Thursday, 30 June 2011

Pirates land in Gujarat

Repeated breaches of security?

Mumbai, June 28 Perhaps it is the monsoons that are driving pirate boats onto the shores of Gujarat, but the last two weeks have seen 32 suspected pirates, in two separate incidents, apprehended off the sensitive coast. What is even more alarming is that the Gujarat coastline, the scene of the Kuber hijack that led to the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008, is supposedly protected by three layers of maritime security, all of which seem to have been breached twice in the last ten days.

In the first incident on June 20, 14 Somali pirates and 3 Yemeni hostages were caught off the Junagadh coast. The second incident, off Dwarka on June 26, involved 18 Somalis, 2 Yemenis and 1 Tanzanian. In the Junagadh incident, the pirates made a mockery of the coastal security apparatus when they swam to the Junagadh shore after their boat floundered.

Jamnagar SP Subhash Trivedi said, “They were spotted in a big rubber boat by locals. Police detained them and they turned out to be Somalis and Yemenis. Preliminary investigation has revealed that the Somalis are pirates. The Yemenis were abducted by the Somalis.”

Authorities say that the Somalis in both incidents are pirates who dumped weapons and communication equipment in the sea after their boats floundered or ran out of fuel.
Interrogation has revealed that at least one boat may have been drifting for seventy days, the men on board surviving on raw fish and seawater after running out of fuel and rations. 

Gujarat, with the longest coastline of any State in the country (1600 km) has 10 marine police stations, 32 outposts, 16 check posts and 28 interceptor boats along the coast. However, media reports quote a senior police official saying on condition of anonymity that the boats were not put out to sea because of bad weather. "Usually fishermen tip us off about anything unusual, but with the onset of monsoon, neither the fishermen nor our boats go to sea. Surveillance is left entirely to the Navy and Coast Guard."

These developments come even as Indian naval Chief Nirmal Verma admitted last month that pirates were shifting their activities to within 500 nautical miles of the Indian coast. Analysts had earlier warned that the advent of the monsoons would increase attacks in the northern Arabian Sea and at the entrance to the Straits of Hormuz; the Gujarat incidents have to be seen in connection with these warnings.

The discovery of the Somalis on the Dwarka coast is alarming also because the Dwarka and Somnath temples are major pilgrimage centres and on high security against terror attacks. Nonetheless, authorities are putting a brave face on the two incidents. "Our marine police arrested the Somalis and others in the group some three km away from Jagat Mandir of Dwarka. They were nowhere in the vicinity of the temple which is on a high alert," said Trivedi.

Of course, nobody is commenting on the how it was possible for the pirates to stay undetected or unchallenged for so long.  


Thursday, 23 June 2011


Naked Irish adventurer blames whale.  Twenty nine year old Keith Whelan, also known as the 'Naked Adventurer', was rescued recently off the Australian coast. Keith says his boat may have been hit by a whale; the incident injured him and caused him to abort his odyssey to row naked across the Indian Ocean. Keith called his UK based support team and called for help after his accident; the Australian Maritime Safety Authority was then contacted.

Keith was injured while asleep after his head hit a protruding bolt in the cabin of the boat. He suffered a gash to his head and initially thought the boat had been hit by a big wave or a ship. Later, after speaking to the crew of the cargo ship Fujisuka that rescued him, the adventurer said a whale might have hit his boat.

The Fujisuka was diverted to rescue Keith about eight hours after the incident. His troubles were not yet over, though; Keith ended up underwater during the rescue for a few moments before being hauled up to safety.

"I'm disappointed to no longer be on route to Mauritius," the adventurer said.  "It's been a two year project for me." He added that he was fully clothed when rescued, and reminded everybody that he was rowing nude only to prevent chafing burns.

Biometric database for Alang workers?  The State government of Gujarat plans to set up a biometric database of workers at Alang, reports the Economic Times. The largest ship breaking yard in Asia will see the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) spearhead the initiative that will require, for security and worker welfare reasons, that every labourer at Alang be registered, photographed and be given a computer generated ID card. After this is done, "before he enters into a recycling plot, he would have to get himself verified on a biometric instrument put up at the gate," says a government official.

