News Archive - May 2003

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RMS Mulheim salvage is abandoned: The RMS Mulheim, which ran aground on March 22, has lost several steel plates on its starboard side. As a result, crews have had to abandon their salvage operation. Everything of value has been taken off the ship, but not all of the cargo - scrap car plastic - was removed before the ship started breaking up. The vessel is also considered a public safety hazard, since people are trying to explore the wreck. See "Trust warns over wreck danger," BBC News, 5/30/03.

Belgium regains flag: Although Belgium is still a relatively large shipowning country, when the national flag disappeared more than 12 years ago, the industry that surrounds shipowning diminished - from shipbuilding to the maritime legal sector. The Belgian Shipowners Association is hopeful that the majority of the country's fleet will again come under the state flag now that the King of Belgium has signed a royal decree that will reflag the fleet. More than half are expected to return within the first few months, which should stimulate other maritime sectors. See "Royal seal of approval marks end of long battle for shipowners," Lloyds List at Hoover's Online, 5/29/03.

Death toll on Norway climbs: A sixth crew member of the SS Norway has died. The explosion on the Norway is the deadliest incident in US waters aboard a cruise ship in at least 20 years. Investigators are currently trying to determine exactly how old the ship's boilers are, how they were maintained, and whether past inspections missed problems. Bureau Veritas performed past inspections. See "Sixth crew member dies from injuries in boiler blast on 'Norway'," Jamie Malernee, Buddy Nevins and Noaki Schwartz, Yahoo! News, 5/29/03.

Russia brings Bosphorus strait conflict to the UN: Turkey enacted strict shipping rules for the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits last October. The straits are narrow, crowded, difficult to navigate, and are often the scene of maritime accidents. See "Tanker sinks restaurant," for a recent example (news24.com, 5/28/03). The straits are also the only outlet for crude oil, grains and other commodities from several former Soviet republics. Citing raising costs for Russian oil companies, Russia has asked the UN's Internationl Maritime Organization to pressure Turkey into dropping some of the tighter restrictions. See "Russia asks UN to press Turks over Bosphorus ships," Stefano Ambrogi, Yahoo! Finance 5/28/03.

"Ghost fleet" may be scrapped in Great Britain: The US Maritime Administration is negotiating with the British company Able UK Ltd. to dispose of 13 ships from the James River "ghost fleet." There are other companies being considered, but Able is currently the "primary" bid. The pending deal cleared a regulatory hurdle last week, when the Environmental Protection Agency approved the plan, which calls for towing the ships to Great Britain. A waiver from EPA was required because of a law banning the export of toxic PCBs, which are found in various shipboard components. Other agencies still would have to sign off on the plan, including Britain's equivalent of the EPA. Meanwhile, the plan has triggered complaints from Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, and Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., whose districts have companies that want to compete for the work. See "British firm is top bid for 'ghost fleet' work," David Lerman, dailypress.com, 5/28/03.

Cruise ship probe focuses on boiler: Four Filipino seamen were killed and two others were injured when the boiler room of a cruise ship in Miami, Florida exploded Monday morning. The incident was ruled to be an accident and not a terrorist attack. A total of 17 crewmen of the Norwegian Cruise Line's SS Norway were reported hurt in the blast, which also caused a fire on the ship. No passengers were injured. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board would not speculate on the cause of the explosion, but the age of the vessel - just over 40 years - is clearly a factor. Cruise line officials say the original boiler was rebuilt in 1999. See "NTSB to investigate cause of Norway blast," Joe Mozingo, The Miami Herald, 5/27/03.

Price fixing investigated on maritime tanker services: Stolt-Nielsen Transportation, Odfjell, Jo Tankers and Tokyo Marine are four of the largest shippers offering transportation services for bulk liquid chemicals, edible oils, acids, and other specialty liquids by seagoing parcel tankers. Kenneth B. Moll & Associates, Ltd. has announced it is conducting an investigation into whether these shippers fixed and maintained the prices of transportation services from June 1, 1998 to the present. See "Kenneth B. Moll &Associates, Ltd. is Investigating Whether Stolt-Nielsen Transportation, Odfjell, Jo Tankers and Tokyo Marine Engaged in Price Fixing Transportation Services," Business Wire at Stockhouse, 5/27/03.

