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UN will assess tsunami's damage to coral reefs: While world attention is focused on the rising human toll of this week's devastating tsunami, the UN also plans to assess environmental damage. The task force will look at environmental damage that threatens human health, and the toll on the ecological resources. Dive operators and marine biologists from all affected areas are already reporting that corals are suffocating under layers of mud, that rotten fish are clogging beach fronts, and that rare turtle nesting sites have been washed out to sea. The damage may take decades or longer to recover from. Scientists don't have comprehensive historical data about marine damage that tsunamis can cause, especially one of this magnitude. See "UN to assess damage to coral reefs, forests," Beth Daley, Boston.com 12/31/04.
US Navy feels budget cuts: The US Navy is taking several cuts in an effort to lower the Pentagon's 2006 fiscal year budget by $10 billion. The Navy will decommission the USS John F. Kennedy, among the oldest of its 12 aircraft carriers and one of only two that are nonnuclear-powered. The Pentagon will acquire fewer new DD(X) destroyers for the Navy than planned. Also affected would be LPD-17 San Antonio-class amphibious Landing Platform Dock ships. The Air Force and the Army are also being asked to make cuts. The $60 billion in cuts over six years were demanded by the White House budget office, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has sent the services back to pare their budget requests accordingly. See "U.S. Plans to Retire Navy Carrier, Buy Fewer Ships," Will Dunham, Reuters at Yahoo! News, 12/31/04.
Buoy transmitters to extend Coast Guard's port security system: The US Coast guard will soon be using buoys put in place by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to extend the reach of their communications system. NOAA uses the buoys to collect wind, temperature and wave data. The Coast Guard will add transmitters to the buoys, that will become part of the automated system that collects signals from all large tankers, barges and cruise vessels heading in and out of major US ports. The Coast Guard plans to test transmitters for the buoys early in 2005, probably off Florida's Gulf coast. See "Coast Guard to Extend Its Port Security," Doug Simpson, Associated Press at Las Vegas Sun, 12/30/04.
Selendang Ayu spill is worse than first estimated: Environmental officials say the oil spill off Alaska's Wildlife Refuge is far worse than originally feared. Up to 1.28 million liters (320,476 gallons) of thick fuel oil are believed to have leaked into the Bering Sea after the Malaysian-flagged freighter Selendang Ayu ran aground off the Aleutian islands on December 8. This is more than eight times the original estimate. A spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Lynda Giguere, said that more than 600 birds have been coated with oil while 109 others have died since the spill was first reported. Beaches in the area are coated by a thick layer of oil and tar balls have been seen floating in the region's waters. Efforts to siphon out the remaining fuel and to limit the damage have been hampered by bad weather in the area. See "Oil spill in Alaska wildlife sanctuary worse than feared," AFP at Yahoo! News, 12/29/04.
China is expanding its naval power: The United States may have to get used to sharing the western Pacific with China, the world's rising naval power. China is spending $10 billion to acquire and upgrade submarines, and is buying destroyers and frigates and equipping them with modern antiship cruise missiles. According to military analysts, China is expected to expand its submarine force to about 85 by 2010, about one-third more than today. In contrast, Russia has mothballed all but 20 of its submarines. Japan has 16, and no plans to buy more. The US Pacific Fleet has 35 submarines. "The Chinese influence in the Pacific islands will be very, very big," Hiroshi Nakajima, executive director of the Pacific Society, an academic group, predicted in a recent interview. Eventually, Nakajima said, "Chinese interests and the American interest will clash." See "U.S. rule of Pacific waves faces China challenge," James Brooke, The New York Times at the International Herald Tribune, 12/29/04.
Turkey wants to restrict use of the Bosphorus Straits: The Bosphorus Straits are the main trade route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. While the Bosphorus is wide, it is difficult to navigate. Fearing accidents in the city of Istanbul, Turkish Maritime Authorities have limited traffic so that only one tanker goes through the straits at a time, and no ship can go through at night or in bad weather. Some 9,000 tankers carrying explosive material went through the straits last year; the amount of explosive material passing through has more than doubled in the past seven years. Some observers believe it to be a ploy to force investment in pipelines across Turkish territory. See "Turkey in row over straits access," Jonny Dymond, BBC News, 12/29/04.
Human development puts coastlines at risk: A creeping rise in sea levels tied to global warming, pollution and damage to coral reefs may make coastlines even more vulnerable to disasters like tsunamis or storms in the future. Few coastal ecosystems are robust enough to withstand freak waves like the ones that slammed into Asian nations on Sunday. But global warming, poorly planned coastal development and other threats over which humans have some control are weakening natural defenses ranging from mangrove swamps to coral reefs that help keep the oceans at bay. Development of roads, ribbon development along coasts, and tourism are all potentially harmful. Shrimp farms are particularly troublesome, as they displace the mangroves that help protect coastlines. A risk for small islands is not so much that they will be submerged by rising sea levels, but that their fresh water supplies will be contaminated by salt water. See "Human activities contributed to tsunami's ravages: environmental expert," AFP at Terra Daily, 12/27/04.