The cost of the project is estimated to be about one crore, and seems to be aimed also at deflecting criticism of the working conditions of migrant workers at Alang. "Currently, when an accident takes place, it is with great difficulty that we come to know about the antecedents of each worker. With the data base intact, we can know if the worker was provided with necessary safety equipment," the official said.

Alang's estimated 35,000 labourers often work under horrific conditions at the many ship breaking 'plots' there. The government wants to improve the system so it can prosecute plot owners that presently circumvent safety and labour laws easily. The database will contain details of the workers' vocational training records to determine suitability for working at Alang, their health status, blood groups etc, and will be shared with the local police.

Diversify or bust? The Indian Shipping sector has been the worst performing one in recent times, statistics show; it is the only sector that has recorded negative sales growth in the March quarter year-on-year. Quarterly sales were down 8%, at Rs3,003.41 crore; operating profit - at Rs545.4 crore- was down 25% and net profit (Rs 49.02 crore)  was down  a huge 87%.  This has happened despite the fact that the country's exports and imports have jumped 34% and 13% respectively in the period.

Experts say that Indian companies are already diversifying to combat this slump, with one analyst saying that there is a possibility that Indian shipping will not exist in its present form for long as the focus shifts to new areas like dredging, logistics and offshore.

Shreyas Shipping & Logistics is one that has benefited from diversification. It has recovered from a net loss of Rs 15.71 crore for FY10 to a net profit of Rs 12.78 crore in FY11. Other companies that have diversified have also seen their moves paying off. Income from diversified sectors as a percentage of total revenue is increasing at firms like Mercator Lines, whose foray into coal mining and trading activities has proved fruitful, according to ET. "For the second consecutive year, the coal business has posted a handsome growth in revenue of over 250% this year and in EBIDATA over 900%," the company says.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many companies are looking at the offshore sector, planning either direct or ancillary businesses in a space that is seen to be growing in a country heavily dependent on oil imports. Included are companies like SCI, Varun, Essar and Great Eastern, which is selling three VLCCs and plans to use the proceeds to buy two jack up rigs. "The outlook for drilling units is currently looking that much better than the outlook for, say, crude carriers," GE shipping's CFO G Shivakumar said.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Towing Arctic icebergs for fresh water

Three-decade-old plan revived

Georges Mougin is no stranger to the idea of towing freshwater icebergs across the world with the intention to bring drinking water to millions; thirty odd years ago, the French engineer was to tow a freshwater iceberg from the Arctic to Saudi Arabia, where water from the melted berg would be used to plug the huge freshwater shortage in the desert nation. That plan did not take off owing to feasibility and cost, but recent 3D technology and simulation seem to have revived Moughin’s old plans.

More than a billion people across the world do not get drinking water, while billions of gallons of freshwater melt away from Arctic icebergs. Mougin says he has a new method, using recently declassified satellite data and oceanic forecasting, to tow icebergs for long distances using a "skirt" and a tugboat.  The plan involves harvesting table shaped icebergs in ‘season’- the shape facilitates towing “and is known by glaciologists as the family of icebergs which presents the minimum risk of fracture," according to one expert. A tugboat then deploys a floating geotextile belt- using a series of poles to make it rigid, much like a lasso. A geotextile “skirt” is used to stop the iceberg from melting away as it reaches warmer water; this is deployed up to 7 metres below the water surface, and traps cold water around the iceberg, reducing or stopping its rate of melt.