China protects Bohai Sea from ship pollution: China will require as many as 1,000 ships in the Bohai Sea to seal discharge pipes from May 23 to June 1, as part of a scientific investigation. Ships are also prohibited from dumping pollutants into the sea, and will be fined if caught. Studies have shown that this will likely cut down on contaminants by 500,000 tons per year. Bohai, known for fishing, is shaped like a semi-circle, which concentrates pollution. See "China Bans Ships from Discharging Pollutants into Bohai Sea," People's Daily, 5/25/03.

Jody F Millennium pilot censured: Last month, the Maritime Safety Authority's report on last year's Jody F Millennium incident said Captain Robert Sands should be severely censured for getting off the vessel too early, and leaving the ship's Korean master to negotiate the shipping channel alone. The Transport Accident Investigation Commission's report, just released today, also says the pilot acted inappropriately. The report said the log carrier was too deeply laden to try to clear the channel when she set out four hours before high tide. See "Second ship report censures pilot," Jo-Marie Brown, The New Zealand Herald 5/23/03.

'Zero emission' shipbreaking: Almost all ship scrapping is currently done by hand on the beaches of Pakistan and India, where the fatality and environmental record is acknowledged to be appalling. Many vessels that end up on the beaches also contain hazardous waste. In part in response to environmental pressures, P&O Nedlloyd is helping to develop what is understood to be the first "green" ship recycling facility. Six dry docks will be built at Eemshaven in Holland in a program called Stichting Tanker Ontmanteling Platform, or Stop. See "P&O supports 'zero emission' shipbreaking," Terry Macalister, The Guardian, 5/22/03.

Matson will purchase Kvaerner Philadelphia ships: In February it was suggested that rising labor costs had driven Matson Navigation Company's operating cost model for ships being built at Kvaerner Philadelphia shipyard to a level that made the investment uneconomic. Consequently, the company was considering the option of time-chartering the vessels, which provides several lower cost crewing alternatives. But Matson has reached agreements with its offshore unions. With the new agreements now ratified, Matson will own and operate the ships and crew the vessels through its existing offshore unions. The first of the two new ships will enter Matson's Hawaii service later this year; the second will be delivered in 2004. See "New Agreements Reached with Offshore Unions," Business Wire at StockHouse USA, 5/20/03.

Ports may lose security funds: Operation Safe Commerce - a $58 million program to strengthen security at the nation's three largest ports - may be curtailed because of cost overruns in other areas. The Transportation Security Administration has a "billion-dollar hole" in its budget. The three port areas of New York and northern New Jersey, Los Angeles-Long Beach, and Seattle-Tacoma take in about 75 percent of cargo containers entering the United States every year. Officials expect to reserve some money for the cargo security initiatives, but it is not clear how much. See "Cargo-security funds may be used elsewhere," Matthew Daly, Associated Press at Newsday.com, 5/19/03.

Spain is suing ABS over the Prestige disaster: Spain has filed a $2.3 billion lawsuit against the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) over the sinking of the tanker Prestige off the Spanish coast. Underlying the Spanish case is the fact that ABS had been the classification society of the ship throughout its life, so no other classification society could be implicated: Since ABS was responsible for the technical supervision of the ship, the society was to blame for the disaster. The move is likely to bolster existing industry opinion that the Spanish Government must share responsibility for the disaster. Most industry experts agree that, had Spain allowed the stricken tanker to sail to a port, the potential for damage could have been lessened. See "Spain sues ABS for $2.3b over Prestige, Frank Kennedy, Gulf News, 5/19/03.

Military spending bills on the floor: The Senate and House defense panels last week largely ratified the Bush administration's military spending plan. The bills are scheduled to reach the Senate floor May 19 and the House floor May 21. Debate is expected to last no more than two days in either chamber. Under the bill approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the number of attack submarines could rise in the next few years. The plan calls for funding one new Virginia-class submarine in each of the next three years, and then two a year starting in 2007. The submarines are produced in the home states of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), the ranking Democrat on the airland subcommittee. See "Defense Bills Expected to Pass Quickly," Newsbytes at Hoover's Online, 5/19/03.