Fisheries near the Selendang Ayu are shut down: Washington state's Division of Commercial Fisheries has closed commercial fishing in the Bering Sea from Spray Cape to Cape Kovrizhka along the western side of Unalaska Island. The Selendang Ayu, which has leaked over 200,000 gallons of oil and diesel fuel already, is between the two capes. The state said the area will remain closed until environmental monitoring shows the threat of contamination is gone. The eastern Bering Sea is one of the world's most productive habitats for fish and shellfish, although the Bering Sea Fisherman's Association has declined to estimate the economic impact of shutting down the fisheries. IMC Shipping, the Singapore-based operator of the freighter, has hired an adjuster to take claims from commercial fishermen who had planned to participate in the fishery. See "Oil spill closes fisheries in Bering Sea," Matt Volz, Associated Press at Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/27/04.
Research needed to clean up oil spills on ice: Several major energy companies are preparing to explore for oil and gas in Arctic regions, and environmentalists, scientists and governments are becoming increasingly concerned about spills and accidents they believe will be inevitable. Although some research is being done, there is currently no effective method for cleaning up an oil spill on ice. Last March, a US Arctic Research Commission report concluded that nearly all the techniques used to clean up oil spills in southern waters are useless or nearly so in the North. Booms used to corral spills are ineffective in waters clogged with chunks of ice. Dispersants used to dissolve spilled oil don't work in cold water, and there's no way to track the spread of a spill once it gets under ice. Transferring oil and ice slush to be processed elsewhere is a major challenge. The "best" method right now is simply to burn the oil where it floats, but that is limited by wind and wave action. Both burning the oil and using dispersants release toxins into the already sensitive Arctic environment. And since Arctic marine species tend to concentrate in certain areas at certain times of the year, an accident in one of those places during summer — also the easiest time of year for exploration — would be catastrophic. See "Governments, scientists concerned about oil spill cleanup in Arctic waters," Bob Weber, Canadian Press at Canada.com, 12/26/04.
Northern Edge tragedy raises questions on response time: The 75-foot scallop boat Northern Edge sank in a fierce storm off Nantucket, Massachusetts on Monday, carrying five crew members to their deaths; one fisherman survived. Weather conditions were brutal, with 35 to 45 mph winds and 10- to 15-foot waves. It was the worst fishing accident in New England since 1991. The event has called attention to the response of the US Coast Guard. The first helicopter sent to the accident scene had to stop to check its deicing equipment. A plane and the helicopter both made it to the scene, but after a delay of one and a half to two hours after the initial distress call. A second jet and a third helicopter were grounded because of cold weather problems, and a fourth helicopter was grounded with engine problems. Coast Guard planes and helicopters are due to be replaced or upgraded as part of the Deepwater funding program. But because the administration has been slow to provide funding, a complete overhaul of Coast Guard equipment has been pushed out until 2026. Unfortunately, because the water was so cold, it's doubtful that the crew members could have survived even if the Coast Guard had arrived sooner. See "Coast Guard admits flaws in rescue try," Glen Johnson, The Boston Globe, 12/24/04.
Selendang Ayu's bow section sinks into the sea: Days after violent storms forced cleanup crews to leave a freighter that split apart, a salvage team returned Thursday to find the bow section had sunk, likely spilling another 176,000 gallons of oil off Unalaska Island. The bow section had earlier been judged unsafe and attempts to unload its fuel were halted until a salvage team could come up with a plan to recover that oil. Crews still plan to unload more than 80,000 gallons of fuel from tanks in the stern section. But the three biggest tanks — totaling 321,058 gallons of oil — are believed to be ruptured and the fuel inside lost. The Selendang Ayu was hauling soybeans to China when it grounded after drifting for nearly two days. Six crew members were lost at sea. The ship ran aground near sensitive wildlife habitat that supports sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, tanner crabs and halibut. See "Huge spill feared as ship's bow sinks," Matt Volz and Craig Welch, The Associated Press and The Seattle Times, 12/24/04.
ConocoPhillips tanker responsible for Dalco oil spill: State and federal officials on Thursday blamed an aging ConocoPhillips Co. tanker for creating a 1,000-gallon oil spill that tarnished 21 miles of Puget Sound shoreline last October. Washington Governor Gary Locke and Coast Guard Rear Admiral Jeffrey Garrett said lab tests showed that the tanker Polar Texas was the source of the spill in Dalco Passage near Tacoma. The Houston-based company denied the accusation. Polar Tankers, a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips, filed a lawsuit Thursday claiming the state violated public disclosure law by refusing to release data concerning oil samples it collected from the spill. A Coast Guard spokesman said officials were not disclosing more details at this point, including the cause of the accident, because the investigation is ongoing. In addition to the cost of the spill's cleanup — nearly $2 million — the culprit could be fined up to $100,000 for each day of contamination. See "State says ConocoPhillips tanker responsible for oil spill," Allison Linn, Associated Press at Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/23/04.
Panama seeks to expand ports: Panama's maritime authority (AMP) is accepting expressions of interest through January for its planned port development near the Panama Canal. The "Port megaproject" would build new ports along the Canal on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Port and shipping companies P&O, Maersk Sealand, China Ocean Shipping, Port of Singapur Authority (PSA) and Evergreen have expressed interest so far. Existing ports near the Canal may lose some business to the proposed new ports, but so far haven't expressed concerns. The AMP will also upgrade existing ports. See "AMP invites private participation in port 'megaproject'," Business News Americas, 12/23/04.