 The tugboat then tows the iceberg away to wherever it is needed. However, this is not as simple as it sounds, because no tug yet built has the power to tow gigantic icebergs anywhere. However, Moughin and Cedric Simrad- project director of Dassault systems, a French firm collaborating with Moughin – say that the sea’s natural forces are used with oceanic forecasting to guide the iceberg in the intended direction. "Though it doesn't look like this when on a boat, from a satellite's perspective, [the ocean] looks like a big map of bumps and holes," says Simard. The tug then navigates these ‘pockets’ like a giant ski slope.
A simulated launch did not work initially, but by adjusting the dates by a couple of weeks using advanced forecasting, the team found that even a single tugboat could theoretically haul an iceberg. They say it is like a nutshell towing a mountain--and yet it is possible. Mougin has now launched a new company to promote his plan, with an actual trial to haul an iceberg set tentatively for the year 2012 or 2013.
So, is this the solution to the global water shortage? Not so, say some experts, pointing out to the incredible dynamic properties of icebergs, 9/10ths of which are below the water surface. Some point to the very limited success the largest tugs have had with towing icebergs clear of oil platforms in the North Atlantic- these attempts end up usually with the iceberg pulling the tug backwards instead. Critics also point out that it is an incredibly difficult exercise to tow a massive iceberg even with ocean forecasting. Then there is the ‘rollover’ problem: as an iceberg melts, which it inevitably will as it reaches southern, warmer, waters, it tends to become top heavy and roll over. This phenomenon is seen around Newfoundland every summer.
In short, some analysts say that no amount of netting will prevent this natural rebalancing of an iceberg, which, in any case, will go wherever it wants to. No amount of human engineering will change that, they add, pointing out that fancy 3D programs cannot predict what nature is going to do.

“Changing the way we think about shipping”

Maersk Lines- the world’s largest container carrier- has, in recent times, been at the forefront of examining new environmental initiatives for the future. However, it has gone a step beyond that, recently bringing out a manifesto for its container business in particular and for the broader maritime industry in general.

Maersk CEO Eivind Kolding says that this declaration of intent by the company has been precipitated by the “truest business axiom of all: that those who stop listening to the market because they think their methods and products are too established to fail … end up failing”. Concerned that shipping has not changed with time and that altering ingrained industry habits is as difficult as ‘turning around one of our vessels midstream in the Suez Canal,’  the manifest feels that the demands of a new generation of customers require a paradigm shift in the way the business is run; Schedule reliability, money-back guarantees, quick notifications of delays, intuitive self-service and ease of business are critical, Maersk feels, implying that a revolution in industry practice- akin to the one that was forced by the introduction of the freight container many years ago- is the need of the hour. “Containerisation re-invented global commercial trade. The time has come to make that kind of change again,” says Kolding, echoing his company’s manifesto that points out that discourse in shipping has barely changed for half a century.

Maersk highlights several key areas in its manifesto. It feels it is critical to rethink the maritime business as part of customers’ supply chain, for a start. The industry should look at greater web based, user friendly and real time solutions for its customers; the manifesto draws parallels with the launch of the low cost airline Ryanair in 2000 in this connection, an event that revolutionised the way airline industry operates today. Maersk asks, “Can we state that the shipping industry has gone online? Or are we missing some opportunities to interact with customers through more channels?”

Maersk draws from the experiences of the cell phone, car and airline markets, and lists two important lessons learnt there: One, that just because a business is established, it may only be a few years from being completely overtaken by new technology. Secondly, says Maersk, market and customer behaviour is forcing companies to never lose sight of what customers really want – including the needs they are not even aware of.

The manifesto points out that only half the containers reach customers on time at present. “Name a supplier to your business that only delivers half the time, but is still able to count on your loyalty as a customer,” it asks. Besides, there are other issues: “The shipping industry is faced with three fundamental challenges: our unreliability, our complexity and our environmental impact”.

Maersk reserves its strongest argument for the latter. “Why shouldn’t we hold ourselves to the highest environmental standards?” the manifesto asks, acknowledging that while shipping is ‘is the least polluting way to mass-move commercial goods around the planet’, it should be proactive in helping to set standards. This is because, in a future where the consumer will consider the carbon footprint of businesses to make decisions, a proactive approach by the industry will help customers will then be able to brand their businesses with the product’s energy efficiency. Shipping, being the cleanest way to move goods, will automatically benefit, and will not only ‘strengthen our own image, but also the image of our customers.’

All in all, the Maersk manifesto is a compelling document, and one we hope will force other companies to introspect, resulting in a greater widespread acceptance of sound business and environmental practices across our industry.

Scandal ridden toxic ship heading for Indian breakers?