Port security rules raise cost fears: New US anti-terrorism rules could bring unreasonable costs and delays for sightseeing cruise lines and riverboat casinos, and perhaps drive smaller companies out of business. As proposed, the rules would require vessels that carry at least 150 passengers to pay for extra security, and possibly screen all passengers, cargo and baggage. The Coast Guard has left open the possibility of extending the rules to smaller vessels as well. The Coast Guard will issue interim rules next month; after more public review, they will become final in the autumn. See "Rules on ship and port security raise fears about cost and delays," Associated Press at the Boston Herald, 5/19/03.

Fish piracy on the rise: Fish piracy is on the rise all over the world, as outlaw fishermen take advantage of lax enforcement on the high seas. The United Nations estimates that 30 percent of the catch in some key fisheries, such as swordfish and tuna, may be from illegal or unregulated fishing. Some estimate the illegal catch for the toothfish is up to five times bigger than the legal catch, threatening the entire species. Members of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization have pledged to come up with voluntary plans to combat this piracy, but many countries blatantly ignore it. The story of the Eternal - finally caught last July - illustrates just how hard it is to catch these pirates. By repeatedly changing its name and sneaking in and out of other countries' waters, the boat eluded authorities for years. The boat's owners are still at large. See "With fish piracy on rise, agents cast worldwide net," Beth Daley, The Boston Globe, 5/18/03.

Few of world's large fish remain: Every single species of large wild fish has been caught so systematically over the past 50 years that 90 per cent of each type have disappeared. Those fish left in the sea are only one half to one fifth the size they were before industrialized fishing began in about 1950. The study, published in the May 15 issue of the journal Nature by marine biologists Ransom Myers of Dalhousie University in Halifax and Boris Worm of the Institute for Marine Science in Kiel, Germany, refutes the idea that the oceans have vast pools of uncaught fish waiting to be discovered. The key is to reduce, at least temporarily, catches in many areas. See "Big fish decline," The Straits Times, 5/17/03.

China tries to control spread of SARS: China is requiring that all passengers fill out health forms before starting travel as part of efforts to contain the spread of SARS. Airports, bus stations, and ports are distributing and collecting the forms, which will be held on file for at least one month. Passengers who fail to fill out a form will not be allowed to travel. See "Passengers in China must register health condition in order to travel," Xinhuanet, 5/16/03.

Security and safety: Many classifications societies, experts in maritime safety, were initially wary to contribute to the field of maritime security. But since so many flag states depend upon IACS members to carry out a range of delegated survey functions, were the societies to stay out of the field of security plan inspection and approval, it would be necessary for some similar body to be created for this purpose. The article "Security is not safety" asserts that the issue has to be approached afresh, through the eyes of security experts, not safety experts. (Lloyds List at Hoover's Online, 5/15/03.)

New video system to be used at Port Canaveral: Port Canaveral, the world's second busiest cruise port, will soon implement a new automated video surveillance system created by Guardian Solutions. "GuardianWATCH" will control 90 cameras and 20 sensors, automatically detect and track intrusions, instantaneously notify local and off-site responders and record all events at the port. The system's key component is real-time processing, which will help the port protect miles of waterside and landside perimeters with no increase in manpower. See "Port Canaveral to use new video security system," Boating Industry International Online, 5/14/03.

US Navy denies sonar harmed porpoises: Several porpoises have been found dead in northern Washington state and on southern Vancouver Island, again raising questions about the USS Shoup's activities when it passed through Haro Strait earlier this month. The US Navy has stated that the Shoup used mid-range tactical sonar during an exercise, but that "there is no evidence" to support a link between the exercise and the strandings of porpoises. Whale watchers and local residents have stated that killer whales, porpoises and a minke whale appeared to be disturbed by the ship's presence, and some witnesses stated that the sonar was so loud they could hear it above the water. But no one onboard the ship saw marine mammals, and the instruments didn't detect any. Some of the porpoise carcasses will be examined. See "U.S. Navy denies porpoise carcasses linked to sonar," Carla Wilson, Victoria Times Colonist, 5/14/03.

Australia investigates flag of convenience ships: The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has detained a wheat-exporting ship berthed in Adelaide over safety concerns. Also at stake is the crew, who are half-starved and owed back pay. The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) negotiated with the ship's Greek owners to improve conditions and restore backpay. The ITF has also called on the Federal Government to prevent such ships from being allowed to carry Australian imports and exports. ITF Australia co-coordinator Dean Summers has called this "a typical situation for the flag of convenience ships we see carting Australia's imports and exports." See "Crew starves as ship detained," The Australian, 5/12/03.

