Thursday, 31 March 2011

Environmental disaster looms at Nightingale Island.

Bulk carrier ‘Oliva’ breaks up, crew rescued.

Oil from the stricken bulk carrier ‘Oliva’ has spread up to eight miles around the entire uninhabited Nightingale island of the Tristan da Cunha Group, threatening ecological calamity. Awful scenes are reported; the group of islands is home to some 20,000 northern rockhopper penguins- about half the world’s population and the most threatened species of penguin- hundreds of which have been already found coming ashore coated with oil. Transport Malta says it is investigating the grounding and subsequent complete hull failure of the Malta-registered 40,170 gross tonnage bulk carrier. All the 22 crew aboard were safely evacuated before the Oliva broke up.

The ship was on a voyage from Brazil to Singapore with 65,000 tonnes of soya beans and around 1500 tonnes of fuel oil when she ran aground off the remote islands on March 16, 1500 miles from South Africa in the South Atlantic. Her fuel tanks are ruptured and are leaking oil into the sea. Environmentalists are extremely concerned that the leaking oil and cargo- and any rats on the ship that may get ashore- will irretrievably decimate the penguins, the rock lobster fisheries and the internationally-important seabird colonies there.

As an immediate response, the Tristan Conservation Department has placed baited rodent traps ashore near where the Oliva grounded and a salvage tug, the Smit Amandla, is reportedly on the scene now, having travelled 1500 miles from Cape Town with an environmental expert aboard. A second vessel is due to follow. Sadly, this small group of islands is incredibly remote, with the nearest landmass 1500 miles away and only accessible after a 4-7 day voyage by sea; there is not even an airstrip there. Local authorities say that tens of thousands of penguins and seabirds will be affected, and a superhuman endeavour would be needed to address the disaster.

Biologist Richard Cuthbert from RSPB, Europe’s largest conservative charity, is angry: "How a modern and fully-laden cargo vessel can sail straight into an island beggars belief. The consequences of this wreck could be potentially disastrous for wildlife and the fishery-based economy of these remote islands. The Tristan da Cunha islands, especially Nightingale and adjacent Middle Island, hold millions of nesting seabirds as well as four out of every ten of the world population of the globally endangered Northern rockhopper penguins. Over 200,000 penguins are currently on the islands and these birds will be heavily impacted by leaking oil. Nightingale is one of two large islands in the Tristan da Cunha group that are rodent-free. If rats gain a foothold their impact would be devastating”.

Trevor Glass, the on-scene Tristan Conservation Officer, is more direct. “The scene at Nightingale is dreadful as there is an oil slick around the entire island. The Tristan Conservation Team are doing all that they can to clean up the penguins that are currently coming ashore. It is a disaster!"

ITF collective crew agreement extends piracy High Risk Areas.

With pirate attacks escalating and becoming more violent in a broad swath of the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, the Joint Negotiating Group (JNG) and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) agreed at a London meeting two days ago to revise the International Bargaining Forum (IBF) High Risk Areas (HRA) in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.

ITF agreements apply to Flags of Convenience and normally set out terms and conditions of seafarer employment. The ITF has earlier declared that it believes that ships should only transit the Gulf of Aden and the coast of Somalia in exceptional circumstances. The risk of attack is now so great, the organisation said, ‘that putting seafarers in harm’s way amounts to a breach of the shipowner’s duty of care’.

The application of the new Extended Risk Zone, which covers almost the entire Arabian Sea (see map) and a large part of the Indian Ocean, will commence from April 1. Vessels will have to provide increased security measures within this zone that will be above the latest Best Management Practice levels promulgated. These may include- depending on the vessel’s size, speed, freeboard and other factors- provisions of personnel or systems to reduce the vulnerability of the ship during HRA transit. The adoption of the Best Management Practices will be a minimum standard of protection under the IBF, it was confirmed at the meeting.

As before, seafarers shall still be entitled to compensation amounting to 100% of their basic wages during any HRA transit, with double compensation in case of death or disability. In case vessels plan to transit the IBF High Risk Area outside of the east bound and west bound lanes created under the International Recommended Transit Corridor, seafarers have the right to refuse to proceed with the passage and will be repatriated at the company’s cost. “This entitlement shall only apply in respect of vessels which are bound to enter the IBF High Risk Area, and will not apply in case of crossing the rest of the Extended Risk Zone”, says the IBF agreement.