The ‘Probo Koala’ and the Trafigura affair come to India

Little did I know, when I covered-in September 2009- the story of the havoc this ship and its owners wrought in Cรดte d'Ivoire, that the Probo Kaola would threaten our own Indian shores with its toxic waste. The Panamanian ship was chartered by the commodity giant Trafigura in August 2006 when she dumped deadly toxic waste that found its way to a dozen locations in and around Abidjan, creating a major health crisis. Seventeen died, and over 30,000 were injured (see pic), many with severe burns on the skin and lungs. A hundred thousand sought treatment in all.

News reports now say that the Probo Kaola is heading for India to be broken up. The 31,255 tonne Kaola has been renamed ‘Gulf Jash’, according to a group of activists that call themselves 'NGO Shipbreaking Platform.'  According to a report in the Times of India, the Gulf Jash was banned recently from entering Bangladesh after environmental activists in the region raised a clamour, warning the Bangladeshi government about the antecedents of the vessel. Banned from Bangladeshi yards, she is reportedly now en route for India- probably Alang, instead.

For years, the Probo Kaola/Gulf Jash has been a marked ship, with Trafigura resorting to all kinds of tricks to avoid costs for disposal of toxic waste- and later, fines for breaking the law. Diverted to Abidjan after she faced disposal issues in Amsterdam, the vessel remained in the eye of the storm after the humanitarian disaster the waste –that Trafigura insisted were just ‘slops’- caused at the time. Trafigura reportedly paid £30 million to the victims and nearly £100 million to the Ivory Coast government for cleanup costs in 2009, when we covered the story.

Recent initiatives by environmentalists in Bangladesh and India have put the ship breaking businesses there under a bright spotlight. Long criticised as a dirty, polluting and unregulated industry, the South Asian style of ship breaking has come under increasing fire by activists for its disregard for the environment, its lack of safety standards and its reputation for circumventing the law whenever possible. Other factors, including increased incidents of the dumping of waste in India and the greater willingness of Jairam Ramesh’s environment ministry to examine such deals are contributing to the activists’ optimism that the ’Gulf Jash’ will not be allowed into India waters.

Environmentalists say that the ship contains tonnes of hazardous asbestos , PCBs, toxic paints, fuel and chemical residues which have not been cleaned up before sending the ship for dismantling, says the Times, adding that India’s reputation has been tarnished by it becoming a dumping ground for toxic waste.

Trafigura’s antecedents do not inspire confidence in its integrity. The company was accused of running an illicit ‘do it yourself’ refinery on the Probo Koala off Gibraltar that directly resulted – due to the use of caustic soda- in the toxic waste being generated in the first place.  Trafigura threatened the BBC with libel when it reported the story on its ‘Newsnight’ programme – which saw toxicologist John Hoskins from the Royal Society of Chemistry saying that the waste on the Koala would ‘bring a major city to its knees’. The BBC called the Kaola affair ‘the biggest toxic dumping scandal of the 21st century’

This is the ship that is said to be heading to India. We fervently hope that the authorities here will ban the Gulf Jash – and all such future ‘toxic ships’-from entry into Indian waters. Our environment should not be up for sale.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Human Cost of Piracy

Strong evidence that over a third of the seafarers that were held in 2010 were abused

Per Gullestrup, C.E.O. of the Clipper Group says, “Somali piracy has a tendency to be discussed in economic terms, but the real issue is the untold misery and trauma imposed on our colleagues at sea and their relatives by the Somali criminals. We should be very concerned about the lack of concerted action by the global community in dealing forcefully with this problem.”

The world has long evaluated Somali piracy in mainly economic terms. Now comes a report from ‘The Oceans Beyond Piracy’ project, Titled, “The Human Cost of Somali Piracy,” the report, recently released in London, says that during 2010:

• 4,185 seafarers were attacked with firearms and rocket propelled grenades.
• 342 seafarers were rescued from citadels (ships’ reinforced security rooms).
• 1,090 seafarers were taken hostage.
• 516 seafarers were used as human shields.
• As many as 488 seafarers were subjected to abuse or torture.

The project also says that underreporting and misunderstandings contribute to ignorance in the general public on the extent and depth of abuse of seafarers, and that both successful and unsuccessful attacks expose seafarers to dangerous experiences with the potential for long-term physical and psychological trauma, whether the attack is successful or not. If taken hostage, seafarers routinely face physical and psychological violence ‘for months on end, limited access to food and water, uncertainty about their fate and risk of death. 

