived. A bottle of thinner and some pills were found on the forecastle and the alarm raised with shore authorities. A search found Geveza’s body floating in the sea three hours later. Geveza had confided to a fellow cadet the previous night that the Chief Officer had forced himself on her many times.

On board the Safmarine Kariba, the incident has been termed a suicide so far. However, the South African police and Transnet have launched independent enquiries after Geveza’s body was returned home last week.

Many cadets in the maritime studies programme, speaking to the Johannesburg Sunday Times on condition of anonymity, alleged systematic abuse of power by senior officers, including claims by both male and female cadets that they had been raped at sea; a female cadet had to terminate two pregnancies. Another male cadet was allegedly signed off because he refused to have sex with a senior officer. One female cadet has reportedly had a child with a South African Maritime Safety Agency executive after he threatened to cancel her contract if she told anyone that she had been raped.

A cadet told the newspaper that her batch of ten women cadets was told on board that “The captain is our god; he can marry you, baptise you and even bury you without anybody’s permission. We were told that the sea is no man’s land and that what happens at sea stays at sea.”

Said another former female Cadet, “It was like we were dumped in the middle of a game park.”

Safmarine Container Lines NV is a Belgian shipping company based in Antwerp. It has been owned since 1999 by the Danish worldwide conglomerate A.P. Moller - Maersk AS; its website says it has an independent management board. Safmarine says that it is conducting a thorough inquiry into what happened, and will cooperate fully with authorities that are pursuing their own investigations.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

PIL asks for CBI probe of IMU

Media reports, including in the Chennai based ‘The Hindu’ say that “the Madras High Court has ordered notice on a writ petition seeking a direction to the Centre and the CBI to investigate and take action against the Vice-Chancellor of Indian Maritime University (IMU) at Uthandi and disaffiliate maritime institutions which had collected excess fee”.

The Hindu report further states that this is to “ensure that all IMU-affiliated institutes collect only the university-prescribed fee”. The Court has taken notice based on a petition filed by the Chennai based Maritime Institutes Association (MIA), represented by Secretary C.V. Jothikumar. The matter came up before the First Bench, comprising of Chief Justice M.Y. Eqbal and Justice T.S. Sivagnanam. Additional Solicitor-General of India, M. Ravindran, took notice.

It is alleged that the IMU listed, on its website, only 18 of the 26 approved institutes that were earlier conducting a one year diploma course after due approvals from the Indira Gandhi National Open University; IGNOU was responsible for the conduct of the course at that time. This year, the common entrance tests for admission were held on June 21 this year under IMU control.

Zeenews quotes a PTI report saying that the MIA sought the CBI probe for allegedly collecting exorbitant fee from ‘at least 10 private nautical science institutes’. The MIA has reportedly asked for appropriate action to be taken against the Vice Chancellor and the institutes involved. The petition alleges that the excess fee amounted to “several lakhs per head.” Justices Eqbal and Sivagnanam have clarified that admissions into the institutes named would be subject to the outcome of the case.

It is learnt that the MIA has another petition before the Madras Court, unresolved so far, alleging that the other eight institutes were allowed to admit students without sitting at the entrance test. The MIA has named nine institutes in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and New Delhi that “are collecting tuition fees ranging from Rs 2.25 lakh to Rs 4.71 lakh for the B.Sc (Nautical Science) course, in violation of all norms”, says Zeenews from the PTI report. The petition also reportedly accuses the VC of granting affiliation to a new maritime academy not earlier approved by the Director General of Shipping.

The PIL asks that the “IMU be restrained from allotting any seats to the nautical science courses for the coming academic year”.


Thursday, 15 July 2010

World’s first superyacht that doubles as a submarine

The U-010 Undersea Yacht concept by industrial designers Marina Colombo and Sebastiano Vida is a first even for luxury yachts: the 67-metre boat can shift between diesel and electric propulsion to either cruise the waves in good weather or, if the weather gets bad, go underwater like a submarine.