Whales get the bends: Sperm whales have been known to dive as deeply as 10,500 feet in the ocean, and stay down as long as an hour. Because of evidence like this, many have believed that these whales and other deep-diving mammals don't suffer from decompression illness, or the bends. But Michael J. Moore and Greg A. Early of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found evidence of the bends in bones of both modern sperm whales, and in whale skeletons over 100 years old. This suggests that sperm whales are neither anatomically or physiologically immune from the effects of deep diving. Although the historical evidence suggests that the bends are "normal" for whales, the researchers pointed out that human activities — such as acoustic signals from submarines — could cause a whale to surface too rapidly, triggering the bends and causing injury to the animal. See "Deep-Diving Whales Suffer From Bends," Paul Recer, Associated Press at SiliconValley.com, 12/23/04.
European Union Ministers strike fish deal: European Union ministers rejected proposals to declare huge areas of ocean off-limits for trawlers, settling instead for less drastic alternatives in an attempt to protect threatened fish such as the once-common cod. The decision was a breakthrough for the fishing industry, which managed to win measures that would better protect the embattled EU fishing fleet. Environmentalists were outraged, fearing that fish stock recovery will be further jeopardized. Only Lithuania voted against the plans on Wednesday; Britain and France voiced reservations, and Greece abstained. EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg said the new package would "rebuild depleted stocks without economically crippling the fleets concerned." Although he had hoped member countries would take stronger steps toward protecting fish. See "EU agrees fishing quotas for 2005," BBC News, 12/22/04.
Oil spill in the Suez Canal still a problem: The Kuwaiti tanker Al-Samidun collided with a dredger in the Suez Canal last Tuesday. Since then, authorities have been trying contain the crude oil that was spilled. Unfortunately, the slick has reached Port Said, and is threatening to reach the Mediterranean. A preliminary report says efforts to contain the slick have failed so far, and charges that Egyptian authorities don't have an adequate strategy to deal with oil spills. The report also questions why such a busy trade route was kept open after the incident, and why such large amounts of oil-dissolving chemicals were discharged into the open waterway. See "Suez oil slick threatens Mediterranean," AFP at Mail and Guardian Online, 12/22/04.
LNG ship attack is a potential disaster: With the the nation clamoring for more natural gas, policy-makers are trying to figure out how to safely import large quantities of liquefied natural gas or LNG. Scientists at the Sandia National Laboratories released a report Tuesday that says current regulations are adequate to avoid accidental spills. But heading off a terrorist assault could be more difficult and expensive. According to the report, a terrorist attack on a tanker loaded with liquefied natural gas could cause massive damage a third of a mile away, and could send a vapor cloud billowing more than 1.5 miles. But changes to current safety policies probably won't come quickly. Rear Admiral Thomas Gilmour, the US Coast Guard assistant commandant for marine safety, security and environmental protection, pointed out that LNG tankers are strong. The explosives that blew a large hole into the USS Cole's hull wouldn't do as much damage to an LNG tanker. Not all residents of proposed locations of new gas terminals are comforted. See "Despite LNG report, change in safety policy is still far off," Nelson Antosh, Houston Chronicle, 12/21/04.
EU backs down from no-fishing zones: Fishermen closed off two French ports and environmentalists dumped dead fish in front of the European Union headquarters Monday to protest closures of northern fishing grounds to safeguard cod and other endangered species. The creation of no-fishing zones off Scotland, Ireland and Denmark to let threatened stocks recover had been a key part of the European Commission's proposals. But officials have now decided to drop the no-fishing requirements. Fishermen are pleased by the decision, since the industry has been losing jobs by the thousands over the years as officials have cut annual quotas. But environmentalists are outraged. The European Commission had already failed to impose all the recommendations made by independent experts. Taking out the no-fishing zones will make imposing other protection measures even more complicated. The negotiations could stretch into Wednesday. See "EU leans away from setting fishing limits," Raf Casert, Associated Press at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/21/04.
Australia's new maritime zone also angers Malaysia: A spokesman for Australia's Foreign Affairs Department said last week that New Zealand, Indonesia and East Timor had now been briefed on the new Maritime Information Zone, which he stressed would stretch 1,000 nautical miles only if there were no competing jurisdictions. But Malaysia has now spoken out against the security zone. Malaysia's Deputy Defence Minister, Zainal Abidin Zin, described the plan as "volatile." He added, "They cannot bulldoze a plan that does not honor the sovereignty of another country." Malaysia's waters are not affected by the plan, but Indonesia's Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda on Wednesday criticized the move as a breach of Jakarta's maritime jurisdiction. New Zealand, a close ally of Australia, initially expressed confusion about the plan, but said on Thursday said it did not appear to infringe on the sovereign rights of neighboring countries. See "Malaysia wary of maritime plan," The Australian, 12/19/04.