Unfortunately, there is no single source available to inform seafarers or the general public of how seafarers are treated during captivity, or how widespread abusive tactics are among the various pirate gangs’. Verification of reports is also difficult, the report adds, while indicating that all criminal activities come under one heading, “hijack”. “This limited categorisation of pirate activities undervalues the dangers and trauma faced by seafarers”, Oceans Beyond Piracy says.

“There is very little reporting of the personal violence against seafarers in the waters off Somalia”, says Kaija Hurlburt, lead researcher for the OBP study. “We have found strong evidence that over a third of the seafarers that were held in 2010 were abused, and the trend is looking more ominous this year. The lack of reporting prevents the true cost from being understood by the public.”

Thousands of seafarers have been subjected to gunfire, beatings, extended periods of confinement, torture and, in some cases, murder in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden at the hands of Somali criminals. US Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro said in March this year, “The attacks are more ruthless, more violent, and wider ranging. Hostages have been tortured and used as human shields.”

It is becoming clear that mariners deserve to know the full extent of the risks they face when transiting pirate infested waters. One seafarer from the ‘UBT Ocean’, held for four months during which the crew were repeatedly tortured and abused, is quoted as saying, “All the seafarers must be fully aware of the danger and risk in crossing the Indian Ocean.”

(The full report HERE , at the Ocean's Beyond Piracy site)

Thursday, 9 June 2011

No shipping recovery before 2013, says ICRA

The Indian shipping market is unlikely to recover before 2013, says a new report by ICRA, an associate of the international credit rating agency Moody’s. The agency adds that credit profiles of Indian companies are unlikely to show meaningful improvement before calendar year 2013.

The bright spot in the shipping space may be the container segment, which ICRA believes is better placed than the rest of the industry, whose outlook will remain muted in the medium term because of slow recovery in freight rates, oversupply of global tonnage and lower fleet utilisation. The container segment, may in fact see fleet capacity keeping pace with growth in demand, particularly since more and more box ships are resorting to slow steaming, thus reducing available supply.

ICRA analysts K Ravichandran and Kunal Mittal said, “The cancellations, deferrals, lesser new contracting, recovery in international trade and concentrated effort by operators to reduce total vessel supply by extra slow steaming (ESS) facilitates improvement in average container freight rates.” Going further, they added, “The low ship idling and the continuation of ESS will prevent a collapse in the supply-demand balance like that seen in 2009 and also provide savings in bunker cost, thus improving the operational economics of container operators.”

The gloomier ICRA report for the broader segment is at odds with those from many other analysts who predict a recovery by the second half of next year. Many have taken heart from the spike in container rates last year, and, although they agree with the reasons ICRA outlines for a generally slower recovery, they say that the negatives are somewhat overstated in the report. The ICRA report, however, details the deep collapse in freight markets, where rates have declined by between 55-75 % from peak levels. It also points out that freight rates today “are close to their charter rates for the period from 2002 and 2003”.

ICRA seems to be even more pessimistic about the dry bulk segment, given the supply demand mismatch. It sees slightly better prospects for tankers, though, and adds that the offshore segment is decently placed in the next year or two. Major players in the industry, however, would continue to see their profitability shrink. “Companies that have comfortable cash flows, low gearing levels and large liquid reserves will be well placed to take advantage of lower vessel prices and to augment their capacity. Hence, liquidity and capital structure will remain the discriminating rating factors in the foreseeable future”, it said.

ICRA accepts that new sources of supply further away from consumption centres have meant longer steaming and an expansion of trade areas, factors that should assist recovery. Nonetheless, its analysts say that the net addition to fleets during 2011-12 would be significant and that world trade growth is unlikely to be able to absorb incremental tonnage capacity. As a consequence, any increase in freight rates would be modest and the slump may well be more prolonged than expected. 

ICRA therefore concludes that shipping markets will remain subdued in the near to medium term. While remaining optimistic on demand recovery, the agency feels that this will be offset by the oversupply overhang that threatens to plague Indian- and global- shipping for some time.