Outside the High Risk Area, each seafarer shall be entitled to a bonus equal to 100% of the basic wage and a doubled compensation in case of injury or death on any day during which the vessel he serving on is attacked, provided the report of the attack has been made to international authorities like the UKMTO and proper log entries made. The IBF agreement defines ‘attack’ as ‘any unauthorised and obvious action taken by a third party in a wilful attempt to board or damage the vessel or to harm the crew which leads to the activation of the relevant vessel contingency plans including the alerting of the whole crew’.

No compensation will be payable when ships are alongside, at anchor, or tied up to SBMs, except in Somali ports.


Radiation fears see some ships avoiding Tokyo Bay ports.

As radiation fears rise after the near meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant after the March 11 earthquake off Japan, some companies- particularly German companies- are now not sending their ships to the Tokyo Bay area. Reports say that Japan could face ‘severe supply chain bottlenecks’ if ships are diverted. Reuters reports that companies like Hapag Lloyd- the world’s fifth largest container shipper- and Claus Peter Offen are amongst those avoiding the area. Ships are also not calling Yokohama. "We don't want to take any security risks," a Hapag-Lloyd spokesperson said yesterday. Shipping company Hamburg Sued has resumed calls to Tokyo and Yokohama after stopping them for a day. "We are looking very closely at the weather situation," a company spokeswoman said.

The German government has recommended that ships stay about sixty miles away from the Fukushima nuclear plant area to avoid radiation exposure to crews. Offen points out that radioactive contamination of a container ship and its load were not covered by insurance. Analysts warn that logistical issues due to these developments would result in delays and port congestion that could have a significant negative impact on Japanese recovery after the earthquake that devastated parts of the country two weeks ago. Says Tim Wickmann, CEO of MCC Transport, an A.P. Moller Maersk subsidiary, "The last thing Japan needs right now is for people to abandon them." He added, "I think that shippers around Asia in such case will stop their cargoes to eastern Japan. They will hold the cargo at various ports -- Korea, Taiwan or other nearby ports." Such a move would see container shipments to eastern Japan come to a halt.

MCC Transport has continued normal operations so far. "As long as the authorities consider the port safe, we want to go. But of course if you have a crew that refuses to sail the ship, what can you do?" asked Wickmann.

Fears in Tokyo rose sharply earlier this week after the Japanese government advised its 13 million residents not to give infants tap water. The world’s third largest economy is still coming to grips with the aftermath of the disaster; although experts say that the situation at Fukushima seems to be contained for now, many expats and locals have either been evacuated from the country or have moved from Tokyo to safer areas in the south.

Fifteen Japanese ports were severely damaged in the earthquake and tsunami. Twelve of those ports “were already usable for recovery efforts and general use”, the Japanese transport minister said recently. Shipping agent Inchcape says that most of Japan’s oil terminals remain open, except for those at Kashima, Onahama, Sendai and one partially operational one at Chiba.

That may be so, but normal crude and product trades have nonetheless been severely disrupted. Tanker owners are waiting and watching anxiously. The fluid situation in Japan- not to speak of the Libyan and Middle Eastern crises- is no doubt giving many of them sleepless nights.


Monday, 21 March 2011


11 year old pirates amongst 25 child pirates captured, say Indian authorities.

The Indian Navy, that had detained 61 pirates in an operation in the Arabian Sea in the first week of March, was amazed to find the 25 of the 61 claimed to be less than 15 years old. "At least four of them are just 11 or so. It seems younger and younger children in Somalia are being pushed into piracy, which is proving immensely lucrative in the lawless country-the established pirates, who have got rich, are no longer sailing out on raids," a spokesman told reporters.

This development comes even as the Indian authorities announced recently that modifications to the navy’s rules of engagement were on the anvil that would give the forces more teeth to aggressively pursue and engage pirates off the country’s coast. Teenage pirates have been often detained by navies, including the Indian navy, but this is the first time that so many children below 15 have been caught.

All the arrested pirates have been taken to the Yellow Gate police station in south Mumbai, and will be charged under appropriate laws, authorities say. The issue of child pirates, however, will undoubtedly make the prosecution of captured pirates even more complex. Experts point out that the legal system will be surely stymied by the fact that so many of the pirates are children. They say that a parallel can be drawn between these child pirates and child soldiers that are dismayingly common around the world- particularly in Sierra Leone’s ‘blood diamonds’ trade, the Sudanese civil war and the Afghan and Iraq conflicts.