It looks like a fashionable apartment from within, albeit with a huge aquarium. The latest in luxury, the design of the U-010 would allow the filthy rich to cruise underwater in comfort. "Submarines are generally thought of as cold and cramped military crafts," Italian designer Sebastiano Vida told CNN. "But this concept radically moves away from that assumption and introduces a new and luxurious way to experience life beneath the seas."

The U-010 has a spiral staircase, lounge bar, sauna and relaxation parlour. The designers insist the design is robust. "It may look like a fantasy but we examined all the latest technology for constructing underwater vessels to ensure our concept would be viable," said Vida. "We're looking for the right engineers to work with, and think it could be built within the next five years." Marina Colombo says that multi-millionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins may be a customer. "Tom Perkins commissioned the "Maltese Falcon", which was once the longest yacht in the world -- and we know that he'd want to build a submarine now,” she says. Richard Branson is another potential client the designers seem to have in mind.

The designers hope to be able to roll out the super yacht by 2015. The aerodynamic vessel will be equipped with integrated systems of stabilisation and its hybrid engine will switch from diesel to electric propulsion automatically when it submerges.

Critics may well say that there will be constraints in design building a cruiser that can also withstand deep-sea water pressures. We hope this futuristic yacht/sub will be built, though, simply because it looks like something straight out of a James Bond movie. One can just visualise Connery laconically shooting the last villain before jumping on board, even as Ursula Andress slowly submerges the submarine, just before they retire down the spiral staircase to the parlour with a martini.


BIMCO objects to new Canadian rules on Arctic shipping.

Geopolitics in the frozen North?

The Canadian federal government's new rules regulating Arctic shipping, including in the Northwest Passage, have been criticised by the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), the world’s largest private shipping organisation. BIMCO says that the mandatory registration system introduced by Canada on July 1 is "drastic" and a potential threat to the long-standing "right to innocent passage" on the world's oceans. It is learnt that the BIMCO objection has been sent in a formal letter to the federal government in Canada

BIMCO, based in Denmark, has as members companies that account for 65 per cent of the cargo shipped around the world, and so has tremendous influence worldwide and at the IMO. It is learnt that the organisation had requested Canada earlier to have its planned new Arctic regulatory regime vetted by a committee of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), but the appeal fell on deaf ears.

The new rules make registration with federal authorities mandatory for any ship greater than 300 tonnes transiting Canada's Arctic waters; additionally, they extend pollution control limits from the present 100 miles to 200 miles offshore.

BIMCO spokesperson Michael Lund hastens to point out that there was no question of it asking its members not to comply with the unilateral Canadian directives. "There will be compliance, and we are very much in favour of everybody contributing to a very safe environment in these Arctic waters," he says, but points out that "we would have liked to see this go to the IMO" before Transport Canada implemented the new regulations.

"Mandatory ship reporting systems represent an administrative burden to the ship's crew that can have safety implications," BIMCO had told Canada five months ago. It also said that an expansion of the geographical area covered by the new regulations "appears drastic," saying that restrictions placed on ships as a consequence of perceived non compliance "could be seen as effectively interfering with the right to innocent passage for ships as ensured by UNCLOS," the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Transport Canada, the body that has taken upon itself to regulate what it sees as its share of the Arctic, reiterates that "the waters in question are within the exclusive jurisdiction of Canada and there is no legal obligation to seek approval from the IMO."

As things stand now, Canada requires all ships entering the Northwest Passage to report to NORDREG, a registration system maintained by the coast guard. This move, first proposed two years ago, has been widely welcomed within the country and is seen as a way to reinforce sovereignty over waters that are becoming more navigable as sea ice melts.

