News Archive - July 2006

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SS France likely to be scrapped in India: A report written by a government-appointed inspection team has apparently ruled that the SS France is fit for dismantling at the Alang shipyard, despite the presence of what are thought to be significant amounts of asbestos on board. The decision is expected to be upheld by India's Supreme Court. Greenpeace and the environmental group Platform on Shipbreaking say the ship should be recalled for decontamination, as the decision would violate the UN Basel Convention and a 2003 law banning the import of asbestos waste to India. Even Bangladesh, currently the world's biggest shipbreaker and not noted for raising environmental concerns, turned the ship away. This month the Ship Decommissioning Industries in Paris revealed it had identified other hazardous substances when it inspected the ship in Germany, including mercury compounds and heavy metals. The case has been complicated by uncertainty over ownership, and the fact that its scrap value is probably less than the cost of asbestos decontamination. See "Anger greets toxic liner ruling," Ashling O'Connor, Times Online, 7/31/06.

Teams determining how to bring the Cougar Ace into port: The MV Cougar Ace, which is listing badly and now drifting in the Aleutian Island chain, is being studied to determine the best way to bring it in to port. Experts from the US Coast Guard, the ship's owner Mitsui O.S.K. lines, and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conversation are working on the problem. Plans to respond to a potential oil spill, or to the vessel grounding, are also being developed. Company officials believe the listing was caused by instability in the ballast caused when too much seawater was discharged from tanks located in the bottom of the ship. See "Crews will try to bring listing cargo ship to port," Jonathan Fowlie, Vancouver Sun at, 7/31/06.

Somali militants free 25 kidnapped sailors: Twenty-five sailors who were taken hostage in April off Somalia's coast were released Sunday after more than $800,000 in ransom was paid. The Dongwon-ho, owned by South Korean fishing company Dongwon Fisheries, was crewed by eight South Koreans and 17 other Asian men. It is not known who paid the ransom, but sources day the abductors originally demanded $1 million; the sum was reduced during negotiations. The militants claimed that they seized the boat while defending their waters from illegal fishing. South Korea said the pirates seized the vessel in international waters and later took it to Somalia's waters. Additionally, Dongwon received a fishing license from the interim Somali government, but the kidnappers didn't acknowledge it. All sailors will be allowed to return to South Korea, none were harmed. See "Somali Captors Release 8 Korean Sailors," The Korea Times, 7/30/06.

Runoff from modern life is changing the chemistry of the seas: For many years, people assumed that the oceans were too big for humanity to damage. Even when modern oil spills and other industrial accidents heightened awareness of man's capacity to injure sea life, the damage was often regarded as temporary. But over time, the accumulation of environmental pressures has altered the basic chemistry of the seas. The causes are varied, but collectively they have made the ocean more hospitable to primitive organisms by putting too much food into the water, allowing for the excessive growth of harmful algae and bacteria. In many places some of the most advanced forms of ocean life are struggling to survive while the most primitive are thriving and spreading. Fish, corals and marine mammals are dying while algae, bacteria and jellyfish are growing unchecked. Where this pattern is most pronounced, scientists evoke a scenario of evolution running in reverse, returning to the primeval seas of hundreds of millions of years ago. Global warming adds to the stress, since warmer waters speed microbial growth. And overfishing and destruction of wetlands have diminished the competing sea life and natural buffers that once held the microbes and weeds in check. See "A Primeval Tide of Toxins," Kenneth R. Weiss, Los Angeles Times, 7/30/06.

Russia says it is building a new sub fleet: A next-generation submarine will enter service with the Russian Northern Fleet in the foreseeable future, the country's naval commander says. Admiral Vladimir Masorin said construction of the submarine was nearing completion, and sea trials of a new nuclear missile submarine are scheduled for 2007. The Yury Dolgoruky, a Borey-class nuclear missile submarine, is being built at the Sevmash plant in the northern Arkhangelsk Region. It will be equipped with the Bulava ballistic missile, which is adapted from the Topol-M (SS-27). See "New-generation sub to enter service soon-Navy chief," RIA Novosti, 7/29/06.

Israeli attacks cause major oil spill: Environmentalists say a huge oil spill caused by an Israeli air strike on a power station in southern Lebanon has caused one of the worst environmental crises in the country's history. More than 110,000 barrels of oil have spilled into the ocean following the bombing of the Jiyeh power plant, which serves the south of the country. Hundreds of oil-coated fish have washed ashore, Beirut's beaches have been coated with oil, and some residents are having problems breathing. If the spill isn't contained soon it will spread to the rest of the Mediterranean, but hostilities have hampered access to the shore. It appears that other factors have also contributed to the environmental disaster: a leak from an Egyptian commercial boat that was apparently hit by a Hezbollah missile off Beirut, another from an Israeli gunboat also hit by Hezbollah, as well as effluent from a cement factory in northern Lebanon attacked by Israeli forces. See "Oil from bombed plant covers Lebanon shore," Scheherezade Faramarzi, Associated Press at, 7/28/06.

