News Archive - January 2004

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House and Senate pass US Navy's multi-year submarine contract: Northrop Grumman Corporation will share an $8.4 billion multiyear contract to produce five Virginia-class submarines for the US Navy. The contract, awarded to a team consisting of the company's Newport News sector and the General Dynamics Electric Boat division, replaces the six-ship block-buy contract announced on August 14, 2003. This new contract enables both builders to leverage economies of scale by purchasing materials, parts and components for multiple ships at one time. The two builders now have contracts to build 10 Virginia-class submarines. The lead ship of the class, Virginia, will be commissioned this year. The second ship, Texas, will be christened this summer at Newport News, and delivered to the Navy in 2005. The third and fourth ships, Hawaii and North Carolina, are under construction. See "Northrop Grumman, GD to Split Contract," Associated Press at The State, 1/30/04.

Exxon to pay $4.5 billion for Valdez spill: A federal judge has ordered Exxon Mobil Corp. to pay $4.5 billion in punitive damages, plus $2.25 billion in interest because of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill. The original punitive damages award against Exxon Mobil was $5 billion, but that was later reduced to $4 billion. Last year, the appeals court vacated this smaller award. In yesterday's decision, US District Court Judge Russell Holland in Anchorage again asserted that a $5 billion award was justified — as a means to achieve the purposes of punitive damages — but imposed an intermediate amount of $4.5 billion. The company said it would challenge the award. The Exxon Valdez ran aground on March 23, 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of oil, the largest spill in US history. See "$4.5 Billion Award Set for Spill of Exxon Valdez," Adam Liptak, The New York Times, 1/29/04.

FBI reports that seaports are still vulnerable: Gary M. Bald, inspector-deputy assistant director of the FBI's counterterrorism division, reported to senators that although he can't be specific, his division has "received information that indicates there is an interest" in seaports as targets of terrorist attacks. Bald and officials from the Coast Guard and Customs Service pointed to the progress that has been made in securing the nation's maritime interests. But Senators Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who convened the hearing of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland security, said more must be done. See "FBI: U.S. Seaports Are Vulnerable Targets," Erica Werner, Associated Press at Yahoo! News, 1/27/04.

Sea piracy hits record high: Record levels of piracy and violence has forced the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) to demand greater government protection and single out Indonesia as the nation with the world's most dangerous waters. According to a survey released Wednesday by the British-based IMB, which is part of the International Chamber of Commerce, one in five attacks on commercial shipping are conducted in Indonesian waters. A total of 21 seamen died in 2003, and another 71 are still missing as a result of attacks worldwide last year; ten died in 2002. See "Attacks by pirates on the rise," Jonathan Kent, BBC News, 1/27/04.

Inquiry into Rocknes disaster continues: Vermund Halhjem, the pilot who guided the doomed bulk ship Rocknes out to sea last week, testified at a maritime inquiry that everything "seemed okay" with the vessel after he went on board the morning of January 19. But the ship may have grounded on a voyage just prior to its fatal, final one. The maritime inquiry, due to last at least three days, hopes to find out why the vessel suddenly capsized, claiming 18 lives. See "'Rocknes' may have grounded earlier," Aftenposten, 1/26/04.

Staten Island Ferry's newest safety teams just sit and watch: New "minders" are being used to check on the positions of Staten Island Ferry crew members. Most of the watchdogs have no maritime experience. Workers are being drawn from various divisions of the Department of Transportation, including road maintenance, traffic, sidewalk and bridge crews, or office positions. One ferry insider has said "They don't even know what deck they're on. They sit there and read the paper. It's a joke." As a result, a DOT official familiar with the project has admitted it's possible some ferry crew are still not where they're supposed to be. See "New On-board Watchdogs Totally Out To Sea: Insiders," Brad Hamilton, New York Post, 1/25/04.

Singapore to install transponder system: Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) is moving even faster than the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) requires, with its plan to implement security plans by April, instead of July 1. Tests of a prototype transponder that automatically sends signals that identify a vessel and its position are almost complete, and will be fitted in phases on all vessels currently registered with the MPA. When the work is completed, an unidentified craft will stick out like a sore thumb, and can be easily investigated. The MPA estimates the devices will cost $800; it is still unclear who will foot the bill, or when vessels will have to start installing them. See "All vessels in port to be tracked," Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 1/24/04.