Naked adventurer seeks world record.

Thirty year old Keith Whelan from Kildare in Ireland intends to become the youngest male rower and the first Irishman to cross the Indian Ocean. An interesting addition: he will be completely naked- and sitting of a sheep skin rug- when he makes the 6000 mile voyage from Australia to Mauritius.

To quickly add: Mr Whelan is not planning the nude crossing to seek publicity; he told the media that he was doing this to protect himself from the harsh elements and the hostile environment. "When you're at sea rowing for three and a half to four months, the salt gets encrusted in your clothes and you can't wash them," he said. "Eventually, your clothes will feel like you're wearing sandpaper and you will begin to chafe."

He may have a point. Rowing 12 hours daily on a two hour on- two hour off rotation, he will take four months to make the crossing, making an estimated 1.8 million oar strokes “in searing heat, up to 50 foot ocean swells, hurricane force winds and raging storms”, and on a boat just 23 feet long.

He is also raising funds for the Keep a Child Alive charity, which gives life-saving treatment, care and support to children and families affected by HIV/Aids in Africa and India.

An event management consultant, Mr Whelan started rowing just two years ago, but says that he always wanted to make this gruelling voyage. "More people have walked on the moon than have rowed across the Indian Ocean. I'm hoping to get the spotlight of achievement back on Ireland with this world record."


Thursday, 17 March 2011

New policy framework to tackle pirates, says External Affairs Minister

Indian ships to carry arms?

The Indian government has initiated wide ranging changes to the existing policy framework in order to take on the deepening Somali pirate crisis. Prompted no doubt by media attention and the tumult in Parliament recently over the plight of Indian seafarers held hostage on ships and in Somalia, the authorities have announced the formulation of broad based measures, from tweaking laws to giving the Indian navy new rules of engagement- even letting Indian merchant ships carry arms. Minister for External Affairs S M Krishna made a statement in the Lok Sabha yesterday saying that the Ministries of Shipping, External Affairs and Defence would address the “legal, administrative and operational aspects of combating piracy.” He also underlined that the government would increase “diplomatic efforts at the multilateral level and within the UN framework.”

An inter-ministerial group headed by the cabinet secretary would monitor release of Indian ships, crew or cargo hijacked by pirates, Krishna added, saying that this apex group would also “consider welfare measures necessitated after the release of hijacked Indian nationals”.

Krishna’s statement was made soon after the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) met in New Delhi under PM Manmohan Singh. With 53 Indians officially held hostage in Somalia on five ships- unofficial numbers are higher- the CCS is reported to have approved measures that include new aggressive Standard Operating Procedures for the Indian navy that widen the scope of its offensive operations, allowing Indian flagships to carry weapons and better military and diplomatic coordination with countries around the Indian Ocean rim. The Navy is set to be authorised to act if any Indian flagship or a ship with Indians aboard is attacked. A crisis management group will be setup to coordinate with all groups, including the families of seafarers held hostage.

The government does not see a role for itself in negotiating with pirates, the External Minister stressed. However, an official speaking later to the media pointed out that authorities would “bring a lot of pressure to bear” on shipping companies that have been the target of pirates in the region.

India does not have an exclusive law that deals with piracy. Opinions are divided amongst politicians on the way forward, with Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj saying that UN mechanisms on piracy should be used to tackle the menace. However, the government is said to be concerned that pirates, suspected to be involved with terrorist outfits, may pose a significant threat to the Indian coastline, shipping and cargo- 90% of the country’s trade moves by sea.

Experts have expressed some disquiet about the navy’s new rules of engagement, saying that a more aggressive stance taken after pirates have boarded a ship may needlessly jeopardise the lives of seafarers. They point to recent instances of hostages being killed in crossfire between coalition navies and pirates, who are more willing today to execute and torture captive sailors or use them as human shields. Finally, they point out that enforcing domestic legislation in international waters against pirates is a thorny issue that many countries have been struggling with for years.

Country’s tsunami alert system compromised?

The ravaging tsunami that hit Japan yesterday has resurfaced fears that the Indian tsunami warning system is ‘in a shambles’, as the Times of India says.