US port security program is on track: The US Department of Homeland Security says that planned target dates for starting the second phase of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program will be met. TWIC will extend full background checks to all with unescorted access to port facilities and vessels. This more extensive security check, set to start at the end of the year, is expected to raise the number of workers subject to screening from about 400,000 to 850,00. Members of the public and industry have submitted extensive comments about the program, which many fear will compromise the efficiency of port commerce. While a DHS spokesperson insists the program will start on time, Kathy Metcalf, director of maritime affairs for the Chamber of Shipping of America, believes the process is likely to be delayed due to the numbers of comments received. See "US on track to tighten port security at end-2006," Edgar Ang, Reuters at ABC News, 7/28/08.

British government may not replace its Trident nuclear missile system: Replacing Britain's Trident missile system and four submarines could cost as much as £25 billion. The prospect has been controversial because of the cost, although keeping some form of nuclear deterrent is more certain. The Tridents are generally seen as being less important as weapons than they are as a political tool for deterring aggression. The submarines were designed to last about 25 years. A recent report by the Commons defense committee chastised the government for not explaining "the purpose and continuing relevance of nuclear deterrence." In response, the government yesterday said it "would be possible" to continue operating the existing subs longer than previously estimated. Although maintenance costs would go up, and availability might go down, the government told the Commons committee that the vessels could be kept until the mid-2020s. Ministers have said MPs will be able to vote on the issue after the government publishes a white paper, before the end of the year. See "Government backs off from replacing Trident missile fleet," Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, 7/27/06.

Jury awards $10.4 million is asbestos case: A Virginia jury has awarded $10.4 million to Wanda Jones, the widow of Buddy Jones, who died one year ago from mesothelioma, a cancer caused almost exclusively by asbestos. Buddy Jones spent four years sealing pumps and making gaskets at Newport News Shipbuilding — now Northrop Grumman Newport News — in the 1960s before returning to college and becoming a computer programmer in Richmond. He suddenly got sick in late 2004, and died within a year. The judgment in the wrongful death lawsuit is split between the three named companies: John Crane Inc., a unit of British manufacturer Smiths Group Plc,; Denver's Johns Manville Corp., a unit of Berkshire Hathaway that makes roofing, insulation and other industrial materials; and Garlock Sealing Technologies, a Palmyra, New York, unit of EnPro Industries Inc. in Charlotte, North Carolina. Wanda Jones' attorney, Robert Hatten, called the verdict a landmark because John Crane Inc. has refused to settle other asbestos cases in the past. Attorneys for John Crane said the company's products could not have harmed workers, and that the company will appeal this case. See "Newport News jury gives widow $10.4M in asbestos case," Associated Press at, 7/27/06.

Answer on the cruise ship incident: The cruise ship Crown Princess, sailing off the Florida coast, rolled 15 degrees to its right, throwing passengers and other objects against the deck and walls. Cruise Ship Report says the company statement from Princess Cruise Lines blames the incident on human error, specifically a panicked officer. This seems to confirm a WESH-TV report that stated a junior officer was on the bridge and thought that the automatic pilot was making the ship turn too much. He took the vessel off automatic pilot, but mistakenly sent it into an even sharper turn. The incident is under investigation by the US Coast Guard and a British maritime agency. See "Officer blamed for cruise ship incident," United Press International at The Washington Times, 7/26/06.

Small accident on Russian atomic submarine: A nuclear submarine in Russia's Northern Fleet has leaked a small amount of feed-water during scheduled removal of the propulsion system. The malfunction was rapidly localized. The radiation levels both inside and outside the hull was normal, and there was no pollution to the environment. The incident occurred on Wednesday at the Vidyayevo base in the Murmansk Region. See "Report: Russian Nuclear Submarine Has Water Leak; No Danger," Associated Press at, 7/26/06.

TV report on kidnapped Korean fishermen angers the public: More than 100 days have passed since a Somali armed group kidnapped 25 crewmembers, including eight South Koreans, from the fishing vessel belonging to Dongwon Fisheries. Despite initial optimism for an early release, the detention continues with little sign of a breakthrough. MBC's recent documentary segment on the incident has renewed public anger over the South Korean government's efforts to free them. A number of people have left angry messages on the web sites of the program and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade denouncing the apparent lack of action. In fact, before the broadcast, the ministry sent an official note to MBC asking it not to release the segment. The note claimed that the TV report might ruin negotiations, which it claimed were nearing a compromise. The TV report in part highlights the plight of the kidnapped Koreans, who are upset that their government hasn't intervened. But ministry officials said it is an established practice to conduct negotiations through a third-party expert instead of facing the abductors face-to-face. Dongwon Fisheries has participated in negotiations. See "TV Report on Abducted Sailors Causes Stir," Kim Rahn, The Korea Times, 7/26/06.

Singapore eyes offshore shipbuilding production: Industry executives foresee a rising demand for deep-water floating production capacity as oil prices remain high, and about 84 new offshore fields are set to open up in the next five years. Singapore's shipyards, which are world leaders in building shallow-water jack-up and deep-water semi-submersible drilling rigs, want to expand their presence in the offshore shipbuilding industry. But Singapore will have to fight South Korean and Japanese yards, which are currently market leaders in building gas carriers, floating production units, FPSO vessels, and semi-submersible production rigs. An industry analyst in Seoul believes Koreans are currently focused on large floating systems, while Singapore specializes in rigs; but he believes there is enough work for everyone. Rising oil prices means that orders from the oil industry may rise even further. Already, Singapore yards have plans to expand capacity. Citigroup's 24th Exploration & Production Spending Survey in June predicted global E&P spending will rise by over 22 percent in 2006 to $253 billion from 2005. The group's December 2005 survey had forecast 14 percent growth. See "Offshore oil hunt highlights shipyards," Ovais Subhani, Reuters, 7/25/06.

