Monday, 28 February 2011

Indian Lighthouses to become heritage centres, tourist attractions.

Chennai: Union Minister GK Vasan has unveiled an ambitious plan in the city, announcing that 13 light houses across the country, four of them in Tamil Nadu, were to be made heritage centres and tourist attractions. Besides depicting the maritime heritage of the country that goes back thousands of years, the project will see major properties around lighthouses being developed- with spas, hotels and cottages dotting the scenic locales. The unique project is believed to be the brainchild of the Directorate of Lighthouses and Light Ships (DGLL).

After the launch, the Minister said, “The main objective of the project is to promote 13 identified lighthouses located at scenic places along the coastline of the country.” He added, “Lighthouses not only guide vessels but are also their friends. A new chapter is beginning in this direction."

Included in the project is Goa’s famous Aguada lighthouse that was built in 1864, and is one of the oldest of its kind in Asia. A prominent landmark on the Aguada fort on Sinquerim beach, the Aguada lighthouse offers a breathtaking view of the beach and the surrounding waters, and is in many ways an ideal tourist spot.

Vasan said that three new lighthouses would be constructed at Marakkanam, Venbam and Koothangudi in Tamilnadu; these would create good employment opportunities for the locals. Other well known lighthouses familiar to many mariners will be upgraded as well. These include the Rameswaram Light House, Muttam-Kanyakumari Lighthouse, Dolphin Nose Light House in Andhra Pradesh and Kadalur Point in Kerala. Also included are lighthouses on the Minicoy Islands, Veraval and Dwarka in Gujarat, Gopalpur, Chandrabhag and the False Point Light House in Orissa.

The three year project will be spearheaded by the DGLL, which wants to turn these lighthouses and surrounding areas into maritime landmark destinations with the development of world class infrastructure. In addition, a Rs 50 crore National Heritage Museum will be set up at the historic city of Mammallapuram near Chennai; Another Rs 5 crore lighthouse museum will be built on the city’s famous Marina. "The proposed National Maritime Heritage Museum at Mammalapuram will showcase centuries-old vessels being used in the Indian sub-continent. As maritime history and the ocean always excites the common man, we are trying to portray the life of mariners and vessels in these museums, near the light house structure near Mammallapuram," KK Braroo, Deputy Director General of the DGLL said.

"In Chennai, the proposed museum depicting maritime history will be showcased inside the light house that attracts hundreds of tourists visiting the Marina. The project, to be executed in private-public partnership mode, is expecting to be allocated Rs 300 crores across the country, of which Rs 100 crore will be spend in Tamil Nadu," he added.

Sound and light shows on maritime history are also being planned. "Besides the remains of ancient ships, visitors can see ancient navigation aids, the differences in the sea routes and communication codes used by ancient mariners when there were no radio-satellite technologies," Deputy Director General (Mumbai) JS Chauhan said.

India's first light house was constructed at Mammallapuram in the 8th century by the Pallavas. Mr. Vasan pointed out in his speech that Poompuhar, Thondi, Musiri, Vanchi and Korkai were other well-known Tamil ports of that era.


Thursday, 24 February 2011

Coming up: the world’s largest and most fuel-efficient ships

South Korean Daewoo Shipbuilding will build ten of the world’s largest container ships for Maersk Line, with an option for another twenty vessels at a later date. The first of the vessels-called the Triple-E class- will be delivered in 2013 with the delivery of the remaining nine to be staggered until 2015. Maersk says that these ships “will entirely change the shipping industry’s understanding of size and efficiency” and “will put Maersk Line at the helm of change.” Each ship will cost $ 190 million; the total contract value is $5.7 billion if the option is exercised.

Triple-E stands for Economy of scale, Energy efficiency and Environmentally improved vessels. Consider the statistics: Each will carry an astounding 18,000 twenty foot containers. If these containers were put on a train, it would be 110 km long; stacked one atop another, they would rise 47 kilometers up into the atmosphere.