However, there is wider geopolitics involved in the decision. The Arctic has long been considered international waters, with few countries recognising Canada's claims to the passage. The United States, with its large navy, has also expressed concerns about these new Canadian regulations. Analysts say that although five countries- Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States—share a border with the frozen Arctic, the race for control of the region may be hotting up. There are said to be huge oil, gas and other resources in the region, and the opening up of lucrative passages for trade and economic activity would greatly shorten the distances between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The Canadian rules seem to be another step in the game for control of the frozen North.


Thursday, 8 July 2010

UAE cracks down as its ports being used to smuggle illegal nuclear weapons components

Dubai, July 2 Officials here have confirmed that "Security forces have interdicted scores of ships suspected of carrying illicit cargo and seized numerous sensitive shipments that could be used for the manufacture of weapons systems, including specialised aluminium sheets, titanium, high-speed computers and sophisticated machine tools." Titanium is used in long-range missiles.

Although the destination of the illegal cargo seems obvious, officials refuse to confirm that these shipments were bound for Iran. A crackdown has been initiated throughout the UAE on illegal weaponry; companies and money transfers are also being scrutinised. Many officials say that the country is being used as a transit point for smuggling both money and illegal goods, and that there exist many underground trade ties with Iran. Numerous raids have been conducted on what many observers say are front companies for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Dubai; about forty bank accounts have been frozen.

At a meeting of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism in Abu Dhabi, UAE’s Hamad al-Kaabi, ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that the UAE was committed to making and implementing laws related to the trade in nuclear and ‘dual-use’ goods. His country’s actions, he said, had "led to the shutting down of dozens of international and local companies involved in money laundering and proliferation of dual use and dangerous materials". The goods include some whose trade is banned under the UN nuclear non-proliferation regulations. Without naming Iran, Kaabi said, "The UAE has implemented many notable United Nations security council resolutions. A lot of these have banned certain goods going to certain countries."

Observers say that the UAE has taken action now for two reasons. One, the UN Security Council recently approved new sanctions against Iran, specifically banning trade in missile and other systems to companies connected with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. This put additional heat on them. Two, although Dubai has traditionally had the closest links with Iran amongst all the Emirates, its bailout last year by Abu Dhabi has resulted in pressure being put on it by its benefactor to sever links with Iran. The UAE is also believed to be a transit point for arms shipments by Iran to extremist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah in the Middle East, a fact that does not go down will with many in the region.

The British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, quotes Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, as saying that "the UAE wants to show the West that it is an active partner in enforcing sanctions against Iran."


Global water market to be bigger than oil in thirty years?

Delegates at the ‘Singapore International Water Week’ conference seemed to agree a few days ago that the world water market would be bigger than the oil market by 2030. This annual meeting brings together ministers, mayors, top government officials, global water industry leaders, heads of international organisations, leading researchers and practitioners to consider pressing water governance, technology and business issues. Many felt, however, that massive challenges faced the business of moving the critical commodity in the future.

Brokers CLSA Asia Pacific Markets estimates that global water demand will reach 6.9 billion cubic m/year by 2030, i.e. 119 million barrels a day. This statistic translates into a staggering 53% increase over current levels. At the same time, brokers quote the US Energy Information Administration recent estimate that the demand for oil will be at 107 million b/d of consumption by 2030, an increase of 24% over today. The water demand, delegates were told, will be ‘significantly more than that for oil’

CLSA Director Ed Slade feels that the biggest opportunities in the water market would come from investment in infrastructure: the building of treatment plants, reservoirs and pipelines. Trading in water may be a new growth business, particularly in Asia, a region that will continue to develop a huge thirst for both oil and water. CLSA estimates a growth in demand of more than 60% in this time in Asia, and says that this spurt will come largely from the agricultural sector and strain the infrastructure of many countries in the region. Some of these countries are not expected to be able to meet the demand of their booming economies or populations, and will have to buy water from elsewhere.