The country’s tsunami alert system was set up at a cost of Rs120 crore in late 2007, three years after the devastating 2004 Tsunami that killed thousands and left many more homeless. Configured to warn of a tsunami 20 minutes before the waves hit the mainland, data buoys deployed in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal form the backbone of the system; these collect vital meteorological data and transmit it via satellite for analysis and prediction. The buoys also send sea surface temperature data to the met department for use in monsoon prediction models. Unfortunately, the buoys around India- and, indeed, in many parts of South and SE Asia- have been vandalised by fishermen almost from the beginning, leaving the tsunami early warning system endangered.

Fishermen break open the buoys to take away high-tech equipment, solar panels, data collection system, parts and metal. An official of the Hyderabad-based Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), which is responsible for national tsunami warnings, says, "Ideally we should have 12 tsunami buoys in the Bay of Bengal and 6in the Arabian Sea. Now we have just one in the Arabian Sea and two in the Bay of Bengal.".

Officials at the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) confirm the thefts, saying that 42 of the 50 meteorological buoys in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal have been vandalised. This has been going on for years: At one time, 160 out of 240 buoys were rendered useless. Two years ago, four buoys were replaced, and promptly vandalised again. Adding to the problem is the fact that it is very expensive to replace or repair the buoys, some of which are located 200 nautical miles off India’s coastline. “It involves commissioning a ship, the requisite manpower and so on that could easily cost Rs5-10 lakh,” a former Director of NIOT told the media two years ago.

INCOIS insists that the number of buoys presently operational are sufficient, with built in system redundancy. Additionally, T Srinivasa Kumar, Head, Advisory services and satellite oceanography at INCOIS, told reporters, “As we expect possible tsunami threats from locations like Sumatra which are well monitored, we don't need to worry."

Critics say that is a dangerously sanguine approach to take, given that tsunami warning buoys have been subject to vandalism throughout the region, including in places like Indonesia and Thailand. In 2009, Indonesia – where up to 180,000 died in the 2004 tsunami, had deployed 20 buoys under a multi-million dollar scheme to provide early warning, but 11 of them were vandalised or stolen. Thailand’s sole early warning buoy, donated by the US, was put out of action for six months at that time when key components were stolen.

NIOT had told the Indian Express newspaper last month that it would hold a workshop in May to “sensitise fishermen engaged in deep sea fishing on the importance of the floats that they often encounter”. Fishermen’s associations from Indian Ocean rim countries including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Malaysia were expected to participate.

This is an initiative well-worth taking. The irony is, of course, that fishing communities, likely to be hit the hardest by a sudden tsunami, still need to be educated on the advantages of an early warning system and the need not to vandalise buoys that are critical to this end.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Arctic Navigational Warning System on schedule

The IMO Sub-Committee on Radiocommunications, Search and Rescue, marked at a ceremony recently the expansion of the World-Wide Navigational Warning System (WWNWS) into Arctic waters. Attended by the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), Mr. Michel Jarraud, the President of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), Admiral Alexandros Maratos, and IMO Secretary-General, Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, the celebration of the expansion of the WWNWS means that vessels operating in dangerous Arctic waters will receive vital information about navigational and meteorological hazards and other urgent information automatically and in real time.

Underlining the critical need for the WWNWS expansion, Secretary-General Mitropoulos said at the event, , “The potential for accidents and for causing environmental harm through operational mishaps in the Arctic is rising, while the effectiveness of search and rescue services and clean-up resources is inevitably stretched to the limit.”

Five new NAVAREAs and Meteorological areas have been added to buttress the existing system that was initially established by a joint IMO-collaboration in the late 1970s. This had, so far, oceans divided into l6 NAVAREAs, with one designated country in each area responsible for disseminating navigational information. METAREAs, with identical limits, were also constituted. By 2005, however, with Arctic waters getting accessible thanks to global warming, it became obvious that a similar service was needed in the hitherto frozen north. Environmental concerns and navigational safety considerations, added to the harsh and unpredictable weather in the Arctic and combined with a scarcity of emergency resources there, all added up to increased risk and potential for accidents and environmental harm.

In order to maximize operational safety and minimize environmental damage, the expanded WWNWS, established since June last year, is currently in an “Initial Operational Capability” phase with a transition to “Full Operational Capability” expected in June 2011. Responsibility for Arctic NAVAREA Coordinators and the METAREA Issuing Services has been assumed by Canada, Norway and the Russian Federation (NAVAREA/METAREA XVII – Canada; NAVAREA/METAREA XVIII – Canada; NAVAREA/METAREA XIX – Norway; NAVAREA/METAREA XX- Russian Federation; NAVAREA/METAREA XXI – Russian Federation).

