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.