Compensation for Tasman Spirit oil spill discussed: The American Club, a protection and indemnity insurer to Tasman Spirit, is hoping this week to convince all potential claimants in Pakistan of a compensation plan based on the 1992 CLC Convention. The Club has made this offer before, but the government didn't show any interest. The 1992 CLC Convention provides for a maximum of $42.5 million in compensation while the claims made by the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) and the Defence Housing Authority go in excess to $7 billion. The American Club's spokesman has denied charges that the ship was unseaworthy, or that the vessel's logbooks and other documents were being kept away from authorities. The oil tanker dumped some 30,000 tons of crude oil into the sea when it ran aground near Karachi last July 27. Eight crew members are still under arrest following criminal charges brought by the KPT. See "Owners' counsel due this week to settle compensation issue," Syed Asif Ali, Karachi News at The News, 1/23/04.

Changes to ship repair work in Hawaii: United Defense Industries Inc. announced it will purchase Honolulu Shipyard Inc., and name the newly formed company Hawaii Shipyards Inc. It will become the largest private ship repairer in Hawaii. The $16 million deal is expected to close by March. Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard union leaders fear an expanded presence could mean more privatization and outsourcing of federal civilian jobs. Ben Toyama, Western area vice president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, has suggested that although the Bush administration is pushing toward the privatization of Navy ship repair, there is not any proof that this plan has realized any savings. See "Shipyard deal worries unions," Allison Schaefers, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 1/21/04.

The Royal Navy: In 1945, the Royal Navy had 900 major ships. Currently, there are only 36, not counting submarines and minehunters, and four destroyers are set to be mothballed. The British public seems indifferent, and a British Navy lieutenant recently wrote that "The British taxpayer is forking out immense sums to run warships whose only real use is as venues for diplomatic cocktail parties." But like the US Navy, the Royal Navy is investigating new types of ships, that are small, but forceful. Professor Geoffrey Till, director of academic studies at Britain's Joint Services Command and Staff College, explains, "Ship numbers and platforms are not the real point. It's capability." Still, now that north-western Europe has become one of the most peaceful spots in the world, James Meek of The Guardian wonders "do we really need a navy at all?" See "All at sea," James Meek, The Guardian, 1/21/04.

Impossible to control genetically engineered plants and animals?: The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences has released a report that states that none of the techniques currently being developed to prevent genetically engineered organisms or their genes from escaping into the wild appear to be completely effective. One concern about these transgenic products is that their genes or the organisms could spread. Fast-growing fish, if they were to escape into the wild, might beat out regular salmon for food or mates, disrupting the ecological balance. Much of the efforts to prevent these effects have involved physical containment, like growing fish in tanks rather than the ocean. But the report, which was commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, suggests that physical containment methods may not be enough, and that no single method of bioconfinement — such as inducing sterility — would probably be adequate, either. The report also says there are weaknesses in the safeguards being taken by Aqua Bounty Technologies of Waltham, Mass., which is seeking Food and Drug Administration approval to sell salmon genetically engineered to grow faster. See "No Foolproof Way Is Seen to Contain Altered Genes," Andrew Pollack, The New York Times, 1/21/04.

Air pollution from cargo ships: A cargo ship's smokestacks may be spewing as much nitrogen oxide into the city's air as 12,500 cars each day. The pollution is likely to get worse, since global trade is expected to double by 2020. What's more, your car or your wood stove has to meet more air pollution requirements than most of the big cargo ships. National efforts to make the ships cleaner have had little practical effect. The EPA has started to regulation emissions from American ships, but the maritime industry has opposed attempts to set limits on air pollution from large ships, arguing that current information didn't support the move. And EPA rules don't cover foreign-flagged vessels, which make up the bulk of the ships calling on US ports. International efforts have yet to gather enough support to be effective, and local efforts are moving slowly. Ships sailing into Los Angeles are asked to slow to about 14 mph within 20 miles of the city's harbor, a move that has cut nitrogen oxide pollution from ships there by 1 ton a day. The Port of Seattle is trying to organize a consortium of maritime to undertake a study on ship pollution. See "Air pollution from cargo ships stirs growing concern," Larry Lange, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1/20/04.

NCL's Pride of America won't sail on July 4: An accident at Germany's Lloyd Werft shipyard has delayed the delivery of the Pride of America by several months. The ship took on water up to the third deck (passenger cabins start on the fourth deck) during a storm. Although the ship hasn't been refloated yet, Norwegian Cruise Line has stated that there will be a substantial delay. Federal legislation gave the line the go-ahead for their Hawaii project, which lets two of its ships visit the Hawaiian islands without stopping at a foreign port, as non-US flag ships must. Despite the accident, NCL is determined to launch their US-flag operation this year. They will substitute the Norwegian Sky — soon to be remodeled, fly a US flag, and renamed the Pride of Aloha — and accommodate passengers whose cruises must be canceled or rescheduled. See "NCL altering plans in wake of accident," Dale K. DuPont, The Miami Herald, 1/17/04.