Crew rescued from listing car carrier: The Singapore-flagged Cougar Ace, owned by Tokyo-based Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, was carrying 4,813 vehicles from Japan to Vancouver, British Columbia, when it started listing on Monday and taking on water south of the Aleutian Islands. One crew member suffered a broken leg, but all 23 crew were rescued from the ship after a day-long effort. The ship was at an 80 degree angle by the time Coast Guard helicopters arrived. It isn't clear what caused the ship to list, although it was caught in rain squalls and 8- to 10-foot seas. There were no reports of any cars going overboard, but at least some oil appears to have spilled. Crews are now discussing trying to salvage the ship. See "23 sailors rescued from listing cargo ship," Rachel D'Oro, Associated Pres at, 7/25/06.

US aircraft carriers questioned again: US Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), also a retired admiral and head of the House subcommittee that overseas shipbuilding programs, has suggested shifting US Navy interests to smaller and cheaper aircraft carriers, holding mostly unmanned aircraft. The move would allow the US to buy more ships, and reduce the risk that a surprise attack would devastate the fleet. At issue is the cost of ships, which are getting bigger and more expensive. Having fewer ships may not matter now, with no rival navy challenging US dominance. But as China gains the strength to compete with US forces, having fewer ships may become problematic. Bartlett's initiative comes in the wake of other questions raised about carriers by retired Adm. Stansfield Turner, a former CIA director, in the July issue of Proceedings, the monthly journal of the US Naval Institute. But Bartlett and Turner are facing serious opposition: carrier subcontractors are located in more than 40 states, giving tens of thousands of workers and hundreds of congress members and senators a stake in carrier programs. Some suggest a need for both big and smaller aircraft carriers. See "Navy's use of big carriers again being questioned," Dale Eisman, The Virginian-Pilot at 7/24/06.

Waste nutrients may feed farmed fish: The South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) has just finished a trial that grows fish in treated effluent. They plan to set up a commercial plant at a pig farm at Roseworthy, north of Adelaide, and believe that fish grown in treated effluent could be available for human consumption within five years. One of the major challenges will be overcoming public perceptions. The state's Seafood Council supports the plan, and believes the development could fill a gap in the market. Others worry about health risks. See "Fish fed on waste headed for dinner plate," ABC News Online, 7/22/06.

Complaints about federal assistance for Northrop Grumman: The US Congress has set aside about $2.5 billion for the Navy to help coastal shipbuilders recover from Hurricane Katrina. One of the single biggest beneficiaries could be Northrop Grumman Corp., a defense contractor that reported $1.4 billion in profits last year. The company and its allies say the aid money — the first to cover facilities for a private contractor — is essential to putting production back on track. But the aid package goes well beyond the low-interest loans usually used to assist businesses hit by natural disasters. Although many are calling it corporate welfare, lawmakers have still approved most of the money sought by the Navy for aid. Supporters say the government must help Northrop Grumman recover as quickly as possible from hurricane damage, or costs for ships will go up. National security is also cited as a reason to support the defense contractor. However, watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense believes the Navy needs to be closely watched to see how it spends the aid money. See "Northrop could get big bucks from feds," Sean Reilly, Press-Register at, 7/22/06.

Cruise ship that tipped set to sail: The cruise ship Crown Princess, sailing off the Florida coast, rolled 15 degrees to its right Tuesday, throwing passengers, TV sets and other objects against the deck and walls. Two of the passengers were critically hurt and remain in the hospital, twenty others suffered serious injuries; in all, 260 were injured. The crew had reported a steering problem aboard the vessel, which was christened only last month. The ship was sailing through calm seas, and there was no indication that a rogue wave or foul play contributed to the roll. At the time of the accident, the ship was on autopilot and the captain was away from the bridge. The ship will depart on a new voyage this weekend, with investigators on board to try to determine what happened, and ensure it can travel again with passengers. Currently, investigators think a computer glitch in the ship's autopilot probably caused the sudden list. The investigators do want to determine why the ship's crew didn't conduct a head count after the incident. Passengers had mixed reviews on how crew members reacted after the incident. See "Crown Princess Sets Sail For New York," at, 7/20/06.

Russia won't finish building submarine: Russia's Defense Ministry has decided not to continue building the Oscar-II class Belgorod nuclear submarine, saying it doesn't need it. Construction on the boat started in 1992, was halted, and then resumed after the Kursk — which is in the same class — sank. The submarine is reported to be 80% complete. Russia's defense minister says they might finish building the submarine, but then sell it to another country. The Ministry will finance the overhauling of the Admiral Nakhimov heavy missile nuclear cruiser. See "No plans to commission Belgorod nuclear submarine - minister, RIA Novosti, 7/20/06.