WMO Secretary General Jaraud pointed out that sea ice is projected to increasingly shrink under all scenarios. “For some projections the Arctic late-summer sea ice would vanish almost entirely by the middle of the century, opening unprecedented challenges to maritime safety which were unpredictable just one generation ago. With the establishment of these NAVAREAS the world is fully provided with services to provide navigational and meteorological warnings to mariners. We can now say that the WWNWS that started in the early 1970’s is complete”.

Mr Mitropoulos, while hailing the new initiative, nevertheless sounded a note of caution. “The opening up of the Arctic will be a double-edged sword. Depending on your perspective, it represents either a world of new business opportunities or, on the other hand, an unwelcome extension of the human footprint into areas still, at the moment, predominantly pristine. But I am confident that, balancing the two extremes and with measures such as those we inaugurate today, the pioneering venture in the new frontiers will be met with universal approval. Let us, therefore, work together to create the conditions that will allow the opportunities the Arctic presents to flourish in a framework of utter safety and environmental protection,” he said.


Thursday, 10 March 2011

‘Rak Afrikana’ sinks hours after being released by pirates

In fast moving developments that are still unfolding, the MV Rak Afrikana sent out a distress call hours after being released by pirates yesterday, saying that she had a large hole in a hull and was flooding. Spanish and Italian warships are believed to have responded quickly in picking up the crew and transferring them to the LPG carrier York, another vessel that has just been released by the pirates. The York is now said to be bound for Mombasa, where she will arrive n the next four or five days. One unconfirmed report says that one of the crew of the Rak Afrikana has died in captivity sometime ago. The rescued crew members are “reported to be in satisfactory condition considering that they have been held captive for the last 332 days”, according to media reports.

Two EU NAVFOR warships, the Spanish SPS Canarias and the Italian ITS Zeffiro carried out the rescue operation, after the Captain of the Afrikana said that the ship would probably sink in about five hours; there is, no far, no news on how the vessel was damaged and holed. The Afrikana was abandoned with the crew taking to the lifeboats, from where they were rescued by a Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB) from the Italian warship shortly afterwards. In fast moving events that are still unfolding at the time of writing this report, the Afrikana survivors have been transferred aboard the York and are en route Mombasa.

The St Vincent & Grenadines-flagged MV Rak Afrikana was taken about 300 miles off the Seychelles on April 11, 2010. She was released after eleven months on Mar 9 this year amidst reports that a ransom had been paid; the hijackers had initially demanded 7 million dollars. Indian authorities had said at the time of release that 11 freed Indian crew were being taken to Kenya before being brought back to India, with the Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao confirming that they were safe.

The news comes amidst growing media and political attention in India on the plight of Indian sailors held hostage by Somali pirates. Negotiations are believed to be on for the release of 6 Indians, amongst other Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Egyptian crew from aboard another hijacked ship, the MV Suez, after its hijackers set a deadline threatening to kill the crew. The Bharatiya Janata Party said in Parliament that “the ruling Congress party-led government is not doing enough to secure the release of Indians taken hostage by Somali pirates”

Foreign Minister SM Krishna countered this, saying that the government was "doing all that we can”, and that the authorities were in contact with the transitional government in Somalia and with the Egyptian Ambassador to India to arrange in the safe and quick release of the hostages.

The crew of the Rak Afrikana has had to endure an extremely harrowing eleven months. One can only hope that they are healthy- both mentally and physically- and wish them our best.

Monday, 7 March 2011

“Seafarers and Unions should begin to prepare to boycott piracy areas,” says ITF

Mariner deaths in high risk areas are ‘corporate manslaughter’
Concerned with the recent escalation in piracy related brutality and violence, the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) says that it is “moving closer to having to advise seafarers to consider avoiding working in all the affected areas – including the Indian Ocean”. The ITF represents 201 maritime trade unions and 720,000 mariners across the globe. In a press release, the ITF said that its opinion was crystallised after week long consultations “sparked by the increasing number and range of Somali pirate attacks, and by their now routine use of extreme violence and death threats against the 800 mariners they are currently holding hostage”.