Britain's beaches threatened by volatile coastal pollution: A new report compiled by Dr Trevor Dixon, scientific officer for the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea, paints an alarming picture of potentially dangerous items that get washed up on the beaches of the British Isles. More than 2,700 'suspect items,' often left over from military exercises, dumped illegally or lost after shipping accidents, were listed in the report. The haul included 1,680 army munitions or flares, a fourfold increase compared with the last similar inquiry in 1993. Overall, the proportion of 'high danger' substances has steadily increased from just over half to 82 per cent of all packaged 'dangerous goods' found on beaches over the course of the past decade. A major threat to beaches and fishermen are the dumping grounds of old and defective munitions from World War II. See "The deadly cocktail dumped on our shores," Mark Townsend, The Observer, 12/19/04.
Inquiry rules out Soviet role in Gaul sinking: Theories that the fishing trawler Gaul and its 36 crew were deliberately sunk by the Soviet Union or pulled down by a submarine have been ruled out by the Wreck Commissioner after a public inquiry. The fishing trawler went down in stormy weather off the northern tip of Norway in 1974, but as there was no distress signal and the wreck was not found for more than 20 years, wild theories about its demise sprang up. But the inquiry ruled Friday that the Gaul had capsized after its factory deck flooded because chutes were left open. Some family members of the dead crew have rejected the inquiry's findings. See "The findings of the Gaul report," Jenny Booth, Times Online, 12/17/04.
US creates cabinet-level ocean policy panel: On Friday, the Bush administration created a cabinet-level committee, the Committee on Ocean Policy, to address rising pollution and overfishing in US territorial ocean waters. The move comes after a 16-member commission issued a report in April, which called for action. The action is the first federal rethink of US ocean policy since 1969, and seeks to untangle a web of cross-purpose state and federal regulations. The new office will pursue local quotas to counter overfishing, convert some US Navy warships into research vessels, and lay thousands of high-tech buoys to monitor sea conditions. It will also address the declining health of coral reefs and seek to ratify a global sea treaty. The move got mixed reviews from environmental groups, in part because it ignores many of the independent panel's suggestions. See "Bush ordering better ocean oversight," John Heilprin, Associated Press at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/17/04.
Australia's new maritime zone also angers Indonesia: Indonesia's Foreign Minister Wirayuda says his country does not accept Australia's proposed new maritime security zone. Australia announced last week that it would require all ships traveling to within 1,000 nautical miles of the country to provide information about their journey and cargo. Mr. Wirayuda pointed out that the zone touched Indonesian waters off Maluku and Sulawesi islands, as well as most of the Java sea. He said, "We view this concept as having the potential for violating international maritime laws," and accused Canberra of United States-inspired unilateralism. Wirayuda met with Australian Defence Minister Robert Hill in Jakarta. See "Indonesia rejects maritime security zone," AFP at ABC News Online, 12/17/04.
SEPI and Spain's shipyard unions reach agreement: Spain's shipyards have been in trouble since the European Union decided that Izar would have to repay € 300 million of aid which Brussels says breached EU competition rules. The sector is also struggling to compete with Asia. Spanish government industrial holding company SEPI proposed splitting military and civilian work at the yards as a way to save the sector. This proposal was sharply criticized by shipyard workers, who staged protests, some of which turned violent. But now SEPI and shipyard unions have reached an agreement, designed to ensure the viability of public shipyards while splitting off military and civilian work at the yards. The agreement is based on an early retirement plan for some 4,000 of the close to 11,000 workforce. Two regional unions from Spain's traditional shipbuilding heartland did not sign the accord. See "Deal struck over Spanish shipyards' future," AFP at Yahoo! News, 12/16/04.
New Zealand okays Australia's maritime security zone: New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff says Australia's plan to boost its maritime security appears to be within international laws. Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs says there has been a misunderstanding and Australia's new zone will go to the maximum of 1,000 nautical miles, only if there is no other border or jurisdiction. Mr. Goff says he is satisfied the plan does not impinge on New Zealand's sovereignty. See his statement in the press release "Australian maritime identification zone" from the New Zealand Government, at Scoop, 12/16/04.
Selendang Ayu's bow section may be left in the sea: Plans to salvage the Selendang Ayu are starting to be finalized, but many people, particularly nearby residents, aren't happy with them. Three separate multinational salvage groups making bids on the job all concluded that the bow section had sustained too much damage to be refloated. A separate analysis by the Coast Guard reached the same conclusion. The winning salvage bid was put in by Dutch-based Smit International. In early January, Smit plans to try to pump out the stern section, a task expected to take about a month to complete. But the bow section, which still contains about 170,000 gallons of bunker oil, will stay where it is for now. Instead, a separate plan is being developed to return in spring or summer, when weather is milder, to remove both sections of the wreck from the rocks and haul them away. Residents fear the bow section will be broken up on the rocks during winter storms. But many also admit that current conditions might leave salvage teams little choice. See "Freighter's leaky bow section left to fate," Craig Welch and Hal Bernton, The Seattle Times, 12/16/04.
UK rejects European Commission plan to close fishing grounds: The European Commission has proposed closing some fishing grounds in the North Sea to protect cod stocks. But UK Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw will oppose the plans at the meeting of EU fisheries ministers in Brussels due to start on 21 December. All EU states with North Sea coasts are said to back the UK, meaning any vote on the plan would probably be lost. Bradshaw feels that the recovery plan currently in place has shown glimmers of recovery, and wants more time to see if the fisheries become sustainable. Rodney Anderson, director of fisheries at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said "Some of the industry is doing extremely well. Over the next five or 10 years, it'll be a difficult situation, but recoverable." See "UK rejects North Sea fishing plan," Alex Kirby, BBC News, 12/16/04.