Tsunami warning message not useful in Monday's disaster: The head of Indonesia's earthquake and tsunami division says that hundreds of text messages were sent to government officials seven minutes after the quake struck off Java on Monday, triggering a tsunami that killed at least 528 people. But because there is no alert system in the regions affected, there was no easy way for authorities to convey the warning to people. In addition, the message that went out contained the longitude and latitude of the quake — with no other geographic data, and no specific tsunami threat. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has asked that in the future, the messages be more readily understood by laypeople. Plans for an early warning system in Indonesia were drafted in the wake of the devastating December 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed 168,000 people in westernmost Aceh. Officials have been working on an integrated system to be fully in place by 2009. But only two out of 25 planned sensor buoys that could detect a tsunami have been deployed, and neither of them currently work. See "Tsunami text warning coordinates only, officials say," AFP at ABC News, 7/20/06.

Malaysia to buy British frigates: Malaysia plans to buy two British frigates and eight Italian training aircraft as part of the long-term program to beef up its defense system. Engineering and design work on the ships will take place in Scotland, at BAE Systems' Clydeside shipyards. The ships will be built Labuan, under the Malaysian government's program to help its shipbuilding industry and provide jobs to locals. BAE calls the project a significant industrial partnership between the UK and Malaysia. The deal is considered good news for BAE's Scotstoun and Govan shipyards, but some will be sorry the vessels aren't going to be put together and launched there. The new vessels will complement the Royal Malaysian Navy's two existing frigates, KD Lekiu and KD Jebat, which were built at Scotstoun in the 1990s. The two new vessels will be the most advanced warships to be constructed in Malaysia. See "Shipyards win Malaysian contract," BBC News, 7/19/06.

Tsunami strikes Indonesian Java coast: A powerful undersea earthquake struck off the south coast of Java, Indonesia, on Monday afternoon, creating a tsunami that killed scores of people. Conflicting reports reached Jakarta about the number of dead, but the number seems to be over 300. The tsunami was set off by an earthquake that registered 7.7 in magnitude. The epicenter was beneath the seabed of the Indian Ocean 110 miles south of Pangandaran. The wave was about six feet high, and carried a tremendous amount of destructive power, and seemed to have hit hardest at Pangandaran, a beach town popular with Indonesians and foreigners. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, in Hawaii, issued a tsunami bulletin about 15 minutes after the earthquake hit, but Indonesia has not yet installed a warning system on the island of Java, the country's most populous. Australia also issued an alert for western Australia and Christmas Island, but only small swells, less than two feet high, were reported. See "Deadly Tsunami Strikes Indonesia," Times Wire Services, Los Angeles Times, 7/18/06.

Somali pirates release kidnapped Filipinos: Twenty Filipino seamen kidnapped by pirates in Somalia in March have been released and are on their way home. The men were seized after their oil tanker, the United Arab Emirates-registered MT LIN1, offloaded its cargo at a southern Somali port on March 29. It wasn't immediately clear whether any ransom had been paid, but it seems likely from past events. Roy Cimatu, the government's special envoy to the Middle East, said the owners of the ship negotiated for the release of the men. See "20 Filipino seamen kidnapped in Somalia released after 2 1/2 months," Associated Press at, 7/17/06.

Referendum to widen Panama Canal is approved: Lawmakers on Friday approved a national referendum on whether the government should undertake the biggest modifications to the Panama Canal since it was opened in 1914. The $5.3 billion project calls for a construction of a third set of locks on the canal that would reduce long lines of ships trying to cross the canal, and allow larger ships to pass through. The exact date of the referendum will be announced after the bill is signed by President Martin Torrijos, who has endorsed the project. The upgrades will be funded through loans and toll increases for ships using the canal. Large container ships now just barely fit through the canal's locks, which are 108 feet (33 meters) wide. The new locks would be able to handle newer ships capable of carrying up to 10,000 containers. Recent polls indicate that a majority of Panamanians favor the expansion. But opponents of the proposed canal expansion contend the project is risky because it is based on uncertain projections about maritime trade and the world economy. See "Panama approves canal expansion," BBC News, 7/15/06.

Final details still not closed in Davie shipyard deal: A last-minute deal that saved Canada's historic Davie shipyard from liquidation last month may fall through. Most of the details surrounding the sale of the shipyard to Teco Management Group and Navamar Group have been worked out — but not all. One outstanding issue is a proposal to make changes to the pension funds held by the yard's five unions, and other issues involve several clauses in the collective bargaining agreement with the yard's CSN-affiliated trades union, which is the biggest. Representatives of Teco and the union met twice this week to discuss the issues, and concerned parties have agreed to a second, and possibly final, extension to close the deal. But time may be running out. The new owners have deadlines of their own to meet, in order to begin building five jack-up, ocean-going oil rigs by the end of the year. A public auction to liquidate every movable asset in the shipyard could still be on the table if an agreement isn't reached. Patrice Van Houtte, trustee of the bankrupt shipyard for the past five years, says a deal must be closed soon, or he will have to discuss a final closing deadline with Teco. See "Davie deal back on the brink," Mark Cardwell, The Gazette at, 7/15/06.

