Monday, 31 January 2011

Beluga Nomination hijack: Owners express frustration with coalition navies

Citadel breached by pirates

The pirate seizure last week of the multi- purpose heavy-lift project carrier ‘Beluga Nomination’ soon after the Danish weapons ship ‘Leopard’ was taken two weeks ago will undoubtedly make the industry worry that its ‘citadel’ strategy is no longer working. The Leopard was not taken to Somalia, but its crew of six were kidnapped from the citadel and taken off the vessel; the Beluga Nomination was hijacked after the pirates breached its citadel apparently two and a half days after the crew locked themselves in. The ship was en route from Malta to Masan in South Korea when it was hijacked.

The German owners of the Beluga Nomination have expressed frustration that no military help reached ship’s crew for so long after a distress call had been sent to EUNAVFOR. The crew of 12 consists of Polish, Filipino, Russian and Ukrainian nationals. "We are somewhat irritated," Beluga head Niels Stolberg said. "Why, within 2 1/2 days during which the crew had hidden from the pirates in the citadel, could no external help be offered? Had no serviceable units been at disposal?"

The Beluga Nomination was attacked by a skiff that fired on the vessel on January 22 with small arms fire. According to EU NAVFOR, the 9775 Dwt Antigua and Barbuda registered Nomination was 390 miles north of the Seychelles at the time, though other reports, including from the owners, suggest that she may have been up to 800 miles off the islands at the time. The crew had locked themselves into a citadel when the pirates boarded; EU NAVFOR stressed later that the use of a citadel by crewmembers does not guarantee a military response from them. In its defence, EU NAVFOR also says that the closest warship to the Nomination was a thousand nautical miles away waiting to escort a World Food Programme (WFP) vessel delivering vital humanitarian aid to Somalia, which is EUNAVFOR’s primary task. The Seychelles coast guard, although closer, could not assist due to bad weather, it says. In any case, there was four days of uncertainty for the Bremen based owners before it was confirmed, by a plane flying overhead, that the Nomination had been taken and was en route for Somalia.

Beluga says that it is spending millions of Euros annually in defensive security equipment, rising insurance costs and crew anti piracy training, while in Germany there is just theoretical discussion about securing German vessels against the rising number of pirate attacks. Analysts say that the strongly worded statement from Beluga shipping underlines the frustration of owners as they operate in an ever-widening area of risk in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. The fact that the EU NAVFOR warship was waiting for the WFP vessel meant that she could have proceeded at full speed to the Nomination’s rescue, they point out. It seems that it took two and a half days before the pirates could breach the citadel on board; the warship could well have been close enough to launch a helicopter and rescue the crew before the citadel was breached.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

South Korean commandos storm hijacked ship, free crew.

Captain shot in stomach by pirates.

South Korean commandos have stormed the chemical tanker ‘Samho Jewelry’' and freed all the crew, President Lee Myung-bak has announced. "Our soldiers rescued all of twenty-one crew aboard Samho Jewelry, including eight Koreans, who were hijacked by Somalia pirates," President Lee told reporters. The South Korean navy says that five pirates were captured and eight killed in the dawn rescue raid. Reports say that all the crew were rescued alive, although the South Korean captain of the ship suffered a non-critical gunshot wound to his stomach during the attack. Three Korean commandoes were slightly injured in the raid; other pirates are reported missing, though their bodies have not been found, Korean authorities added.

The rescue took place about 800 miles off the coast of Somalia. The loaded 11,500 tonne Samho Jewelry was taken last weekend from the Arabian Sea en route to Sri Lanka from the United Arab Emirates with a crew of eight Koreans, eleven Burmese and two Indonesians. She was then tracked sailing towards Somalia. There were questions at the time whether South Korean ships were being especially targeted by pirates, given that the Samho Dream- with the same owners- had been released last November after the biggest ransom on record, some 9.5 million dollars, was dropped aboard the vessel.

In any event, Seoul ordered the Choi Young destroyer to be diverted from the Gulf of Aden to shadow the Jewelry after she was taken last Saturday, and President Lee ordered "all possible measures" to save the crew. South Korea is part of a multinational anti-piracy patrol in the region. Commandos chased the hijacked ship for days, and started a rescue mission before dawn today; the raid went on for five hours.