Plans for bulk purchase of submarines: A House subcommittee has approved a Pentagon plan to buy several submarines at once. This should save about $150 million per submarine, when compared to the usual practice of buying them one at a time. The Navy has been negotiating with the shipyards on a contract for the next five or six submarines that would be ordered between now and 2007. But a top Pentagon official accused the yards of "gouging" the Navy after bids came in about $1 billion higher than was anticipated. The House Armed Services Committee will vote on the plan next week, and the Senate Armed Services Committee also appears likely to approve the plan. See "House Subcommittee Approves Plan for Bulk Submarine Purchases," Daily Press at Hoover's Online, 5/8/03.

EC wants to tighten marine security: The European Commission has proposed regulation to tighten marine security to counter terrorism throughout the EU. The EC proposal goes further than the IMO agreement on ship security and port installations. It addresses port zones as a whole, the identification of seamen and also the security of the whole intermodal transport chain. The EC proposal also applies to passenger ships in European waters, including domestic routes. See "Europe unveils plans to tighten marine security," Insurance Day at Hoover's Online, 5/8/03.

More repairs needed on Buzzards Bay barge: The barge that last week spilled nearly 15,000 gallons of oil into Buzzards Bay was set be moved from the Cape Cod Canal on Wednesday because the current is too swift to allow divers to repair a faulty patch. The barge was headed through the canal en route to New York on Monday night when a patch over a hull rupture fell off, forcing the barge to moor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Officials believe the barge, called B-120, spilled the oil on April 27 after striking a submerged object. The incident is under investigation and the clean up continues. See "Repair patch falls off Buzzards Bay barge," Jessica Heslam, Boston Herald, 5/7/03.

Sonar's effect on whales: Worries about the impact of sonar on whales, who rely on underwater sound for navigation, finding food and communication, is a growing issue in the wake of strandings in various parts of the world. An incident on May 7 involving the USS Shoup, an Arleigh Burke- class destroyer, has not caused strandings so far, but nearby killer whales, a Minke whale, and porposes were seen reacting to the noise. The Shoup turned off its sonar when contacted by the Canadian Coast Guard. The warship was on its way to the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental Test Range at Nanoose Bay. The incident will be on the table at a workshop in Seattle with the US National Marine Fisheries Service this week. See "US destroyer's sonar probed as cause of whale disturbance," Carla Wilson, Victoria Times Colonist, 5/7/03.

US Coast Guard's Deepwater has funding problems: Some elements of the Coast Guard's Integrated Deepwater System are likely to be delayed for want of funding, but service program executives have not committed to which parts will be held back. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thomas Collins has stated that the Deepwater program needs $200 million to stay on the original 20-year development and fielding timeline. The funding need arises from budgets since 1998 that have not been adjusted for inflation from then-year dollars. See "Coast Guard Commandant Outlines $200 Million Deepwater Funding Shortfall," Hunter Keeter, Hoover's Online, 5/6/03.

Few oil tankers have double hulls: After the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, Congress gave companies until 2015 to phase out all single-hull tankers operating in US waters, and replace them with double-hulls. But halfway through that phase-out period, only seven of nearly two dozen tankers offloading oil in Puget Sound from Alaska's North Slope have double hulls. Among the US fleet, enough companies have put off building new vessels that some shipbuilders fear a last-minute cascade of orders -- and appeals from some in the oil industry to ease regulations. Europe is moving so quickly to ban aging oil tankers that some industry analysts fear even more of them will head to a market where, for the time being, they're still allowed: the United States. See "Oil tankers slow to shift to anti-spill double hulls," Craig Welch, The Seattle Times, 5/5/03.

US Customs officers to work in Hong Kong: US Customs officers will be stationed in Hong Kong to undertake anti-terrorist risk analysis of containers destined for the United States, as part of a pilot program that begins May 12. They will not have any inspection or enforcement power in Hong Kong. The United States is Hong Kong's second largest trading partner, and Hong Kong accounts for the largest share of sea containers entering the United States, with 6,000 twenty-foot equivalent units shipped from Hong Kong on a daily basis. See "Customs to check Hong Kong cargo," Reuters at CNN Money, 5/5/03.