Traders said that the present market for trading in water is minuscule. “Water is not being traded. There are some attempts at trading water rights,” said Sam Ong of Hyflux, a company that, under the previous name of Hydrochem, was set up for trading. Today, Hyflux focuses on developing water treatment, reclamation and infrastructure to deal with water demand. Hyflux mooted, at the conference, the idea of “water footprints,” similar to the carbon trading regimes that have been developed around the world. A market in water footprints, which could provide similar cash incentives to reduce water consumption “should be part and parcel of what we do,” said Ong.

Although the conference did not talk specifically about water tankers that may be part of the infrastructure requirements of the future, analysts point out that the process may have already begun many years ago. For example, Australia had a longstanding research programme to build ships using wind and solar energy to transport water from Tasmanian dams to parched mainland cities. And just two years ago, in the scorching European summer of 2008, the tanker ‘Sichem Defender’ was contracted to carry six shiploads of water- 23 million litres of it each trip- for three months into Barcelona in drought hit Spain, at a cost of €22m.

The water tanker may well be the ship of the future


Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The Mystery of the Aegean Glory at Kolkata.

Kolkata, June 30 There were grave concerns expressed by the Indian authorities five days ago when a Karachi bound Ro/Ro vessel was detained in the Hooghly off Kolkata; many expressed fears that the staggering 500 tonnes of weapons carried on the

“Aegean Glory’, including explosives and rocket launchers, could be headed for terrorists in Pakistan. Observers were baffled: why should that country route such sensitive cargo through its adversary, India? The ship was detained and brought to Kolkata for investigations.

The truth, as it turns out, is less of a conspiracy but nonetheless equally worrying: Investigators now say that the military cargo actually belongs to the United Nations; maritime security experts have expressed grave concern at the lack of concern for security shown by the UN in outsourcing the shipping of military cargo through private contractors, whose links to undesirable elements, including terrorists, may be difficult to determine.

It now appears that after Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal completed a stint in the U.N. peacekeeping mission to Liberia, the U.N. hired a private contractor to ship the military equipment back to those countries. Incidentally, countries like India use their own resources for this purpose. In any case, the Aegean Glory set sail on May 18, and was bound for Diamond Harbour off Kolkata after a call to Chittagong. She was to offload the military hardware bound for Nepal.

India says that UN officials broke protocol and did not notify India about their cargo. Worse, their shipping agent also failed to declare the nature of the cargo to Kolkata part. End result: Indian police and military officials detained the ship; although the UN mission in Liberia has reportedly confirmed that the military cargo belonged to them, Indian officials have expressed grave concern that the U.N. is effectively outsourcing the transport of sensitive weaponry- including mortars, anti aircraft guns, bombs and rocket launchers- to private contractors.

Unsurprisingly, the Indian authorities are taking the attempted breach of security very seriously. Customs officials have questioned the 15 Ukrainian, Armenian and Romanian crew members of the ship. Representatives of Crystal Shipping, the ship's clearing agent in the city, are also being questioned about the consignment. "The representatives admitted that they had made a mistake by only declaring the details of the consignment meant for Nepal, which was to be offloaded at Kolkata port," said a customs source quoted in a newspaper.

Two big mysteries have still to be unresolved. One is, of course, why the agents failed to declare the nature of the cargo- they would have known very well about the stringent rules that apply when military cargo is involved. The second is equally baffling: The ship was apparently slated to discharge the armaments at Diamond Harbour anchorage. “We are still not sure how cargo from a gearless ship could be unloaded at Diamond Harbour, which does not have any port facilities as of now," a senior Customs official has said. In fact, the matter came to light only when the pilot on the Glory realised that a gearless ship would have to be taken to KDS in Kolkata and not Diamond Harbour for cargo discharge, and it was on his query that it became known that no cargo declaration had been made.

Another official questions the role of the UN in this incident, implying extreme disregard for security. “Imagine, in this day and age of heightened security concerns, with piracy on the high areas — what if someone drops the cargo off mid-ocean to some Al Qaeda person?” he asked, adding that it was “appalling” that the U.N. transported military cargo in this fashion.

“You can’t send such dangerous cargo in a merchant ship,” he said.