Media reports say that pirates were leaving to hijack another vessel in the vicinity when the naval destroyer approached her. Col Lee Bung-woo of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters, "Three of our soldiers suffered light scratches on their bodies as they were fired upon by pirates. Our Lynx helicopter immediately returned fire and several pirates fell into the waters”. He confirmed that pirates had shot the captain of the ship in the stomach, but his condition was not life threatening.

South Korean President Lee said on television, "We will not tolerate any behaviour that threatens the lives and safety of our people in the future."

The London-based International Maritime Bureau says that there have already been 22 incidents reported off the coast of Somalia this year, including four hijackings.

Thirty-one vessels are being held presently by pirates in Somalia. One hopes that there are no South Koreans aboard any of them.

Colour Coding trawlers for security

The Maharashtra government has rolled out a plan to colour code fishing vessels and trawlers so that it is easily apparent which area of the State they belong to, media reports say. The initiative is just one of many that are being taken to beef up coastal security in the region; other measures include fast tracking the national identification UID programme for coastal areas and changes to the registration requirements for fishing vessels.

The Mumbai Mirror says that orders have been issued for different colour codes to be used on trawlers belonging to the five distinct coastal regions of Maharashtra (see graphic). Trawlers from Mumbai region will be marked with florescent orange paint. Thane has been allotted a fluorescent blue colour, Raigad fluorescent red, Ratnagiri fluorescent green and Sindhidurg fluorescent yellow. IG (Konkan Range) Parambir Singh reportedly told the newspaper, “Region specific colour coding will help us identify suspect trawlers from other regions. The police will be able to identify the trawler from a distance. This will also make it difficult for terror elements to go unnoticed if they hijack a boat and enter a different region.” Singh was obviously referring to the hijacking of the fishing boat ‘Kuber’ in Gujarat by the LeT terrorists as a prelude to the Mumbai attacks in 2008.

However, the Maharashtra government is not stopping there: it is also streamlining and tightening requirements for documentation of trawlers, which now have to be registered every three years to keep a better record of any changes to their ownership or status.

Critics have long argued that records of registered boats are not accurate, do not reflect ownership and the authorities do not have any means of knowing whether a boat is lost, stolen or destroyed. This is because the system hitherto demanded that the vessel be registered only once, and so any changes to ownership or status remained unrecorded, sometimes for years, even decades. This posed a massive security risk, as a survey last year revealed: the Maharashtra Maritime Board was found to have 40,000 fishing trawlers in its register, but the Fisheries Department figures showed only 15,000 working boats, throwing up urgent questions on where the other 25,000 boats had ‘disappeared’. It was found that the age-old system had no records of boats having changed hands or destroyed, for a start. There was also no means of checking if a registered fishing boat was actually involved in fishing. It was found, after much scrutiny, that the actual number of working trawlers was around 19,000. “The process is complete and now we have clear knowledge of the number of trawlers in the State’s waters,” Singh says.

The Government has made registration of trawlers every three years mandatory. It is also planning to make changes in the documentation- changes similar to those used by the RTO when registering vehicles. Besides recording changes in ownership or status, the authorities want that the Maharashtra Maritime Board should include the State to which the boat belongs in the registration process and not just the area that the boat belongs to. For example, a boat from Bandra should carry a registration number starting with MH and not just BDR.

Of course, other States will have to follow suit to make this proposed system completely effective. “The trawler (Kuber) hijacked by terrorists was from Gujarat. But the way MMB registration is, it’s difficult to make out which state a trawler belongs to.” an official says. “A system on the lines of the RTO will not only solve this problem but also help build a database for the entire coastal region.”


Monday, 17 January 2011

IMU Vice Chancellor raided by CBI

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has raided the Chennai Indian Maritime University (IMU) campus at Uthandi and the residence of the Vice Chancellor P. Vijayan in Kottivakkam following complaints of corruption against him, media reports say. It is believed that the CBI’s anti-corruption wing has registered a case of disproportionate assets against the VC. Officials say incriminating documents have been seized during the daylong raids.