New Zealand angered by Australia's Maritime Information Zone: Australia's new Maritime Information Zone, just announced this week and due to come into place in March next year, will extend 1,000 nautical miles from its coast. New Zealand's acting transport minister, Harry Duynhoven, has pointed out that the zone proposed by Australia would stretch to New Zealand's South Island, taking in both New Zealand's exclusive economic zone and parts of its territorial waters. Duynhoven said there had been no consultation or official approach from Australian authorities over the counter-terror shield, and that he found out about it through the news media. In what is probably one of the most understated comments of the year, he added, "I think there's been a massive slip-up in communication." He is seeking clarification from Australian officials on whether they intend to intercept ships within New Zealand waters. See "Australia's security plan angers New Zealand," AP at CNEWS, 12/15/04.
Recasting global warming as a human rights issue: Inuit communities and other countries living on Arctic fringes, tropical atolls and the flanks of the Himalayas are using the 10th round of international talks currently taking place in Buenos Aires as an opportunity to point out that they are imperiled by rising temperatures and seas through no fault of their own. The Inuit will seek a ruling from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the United States, by contributing substantially to global warming, is threatening their existence. Their plan is part of a broader shift in the climate change debate, which casts the issue as no longer simply an environmental problem, but an assault on basic human rights. Although the Commission has no enforcement powers, a declaration that the US has violated the Inuit's rights could create the foundation for an eventual lawsuit. The US has acknowledged that climate change is a problem to be avoided by embracing one global climate treaty and signing another. By subsequently rejecting the Kyoto pact, some lawyers feel the country has left itself vulnerable to such lawsuits. See "Eskimos Seek to Recast Global Warming as a Rights Issue," Andrew C. Revkin, The New York Times, 12/15/04.
Oil spill now threatens Hong Kong: Chinese maritime officials have so far been unable to contain the oil spill at the Pearl River, caused last week when two ships collided. The spill is spreading, and threatening Hong Kong's beaches and fishing industry. Although officials were first hoping the wind would push most of the spill out to sea, bad weather has hampered clean up efforts. The collision occurred about three miles from the southern boundary of Hong Kong waters. If the oil contaminates Hong Kong waters, it could cause huge economic losses to the tourism and fishing industries. See "Ocean oil spill threatens Hong Kong waters," UPI at The Washington Times, 12/15/04.
Japan will also explore the East China Sea: Japan has earmarked over $200 million US for research, test drilling and construction of a ship to survey the sea bed in a disputed area of the East China Sea. China's exploration of the disputed area has created tensions between the two countries. Tokyo has demanded that China share information from its explorations in the area, but Beijing has refused, insisting that its surveys have taken place in Chinese territorial waters. Japan also alleges that China may be exploring undersea deposits straddling the two countries' respective territories. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both countries have signed, allows coastal countries an economic zone extending 200 nautical miles, but Beijing and Tokyo have not agreed where their sea border lies. The United Nations will decide on global offshore territorial claims by May 2009. See "Reports: Japan to explore disputed area of East China Sea," Associated Press at Yahoo! News, 12/14/04.
Australia creates new maritime security zone: Australia's new Maritime Information Zone, which is due to come into place in March next year, will extend 1,000 nautical miles from its coast in a bid to protect the country from a terrorist attack. When ships come within 1,000 nautical miles of Australia's territorial waters, they will have to provide details of their journey and their cargo. When ships come within 200 nautical miles, they will be required to give more detail of cargos, ports visited, ship owners, registration and destination. A new federal command will be established to take responsibility for all offshore security, and coordinate all civilian and military security operations. The state governments will remain responsible for port security. See "Australia boosts maritime security," Associated Press at CNN.com, 12/14/04.
World focuses on sonar use, US is still studying the issue: Research makes it pretty clear that military sonar and other loud underwater noises can have damaging effects on marine mammals. Four global groups have called for curbs on the use of sonar and other noises that harm sea animals in the past five months. In October, the European Union Parliament called for member states to develop a moratorium on all types of military sonar. Two weeks ago, the 70-nation IUCN-World Conservation Union passed a resolution urging governments to limit the use of loud noises in the world's oceans. The Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, and the 16 nations of the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area have also called for limits. However, the US has abstained from key votes, saying more research is needed. The US Navy is the biggest user of midfrequency active sonar in the world. The Natural Resources Defense Council is considering filing a lawsuit against the Navy under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. See "Navy under global pressure to limit sonar use," Jane Kay, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/13/04.
Aleutian Island chain needs stronger protection: Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska marine science professor and prominent Alaska environmentalist, believes that Alaska's Aleutian Island chain should be given stronger environmental protections. The wreck of the Malaysian-flagged Selendang Ayu illustrates the vulnerability of the 1,000-mile Aleutian chain, which see heavy shipping traffic. Unalaska is in the Great Circle marine shipping route between North America and eastern Asia. Nearby Unimak Pass is traveled by five to 10 large cargo vessels a day. In addition, the area sees a lot of fishing vessels; Unalaska/Dutch Harbor is the busiest US seafood port by volume. See "Aleutian Oil Spill Shows Area's Problems," Yereth Rosen, Reuters at Yahoo! News, 12/13/04.