El Paso to build natural gas deep-water port off Louisiana: The US Maritime Administration has given Houston-based El Paso Corp. permission to build an offshore liquefied natural gas port some 100 miles off Louisiana. Basically a buoy attached to a flexible steel pipe, the facility will enable a carrier to fill up without having to sail into a shore-side port. El Paso expects the facility to be running by the end of the year; it will have a capacity of 400 to 500 million cubic feet a day. See "Regulators OK offshore LNG plan," Laura Goldberg, Houston Chronicle, 1/16/04.

Washington state reexamines oil-spill response: Last month's oil spill near Richmond Beach in Puget Sound has spurred Washington state to re-think its oil-spill response plans. Industry experts are currently looking at California's regulations, which require fuel-transfer terminals to run oil-spill containment booms around almost every large marine vessel before it loads or unloads petroleum. This precaution allows workers to quickly corral any spilled oil before it can spread. Millions of gallons of oil are transferred over Washington state waters every day, and the state has 25 fuel terminals. Pre-booming is required of oil tankers fueling up in Valdez, Alaska, but not for the same tankers when they arrive in Puget Sound. Although regulators have discussed the idea, it has never been required by the state. Only a fraction of Puget Sound's commercial facilities voluntarily set up the oil booms before transfers. See "How oil spill in Sound might have been stopped in its tracks," Craig Welch, The Seattle Times, 1/15/04.

Pride of America sinks: Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America sank early Wednesday morning at the dockside at the Lloyd Werft shipyard in Bremerhaven, Germany. The ship was swamped up to the third deck and is resting on the bottom in 36 feet of water. The accident is still under investigation, although according to the Norwegian website Aftenposten, police believe a storm may have blown water into openings in the hull. Fourteen employees and subcontractors were on board when the ship started to list, but there were no major injuries. The full extent of the damage won't be determined until the ship is refloated, sometime in the next few days. The ship was to begin seven-day Hawaii cruises on July 4. The hull of the Pride was purchased from Northrop Grumman Corp. in September 2002 for an undisclosed price. The ship was being built in Northrop's Mississippi shipyard for American Classic Voyages, which filed for bankruptcy protection in October 2001, citing losses after the Sept. 11 attacks. See "NCL vessel sinks in port, making July 4 sailing unclear," Dale K. DuPont, The Miami Herald, 1/15/04.

Prestige captain nominated for Shipmaster of the Year: Apostolos Mangouras, captain of the single-hulled tanker Prestige, which sank and spilled oil off Spain's Galician coast, has been nominated for the most distinguished honor in the nautical world. The Shipmaster of the Year award honors outstanding seamanship, and is granted annually by the leading professional body for international mariners, the Nautical Institute in London, in association with Lloyd's List. The nomination cites Captain Mangouras's bravery in safeguarding his crew and righting his listing ship. The citation says he risked his life scrambling across the deck in a raging storm to attach the salvage vessel. Although Spain has charged Mangouras with responsibility for the disaster — the captain is currently out on bail, awaiting trial — others in the maritime community have condemned Spanish officials for ordering the ship out to sea, instead of granting it safe harbor. See "To politicians, the 'Prestige' captain is a villain. To seafarers, he is a hero," Elizabeth Nash, The Independent, 1/14/04.

Claims against New York in ferry crash case come in: The deadline for filing notices of claim against the city in the Staten Island ferry crash was January 13, 2004 — although the paperwork must only be postmarked by that date, so more could come in. So far, 175 claims have been received. Some don't specify the amount of damages being sought, but the current total is more than $3 billion. Notices of claim indicate a person or party intends to sue the city; claimants have a year and 90 days after the incident to file a formal lawsuit. A federal judge hasn't yet issued a ruling on an effort by the city filed in early December to cap liability at $14.4 million per person. See "More than $3 billion in claims filed against city in ferry crash," Lukas I. Alpert, Associated Press at Newsday, 1/14/04.

Kerry Griffiths, a nurse from Wales who was visiting the city, and is credited with saving the life of a man who had both his legs severed, has filed a claim for $10 million. She claims she suffers from panic attacks, and has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. Griffiths recently had to stop working. See "Ferry hero sues city for $10 mil," Clemente Lisi, New York Post Online, 1/14.

Bolivia wants access to coast: Bolivian President Carlos Mesa took an opportunity at this week's Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, northern Mexico, to bring up an old dispute over a strip of Pacific coastline. Bolivia claims a strip of desert some 180 miles long on the Pacific Ocean that Chile seized in the 1879-83 War of the Pacific. The territorial dispute reignited during a revolt in Bolivia last October that forced Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to resign as president. Currently landlocked, Bolivia is one of Latin America's poorest countries, and hopes to export natural gas to the United States. Chile's representatives refused to discuss the matter at the Summit. See "Old Pacific Spat Flares Between Chile and Bolivia," Alistair Bell, Reuters, 1/13/04.