Forth ship-to-ship oil transfers approved: Controversial ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Firth of Forth have been approved. The decision was greeted with horror by environmental groups, who have warned oil spills could spoil public enjoyment of the Forth and devastate sensitive natural habitats. The go-ahead for the plans came when the Maritime and Coastguard Agency announced its intention to approve the contingency plan put forward by Forth Ports plc to deal with any oil spill. The decision is now expected to be rubber-stamped by Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander. Then it will be up to Forth Ports to decide on the proposal to transfer up to eight million tons of Russian crude oil every year. Melbourne Marine Services wants to establish an anchorage four miles off the Fife coast where small tankers from terminals in the Baltic and Barents seas can pump oil to giant tankers to deliver to the US and Far East. But the Royal Society for Protection of Birds said Forth Ports still had to comply with the European Union's habitats directive, which meant ship-to-ship transfers could only go ahead if they would have no impact on wildlife sites in the area. See "Legal storm brewing if port chiefs back oil transfer plan," Ian Swanson,, 7/15/06.

Pentagon opens Taiwan sub deal to a two-stage approach: The Pentagon has approved separating the design and construction phases for the eight diesel-electric submarines President Bush offered Taiwan back in 2001. The move could let the deal go through without immediately committing billions of dollars to a project that is strongly opposed by China and controversial in Taiwan. Richard Lawless, deputy undersecretary of defense for Asia and the Pacific, estimated the cost of the design phase at $360 million. Eight diesel-electric submarines have been estimated to cost as much as $8 to $12 billion, depending on how they are equipped. The deal has been mired in Taiwan's domestic political wrangling with other big-ticket weapons Bush offered in the arms deal. The Nationalist Party and their partners in opposition have kept the issue from getting on the legislative agenda, arguing Taiwan cannot afford the arms, nor to provoke China. Rep. Rob Simmons, a Republican whose Connecticut district includes General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard, came up with the two-stage approach to the arms deal. Electric Boat builds submarines for the US Navy, but has been laying off hundreds of designers for lack of work. See "US clears two-stage path to Taiwan submarine deal," Jim Wolf, Reuters, 7/14/06.

Canada plans Arctic deep water port: Canada is the only arctic country that doesn't have a deep water port along its northern coastline. Federal Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor plans to change that, and will choose a location by the end of the year where one will be built. Seven locations are being considered. O'Connor is also considering a winter warfare school at Resolute, Nunavut, and is looking to improve Canada's northern naval capability. The move will help military operations, as well as Nunavut communities, which lack docking facilities. Currently, ships at Iqaluit anchor offshore at Frobisher Bay, and unload goods onto barges which are run up the beach along the shoreline. O'Connor plans for an increased military presence in the Arctic. Surveillance from the air will be increased, as will sovereignty patrols across the ice and tundra. See "Defence minister wants arctic port by '07," CP at CNEWS, 7/14/06.

Ship at center of dispute set to leave Hobart: The ship at the center of a national dispute allegedly over Australia's new industrial relations laws is ready to depart from Hobart. The MT Stolt Australia had been in Hobart since last Sunday when its crew stopped work. The Maritime Union of Australia learned the ship's owner, Stolt NYK, planned to fire the crew and replace them with cheaper foreign labor. Stolt NYK also wants to re-flag the ship in the Cayman Islands. It is understood that discussions have been held between the company, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Maritime Union of Australia; no details have been released yet. The chemical tanker will probably leave Hobart around 10pm, and is believed to be bound for Port Hedland in South Australia before heading to Singapore. The workers have continued to receive support from federal and state Labor leaders. See "Strike-bound Stolt prepares to depart," ABC News Online, 7/13/06.

Norway won't reach its whale quota: Norway increased its whaling quota this year to 1052 minke whales to make a political statement. But the plan has backfired: so far only 444 have been landed. Industry spokesmen predict the final count will be about 500, and blame bad weather early in the season that prevented hunting. But like Japanese consumers, the Norwegian public has lost its taste for the meat: stores are full of unsold meat, and storage space is running out. Commercial whaling is banned globally, but Norway lodged a formal objection when the moratorium was established 20 years ago and continues its commercial hunt. Conservation groups say that whaling is cruel, stocks are too low for sustainable hunting, and demand for the meat is declining. They say the current Norwegian situation is evidence for their case. See "Norway's whale catch falls short," Richard Black, BBC News, 7/13/06.

Russia continues to scrap old nuclear submarines: Russia has signed cooperation agreements to dispose of decommissioned nuclear submarines with the US, Britain, Canada, Japan, Italy and Norway. Russia has allocated $850 million as of 2005; the program is expected to cost $2 billion. As of the second quarter of 2006, Russia has scrapped 137 decommissioned submarines out of a total of 197. The disposal of another 22 is under way. The first part of long-term storage facilities for the sub's scrapped nuclear reactors will be put into service on July 18. The facilities have been built with $382 million allocated by the German government under the Global Partnership Program. See "Russia says 137 nuclear submarines scrapped under global program," Ria Novosti, 7/12/06.