Equally staggering is their energy efficiency brought about by innovative design and economies of scale. “The Triple-E will produce 20 percent less CO2 per container moved compared to Emma Maersk (the E Class) and 50 percent less than the industry average on the Asia-Europe trade lane. In addition, it will consume approximately 35 percent less fuel per container than the 13,100 TEU vessels being delivered to other container shipping lines in the next few years”, Maersk promises. The new ships will sail 184 kilometres using 1 kWh of energy per ton of cargo, whereas a jumbo jet travels half a kilometre using the same amount of energy per ton of cargo.

One reason for this efficiency is a waste heat recovery system that will save up to 10% of main engine power (equalling the average annual electrical consumption of 5,000 European households). In addition, two ultra-long stroke engines will turn twin propellers and a specially designed hull will assist in reducing drag and increasing efficiency. Maersk has considered other environmental concerns to: In a path breaking move, the company has looked beyond the working life of the Triple-E class and is setting a new standard for the way vessels are recycled. All material used to build each of these vessels will be documented in a ‘cradle-to-cradle passport’, ensuring that the ship, once out of service, will be reused, recycled or disposed of “in the safest, most efficient manner.”

“One of the biggest challenges we face in the world today is how to meet the growing needs of a growing population and the impact that is going to have on our planet. International trade will continue to play a key role in the development of the global economy: but, for the health of the planet, we must continue to reduce our CO2 emissions. It is not only a top priority for us, but also for our customers, who depend on us in their supply chain, and also for a growing number of consumers who base their purchasing decisions on this type of information,” says Eivind Kolding, CEO of Maersk Line.

With pressure mounting on the industry to reduce energy consumption and lower greenhouse gases, Maersk- well known for its environmental initiatives- seems to have come up with an aggressive plan that will surely set new benchmarks in the industry for size, fuel efficiency and environmental friendly practices.

“Execute pirates on the spot”- says Norwegian shipping magnate.

The founder of the Norwegian Stolt-Nielsen group, Jacob Stolt Nielsen, is embroiled in a growing controversy after saying that captured Somali pirates should be summarily executed and their boats sunk.

"When (piracy) implies a great risk of being caught and hanged, and the cost of losing ships and weapons becomes too big, it will decrease and eventually disappear," the ex-Chairman of Stolt-Nielsen who is presently on their Board of Directors, wrote in a column for the Norwegian financial newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv (DN). "Pirates captured in international waters have always been punished by death, often executed on the spot," he added. Stolt-Nielsen compared the present situation with that prevailing in Roman times 2000 years ago when General Pompey cleared the Mediterranean of piracy within months.

"Not arrest them and say, 'naughty, naughty, shame on you,' and release them again, but sink their boats with all hands," Stolt-Nielsen wrote in the op-ed column. "The pirates won't be frightened by being placed before a civilian court. "The only way to fight piracy is to hang the pirates," he said. "The only language they understand is force."

As for the likely-and severe- backlash such an action would undoubtedly unleash against seafarers held hostage on mother ships and in Somalia, Stolt-Nielsen commented, "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. This is war and warfare costs lives," he wrote.

Stolt-Nielsen’s column has drawn sharp criticism from across the industry, including in his own country, where the President of the Norwegian Seafarers Union said that this opinion was "barbaric" and that killing pirates could endanger the 700 seafarers presently held hostage in Somalia. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry concurred, saying that basic human rights must apply also to pirates, pointing out that "even for the most gruesome crimes, we do not have the death penalty in Norway."

Barbaric and dangerous to hostages or not, Stolt-Nielsen’s comments reflect the growing frustration amongst ship-owners at the rapidly escalating menace of piracy, which has spread right up to the entrance to the Straits of Hormuz and across the Arabian Sea from the Horn of Africa. There have been 40 official attacks this year; unofficial figures are much higher. Stolt-Nielsen’s views also come at a time when the Norwegian Shipowners Association has criticised the Norwegian government for failing to be tough on piracy; many Norwegian ship-owners, including Stolt-Nielsen, are now putting hired Yemeni guards aboard their ships. Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre indirectly acknowledged this when he told reporters that he “understood the ship owner’s frustration.”