Maryland may restock oyster fishery with nonnative species: The state of Maryland is investing $1.7 million to study what would happen if a nonnative oyster is introduced into the Chesapeake Bay. The oyster in question is the hardy, fast-growing Crassostrea ariakensis, which is native to China. Researchers still have a number of unresolved questions, such as the parasites and diseases ariakensis could bring to the bay, whether or not the species can survive in the bay's unique ecosystem, and whether it would crowd out what is left of the native oyster, Crassostrea virginica. Scientists are also concerned that Governor Robert Ehrlich will authorize the introduction of breeding stock before these questions have been resolved; he wants to start the project next year, but experts from across the country say at least four more years of research is needed. In the late 1800s Maryland oystermen harvested more than 2 million bushels of oysters each year. Last year, oystermen only pulled in about 26,000 bushels. See "Md. studies introducing nonnative oysters," Gretchen Parker, Associated Press at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/11/04.
Broken freighter causing major oil spill in Alaska: Hope is all but gone for the six missing crew members of the cargo ship Selendang Ayu, grounded and broken off Alaska's Unalaska Island. No one has been able to board the ship yet, so it's impossible to tell how much oil has spilled — but it could be thousands of gallons. The fuel is a dense, viscous oil that usually sinks through the water column and coats the sea floor. To clean it, divers often have to go down to scoop the mucky stuff off the bottom. The spill is in a remote area accessible only by boat and helicopter, and Winter weather and sea conditions are formidable. A crew was unable to place booms at the mouths of salmon-bearing freshwater streams feeding into Skan Bay, where the ship lies broken in half. However, they were able to lay out booms in Cannery Bay, some distance from the spill. Environmental officials don't know yet how much damage has been sustained so far, but fuel has already washed up onto the beach. See "Brutal weather slows Alaska freighter search, spill cleanup," Warren Cornwall, The Seattle Times, 12/11/04.
Al-Qaeda could stage sea borne attack within 12 months: The Al-Qaeda network could stage a seaborne attack within the next 12 months, in a tactical strategy to drive maritime shipping costs and travel times to record highs, a British private defense firm said. Aegis Defence Systems intelligence director Dominic Armstrong said that even an unsuccessful attempt to disrupt busy shipping routes could cause a world trade crisis, since the impact on shipping insurance premiums could become prohibitive. Aegis said there was a greater likelihood of such a strategy now because Al-Qaeda had promoted a maritime attack specialist as the head of its operations in Saudi Arabia. It said Saud bin Hamud al-Otaibi was thought to be behind the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in the Yemeni port city of Aden that killed 17 US sailors. See "Al-Qaeda 'plans attack on sea route' to hit global trade," Rhiannon Edward, Scotsman.com, 12/10/04.
Selendang Ayu is leaking oil off Alaska: The cargo ship Selendang Ayu was carrying soybeans from Tacoma, Washington to China when it ran aground and split in two in the Unalaska Island area, about 800 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska. It now appears to be losing much of the nearly 500,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel oil it was carrying. Although the site is not technically part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, the area is still important to sea birds and marine mammals, including some endangered and threatened species. Ecological damage has already been spotted. Cleanup will be difficult because of the severe weather, and the remoteness of the site. Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard was planning to resume at daylight a search for six crewmen missing from the ship. See "Cargo Ship Leaking Fuel Oil Off of Alaska," Yereth Rosen, Reuters at Yahoo! News, 12/10/04.
Royal Navy helicopter crashes during rescue: Four men are presumed dead after a Royal Navy helicopter crashed in the sea during a rescue mission Wednesday night. The Lynx helicopter was on a search-and-rescue mission after two frigates — the Montrose and St Albans — reported hearing cries for help, thought to be from a man overboard. But contact was lost 15 miles south east of the Lizard in Cornwall. The wreckage of the Lynx helicopter was located on the sea bed early Thursday; four bodies have now been found near the crash site. The original mission was apparently a false alarm. The helicopter was from the Royal Naval Air Station in Yeovilton, Somerset. See "Four bodies found near helicopter crash site," Scotsman.com, 12/9/04.
Officials say China oil spill has been contained: Tuesday's collision between two container ships in the South China Sea near the mouth of the Pearl River caused the biggest oil spill since the founding of the People's Republic of China. An oil storage area on the German-registered MSC Ilona was damaged, and by Thursday morning some 450 tons of oil had spilled. The leak was stopped on Thursday, and cleanup ships contained the spread. The second ship involved is the Panamanian-registered Hyundai Advance. Neither ship is in danger of sinking, and no injuries were reported. Additional cleanup ships should arrive Thursday or Friday. Officials claim current wind conditions should blow the oil out to sea. However, the white sea dolphin, one of the most endangered marine creatures in the world, lives in the Pearl River estuary. A wide variety of corals, fish and birds also live in the area. See "Ship Collision Creates China's Largest Oil Spill," China.org, 12/9/04.