Monday, 6 June 2011

EU investigates top shipping companies for antitrust violations

The European Commission has raided the offices of many major shipping companies in Europe. The Commission says that the companies “may have violated the antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices.” The Commission spokesperson Amelia Torres, stressed, however, that it was premature to reach any conclusions about these companies having broken the law. Representatives of the EC and UK Office of Fair Trading called on premises last week to ascertain whether there was any evidence of "infringement of European competition law related to rate collusion between lines and possible misuse of positions of market share dominance".

The Commission is said to be investigating the period after 2008, when ‘conferences’- shipping cartels- were banned in Europe. This action, followed soon with the downturn, saw shipping companies hard hit and responding by laying up vessels and slow steaming. There was much volatility in the freight markets at the time, and industry observers feel that see-sawing rates may have drawn the investigators’ attention. Mercator International’s Jesper Kjaedegaard implies that record profits last year may have spurred the move. “How quickly the situation changed is astounding and may have raised eyebrows in Brussels,” he said.

It is believed that major outifts like A.P. Moller-Maersk, MSC, Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), CMA CGM, MOL Neptune Orient Lines (NOL), Hanjin, Cosco and Hapag Lloyd are being investigated for possible anti-trust law violations. Many, including Maersk and MSC, have confirmed the raids. Besides documentation and public records, computer hard disks are also being scrutinised by inspectors.

Although these investigations seem to be preliminary, there is apprehension across industry that final EU actions may be similar to those taken by US and Europe against the airline industry and some freight forwarders last year. The Commission, if it feels it has sufficient evidence, can launch a formal investigation where companies would be liable, if found guilty, to massive fines of up to 10 percent of their annual worldwide sales. Panalpina, one of the forwarders investigated last year, was fined a total of US$50.3 million after pleading guilty to air cargo price fixing. Reports say that almost two dozen airlines paid more than $1.8 billion in fines then, and Air France-KLM alone was hit for $505 million. What is worse, the EU move sparked large civil lawsuits at the time by European shippers who claimed that the airline price fixing had hurt them. No wonder almost all the shipping companies raided were quick to promise full cooperation with the Commission’s investigators last week, while their PR arms moved quickly to soothe frayed employee and shareholder nerves.

Concerns aside, a humourist from one of the raided lines had the final word, according to media reports. Pointing to the collapse of many freight indices in recent times and the hard times that shipping companies are going through, he said, “If the industry has been fixing rates, it has been doing a terrible job of it.".


Friday, 3 June 2011

Taiwanese fishing boat Captain killed in pirate-US warship crossfire.

Traumatised family seeks proof, compensation from the US

The Taiwanese skipper of that country’s fishing boat Jih-Chun Tsai 68 has been killed in crossfire between Somali pirates and a US naval warship, reports say. Captain Wu Lai-yu was taken hostage on March 30 this year; three Somali pirates are also believed to have been killed in the incident, and the fishing boat sunk by the actions of USS Stephen W. Groves, a U.S. Perry-class guided-missile frigate that is part of NATO’s anti-pirate fleet. The incident is supposed to have occurred ten days ago, on May 20.

Wu’s family are disbelieving of official reports, since negotiations for the return of the fishing boat and its crew were reportedly making headway when Taiwanese authorities informed them that Wu had been killed. It appears that Taiwan’s  Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) got the news only on May 21, and received Wu’s death certificate from the US just a couple of days ago. Wu’s body is said to have gone down with the fishing boat.

Taiwanese newspaper reports say that initial ransom demanded for the Jih Chun Tsai 68 and its 14 crew was a staggering US$8 million, with negotiations running into difficulties after international brokers intervened. There have been similar reports in other cases critical of mainly UK based negotiators who claim sole mandate to negotiate ransoms from the pirates, often bypassing owners completely. In any case, a deal was struck with the pirates last month: all of the crew were to be freed one month after the ransom was paid.

 Wu's wife now says she does not believe that Wu has been killed, and wants to see video footage of the assault on his vessel- which the pirates were using as a mother ship- for confirmation.  She is doubly traumatised since the news of her husband’s death came weeks after she received repeated phone calls from the hostage fishing boat: she says she could hear Wu crying and moaning as he was punched and hit with rifle butts. She once heard her husband screaming, "They're trying to break my legs."