Interestingly, Jacob Stolt-Nielsen’s own company has gone into damage control mode after his comments sparked outrage across the European press, one writer going as far as to call him ‘the geriatric hangman.’ In a statement aimed at the Norwegian stock exchange, the company said that the comments in the article reflected "Mr. Jacob Stolt-Nielsen's own personal opinion."

However, Jacob Stolt-Nielsen has stood by his opinion so far, even while admitting that his comments may have been a little harsh. “Perhaps I was a bit tough in the commentary, but I am telling it like it is,” he told DN.



Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Pirates attack Russian tanker 30 miles off Gujarat coast?

Feb 19 The Indian security apparatus is believed to be on high alert after a Sovcomflot-owned tanker was attacked by pirates just 30 miles from the country’s coastline three days ago. Armed guards on a ship believed to be the Liberian flagged “NS Century”, a 105,800 DWT crude oil tanker, fired warning shots at three skiffs that approached the vessel at high speed, the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy reporting centre said.

The tanker was about 30 miles off the Porbandar (Gujarat) coast when, according to the IMB, “Three skiffs were noticed at a distance of 6.3 nm ahead of a tanker underway. A suspected mother vessel without AIS signal was also noticed via radar around 17nm ahead. The skiffs increased speed and headed towards the tanker. One of the skiffs increased its speed to around 20knots.There were 6-8 persons in each skiff. Master commenced evasive manoeuvres, alerted all crewmembers. The skiffs closed to around three cables and the armed security team onboard fired warning shots. The skiffs stopped and were seen moving towards the mother vessel. Small arms were sighted in the skiffs but no ladders were observed”.

Apparently no shots were fired at the tanker; however, analysts believe that Somali pirates off a mother ship believed to be in the area were responsible for the attack. The fact that the attack was alarmingly close to the country’s sensitive Gujarat coastline almost next door to Pakistan will undoubtedly give the Indian authorities many sleepless nights. Equally worrisome is the fact that ships had been advised to use the corridor off Gujarat for safety ever since the recent spate of attacks in the northern Arabian Sea. With piracy having spread cancerously right across the Arabian Sea, the position of the attack (20º 53.2′ N, 069º 39.1′ E) will raise concerns in the industry that the Indian coastline is not safe anymore.

One legal expert says that, should the pirate attacks reach approximately twelve miles from the coast, “we will no longer be talking about piracy in the international law sense (as defined in Article 101 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea). Instead the offense would be ‘armed robbery against ships’ and a matter solely for the Indian legal system”.

Reports indicate that the Indian coast guard is investigating the incident, including the possibility that Indian fishermen strayed too close to the crude oil tanker and were mistakenly taken for pirates. However, if this was indeed a pirate attack as reported by the IMB, the time may have come when armed guards could be commonplace on ships in an area bounded by the Southern Red Sea, the Straits of Hormuz, Sri Lanka and the coast of South Africa till Durban, we think.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

‘Fort Stikine’ gold found in hopper in Mumbai Port.‘

Ship exploded in Victoria dock sixty-seven years ago.

Two gold bars have been recovered from amidst three tonnes of garbage by port labourers in the city. Part of the cargo aboard the SS Fort Stikine, they are undoubtedly part of a consignment of gold that rained down on Mumbai on April 14, 1944 as the ship- also carrying explosives and munitions- caught fire and exploded in Victoria Docks almost seventy years ago, devastating the port and strewing metal pieces and gold in South Mumbai: part of a propeller landed in St Xavier’s School at Dhobi Talao almost three kilometers away.

Jaisu Shipping’s dredger Sulawesi II, working on the Offshore Container Terminal Project, had dropped their load of sand-silt into the port dumping ground; its workers were cleaning the hopper, according to a report in the Mumbai Mirror, when they noticed two shiny pieces of some metal stuck within. Amazed to discover that these were gold bars, they informed the dredger Master, who contacted the managers. Port officials and police were then informed. On closer examination and realising that the Stikine had sunk in the same location, the mystery became clear. "It has been confirmed that gold dates back to the time when SS Fort Stikine was destroyed in an explosion near Victoria dock," DCP (Port Zone), Quaisar Khalid said.