EU backs tough measures against polluting ships: In response to the 2002 disaster, when the oil tanker Prestige broke up off the Spanish coast, EU member states have backed tough measures against ships polluting European waters. Minimum amounts will be set for fines that each EU country could levy for marine pollution; in serious cases, member states may set higher fines. The agreement will be sent to EU ministers for formal approval later this month. The agreement does not include suggested minimum punishment for ship captains responsible for pollution, as Malta, Greece and Cyprus objected. Instead, member states and the European Commission will consider inserting such punishment into international maritime conventions. See "EU Agrees Deal on Punishing Ship Pollution," Reuters at Yahoo! News, 12/9/04.
Fishermen hit by fresh quota cuts: The European Union's head office has proposed unprecedented bans on fishing in popular northern waters to safeguard threatened species such as the cod, which has made headlines lately due to its low numbers. Under the proposals, huge areas of the North Sea off Britain and Scandinavia would be sealed off from commercial cod fishing. EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg said the proposals were far less stringent than what marine scientists advised, seeking to find a balance to give Europe's fishing fleet a future. Fishermen fear the drastic cuts may shut them down entirely. See "Fishermen under Pressure as EU Proposes New Catch Bans," PA News at the Scotsman.com, 12/8/04.
Bulk freighter in Alaska beset by serious problems: The main engine of the bulk freighter Selendang Ayu broke down for unknown reasons on Tuesday. The US Coast Guard and tug boats tried to halt the freighter, which was drifting toward Unalaska Island in southwestern Alaska, but severe weather broke tow lines on each attempt. 18 crew members had been previously evacuated; Wednesday evening the freighter's captain requested the remaining crew members be evacuated, since the vessel was starting to flood. But the Coast Guard helicopter crashed into the Bearing Sea, also for unknown reasons. Four of the 10 on board were picked up by another helicopter participating in the rescue. A search for the remaining people continued. About an hour after the helicopter crashed, the freighter split in two. The carrier's 440,000 gallons of heavy bunker oil had been transferred to inboard tanks and the fuel heaters were turned off to thicken the fuel, so in the event of a spill it would not disperse. It isn't clear yet if any oil has spilled. The area is home to sensitive wildlife habitat and fisheries. See "Helicopter crashes with 10 aboard; freighter splits in two," Matt Volz, Associated Press at Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/8/04.
Call for major fishing restrictions in the UK: The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has released its report, Turning The Tide, Addressing The Impact Of Fisheries On The Marine Environment. The report points out that "Currently, the marine environment is regulated on the basis of a presumption in favour of fishing... we recommend that the presumption should be reversed." It advises that the sea should be treated in the same way as endangered land habitats, and recommends that commercial fishing be banned in 30% of UK waters to save threatened species. Fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw agreed that marine environments need to be preserved, but felt that the report was too drastic. He feels that significant steps have already been taken, and these should be given time to have an impact. See "Fish areas 'need drastic action'," BBC News, 12/7/04.
It is no surprise that the fishing industry is not happy with the plan. Representatives have called the report "codswallop." They point out, among other things, that the report doesn't call for a stop to using oil pipelines or rigs, which also have an impact on the environment. See "Fishermen angry at ban plan," The Press Association at ic Newcastle, 12/7/04.
Pacific nations discuss tuna stocks: Fish is virtually the only resource for many of the Pacific's island nations, and it is a resource they have difficulty defending. Representatives of 29 mostly island nations are meeting for the first time on Thursday to discuss a new convention regulating Pacific tuna stocks. During preliminary talks, Micronesian government official Sebastian Anafel stressed sustaining resources. But there are lingering concerns about how the new convention will be implemented, how to tackle illegal fishing and the fact that only a handful of non-island nations have so far become parties to the convention. Island officials are particularly keen to find out if other major fishing nations including Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines, plan to sign up. See "Pacific nations meet to finalise new tuna commission," AFP at Yahoo! News, 12/6/04.
Former navy technician says the Chicoutimi was in bad shape: Gerry O'Keefe, a former petty officer 2nd class who left Canada's navy last August after 23 years, told the Commons defense committee that the HMCS Chicoutimi was in bad shape when he saw it in January 2000. The all-party committee is looking into the acquisition of four used diesel-electric submarines from Britain. O'Keefe submitted a list of concerns to the military ombudsman. These include the fact that electrical systems were vulnerable to water, the wiring was very poor, there weren't enough spare parts, escape towers sometimes filled up with water unintentionally, the communications systems were so bad that the crew sometimes knocked on compartment windows to communicate, and crews refitting the first three boats had "robbed" parts from the Chicoutimi. See "Chicoutimi looked like 'Swiss cheese': former submariner," Stephen Thorne, CP at CNews, 12/6/04.
Puget Sound residents want more say in oil spill response: On October 14, about 1,000 gallons of oil was spilled in the Dalco Passage, fouling 21 miles of shoreline along Washington state's Puget Sound. After the incident — which caused concerns since a check on the spill was launched more than five hours after it was first reported — Governor Gary Locke and US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Jeffrey Garrett convened a task force to try to improve performance in the first hours after a spill in discovered. The task force includes government agencies, the Makah Tribe, the oil and maritime industries, spill-cleanup companies, environmentalists and people living near the Dalco spill. A number of recommendations have widespread support on the 14-member task force. But the group is divided over the need for a local citizen council to ensure that government and industry bodies are vigilant. While independent oversight seems like a good idea, some say that there are already avenues for public involvement, and worry that a citizen council could create adversarial relationships with industry and governments. See "Speedier response to spills is sought," Warren Cornwall, The Seattle Times, 12/6/04.