CBI sources quoted in the Times of India say that they are investigating allegations of financial misappropriation and corruption against Mr Vijayan. The newspaper quotes a senior CBI official as saying that the VC “had taken financial consideration for giving approvals and clearances” to maritime educational and training institutes who did not have the required infrastructure. CBI officials have claimed that the VC has bought several properties around Chennai. "His monthly salary is Rs 80,000 but he has been on a property buying spree in Chennai and its suburbs. We have seized several property documents from his house during raids," a CBI official is quoted as having said.

This and that

Hybrid Superyachts are here! The path breaking Ocean Empire LSV (life support vessel) will be the first superyacht to use the ‘Skysails’ technology (see pic), The 44 metre long vessel is actually a Hybrid: her solar powered propulsion system actually uses three major sources of sustainable energy. She also has two hydroponic farms and fishing facilities, besides luxurious hotel amenities aboard.

The prime energy source is the sun. Solar cells cover the entire surface of the LSV; they also light up the Hydroponic farms. The first backup source is wind, which powers the automated SkySail and charges the yacht’s batteries. The third source is energy from the waves that is harnessed through a unique Motion Damping Regeneration (MDR) system. Used in skyscrapers to reduce swaying, the system was modified and renamed MDR for use on the superyacht. It works because linear generators produce up to 50 kws of electricity as they dampen the motion of the vessel.

Designer Richard Sauter says, “The Ocean Empire life support superyacht liberates the superyacht community from its strict dependence on unsustainable resources by harnessing the renewable collective power ever present in the earth’s Biosphere”.

The Ocean Empire LSV can feed 360+Mwh’s of electricity to the grid- and has a range of 12,000 nautical miles.

Citadel breached, crew missing: Reports indicate that the crew of the Danish weapons ship ‘Leopard’ have been kidnapped and apparently taken off the vessel. This is the first publicly acknowledged case of a ‘citadel’ having been breached by pirates. When Turkish commandos eventually boarded the vessel in the Indian Ocean off Oman, they found no trace of any pirates or the crew. Rumours are circulating that the pirates have already made contact with the owners and the crew have been abducted; they are believed to be on board the mother ship Shiuh Fu No 1, a Taiwanese fishing vessel seized by pirates last year. The Leopard is believed to be carrying "sensitive" cargo, including weapons. ShipCraft, the operators of the Leopard, have refused comment so far; that their ships routinely carry arms and nuclear items is well known. Analysts believe that the pirates may have disembarked from the Leopard either because the crew had disabled the ship or because the brigands feared military action because of the high profile cargo. The Leopard has six crew aboard; she is believed to have carried armed guards that had disembarked off Salalah before the attack took place.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

P&I Clubs warn of new draconian drug law in Venezuela.

The International Group of P&I clubs has warned that seafarers could face prison terms of up to 25 years under a new Venezuelan drug law if drugs are found aboard their vessels, even if the mariners are not otherwise directly responsible or linked with them. The maritime community is believed to have raised concerns with Venezuela’s IMO representative that the law would result in innocent seafarers being detained, prosecuted and convicted if drug smugglers target their vessels without their knowledge.

Almost coincidentally with the International Group’s caution comes the news that the two Ukrainian crewmembers of the B Atlantic vessel, sentenced to nine years by courts in Venezuela last August after being detained there since 2007, have flown out from Caracas to serve out their nine year sentence in the Ukraine. The country’s ‘Kyiv Post’ reports that deal was struck between the Presidents of the two countries at a recent meeting; The B Atlantic Captain and Second Officer were detained and sentenced in Venezuela after cocaine was found attached to the vessel’s hull.

The new ‘Organic Drugs Law,’ passed in October last year in Venezuela, is seen as draconian by many. The ODL repealed earlier laws and, the Group warns, has increased the burden and potential penalties for ship-owners and crews. “The International Group has become increasingly concerned with what appears to be the indiscriminate and disproportionate application of criminal law in Venezuela in cases where vessels have been targeted by drug smugglers for the carriage of illegal narcotics”, it says. “It has become the usual practice of the Venezuelan authorities to charge the crew of a vessel on which drugs have been found with concealment and trafficking of narcotics”.