Worrying about ships transporting SARS: A tanker with about half of its 24-member crew showing symptoms of SARS made a distress stop in Hong Kong Sunday in what could be the first large outbreak of the disease in a vessel at sea. The Bunga Melawis Satu had been in Singapore and Malaysia before it docked in Thailand. It left Thailand on April 28. The ship was originally bound for the southern Chinese port of Guangzhou, when it made the emergency appeal to dock in Hong Kong after 10 crew members were found to be ill. Health officials are investigating. See "SARS-Hit Ship in HK," Tay Han Nee, Reuters, 5/4/03.

Meanwhile, sources in health departments of Karachi Port Trust and Port Qasim in Pakistan have informed ships that all vessels will be checked by health officials, and any vessel coming from a SARS-infected country will go through special screening procedures. See "Ports impose anti-SARS measures on ships," Azhar Mahmood, The News International, 5/3/03.

South Pars gas field project gets living quarters: The largest and most equipped offshore living quarters platform in the Middle East has been constructed in Bandar Abbas as part of the first phase of the South Pars gas field project. The project was launched to provide a residential area for personnel in the South Pars Gas Field in order to avoid constant traveling from the sea to the mainland. The "SPQ1," which could be called a maritime hotel, will be able to accommodate 94 people. The platform will also serve as a command center should any emergencies come up on nearby platforms. See "Largest Offshore Living Quarters Platform in Middle East Constructed in Iran," Tehran Times, 5/3/03.

China submarine accident: China has been unusually open in reporting an accident on a submarine that killed all of its 70 men crew, but the cause of the disaster has not been disclosed. News reports suggested mechanical problems during a training exercise, and stated that the submarine had been towed back to an unidentified port. The accident struck the diesel-powered sub No. 361 near the Neichangshan islands. Military analysts state that the Ming-class vessel usually has a contingent of nine officers and 46 men, so the death toll of 70 raises questions. They also said it would be rare for a mishap to kill all aboard while still allowing retrieval of the vessel. On Friday, Putin became the first world leader to send condolences to Beijing. See "China tells public about sub accident," Associated Press at USA Today, 5/3/03.

Large Yacht Code under scrutiny: The UK's Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) is working on a Revised Large Yacht Code, and has the approval of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to use this as the basis of a new international Code. But Gregoire Dolto, technical director of the Federation of Nautical Industries (FIN) in France, has questioned the MCA's entire approach. Although the MCA is consulting widely with industry, Dolto said he thought it inappropriate for a national administration to produce the Code. He believes the International Council of Marine Industry Associations (ICOMIA) would be a better forum for producing an industry code. See "Differences re-surface over Large Yacht Code work," David Foxwell, Boating Industry International Online, 5/2/03.

Pirate attacks on the rise: The International Maritime Bureau has reported that piracy attacks are on the rise, with 103 pirate attacks reported worldwide from January to March, compared to 87 attacks during the same time period last year. But recent decisions in China and India to impose stiff prison terms could help. In February, India sentenced 14 Indonesian pirates who hijacked a Japanese freighter with seven years' of jail time with hard labor, and a Chinese court meted out prison terms of up to 15 years to 10 Indonesian pirates. See "Courts get tough as pirate attacks soar," The Straits Times, 5/2/03.

Oil spill in Buzzards Bay: In a study published last November, researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution reported that even when a cleanup appears to go smoothly, the effects of an oil spill can linger for decades in sensitive near-shore environments. This week's spill of almost 15,000 gallons of oil from a ruptured barge is small, but it is the largest in Buzzards Bay in 25 years, and it is only the latest in a series of maritime mishaps involving barges owned by Bouchard Transportation of Long Island, N.Y. In 1977, one of its barges spilled 100,000 gallons of oil into Buzzards Bay when it ran aground near Cleveland Ledge Light. Three years earlier, a barge spilled oil off Cataumet. Only last February, one of Bouchard's barges exploded during an oil delivery at a Staten Island terminal, killing two men. The fragility of the 228-square-mile bay and such questionable safety records is prompting public discussion about barring oil-carrying barges from the Cape Cod Canal. See "Barge owner has history of oil spills, violations," Beth Daley, The Boston Globe, 5/1/03.

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