Strong evidence for rogue waves: Skeptical oceanographers have doubted the existence of rogue waves over the years. But scientists are now finding that they are more common and destructive than once imagined, prompting new studies. The goals of the research are to better understand why the waves form, and learn how to better protect maritime interests. Learning to predict the waves is seen as the most useful research right now. In the past two decades, freak waves are suspected of sinking dozens of big ships, and taking hundreds of lives. Wolfgang Rosenthal, a German scientist who helped the European Space Agency pioneer the study of rogue waves by radar satellite, believes that at any given moment ten of the giants are moving through the world's oceans. The big waves seem to form with some regularity in regions swept by powerful currents: the Agulhas off South Africa (this area seems to experience big waves regularly), the Kuroshio off Japan, and the Gulf Stream off the eastern United States. The Gulf Stream also flows through the Bermuda Triangle, famous for allegedly devouring large numbers of ships. See "Rogue Giants at Sea," William J. Broad, The New York Times, 7/11/06 (registration may be required).

Stranded Safmarine Agulhas is being offloaded: The container ship Safmarine Agulhas ran aground off the East London harbor on July 26. Attempts to pull the vessel free before offloading have failed, so salvors are starting to clear cargo. The deck is now clear, and the containers in holds are now being removed. The Agulhas was also carrying 662 tons of bunker fuel, 88 tons of diesel and 37 tons of lube oils. The ship started leaking last week, and some of the holds are flooded. Salvors are offloading from the dry holds first. There are still no oil spills detected. See "Salvors clear cargo after fears of oil spill," Sapa at IOL, 7/11/06.

Europeans, Africans to meet on immigration: Thousands of Africans reach Spanish beaches every year, fleeing poverty and violence for what they hope is a brighter future. But thousands more wash ashore as corpses. The flow of African migrants has doubled since last year by one measure, fueling widespread concern. Representatives of nearly 60 European and African countries planned to meet Monday in Rabat, Morocco, to tackle the problem, and the chronic poverty in African countries that fuels it. The talks are the first to bring together the countries the migrants are leaving, the ones they pass through, and those they are aiming for. The conference is expected to adopt an action plan on Tuesday which would combine for the first time measures to control the routes of illegal immigration, along with development aid that would persuade would-be migrants — lured by tales of a European Eldorado — to build their lives at home instead. It would also include an organization for legal migration. See "Europeans, Africans tackle clandestine immigration," Pierre Ausseill, AFP at Yahoo! News, 7/10/06.

Sex-smeared cruise liner cleans up its image: It was so common for couples to have sex in public aboard the Pacific Sky cruise ship that the crew didn't bother to report it, an inquest in Sydney into the 2002 death of Australian mother of three Dianne Brimble was told. They also ignored passengers on the P&O ship who were naked or blind drunk. Brimble died of toxic levels of alcohol and gamma hydroxybutyrate — the date rape drug that she was allegedly given by men police describe as "persons of interest." No charges have been made, and the inquest is being held to determine the circumstances in which she died. Her family has joined an international group set up by victims of other apparent crimes at sea in demanding cruise ships be made more accountable and better protect passengers. International Cruise Victims (ICV) says at least 18 people are believed to have gone missing from cruise ships since 2004. P&O has said it deeply regrets Brimble's death but could not comment on her case, although it said it has increased security on its ships since the inquest began. See "Inquest lifts lid on cruise ship sex horror," Paul Tait, IOL, 7/10/06.

Cost overruns on the Royal Navy's Type 45 destroyer program: BAE Systems and the UK Ministry of Defence are preparing to battle over cost overruns on the Royal Navy's Type 45 destroyer program. BAE has put in a claim to recoup at least £250 million in costs. Not surprisingly, the MoD is contesting. The Type 45 contract has provisions for changes in the project, and corresponding changes in payment. However, sources indicate that the MoD doesn't accept the level of BAE's claim, and that long and detailed negotiations are expected. BAE has a poor record in delivering major defense contracts on time and on budget. See "BAE and MoD at war over destroyer costs," Oliver Morgan, The Observer at Guardian Unlimited, 7/9/06.

Port workers have concerns about proposed ID cards: The US Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard released their proposal for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) in May. The organizations are now reviewing public feedback received during a comment period that ended Thursday. They plan to incorporate the comments into a final version of the rule, and hope to start issuing cards by December. Waterfront facilities would be required to have the systems in place to read the cards by 2008. While most port workers support the TWIC program, there are some reservations. The projected 60-day wait to receive a card is burdensome, many worry that the TSA's estimate of the cost needed to operate the new system is significantly understated, the technology needed to read the TWIC hasn't been sufficiently tested in a marine environment, the fingerprint scanning wasn't tested, potential delays at marine terminal entry points are a concern, and there are still some ambiguous details related to background checks. See "Businesses have logged plenty of concerns about proposed port ID cards," Gregory Richards, The Virginian-Pilot at, 7/9/06.

US Navy, whale advocates settle in sonar suit: On Monday June 3, a judge banned the US Navy from using sonar over concerns it could harm marine mammals. But under an agreement reached Friday with environmental groups, the US Navy can use high-intensity sonar for Pacific warfare exercises, but must stay away from some sensitive marine habitat, and increase monitoring for whales. The settlement prevents the Navy from using the sonar within 25 miles of the newly established Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument during its Rim of the Pacific 2006 exercises, and also imposes a variety of methods to watch for and report the presence of marine mammals. The RIMPAC exercises that began last week involve naval forces from eight countries, including 40 ships, six submarines and 19,000 military personnel. The Navy insists that the mid-frequency active sonar exercises are needed to train sailors to detect stealthy submarines such as those in the naval forces of Iran, North Korea and China. See "Navy Agrees to Sonar Precautions," Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times, 7/8/06.