The Federation reiterates the need for all stakeholders- Flag States, ship owners, the UN, IMO and other jurisdictional authorities included- to take immediate and appropriate action to stop the menace; ITF seafarers’ section chair Dave Heindel says that the world has lost control over piracy. “Each day it’s becoming more savage and more widespread. All the Arabian Gulf and most of the Indian Ocean are now effectively lawless. Yet there is a way that control can be regained: by actively going after pirates, stopping them and prosecuting them. Not this ludicrous situation of taking away their guns and setting them free to strike again”.

The Federation’s move come after other industry bodies including ICS and BIMCO said that shipowners will be now re-evaluating their determination to sail in the affected areas; they will also be examining alternate routes that could severely impact global trade; more than 40% of the world’s seaborne oil passes through the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Analysts say that with reports of savage beatings, keelhauling and torture- and the cold blooded execution of at least two crewmembers in recent times- the stakes are now much higher. The killing of four US citizens of the yacht ‘Quest’, they say, has focused global attention on the problem in a way that mariner deaths do not.

In a statement, the ITF Seafarers’ Section says that the “grave increase in the level of violence by Somali pirates directed against ships and seafarers has reached a tipping point.” Drawing attention to the murder of two seafarers, drowning of another member, increasing brutality and systemic torture of hostage crews, the ITF indicates that the expansion in the scale and geographical area of the attacks and the increased periods that mariners are now held hostage, has forced them to “advise seafarers and their trade unions to begin to prepare to refuse to go through the danger area, which includes the Gulf of Aden, off the Somali coast, the Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean”. The widespread use of mother ships has increased the risk, the ITF says, saying that shipowners-when sending their ships knowingly to run the gauntlet of RPGs, gunfire and inhumane treatment of hostage crews- are breaching their duty of care to seafarers. “It is also reckless, to a point that, should a seafarer be killed by a pirate attack while the vessel transits the high risk area, it would amount to corporate manslaughter”.


Thursday, 3 March 2011

Deep Water Horizon- the aftermath may remain unknown for a decade

In places the layer of oil and dead animals is 10cm thick

                                         DWH oil slick as seen from space, NASA satellite.

Marine scientists from the University of Georgia say that last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill has "devastated" life on and near the seafloor after they found a layer of dead animals and oil 10 cm thick in some places. Professor Samantha Joye from the University said that fishing will be affected much longer than BP estimates; the company’s $20 billion Compensation Fund has said that the Gulf of Mexico would ‘recover’ by the end of 2012. Scientists fear that the impact of marine life being taken out of the food chain will have far reaching- even unknown- consequences. Professor Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington that it may be a decade before the full effects on the Gulf are apparent.

In separate developments, the US State of Montana is suing BP and its subsidiaries, alleging that they received “millions of dollars” from insurance companies to clean up contaminated soil and groundwater, but hid the money so the State paid for the cleanup and associated costs. In addition, Montana says, "Over the course of a number of years, the defendants engaged in a number of carefully contrived, deceptive and fraudulent schemes to obtain recovery of funds and avoid responsibility for clean-up and remediation of the environmental pollution caused by their leaking PSTS (petroleum storage tank systems) at their formerly and current owned, operated, leased and supplied facilities." Terry Wadsworth of the State’s petroleum compensation board said that they have been investigating BP for years; they didn’t want to sue the company, but it "didn't appear amenable to discussions."

Georgia University’s team used a submersible to explore the bottom-most layer of the water around the wellhead, known as the benthos. "The impact on the benthos was devastating," Joye told BBC News. "Filter-feeding organisms, invertebrate worms, corals, sea fans - all of those were substantially impacted - and by impacted, I mean essentially killed. Another critical point is that detrital feeders like sea cucumbers, brittle stars that wander around the bottom, I didn't see a living (sea cucumber) around on any of the wellhead dives. They're typically everywhere, and we saw none." Scientists know that sea floor organisms oxygenate the layers down below; these, in turn, support fish and other species near the surface of the ocean. The destruction of the bathos will then obviously be a long-term major blow for aquatic life and the fishing industry, they fear.

Professor Joye points out that the fact that the herring industry would be destroyed after the Exxon Valdez spill was not known for many years. She says, "The Gulf is resilient. I do believe that it will recover from this insult, but I don't think it's going to recover fully by 2012. I think it's going to be 2012 before we begin to really see the fisheries implications and repercussions from this."