New report will show devastated fish stocks in British waters: A new report published by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution will demand that 30% of the waters around Britain be designated "marine national parks." This is a desperate plea to try to save depleted fish stocks — in some cases, fish populations won't be recoverable. Even Professor Sir Tom Blundell, leader of the investigation and advisor to Tony Blair on environmental issues, was startled by the evidence uncovered by the report. He finds that there is practically nowhere in UK territorial waters that has not been savaged by boats. Trawlers are particularly damaging to the seabed, as they indiscriminately drag gigantic chains across the seabed in order to catch fish. But trawling, which can catch deep sea fish, is becoming more popular in part because fish stock has been severely depleted in coastal areas. This report will bring to light for the first time the devastation of Britain's marine ecosystems. See "Dead in the water: how we are killing the sea," Mark Townsend, The Observer at Guardian Unlimited, 12/5/04.
The Chicoutimi put to sea with a known problem: The Canadian Press has learned that the submarine Chicoutimi had a significant problem with its electrical system after it was handed over to Canadian authorities. During sea trial lasts summer, a glitch was spotted in the motor-generator. A Telex message obtained under the federal Access to Information Act suggests that prior to the boat's October 4 departure from Scotland, shipboard technicians believed they had found a solution to the problem. The warship's staff intended to "retest" the system "while surfaced during transit to Canada," said the message, sent from the submarine to navy headquarters in Halifax. Further details were blacked out of the heavily censored, one page document. It isn't clear if problem outlined in the message was linked to the fire. In its former life as the Britain's HMS Upholder, the Chicoutimi was known to have regular electrical malfunctions. See "Chicoutimi crew was testing electrical system fault before fire: documents," Murray Brewster, Canadian Press at Canada.com, 12/5/04.
Halliburton subsidiary may win Royal Navy deal: The role of "physical integrator" for the UK's Royal Navy aircraft carriers may go to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR). The Ministry of Defence's chief scientific officer, and chairman of its Investment Approvals Board (IAB), is understood to have written to colleagues backing the KBR bid. If the full IAB agrees, a formal recommendation will go to ministers before Christmas. The "physical integrator" would oversee the construction of the two aircraft carriers. Critics of Halliburton believe it is inappropriate to allow the US company to carry out such a high-profile government project; Halliburton is being investigated in the US for alleged accounting fraud. But the KBR plan is also being criticized for moving final assembly of the carriers from the Rosyth shipyard in Fife, which employs 1,000 people, to Nigg, a disused oil platform yard. Other companies submitting bids for the integrator role are Amec of the UK, and Bechtel of the US. See "Halliburton wins MoD vote for £4bn Royal Navy deal," Katherine Griffiths and Michael Harrison, The Independent, 12/2/04.
Finland strengthens oil dumping fines: Finland has established a new "economic zone" which extends to open sea. This will allow them to impose fines on ships that dump chemicals or oil, even if the spills take place in international waters. The new zone goes into effect at the beginning of February, and extends to the economic zones of Estonia and Sweden in the Gulfs of Finland and Bothnia. The fine could be imposed if the discharge causes considerable damage, or a risk of damage, and requires a decision by a court. However, an amendment to the legislation is planned which would make it possible to impose fines on the spot. See "Finland to fine ships for oil," Helsingin Sanomat, 12/2/04.
Study shows Tasman Spirit damage was devastating: The Natural Resource Damage Assessment Study, which comprises initial findings from other departments, reports that it may take ten years to recover from damage caused by the oil spilled from the tanker Tasman Spirit on the Karachi coast last year. The spill totaled about 31,000 tons of crude oil. An estimated 23,000 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) evaporated into air from the spill, hitting some of the most popular recreational beaches. Researchers estimate that some 300,000 people were directly exposed to airborne toxins; this is likely the largest number of people directly affected by any oil spill in history. Despite cleanup efforts, less than one percent was recovered, and oil contamination was still visible for twelve months after the incident. Water quality remained unacceptable for six months after the spill, damaging the entire marine ecosystem in the near shore areas. Seabed sediment remains contaminated, and the affected area is too large to dredge and clean. See "Tasman Spirit oil spill affected 300,000 Karachiites," The News International, 12/1/04.
Delaware oil spill worse than thought: Coast Guard Lt. Buddy Dye said it could take for or five days for investigators to determine how much oil spilled from the Athos I, but it will likely turn out to be more than the 30,000 gallons initially reported. The single hulled tanker started spilling oil in the Delaware River near Philadelphia last week from a gash in its hull. Officials still don't know what happened; there is no evidence of a navigation error, and the Army Corps of Engineers completed a sonar survey of the river without finding anything in the water that could strike the vessel. New Jersey state officials have said they will introduce a bill to increase the liability for ship owners in case of a leak. Maritime traffic in the region, among the nation's largest port areas, was halted for several days, although by Tuesday some cargo ships were allowed through. See "Delaware River oil spill much worse than original estimate," Geoff Mulvihill, Associated Press at Post-gazette.com, 12/1/04.
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