Private data on Navy personnel found online: On Friday, the US Navy reported that personal information about more than 100,000 naval and Marine Corps aviators and aircrew was discovered on a internet web site, and on nearly 1,100 computer disks mailed out to naval commands. There was no indication that the information has been used illegally. The data was removed from the Naval Safety Center web site, and officials are attempting to retrieve the computer disks. This is the second time that personal information of Navy personnel has been found on a civilian web site. Two weeks ago, the Navy launched a criminal investigation after personal data for 28,000 sailors and family members was found posted online. Computer breaches have come to light at as many as half a dozen federal agencies in recent months, potentially affecting millions of employees. See "Navy data again found on public web site," Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press at, 7/7/06.

6 dead, 13 rescued after ship sinks in Indian Ocean: The freighter Mer Yam sank early on Thursday amid strong winds in the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa, killing seven crew members, government and naval officials said. Six sailors drowned. At least 13 crew members were rescued, but one died later in an Aden hospital. The 97-meter ship was owned by al-Hufuf Maritime Co, which is based in the United Arab Emirates; it sailed under the flag of Panama. It was carrying 5,000 tons of cement on a trip from Oman to Zanzibar. See "7 Die When UAE-Owned Ship Sinks in India," Ahmed Al-Haj, Associated Press at Guardian Unlimited 7/6/06.

US Navy announces new riverine boats: The US Navy has announced plans to deploy new versions of the Swift boats used in the Vietnam War to patrol Iraq's Euphrates River. The 39-foot boats, which each hold 16 sailors, are expected to be deployed next year for the first time in more than 30 years to help combat the Iraqi insurgency. A dozen vessels will be stationed to stop shipments of weapons, bombs and fighters from Syria to Baghdad. The Navy's new Naval Expeditionary Combat Command is building small boats that specialize in fighting where the big ships can't go: harbors, coastlines and rivers, or what sailors call "green" and "brown" water. This is a departure from the Navy's emphasis on a "blue water" naval force, made up of aircraft carriers, submarines, cruisers and destroyers — large ships that are vulnerable near coastlines or in port. In the short term, the new Navy mission is intended to relieve the Marine Corps., which operates a small number of boats on the Euphrates. In the long term, the deployment will be used to fight insurgencies. The Navy has asked Congress for $48 million to train the riverine boat sailors. See "Navy Will Shift Military Might to Shallower Waters," Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, 7/6/06.

South Korean ship leaves disputed area: A South Korean survey ship has moved out of Japanese-claimed waters near a group of disputed islets, Japan's coast guard said yesterday, following strong protests from Tokyo. The ship, which launched a maritime survey on Monday, entered waters early yesterday that Japan says fall within its exclusive economic zone despite a demand from Tokyo that Seoul stop the operation. The South Koreans were surveying the waters surrounding a group of rocky islets called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in Korea, which lie roughly halfway between the two countries and over which they have a long-running ownership dispute. Both sides have called for calm over the dispute, and the head of the Japanese coast guard said Japan would not attempt to seize the ships because this would be a breach of international law. See "UPDATE 8-South Korea marine survey provokes Tokyo protest," Isabel Reynolds, Reuters, 7/5/06.

Illegal fishing hits tuna stocks: Commercial fishing for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic should be halted immediately or the species will become extinct, the environmental group WWF says. Stocks are being stripped bare by unscrupulous fishing which is exceeding legal quotas. The group's report highlights the soaring demand for the fish, which is fuelled in part by the growing popularity of sushi bars. Widespread violations of fisheries rules mean a significant share of bluefin tuna caught in Mediterranean waters qualifies as illegal, unregulated and unreported production — most of it by EU fleets. Catches are more than 40% higher than the quota set by the 42-nation International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (Iccat), and fleets are now plundering the last remaining breeding grounds in the Mediterranean off the coasts of Libya, Cyprus and Egypt, the report says. See "Conservation Group Warns Tuna Threatened," Associated Press at, 7/5/06.

Three pirate attacks off Indonesia: The International Maritime Bureau reports that pirates attacked two UN-chartered ships off the Indonesian coast in the Strait of Malacca on Sunday. No injuries were reported. Both ships were traveling along northeastern Sumatra, from Belawan to ports in Aceh, when they were boarded, just hours apart. Chartered by the UN World Food Program, the vessels were carrying construction materials to help rebuild Indonesia's tsunami-hit Aceh province. See "Pirates hit two UN ships in Malacca Strait," Sapa-AFP at Mail & Guardian Online, 7/4/06.

On Tuesday, pirates on an unlit speedboat off Indonesia's Sumatra island followed a Japanese vessel and tried to board it from the stern. A duty officer raised an alarm and the crew turned on floodlights and sprayed water from fire hoses, preventing the pirates from boarding. The attacks have raised concerns about a resurgence of piracy in the Malacca Strait, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, and a key link between Asia and Europe. Attacks in the area fell to an all-time low last year, after increased naval patrolling by Indonesia and its neighbors. According to the IMB, there were no pirate attacks in the Strait in the first three months of 2006, but the most recent attacks raised to six the number of incidents reported there since April. See "Japanese freighter fights off pirates," Associated Press at CNN, 7/4/06.