Presently kept at the Yellow Gate Police Station, the gold bars will be sent to the Mumbai Collector who will decide their ownership; similar gold bars found in the seventies have been returned to the British Government. This time, careful dredging of the area was carried out but no more gold has been found. Officials say that the two bars discovered could have very easily been lost in the silt; they were fortuitously stuck in the hopper.

Back in 1944, the gold on board the 7142 GRT Fort Stikine was valued at anything between one and two million Pounds. The ship was carrying cotton bales, oil, explosives and ammunition when a hold caught fire in the docks, possibly due to a cigarette smoked against rules and good sense. The ship was abandoned after attempts to put out the fire failed. She exploded a quarter of an hour later to devastating effect. A second explosion within half an hour added to the destruction: a two square mile area around the ship was set ablaze and official figure say that 740 people were killed and 1800 injured; the actual toll is said to be much higher. Twenty seven ships in Mumbai port were sunk. The resultant tidal wave from the second explosion is said to have lifted the 5000 tonne Jala Panda sixty feet in the air before it dropped on the dock. It rained gold bars, chunks of metal and pieces of debris for up to three kilometers around the port. Windows were shattered twelve miles away.

The fire raged for three days before it was brought under control. It took ten thousand men six months to clear the debris, believed to weigh between half a million and a million tonnes, and get the port working normally again.

The two gold bars found this month come from that cataclysmic provenance- a piece of maritime history largely unknown and forgotten. A city museum is the most appropriate place for them, I think.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Seafarer wage agreement heading to the courts?

INSA asks for tribunal to settle matter
Media reports suggest that the negotiations on the revision of Indian mariner wages are deadlocked because officials within the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) and the Forward Seamen's Union of India (FSUI) cannot come to an understanding as to who should represent seafarers. Industry insiders remember that the last wage agreement was only possible after Court intervention; the industry seems to be heading down an identical road this time around as well. “The one-upmanship by the unions has created an environment which is not conducive for wage negotiations," a representative of the ship owners told the Economic Times newspaper.

NUSI has meanwhile alleged, according to media reports, that shipowners are deliberately delaying a wage agreement for obvious reasons.

Analysts say that the two unions are at loggerheads because NUSI has a constitutional presence in the National Maritime Board (NMB), and claims to have the right to represent Indian mariners as a result of this provision. FSUI, however, strongly claims that no negotiations can take place without its direct involvement. To add to the confusion, FSUI has decided to go on a one day token strike on February 14 to protest the delay in the talks.

The negotiation team has met thrice with the Indian National Shipowners’ Association (INSA) under the aegis of the National Maritime Board, according to newspaper reports. However, there has been no traction on the issue of seafarer wages. In fact, the Ecotimes reports that INSA has recently written to the Ministry of Shipping asking that a tribunal be set up to resolve the matter. It is believed that both the NUSI and FSUI had initially agreed to the INSA adjudication proposal at a recent meeting, but they are now stonewalling on the proposal. The newspaper quotes an unnamed insider commenting on the meeting, “Not a single word on seafarers' wages was spoken at these meetings. The two representative unions could not see eye to eye and this has led to an impasse”.

FSUI is believed to have proposed to INSA that it is ready to accept an agreement provided that it is signed by representatives of both the unions. Furthermore, it (FSUI) demands that at the next wage agreement (2012-14), the Secretary of the seafarers side should be a FUSI member; this is likely to be a sticking point with NSUI, as the present Secretary comes from that union. FSUI obviously wants regular representation at these agreements and within negotiating teams, since it has mooted a rotation system for the Seafarer Secretary position, which it says should be held alternately by an official from NUSI or FSUI.

The impasse is likely to continue, industry watchers say, pointing out that the precedent set in the past will mean that any future negotiations will be subject to the same tensions. It is very likely, many say, that the present fracas will be settled by a tribunal. For the future, though, the matter of seafarer representation needs to be resolved once and for all so that the system is not victim to inordinate delays.