The not uncommon practice of hiding drugs by attaching them to the vessel’s hull or placing them inside cavities in the rudder stock in certain South American countries is well known. The new ODL law is unfair because makes the crew and ship-owner liable even if they are unaware of this illegal act. “Prosecutions under the previous narcotics legislation have resulted in a number of cases of seafarers being convicted and sentenced to substantial prison terms of 8-9 years without any obvious link being established between the activities of the crew and the presence of the drugs on board the vessel. Vessels and their cargo have also been confiscated by the courts. In other cases crews and vessels have been released without members of the crew being prosecuted but only after substantial periods of detention, the Group says, pointing out that the Venezuelan authorities ignore co-operative crews, since “the mere presence of drugs onboard a vessel has, in the great majority of cases, resulted in the detention of the vessel and crew and charges being brought against individual crewmembers”. The onerous law makes even an innocent seafarer liable to be jailed for anything between 15 and 25 years.

To add insult to injury, the Group points out that under the new ODL, if, within one year after the preventive seizure of the vessel, an owner has not entered an appearance or there is evidence that he has abandoned the vessel, the Prosecutor may apply for the vessel to be confiscated by the Venezuelan State. The law even makes local judges and prosecutors, if held to have not properly applied the new legislation, liable to imprisonment for 4 to 8 years!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Insurance premiums set to rise as pirate zone widened by Joint War Group

Ecoterra says owners using ‘relaxed negotiation strategy’ with pirates

Marine insurers have included larger swathes of the waters off Somalia in high risk areas following the recent escalation of pirate attacks that now cover a huge expanse of the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Oman, and the Arabian Seas. The latest developments mean that ship-owners will have to pay higher premiums whenever their ships enter these waters.

Pirates have attacked and taken ships recently from as far south as Tanzania and Madagascar and off both the eastern and western parts of the Arabian Sea, from the coast of Oman to the coast of India. "There is no question the pirates have got big mother ships out there," Neil Roberts, a senior technical executive with the Lloyd’s Market Association, that represents the Lloyd’s insurance market, told Reuters. He added, “These are long range vessels which can support operations much further off Somalia."

With the number of hijackings increasing and ransom payments going through the roof, the Joint War Committee, comprising of the LMA and other members from the insurance industry, has added wider areas of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman to the high risk zone- in which ships are exposed to greater risk of war, strikes, terrorism and related perils. "We are recognising the developing threat that is out there. Ship owners are on their own to some extent at the further reaches," Roberts said. "It’s our job to notify when there is a problem and there certainly is," he said.

Meanwhile, Ecoterra, the human rights group working in Somalia since 1986, says that more ship-owners are resorting to a ‘relaxed negotiation strategy’ with the pirates, ‘since the public is no longer shocked over the plight of hostage seafarers.’ This has meant that pirates have changed strategy and now use larger vessels as mother ships, putting their crews to greater abuse. Ecoterra says that ships from India, Yemen and Iran are regularly ‘commandeered for further piracy actions. In all cases the abducted crews are abused as human shields.” Amongst the known mother ships on date are the FV Shiuh FU No.1, MT Motivator, MV Hannibal and IMV Izumi, the last three operating in the Indian Ocean.

Ecoterra says that official figures “count only high-value, mostly British insured vessels”. It says that as of Dec 27 2010, there are at least 41 foreign vessels, 1 barge and at least 722 seafarer held hostage by pirates in Somalia.

In related developments over the last few weeks, more and more ship-owners seem to be using armed guards as they cost less than expensive detours in a region in which piracy is now widespread. Seafarer organisations like Nautilus International endorse this move. "We are now not opposed to the use of armed guards on ships," said Andrew Linington from the UK based seafarers' union. "With this massive expansion of piracy areas, it becomes more essential that seafarers have some form of protection. There is only so much naval forces are able to do."

Other industry voices are getting increasingly critical of the official response to the menace. "The threat to seafarers who have to run a gauntlet of small arms fire and risk of capture and incarceration is unacceptable," says Peter Hinchliffe, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping.