News Archive - April 2006

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US repatriates 10 of 12 Somali pirates involved in attack on ships: The US government will repatriate 10 of 12 Somalis who fired at two US Navy vessels in March. The US government worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross to arrange for the April 29 repatriation. The two remaining Somalis are receiving follow-on medical care for injuries sustained during the incident at sea. The Navy has said the Somalis aroused suspicion on March 18, when boarding teams were ordered to investigate. The suspects opened fire on the boarding teams prompting a response from US forces. One Somali was killed and a fire broke out aboard the main vessel, which was destroyed. The 12 detained Somalis have been screened for possible criminal activity and terrorists links. The US government later decided repatriation would be the most effective and appropriate course of action. See "U.S. releases 10 Somalis held after exchange of fire at sea," Steve Stone, The Virginian-Pilot at, 4/30/06.

US port ID project could go to Irish company: As part of the budget law passed last year, the US Department of Homeland Security was ordered to hire the American Association of Airport Executives to process applications for a new tamper-proof identification card for maritime workers. But it has recently come to light that the association was offering prospective investors a role in future contracts in exchange for an investment totaling up to $25 million. The money would be used to set up a for-profit company that the group would hire as a subcontractor to handle the soon-to-be promised government work. Daon, an Irish biometrics company with offices in Reston, Virginia, ultimately bought 51 percent control of the new entity. Now, US companies are pushing Congress to rescind the provision that could lead to Daon handling sensitive personal records for American port workers. See "U.S. firms object to ports ID deal," New York Times News Service at The, 4/30/06.

Fire-damaged sub won't be operational until 2012: Canada's Department of National Defence announced that repairs to the HMCS Chicoutimi will be delayed for another four years so that the money that would have gone into repairs can be spent elsewhere. Only one of Canada's four submarines, HMCS Windsor, is now able to go to sea. Sister ships HMCS Corner Brook and HMCS Victoria have been out of service for several years. Money from Chicoutimi will go toward getting Victoria and Corner Brook back into service, and will give Canada two boats fully operational in 2009. The decision means the Chicoutimi won't be operational until 2012, compared to a previously announced launch date of September 2007. The extensive repairs to Chicoutimi, needed after the October, 2004 fire, will be done at the same time as a scheduled two-year refit, saving Canada millions of dollars. Sources inside the navy say the decision raises serious concerns about the future of the burned sub, which might cost as much as $100 million to repair. About $25 million has already been spent assessing the damage, and removing some materials destroyed in the fire. See "Defence delays repairs to fire-ravaged sub," Alison Auld, Canadian Press at, 4/28/06.

Russian oil projects cause environmental concern: Work has begun on the longest oil pipeline in Russia, two days after President Putin changed the proposed route to avoid approaching Lake Baikal. Environmental groups had expressed the fear that an oil spill could have caused irreversible damage to the lake, which is the world's largest fresh water lake, and home to hundreds of unique species. When completed in 2008, it will carry oil from eastern Siberia to the Pacific Ocean for consumers across the Asia-Pacific region, including China. Forecasts quoted by the company building the pipeline, Transneft, suggest that consumption of oil there will grow by more than 50% between 2002 and 2010, and more than double between 2002 and 2020. The financial cost of the change of route has yet to be determined. See "Construction starts on Siberia-Asia oil pipeline," AFP at Yahoo! News, 4/28/06.

Environmental groups are also concerned about the proposed Sakhalin oil and gas operation. The massive oil and gas fields off the north coast of Sakhalin Island are located near the feeding grounds of the critically endangered Western Grey whale, and ice and poor weather in the area would make it nearly impossible to clean up any spills for half of the year. The WWF has stated the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) should not approve a $300 million loan to support the Royal Dutch Shell Plc-led Sakhalin-2 project. The EBRD's board is expected to vote on the issue in June. See "WWF stresses oil spill dangers of Sakhalin project," Reuters, 4/28/06.

Hundreds of dead dolphins found in Zanzibar: As many as 400 dead dolphins washed ashore on a tourist beach in Zanzibar on Friday; the cause of the deaths is unknown. An official with the Zanzibar Fisheries Department and Marine Products said the islands have not witnessed the death of such a large number of dolphins before. The bottleneck dolphins had empty stomachs, suggesting they could have been disoriented, and were swimming for some time to reorient themselves. They didn't starve to death, and they weren't poisoned. The deaths are a blow to the tourism industry in Zanzibar, where thousands of visitors go to watch and swim with wild dolphins. US experts were investigating if sonar from submarines could have been involved. A US Navy task force patrols the East Africa coast as part of counterterrorism operations, but the service rarely comments on the location of submarines at sea. A Navy official was not immediately available for comment. See "400 Dead Dolphins Found Off African Coast," Associated Press at CBS News, 4/28/06.

Recommendations following Star Princess fire: The United Kingdom's Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), the lead investigating agency of the fire aboard the cruise ship Star Princess in March 2006, has issued a series of recommendations to ensure that external areas of cruise ships meet fire protection standards similar to those in place for internal areas. The recommendations include both immediate changes to improve safety procedures aboard cruise ships, and changes to international treaties that govern fire safety standards at sea. The International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL), an industry association representing the cruise industry, has also made strong recommendations to its members. The US Coast Guard agrees with the MAIB that the existing SOLAS regulations do not adequately address fire protection of external areas, including balcony areas, and will actively work with the UK and others to address this issue at the International Maritime Organization. See the MAIB Safety Bulletin, "Fire on board the Star Princess," 4/27/06. This page also provides a link to the full safety bulletin.

The bulletin points to dividers between the ship's balconies as being a possible reason for the intensity of the fire. They were made of polycarbonate. The bulletin notes that they were "readily ignitable," and "generated intense heat and copious amounts of dense black smoke as they burned." The cause of the fire is unknown.

Tanker runs aground in Puerto Rico: A tanker filled with more than 300,000 barrels of crude oil ran aground in Puerto Rico early Thursday. There were no immediate reports of injuries or oil leaks. The Coast Guard received a call around 1:15 a.m. that the tanker, the Margara, ran aground about three miles south of Tallaboa, Puerto Rico. It was on its way to Puerto Rico from Cartagena, Columbia. Investigators planned to inspect the vessel for damage. See "Oil Tanker Runs Aground in Puerto Rico," Associated Press at, 4/27/06.

Putin orders oil pipeline routed away from Baikal: President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a giant new oil pipeline to be routed away from Lake Baikal, the world's biggest freshwater lake and home to hundreds of unique species. He said the pipeline, which will link Siberian oil fields and the Pacific Coast, must skirt the watershed area of the lake, which is prone to earthquakes, and which scientists say would be permanently damaged if oil spilled from the pipeline. Environmental groups as well as Russian scientists opposed Transneft's planned route. Putin's reversal appeared highly choreographed for state television networks. Transneft had said earlier that rerouting the pipe further from the northern end of the lake could add a billion dollars to the cost. See "Russia's Putin blocks pipeline near vast lake," Reuters at MSNBC, 4/26/06.

Ferries won't be built in B.C.: The major player in the B.C. shipbuilding industry has pulled out of the bidding to replace B.C.'s northern ferries, meaning there's virtually no chance new ships will be built locally. Washington Marine Group, which owns Seaspan as well as Vancouver Shipyards and Victoria Shipyards, withdrew earlier this month from the bidding on the $200-million plus vessels. The new deadline for delivery, set in light of the sinking of the Queen of the North on March 22, is too tight for its busy schedule, the company said. The shipyard workers union is now worrying about the loss of future jobs. B.C. Ferries has pushed up its delivery date by a year for the replacement ferries. The corporation wants to award the contract by June 30, giving the winning bidder 21/2 years to build the first vessel. Washington Marine Group's decision to withdraw was simply based on scheduling. See "Major shipbuilder too busy for BC Ferries," CBC at myTELUS, 4/26/06.

South Korea vows to never abandon disputed islets: South Korea's president, facing criticism at home for not being tough enough in a territorial row with Japan, went on television on Tuesday to vow that he would never compromise on sovereignty over the disputed islands. Seoul and Tokyo reached a deal on Saturday to avoid a possible high-seas showdown after South Korea put its coast guard on high alert to thwart a Japanese plan to send survey ships to waters near the islands. In the deal, Japan agreed to call off a planned maritime survey near the islands and Seoul said it would drop plans to register Korean names for undersea features near the islands at an international conference in June. But critics in South Korea say agreeing to not register the names gave Japan exactly what it wanted while advertising Tokyo's claims to the islands. See "S. Korea Leader Vows to Defend Islets," Bo-Mi Lim, Associated Press at Guardian Unlimited, 4/25/06.

Sydney Harbour fishermen are checked for toxic pollutants: Although Sydney Harbour is pristine on its surface, industries such as Union Carbide pumped toxic substances into the waterway for years when environmental controls were negligible. Commercial fishing was banned in the Harbour in January after tests found that bream and prawns had unacceptable levels of dioxin, a substance that can cause cancer at high enough levels. Some fishermen are now considering legal action against the state government over possible exposure. The New South Wales health department said last week it was contacting the Harbour's 44 commercial fishermen to offer blood tests. It also recommended that people should eat only small quantities of seafood caught in the Harbour. See "Health tests offered as fishermen of Sydney Harbour fear dioxin poison," Ed Johnson, The Scotsman, 4/24/06.

Japan stops maritime survey plan: Japan has dropped its maritime survey plan in South Korean economic waters under an agreement to defuse a tense standoff with South Korea on Saturday. Japan's two coast guard ships awaiting orders for a survey of the ocean bed near Dokdo islets, claimed by both Japan and South Korea, returned to Tokyo on Sunday morning after a week lingering off southwestern Japan. South Korea lifted the alert for its coast guard, which had been on full alert around the islets backed by gun boats and maritime patrol aircraft. Under Saturday's agreement, South Korea also made a concession to Tokyo's demand not to push for the registration of Korean names for seabed topography near the Dokdo islets. See "South Korea, Japan defuse standoff over disputed waters, recall ships," Canadian Press, Associated Press at, 4/23/06.

California to reduce port pollution: A plan approved by the California Air Resources Board at a meeting in Long Beach last week aims to reduce port pollution — and the health risks caused by it — throughout the state. The $6 to $10 billion cost of meeting the plan's goals would be borne primarily by shipping lines, cargo-terminal operators, trucking companies and railroads. The plan does not contain any specific regulations, which air board officials said would be hashed out in future public hearings. But one strategy mentioned is cold ironing, in which ships use dockside electrical power rather than running their engines while in port. This reduces particulate and sulfur emissions from ships, which burn relatively dirty, high-sulfur fuels. The air board is also considering requiring ships using California ports to use cleaner fuels. See "Reducing emissions from cargo, cruise ships part of state plan," Gordon Smith, Copley News Service at, 4/23/06.

Panama plans ways to keep the canal open: The Panama Canal needs to be updated, and Panama's President Martin Torrijos will ask voters to approve a multibillion-dollar plan for expansion. No price has been declared yet, but analysts estimate it could cost from $5 to $8 billion. Although this is a significant undertaking for a country with an annual budget of $6.5 billion, about 55% of the population favor expansion. Critics say the project will be too expensive and is risky because of uncertainties about the growth of maritime trade and the world's economy. They offer an alternative: building a $600 million megaport at the Pacific end of the waterway where the big ships would transfer loads to smaller vessels that would carry them through the canal and on to ports on the Atlantic. Voters will have the final say in a referendum later this year. See "Panama's President to Unveil Canal Plan," Eloy O. Aguilar, Associated Press at Las Vegas Sun, 4/23/06.

Shipping containers celebrate anniversary: By dramatically increasing the efficiency of, and reducing the cost of, cargo transportation, the container has expanded markets for goods worldwide. The box altered the future of nations when manufacturing operations, chasing lower labor costs, sprouted throughout Asia, particularly in China. These changes were all set in motion 50 years ago this Wednesday, when a converted tanker ship set sail from Newark, New Jersey, to Houston, Texas, laden with 58 converted truck bodies filled with cargo. Today containers dominate global trade, with ships specially built to carry thousands of them crossing the oceans. Malcom McLean, the owner of a North Carolina trucking company, refit the first ship, the Ideal X, to carry containers. And supplying troops in Vietnam via container ships in 1965 convinced the world of the container's potential. Today, about 15 million containers roam the globe. See "A sea change in shipping," Bill Hensel, Jr., Houston Chronicle, 4/22/06.

South Korea warns of possible clash with Japan: South Korea warned Japan yesterday there could be a "physical clash" between the two countries over a small group of rocky islets, which are occupied by South Korea but claimed by Japan. Some 20 South Korean gunboats have been dispatched to the area in anticipation of the arrival of Japanese survey ships. They were scheduled to conduct exercises yesterday, but these were delayed by bad weather. Japanese and South Korean negotiators have held talks to find a diplomatic solution, but tensions continued to rise over Japan's planned survey. The islets, called Dokdo by the Koreans and Takeshima in Japan, are surrounded by rich fishing waters and both countries claim the area as part of their exclusive economic zones. The Korea Gas Corporation estimates the area has enough methane hydrate deposits to meet South Korea's natural gas demands for 30 years. See "Armed clash feared over disputed islands," Associated Press at The Washington Times, 4/21/06.

US Naval Academy students get course in network safety: Recently, the US Naval Academy teamed up with the Air Force Academy, the Military Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, the Air Force Institute of Technology, and the Merchant Marine Academy to participate in the sixth annual Cyber Defense Exercise. Sponsored by the National Security Agency, the exercise required sharing information through a computer network in much the same way that a corporation, or even an alliance of nations might share information. Of course, information sharing makes computer networks vulnerable to outside attacks by hacking. So some participants took on the role of hackers, who tested the security of the computer network, observed how long it would take the students to become aware of the attacks, and then how the students would respond to the attacks. A few natural disasters were also thrown in. The exercise is intended to prepare the midshipmen for the "real world." See "Navy team safeguards information from hackers," Martha Thorn, Trident at, 4/21/06.

US federal ID program could cause delays at ports: The Transportation Worker Identification Credential program, a security measure that seeks to better control access to harbors, rail yards, airports and other cargo transit areas that terrorists might target, has been on the drawing board for more than three years. The plan could be unveiled next week, but US officials have refused to discuss it until then. According to industry members who have discussed it with the Transportation Security Administration and Coast Guard, illegal immigrants and people convicted of certain crimes might be barred from the positions they now hold. If these rules went into effect, thousands of port workers, including dock workers and truck drivers, could lose their jobs — and that could slow down the flow of goods throughout the US. The TSA proposal is expected to include rules similar to those for truck drivers who ferry hazardous materials, and would bar anyone who is on a terror watch list, entered the country illegally or has certain criminal convictions. See "Job Cuts Feared Over Port Security ID," Associated Press at CBS News, 4/21/06.

New dive planned at Canadian ferry wreck site: Canadian investigators, trying to determine the cause of last month's fatal ferry sinking on the Pacific coast, will launch another probe of the underwater wreck site. The dive operation will examine the wheelhouse of the sunken ferry Queen of the North, which is located in about 400 meters (1,300) of water in British Columbia's Inside Passage. The ocean-going ferry, carrying 101 passengers and crew, sank early on March 22, about 120 km (75 miles) south of Prince Rupert, after hitting Gil Island on a scheduled trip down the coast. Ninety-nine people were rescued but two are missing and presumed dead. The Transportation Safety Board will work with a new company to hire their submersible, although the company that performed the first underwater dive says they can perform the task again, more economically. See "TSB wants second dive to sunken B.C. ferry," Scott Sutherland, Canadian Press, Vancouver Sun at, 4/21/06.

Norway's whaling season begins amid protests: Norway's controversial whaling season started April 1. A letter of protest signed by representatives of 11 nations was delivered by a representative from the British Embassy to Norway's Foreign Ministry late this week. Norwegian officials acknowledge the protests, but have no plans to stop the slaughter. Around 30 boats will participate in this year's hunt, and they have authority to kill 1,052 whales, 250 more than last year, and the highest number since the early 1980s. The hunt seems more symbolic and steeped in tradition than backed by commercial reward. The market for whale meat is small, and it's not the staple of the Norwegian diet that it once was. The market for whale blubber is also restricted, and exports are limited. See "Dozen nations urge Norway to stop commercial whaling," Adrian Croft, Reuters at, 4/21/06.

Report comes out on Egypt ferry disaster: An investigation has blamed the ship's owners and the Egyptian government for the Red Sea ferry disaster in February when 1000 people lost their lives. The Al-Salam Boccaccio 98 sank in the Red Sea early on February 3 while on a journey from Daba in Saudi Arabia to Safaga in Egypt. The accident was one of the worst marine disasters in Egyptian history. The report focuses on two general topics. First are the drains, which were blocked. See "Blocked drains led to Egypt ferry disaster -report" (Reuters, 4/19/06). The report said that as water sprayed by crew members tackling a fire built up on the deck, passengers tried to dive down into the water to pull out paper and plastic bags that were blocking the drains. The accumulation of water on the deck caused the ship to list dangerously, and sink. This brings up the second topic: the report also accused Egyptian authorities of a "wicked collaboration" with the owners to allow the ship to sail between Egypt and Saudi Arabia in spite of evident shortcomings. See "Egypt parliament probe slams state role in ferry disaster" (AFP at Yahoo! News, 4/19/06.) Clearly, the drains had not been inspected by the Maritime Safety Board, the ship was overloaded, and had apparently used forged documents to conceal a shortage of safety equipment.

Security at New York harbor is scrutinized: The Kill Van Kull is used by all commercial shipping moving to and from the Howland Hook port on Staten Island and ports in Bayonne and Newark, New Jersey. According to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the passage handled most of a record $132 billion worth of container cargo in 2005. Several incidents in the past year, including the grounding of the freighter New Delhi Express last weekend, have underscored the vulnerability of New York's last deepwater container port. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) points out that if a large ship were to sink in the narrow waterway, "the port system would be closed for weeks or even months, and with it New York City's foreign import supply chain." Nadler hopes to stop the planned closure of the Red Hook Container Port, although the Bloomberg administration feels keeping it open would not solve harbor security issues. The Brooklyn Cruise Terminal will likely expand into the space left. See "Nadler: Cargo ship grounding underscores NY harbor security risks," Richard Pyle, Associated Press at, 4/19/06.

China revises area for sea traffic ban: China has clarified the area for a ban on maritime traffic around disputed gas fields in the East China Sea. The revised banned area does not include waters on the Japanese side of the median line. Chinese maritime authorities in March banned ship traffic around disputed gas fields in the East China Sea while expansion operations were under way at the state-owned Pinghu gas field. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe warned on Monday that China's action amounts to an infringement of Japan's sovereign rights and asked China to confirm whether the expansion work is planned or has already started. But now Abe says Beijing has informed Tokyo that it will redraw the banned area so it does not affect the Japanese side of the disputed economic zone. See "Japan, China Defuse Flare-Up in Maritime Territorial Tiff," Steve Herman, VOA News, 4/18/06.

Roh hardens stance on Dokdo row: South Korea's President Roh Moo-hyun warned of a stern response to Japan's maritime survey in Korean waters near the Dokdo islets, calling it another attempt to justify its past aggression. The Korean maritime police tightened security after a report said a Japanese vessel left Tokyo last night to conduct the survey despite the Korean government's protest. Japan's Kyodo news agency reported the Japanese coast guard vessel may arrive near the Dokdo islets today. Roh said that the government is considering shifting to a more aggressive stance in countering Japan's bids to claim the East Sea islets. For decades, Korea had chosen a low-key diplomacy in dealing with its neighbor's provocations to avoid territorial disputes that could eventually benefit Japan. But that may change soon. See "Japan's Survey Boat Heads for Dokdo," Ryu Jin, The Korea Times, 4/18/06.

Chinese immigrants await their fate: 22 stowaways from China were captured at Seattle's Harbor Island on April 5 after arriving in a sealed cargo container aboard the MV Rotterdam after a two-week trip from Shanghai. They were discovered wandering around inside Terminal 18. Some of them have made claims of "credible fear" of persecution if they are sent back to China, which is the first step in a process aimed at winning political asylum. All of the stowaways hope to be able to stay in the US. Stowaways' cases are different from those of other illegal immigrants who make it onto US soil, since they haven't technically entered the country yet. But because of the complex relationship between China and the US, it's all but certain that the Chinese will make their way into the byzantine immigration or asylum system. Some will gain legal residency, and others will disappear and slip quietly into the workforce. See "Illegal Chinese immigrants land in U.S. limbo," Kari Huus, MSNBC, 4/18/06.

Somalia grants US Navy permission to secure its coastline: The Prime Minister of Somalia's transitional government has granted US Navy vessels permission to patrol Somali waters. The agreement was reached on Sunday between Mr. Ali Mohammed Ghedi and the US ambassador to Kenya. US Embassy officials were not immediately available for comment. The US Navy has recently seized pirates in international waters, but has been unable to pursue them close to shore. Under the agreement, the US Navy would also develop Somalia's rudimentary coastguard service. Pirates in Somalia's central region currently are holding three vessels, including a United Arab Emirates-registered oil tanker and a Korean fishing vessel. See "US to help tackle Somali pirates," BBC News, 4/17/06.

South Korean shipyards start to get hull blocks made in China: Two block suppliers for Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering and the industry's No. 3 supplier Samsung Heavy Industries converted to building ships last year. This is part of a trend that has South Korean shipyards worrying about a shortage of hull blocks, as demand from Japan grows, and more local block manufacturers convert to shipyards. To cope with declining supplies, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering is now building a block factory in China. Samsung Heavy Industries has been running a block factory in China since 1997, and plans to build another one there. Global industry leader Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. said its supplies are sufficient thanks to its own block factories in South Korea. But smaller shipyards, which depend on domestic block makers, are faced with increasing shortages. See "Shipyards Short of Key Parts," The Korea Times, 4/17/06.

World's largest passenger ship arrives in Germany: Nearly 3,000 people gathered at the Hamburg docks to witness the arrival of the Freedom of the Seas, the world's largest cruise liner. The Finnish-built ship is stopping over at the Northern German port for a final polishing at the Blohm and Voss shipyard, before setting sail for its maiden transatlantic voyage. At 339 meters (1,112 feet) long, it is actually six meters (20 feet) shorter than the Queen Mary 2, but it makes up in height (72 meters - 236 feet) and breadth (56 meters- 184 feet) for what it lacks in length. Flagship of the Norwegian-American firm Royal Caribbean International, the Freedom of the Seas will be based in Miami, where it will take up to 4,375 passengers at a time on cruises in the Caribbean. The ship will be surpassed in 2009 by an even bigger ship from Royal Caribbean: the Genesis, with a passenger capacity of more than 5,400. See "Giant cruise ship thrills Hamburg," BBC News, 4/17/06.

China bans ships in part of East China Sea: China is banning ships from an area in the East China Sea as it carries out an expansion project on its Pinghu gas field till September 30. The Maritime Safety Administration said ships will be laying pipelines and cables on the seafloor. Ships passing by the area are required to contact the working ships and keep a distance of 1 sea mile away from them. The area straddles the median line which serves as the border between China and Japan and extends into Japanese waters. Kyodo News reported the Japanese government is inquiring with China over the situation. Japan is expected to lodge a protest, as it regards the median line as a separation of the two countries' 200-nautical- mile exclusive economic zones. See "China bans ship traffic around disputed gas fields in East China Sea," Associated Press at Khaleej Times Online, 4/16/06.

Lack of dredging funds causes hardships on the Great Lakes: Many shipping officials are becoming worried about inadequate dredging on the Great Lakes. Some shipping firms say they no longer will send boats up Michigan's Saginaw River because of the increased silting. A tug pushing a barge recently lost its rudders in the river, and the cement carrier Alpena recently struggled against strong currents, trying to avoid hitting bottom. The river's turning basin hasn't been dredged since the mid 1990s. The shipping channel at the port of Green Bay, Wisconsin has narrowed in recent years to a third of its designated width, while boats have been turned away at St. Joseph, Michigan, because of the lower draft. Because vessels have to carry lighter loads per trip, the industry estimates that 75% of the cargoes carried in US lakers in the past five years were less than full loads. The US Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for dredging the nation's ports and waterways, says the corps' budget has not kept pace with inflation for many years. See "Undredged channels limit shipping on Great Lakes," Associated Press at, 4/16/06.

China's shipbuilding boom could create overcapacity: China's booming economy is driving the country toward building more ships to deliver its finished goods. The country wants to become the biggest shipbuilder in the world, in part by constructing the largest new-building yard in the world on Changxing Island, near Shanghai. China also wants to move from building lower-cost tankers and bulk carriers, to building higher-priced ships such as cruise liners and LNG carriers. Other world shipbuilders are starting to worry about overcapacity in the market. But another fear is about the quality of the vessels. Basil Papachristidis, a Greek shipowner, has six tankers under construction in China. He expressed fears about the use of untrained yard workers and the high number of sub-contracted staff at a recent shipping conference in Shanghai. See "China poised to rule the waves but fears are raised about quality of new vessels," Terry Macalister, The Guardian, 4/14/06.

Japanese shipbuilders are expanding carefully: Japanese shipbuilders are enjoying the boom in the industry, but are holding back on large investments such as new docks, for fear of coming up against an excess of construction capacity. Rather than physical expansions, they are focusing on efficiency in the movement of personnel. For example, IHI Marine United Inc., a subsidiary of Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Co., hopes to improve productivity by having workers' trips to the toilet account for 70% of the time they spend moving around the Yokohama shipyard. Currently, trips to the toilet make up only 7 to 17 percent of travel time. Some upgrades to facilities have been made: IHI has installed new parts-processing equipment, and the painting section of the plant in Kure has been renewed. Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co. recently introduced a large crane at its shipyard in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture. See "Shipbuilders begin cautious expansion," The Asahi Shimbun, 4/14/06.

Canada works to claim territory in the Arctic: Three years ago, Canada ratified the Law of the Sea, an international convention that allows signatory countries a decade to push their maritime boundaries beyond the 200-nautical-mile zone in which they have exclusive rights to everything in and below their waters. Under article 76, if a country can prove that its continental landmass extends undersea beyond 200 miles, it can claim additional territory, although it gives up the right to fishing in that area. If Canadian scientists can prove that the Lomonosov Ridge is what's called a "natural prolongation" of Ellesmere Island, Canada can use it as its basis for pushing its borders farther north. Positive proof could benefit Denmark as much as Canada, since the line dividing Canada and Greenland, which is owned by the Danes, runs straight up the Lomonosov Ridge. The project to map the ridge is being funded by both countries. This project is part of a much larger effort to expand Canada's maritime territory on all coasts by as much as 1.7 million square kilometers. See "Canada moves to claim territory size of Prairies," Nathan VanderKlippe, CanWest News Service, Edmonton Journal at, 4/13/06.

High-profile problems are leading to discounts on cruises: This is becoming the most challenging cruise season for the industry since 2003. Many problems are occurring in the Caribbean. Cozumel, Mexico, for example, is still under repair after being damaged by Hurricane Wilma last fall. Memories of last year's brutal hurricane season are dissuading some would-be cruisers. And some travelers have been spooked by concerns about cruise safety: disappearances, fires and pirate attacks have troubled the industry of late. Some of these events have sparked a US congressional inquiry, and raise the possibility of new legislation or regulatory oversight to help protect passengers. To spur demand, cruise companies are now cutting prices. See "In wake of problems, cruise ships cut prices," Avery Johnson, The Wall Street Journal at, 4/11/06.

High-speed ferry collides with whale: The high-speed ferry Toppy 4 apparently collided with a whale off Japan's Kagoshima Prefecture. Ninety-three of the 114 passengers and crew on board were injured, with 36 people taken to a hospital. The collision damaged the ferry's rear wing and collapsed part of the ceiling. Transportation ministry officials said the accident resembles seven other collisions with whales or dolphins that occurred between 2003 and 2005. The ministry has urged boat operators to take safety measures, such as slowing down in areas where whales have been sighted. Toppy 4 was equipped with speakers that emit sounds underwater that whales apparently dislike. The idea is to keep them away from the ferry. See "93 people injured in ferry collision," The Asahi Shimbun, 4/10/06.

Mauritania hopes for better fisheries deal with the EU: Mauritania awards fisheries agreements every five years to the European Union. The latest deal, which runs out in July, allows more than 240 foreign vessels into Mauritanian waters. Local fishermen say the industrial trawlers from Europe are sucking up Mauritania's once abundant stocks. Despite having one of the richest fishing grounds in the world, Mauritania is one of the world's poorest nations. The country's new government says the deal struck by the former administration sells Mauritania's resources off too cheaply. Fishermen are hoping that European fishing vessels will be better regulated in the new fisheries agreement, and that the government may even invest in a fishing industry in Mauritania. See "European trawlers threaten Mauritania's fishermen," Nick Tattersall, Reuters, 4/9/06.

Canada renames the Northwest Passage: Canada is at odds with much of the world over the status of the Northwest Passage - the waters that form the northern route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Most major maritime powers call it an international passageway. But Canada says the passage is an internal strait, claiming in part that Inuit have lived on the waters, when iced, since time immemorial. Hoping to bolster its case, Canada's military is now calling it the "Canadian Internal Waters." However, it's unclear whether the direction came before or after the Conservative victory under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who made Arctic sovereignty an election priority. In any case, recent research suggests that as the ice pack retreats from the western mouth of the passage it could become ice-free and open to shipping as soon as 2015. The real problem confronting Canada is that the country remains unprepared to defend the passage against incursions by rogue vessels which, if allowed to cross through unopposed, could destroy the internal waters claim. See "Northwest Passage gets political name change," Nathan VanderKlippe, CanWest News Service, 4/9/06.

African hospital ship will soon set sail: The Danish ferry Droning Ingrid is nearing the end of a £30m refit at the Cammell Laird shipyard at Hebburn on Tyneside. The ship will set sail for Africa in July as the Africa Mercy, the world's biggest non-military hospital ship. The ship, equipped with six operating theaters, an intensive care unit, an 80-bed ward, an ophthalmic unit and two computerized tomography scanners, is designed to perform some 7,000 operations a year, many of them by National Health Service staff who give up holiday time to take part. The vessel is the biggest addition to the fleet of the charity Mercy Ships International. Ann Gloag put £4m toward the project. See "Bus tycoon gives £4m for African hospital ship," Jim McBeth, Times Online, 4/9/06.

Negotiations underway to try to free South Korean vessel: Negotiations are underway to try to release the South Korean fishing vessel 628 Dongwon and its 25 crew from its Somali captors. Village elders in the area near where the ship is being held said the gunmen who captured the ship were seeking payment of a fine levied for illegal fishing, and not a ransom. One elder, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that a payment of $400,000 would be acceptable. Dongwon Fisheries, the vessel's owners, obtained a fishing license from the interim Somali government, but the kidnappers have not acknowledged it. The South Korean firm was apparently paying $4,500 per month for fishing rights, mainly to catch tuna. The ship was hijacked on Tuesday. See "Somali pirates demand $400,000 for release of ship," AFP at Mail & Guardian online, 4/7/06.

Pricing new US aircraft carriers: US Navy officials and executives of Northrop Grumman Newport News shipyard said on Thursday that the first of the new CVN-21 aircraft carriers will cost only $7.3 billion, and subsequent ships in the new class will be even less expensive. But some estimates put the cost of the new-design aircraft carrier much higher. The Navy wants to increase the size of the fleet from today's total of about 280 ships to 313. Top admirals have told lawmakers they can do the job with about $14.4 billion per year. But a non-partisan budget office told a House subcommittee last week that the real cost of the shipbuilding program will be about $19 billion annually. Thursday's briefing highlighted how minor adjustments in the assumptions behind shipbuilding cost estimates can produce dramatically different results. See "By some estimates, new carriers would be less expensive to build," Dale Eisman, The Virginian-Pilot at, 4/7/06.

Aral Sea recovery project shows promise: The Aral Sea is an endorheic inland sea that lies between Kazakhstan in the north and Karakalpakstan in the south. Since the 1960s the Aral Sea has been shrinking, as the rivers that feed it were diverted by the Soviet Union for irrigation. The Aral Sea is heavily polluted, largely as the result of weapons testing, industrial projects, and fertilizer runoff before and after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The $85.8 million project to reclaim the Aral Sea, which started in 2001, is on track to be completed in September. The project is showing promising results: although World Bank water experts had forecast that the water levels would begin to rise only in three years or so, the small Aral's surface area has already expanded by 30%. People in villages like Karateren have even started fishing again. But no one predicts the Aral can ever produce its original catches again, and some in the Kazakhstan government warn of a long road ahead. See "A vanished sea reclaims its form in Central Asia," Ilan Greenberg, The New York Times at International Herald Tribune, 4/7/06.

South Korean fishing vessel is seized off Somalia: The South Korean-flagged fishing vessel 628 Dongwon was captured Tuesday afternoon by eight armed men with two speedboats off the coast of Somalia. Twenty-five crewmembers are being held captive. Abdi Garaad Daahir, a spokesman for the militants, said men from his clan had captured the vessel fishing illegally in Somalia's territorial waters. Daahir's clan has been targeting foreign fishing vessels in Somalaian waters for two weeks. But South Korea has disputed this, saying the pirates seized the vessel in international waters and later took it to Somalia's waters. Piracy in Somalia's waters has increased steeply last year to 35 cases; there were only two incidents in 2004. See "Militants Who Took Ship Deny Being Pirates," Associated Press at CBS News, 4/5/06.

Korea's Foreign Ministry announced that the crew of the fishing boat is safe for now. The Ministry has mobilized several groups in South Korea and in Africa to secure their release. Officials suspect the kidnappers are holding the crew and boat for ransom. See "Hijacked crew safe," The Korea Herald, 4/6/06.

Crewmen are charged in cruise boat capsizing: The owner of a pleasure boat that capsized off Bahrain's coast, killing 58 people, was detained on allegations he ordered the vessel to sail, even though it was unsteady and had no license. The prosecutor's office also detained the ship's captain, who it said did not have a sailing license. Apparently, the boat was surveyed and the owner was given a list of requirements the vessel had to meet before it could be given a safety certificate for carrying passengers. But the process was not completed and the boat went to sea without the all-clear, according to Bahrain's interior ministry. Experienced seaman in the area stated that the re-fit, which added an extra deck to the al Dana, made its height dangerously disproportionate to its width, and it was visibly unstable. See "Pleasure boat owner held over sinking," Nick Allen, The, 4/5/06.

Canada changes acceptable levels of malachite green: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced this week that it will permit amounts of less than one part per billion of the chemical malachite green in fish destined for the dinner table. The substance, which is a known carcinogen, is approved in Canada only for use in aquarium fish, and was banned in fish intended for human consumption in 1992. But the CFIA and Health Canada have been working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada as more of the substance has been discovered in fish. And on Monday, the federal government announced that "the probability of serious adverse health consequences associated with the daily consumption of fish containing trace amounts of malachite green ... is remote." Environmentalists have expressed shock over the new acceptable levels, but acknowledge that there may be trace levels present in the natural environment. See "Trace amounts of known carcinogen now OK in fish," Sandra McCulloch, Times Colonist at, 4/5/06.

Panama Canal will get bigger: Recent growth of Asian economies has increased shipping worldwide, and has seen the Panama Canal operating at near full capacity. The Panama Canal Authority has approved plans for a $7.5 billion widening of the canal, and the plan is expected to be approved by President Torrijos' Cabinet and by the National Assembly. Part of the costs will be covered by increases in canal fees, part may be raised by selling future transits as if they are bonds, but most of the project will be paid for with borrowed money. First opened in 1914, the Panama Canal set the standard for international shipping, with the first container ships called Panamax vessels — this was the maximum size of a ship that was able to pass through the Canal. But starting in the 1990s, ships were built that were too big to pass through. The new construction project, which will take about seven years to complete, will ensure that the Canal can handle today's bigger vessels. See "Panama Canal set for $7.5bn revamp," Jane Monahan, BBC News, 4/4/06.

African migrants risk all in open ocean: Officials in the Canary Islands are alarmed by a dramatic rise in the number of Africans trying to reach the archipelago. Some 3,000 people arrived in the first three months of this year, compared to roughly the same amount for all of 2005. On March 14, 331 arrived in eight boats. On Sunday, more than 30 would-be migrants are believed to have died in a boating accident. On Tuesday, three boats arrived with 117 people. Despite overcoming tremendous danger, the Africans don't know what will happen now. If they come from a country with which Spain has an automatic repatriation accord they can be sent back home in the next 40 days. If not, they will probably be allowed to stay in Spain but have little chance of getting residency or work papers, and can eventually end up on the street, either in the Canary Islands or the Spanish mainland. See "More Africans Arrive in Canary Islands," Associated Press at CBS News, 4/4/06.

Sentencing in maritime smuggling case: Gregory Ray Labono was arrested last year outside the entrance to Los Angeles Harbor with 50 illegal immigrants crammed into the C'est La Vie, a luxury rented yacht built for eight. The immigrants, who paid up to $3,000 each for passage, were not otherwise mistreated. Labono was sentenced to one year in prison today by US District Judge Dale S. Fischer. It was the harbor's largest maritime smuggling operation in a decade. A co-defendant who helped sail the yacht, Vernon Eugene Siegel Jr., was sentenced earlier to four months in prison. The alleged mastermind of the scheme, Craig Lightner, is due to be sentenced next week. Lightner pleaded guilty to smuggling and to illegally importing protected angelfish. See "Smuggler Sentenced in Rare Maritime Case," The Los Angeles Times, 4/3/06.

Whaling operations unaffected by shareholder change: Japan's government says its scientific whaling operations will not be affected by the change in shareholding of the company that runs its whaling fleet. Fishing giant Nissui and four other firms that have owned whaling company Kyodo Senpaku will "donate" all of their shareholdings in the firm. Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research says it and other non-profit corporations will take over shares in the company. Environmental group Greenpeace says the decision is the result of consumer pressure being felt by the companies' other fishing operations, and hopes the decision will prove to be a step towards ending Japan's scientific whaling program altogether. But the Japanese government, which accuses Western anti-whaling campaigners of not respecting the national culture, vowed to press on. See "Environmentalists hail victory as Japanese firms quit whaling," AFP at Yahoo! News, 4/3/06.

The lure of sustainable seafood: The sustainable seafood movement seems to be gathering momentum. Giant retailer Wal-Mart threw its weight behind sustainable seafood in February, when it said it would eventually stock its North American stores with wild-caught fresh and frozen fish from fisheries certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Other big businesses, like Darden Restaurants, have made similar commitments, and analysts believe more will follow this year. But no one can say if this will actually help protect the oceans from overfishing, or if it will just mean more expensive fish for consumers. See "Sustainable seafood casts a wider net," Kate Moser, The Christian Science Monitor at Yahoo! News, 4/3/06.

Accusations traded after Bahrain disaster: The tour boat that capsized off Bahrain was registered as a fishing boat, and floating restaurant. A cruise permit had been applied for, but had not yet been granted. Officials in Bahrain say it is too early to say what caused the boat to overturn, killing at least 58 people. The boat was in the style of a traditional Arab dhow but was made of fiberglass, rather than heavier wood. The three extra decks, only recently added, could have made the vessel less stable. The boat's owners, the al-Dana company, are trying to pin responsibility on the tour company operating the vessel, and claim overcrowding caused the tragedy. South African-based Murray and Roberts, which chartered the cruise, told the captain not to sail if he felt the ship was unsafe. Apparently, the tour operator, Island Tours, held a discussion with the boat's owners and captain before the vessel sailed. See "Bahrain boat 'was not licensed'," BBC News, 4/2/06.

Philippine police uncover possible terrorist hijacking plot: The National Intelligence Coordinating Agency says they have uncovered a plot by Abu Sayyaf extremists to hijack passenger ships in the southern Philippines, and hold passengers hostage. The report identified the alleged leader of the team, and a potential target: Super Ferry vessels sailing from Manila to Mindanao. Police have intensified intelligence operations to track down members of the terrorist group. The Abu Sayyaf group admitted to bombing the Super Ferry 14 in February 2004. It was the worst maritime terrorist attack in the Philippines, killing more than 100 people. See "Philippine Police Disclose Alleged Plot to Hijack Passenger Ships Uncovered," Al Jacinto, Arab News, 4/1/06.

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