Pirates remain a threat off Somalia: The International Maritime Bureau has labeled the Somali coast one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world. Forty-five attempted hijackings and 19 successful ones occurred off Somalia from the start of 2005 through March of this year. Three ships are currently being held: a South Korean fishing vessel with 25 crew members, a Panamanian oil tanker with a crew of 19, and a Georgian cargo ship with 8 crew members. Generally, hostages are released unharmed, as the pirates are after ransom money. Andrew Mwangura, program coordinator of the Mombasa-based Kenya Seafarers Association, says "the problem will continue for a long time, until there's a legitimate government in Somalia that can control its own coast." Piracy has become so rampant in the area that ships are warned to stay almost 200 miles away from the coast. Even this hasn't entirely helped: some hijackings and attempted hijackings have taken place at about 375 miles from shore. Combating piracy is challenging, given the extensive coastline of Somalia, which is the longest in Africa. And sometimes it is hard to determine which groups professing to fight piracy are actually engaged in it. See "Sailor beware: Perilous waters off Somalia," Marc Lacey, The New York Times at International Herald Tribune, 7/3/06.

South African warships deal comes up again: German prosecutors are investigating possible kickbacks in a sale of warships to South Africa by a German shipbuilding consortium. The German news magazine Der Spiegel has published a report that questionable events were suspected of occurring in 1999. South Africa ordered the four corvettes for coastal protection as part of efforts to modernize its navy. The Thyssen group led the consortium — which includes Blohm and Voss, HDW, Thyssen Rheinstahl Technik and MAN Ferrostaal — that won the contract to build the vessels. Der Spiegel's report said it was suspected that funds may have been paid in bribes and then concealed in the shipbuilders' accounts as "expenses." German authorities were initially keen to probe allegations of corruption related to an arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the affairs of an allegedly corrupt liberal who was accused of shady dealings before his death in 2003. But their findings relating to money paid to South Africans have implications for that country. South African prosecutors have not been informed of or approached for assistance with the German inquiry. See "SA arms deal back in the spotlight," Benita van Eyssen, Mail & Guardian Online, 7/3/06.

Judge bars US Navy from using sonar: A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on Monday blocking the Navy from using sonar during war games off Hawaii until it can negotiate with environmentalists, who say the sonar will harm whales. On Friday, the Department of Defense invoked a national security exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act to thwart a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council. But US District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled that the exemption does not cover the National Environmental Policy Act cited in the lawsuit. The Navy wants to use sonar during the Rim of the Pacific exercise, which began last week off Hawaii. The sonar portion of the exercise was set to begin Wednesday. The judge's order blocks use of sonar until a hearing can be held July 18. See "Judge blocks Navy use of sonar off Hawaii," staff and news service reports,, 7/3/06.

Japan warns South Korea over islets survey: South Korea dispatched the ship Haeyang 2000 on Sunday to conduct a maritime survey near some islets claimed by both South Korea and Japan. The two countries have long sparred over ownership of the islets — called Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima by the Japanese — which are thought to be surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potential deposits of methane hydrate, a potent source of natural gas. South Korea maintains a police presence on the islands and effectively controls them. Tokyo has already objected to the current survey, and Japanese media quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry official as saying Tokyo may now go ahead with its own maritime survey. South Korea sent 20 gunboats there in April to fend off Japanese plans to survey the waters. Japan backed down after a last-minute compromise. See "South Korea starts sea survey near disputed isles," Reuters at ABC News, 7/2/06.

SOLAS, SAR amendments enter into force: Amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) enter into force on 1 July 2006. The amendments to SOLAS incorporate some regulations and new requirements related to bulk carrier safety, including additional maintenance requirements, and requirements for carriers of double-side skin construction. The amendments to the SOLAS and SAR conventions concern the treatment of people rescued at sea, including undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and stowaways. The amendments oblige states to let those rescued disembark, thus relieving ships of the responsibility of caring for them, and ensuring that those in peril are not therefore ignored. For more details, see Briefing 24 from the IMO, 6/30/06.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has pledged support for the new regulations designed to help migrants in peril at sea. Vessels fulfilling their humanitarian duty sometimes encounter problems if a state refuses to let some migrants and refugees who are rescued at sea to disembark. UNHCR has a direct interest in the fate of those taking to sea since, even if the majority may be migrants without international protection needs, a certain proportion turn out to be refugees. See the UN press release "New steps to rescue migrants in peril at sea," at Scoop, 7/2/06.

Limited shipping allowed in channel: Commercial vessels began using Louisiana's Calcasieu Ship Channel on Friday for the first time since a spill of 47,000 barrels of oil forced its closure last week and cut off energy companies' connection to four refineries. As a test, the Coast Guard allowed a barge full of gasoline to move down the channel to get to the Gulf of Mexico. The vessel's wake did not disturb the spill cleanup, so the Coast Guard began allowing a limited number of ships to use the channel to head out into the Gulf, though during daylight hours only. Vessels were expected to be allowed to use the channel to head inbound, up the channel from the Gulf toward Lake Charles, on Saturday. See "Ships return to La. waters after oil spill," Associated Press at, 7/1/06.

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