Taiwanese authorities are reportedly seeking an explanation from the Americans. The government had earlier asked the shipping company and the local fisheries association to negotiate with the pirates. Taiwanese legislator Justin S. Chou has demanded a full explanation from his government “as to why such a tragedy occurred when both sides had finally agreed on the terms of a peaceful settlement”. "How come the government's so-called active rescue efforts ended up with the skipper losing his life?" Chou asked.

At one time, Wu had also pleaded with China's honorary consul general in Somalia, Mr. Zhou, for help, Chinese media reports say. Zhou later learnt that Wu’s legs had been broken and he had nothing but Chinese herbal medicine aboard to treat his agony. In recordings of pirate phone calls to Zhou, the reports say, Wu’s voice can be heard trembling and pleading, "Come to my rescue, would you? Please!"

The Captain’s family has urged MOFA to "find out the facts" and help it seek compensation from the United States.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


Somali authorities seized two unmarked aircraft with $3.6 million in cash, newswires say. Six foreigners, including citizens from the US, UK and Kenya have been detained, according to the Somali Interior Minister Abdi Shakur Hassan Farah, who added that airport authorities got suspicious after briefcases were being transferred from one aircraft to another. “After investigation, $3.6 million were found,” he said.

Helicopters and aircraft are often used to drop ransom payments for merchant ships and crews held off Somalia. Observers say that the 3.6 million was probably one of such payments. This seemed to be indicated by airport deputy security Chief Burhan Mohamed when he told reporters, “We seized the two planes and their pilots plus the ransom for the pirates. One plane was from Nairobi and it wanted to give the money to the pirates using another plane that landed soon after,” he added.

Speculation is rife that the ransom was for the MV Suez; recent reports have said that the ordeal of the crew of that ship, including the six Indians, may be coming to an end after she was hijacked last year. Industry watchers are waiting and hoping that the release of the Suez, when it happens, means the release of all its crew- and is not a repeat of the Asphalt Venture incident, when some Indian crew were held back by the pirates even after ransom was paid.

 IMO agrees to look into the problem of under declared container weights: The IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee has “agreed to a proposal from the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia to address the issue of incorrectly declared containerised cargo and to take other measures to improve the safety of container stowage and ship operations”. The International Chamber of Shipping and the World Shipping Council have welcomed the move, saying that this decision would eventually help save lives, reduce cargo losses and improve operational efficiency; a joint statement said that they supported the initiative “that demonstrates the compelling need to address the problem.

The problem of under declared container weights- and its major consequences on ship stability and safety- has been highlighted by the industry for some years now. Attempts a few years ago to self regulate have by and large come to naught, causing many in the industry to push for mandatory verification of container weights prior to loading. The ICS and WSC joint statement have repeated this demand in their statement. “The problem will not be solved until there is a legal requirement to verify container weights before containers are loaded onto ships,” they say. “Verification of actual container weight before vessel loading and the availability of the actual container weights for proper and safe stowage planning will mark a long overdue and important improvement in industry safety.”

Capacity race: Box ship orders will lead to oversupply, experts warn. The dramatic revival of container ship fortunes last year has seen a steep rise in newbuild orders, say analysts, with a record number of container ships set to be delivered in 2013. Alphaliner is not alone in cautioning the industry that “the unrestrained ordering observed in the past 12 months could lead to more oversupply problems for the industry”. Analysts at the company fear that ship owners have been “lured by attractive new building prices” and the strong recovery in the market, and they should “keep an eye on the burgeoning containership order book”. A record 1.6 million TEU of new capacity has been ordered in the last twelve months, says Alphaliner.

“2013 vessel deliveries could exceed 2 million TEU,” it said. “This would mark the highest-ever annual level of containership new building.” The 2013 deliveries would include some of

Maersk’s recent order of 10 Triple E-class 18,000 TEU vessels; Maersk has an option to build another 20 of these giants thereafter. Another major ship owner, Evergreen, has 22 8,800 box ships due in 2013; another 13 will follow.

“Other carriers and non-operating owners have joined, or are planning to join, the new capacity race,” warns Alphaliner.