Hawaii's interisland ferry system one step closer: Hawaii Superferry is a step closer to fulfilling its vision of an interisland ferry system. Austal USA has agreed to build the two high-speed ships, and invest more than $10 million in the venture. Hawaii Superferry is also trying to raise about $3 million in venture capital by the end of March, and is hoping for a Title XI federal loan guarantee from the Maritime Administration for debt financing. Gov. Linda Lingle and Sen. Dan Inouye have hailed the project as a social and economic benefit to the islands. See "Ferry venture accelerates," Tim Ruel, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 1/13/04.

Alioto-Lazio Fish Company fights for Fisherman's Wharf: The state Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled in favor of the Alioto-Lazio Fish Company, upholding a $3 million jury verdict from December 2001. The fight centered on whether the port or the company was responsible for maintaining the old wooden piers and subfloor at the site of the company's fish shed, one of the last remnants of commercial fish processing at Fisherman's Wharf. The company, which has more than thirty years left on its lease, wants to use the money to fix up the site, but more legal battles may come up. An environmental impact study is under way that ultimately could allow the demolition to proceed. The company has alleged that the port's lack of maintenance on the site was aimed at speeding the shed's demise, and opening up the real estate for new tenants. See "Fish company wins battle with S.F. port," Cart T. Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/12/04.

US Coast Guard releases final report on the Arctic Rose: The Arctic Rose sank in April 2001, probably when its inexperienced crew left a rear hatch open, allowing sea water to flood the boat. It was the worst US fishing accident in more than half a century, with 15 people dead. The Marine Casualty Board spend 2 1/2 years investigating the accident, and forwarded 31 recommendations to Coast Guard Commandant Thomas H. Collins. The recommendations include requiring that more boats undergo stability testing, that fishing vessels have alarms on all watertight doors, that radio and e-mail systems aboard fishing vessels are updated, and that minimal safety programs for first-time crew members are developed. In a move that has disappointed some fishing industry observers, Collins has concurred with most of the recommendations, but has not made them mandatory. He feels that changes will be made more quickly if they are voluntary. See "Arctic Rose report may have lasting impact on fishing," Mike Carter, The Seattle Times, 1/9/04.

Samsa releases final report on the Sealand Express: The American-registered container vessel Sealand Express ran aground in Cape Town's Table Bay during a storm on August 19, 2003. The South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) has released its report in their inquiry, which concludes that the grounding was "perfectly avoidable." At fault were the master and three deck officers, who didn't react until it was too late. But the National Port Authority's traffic control staff in Table Bay harbor were also cited in the report, as having failed to intervene in a more forceful way under the circumstances. There seems to have been some missed communications between the ship and the port, and the Port Control tape recorder, which records all communications with ships, apparently wasn't working that day. The US Coast Guard is responsible for determining whether there was any incompetence or negligence during the incident; their report has not yet been released to Samsa. See "Report blames crew for Sealand Express drama," Melanie Gosling, Cape Times at Independent Online, 1/9/04.

Farmed salmon more contaminated than wild salmon: David Carpenter of the University at Albany, N.Y., who tested 700 salmon from around the world in a study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, has found that farm-raised salmon contain significantly more dioxins and other potentially cancer-causing pollutants than do salmon caught in the wild. The study tested raw salmon with the skin on, but removing the skin and cooking it — which reflects how many people eat the fish — removes a significant amount toxins. And Carpenter's consumption advice is based on Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, which are far stricter than the FDA's legal limits. But he still suggests limiting consumption of farm-raised salmon to one meal a month. The study is reported in the journal Science. See "Farmed Salmon Poses Risks," Associated Press at Wired News, 1/8/04.

Port security deadline passes: Last year, Congress ordered the maritime shipping industry to tighten security, based on fears that an attack on a seaport could kill thousands and cause damage to property, and the US economy. Wednesday was the deadline for ships and port facilities to submit security plans showing how they will deal with terrorism threats. But Coast Guard officials said the deadline for submitting the plans was met by only about 5,200 of 10,000 ships told to submit them, and only 1,100 of 5,000 port facilities. Maureen Ellis, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Port Authorities, said part of the problem is they weren't given enough time. The new law also requires a serious change in focus — from, say, worrying about running aground, to worrying about a terrorist hijacking. The plans have to be implemented by July 1, when the Coast Guard can start turning away ships and shutting down ports that don't comply. The Coast Guard estimates that meeting the new requirements will cost $7.4 billion over the next decade, which is another difficulty. See "Security Deadline Missed in Ports," Leslie Miller, Associated Press, Washington Post, 1/1/04.

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