News Archive - February 2004

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Three killed as tanker sinks off Virginia coast: The tanker Bow Mariner, carrying industrial ethanol, exploded and sank about 50 miles off the Virginia coast Saturday night. At least three of 27 crew members aboard were killed, and rescue crews were searching for 18 others. The 570-foot tanker flying a Singapore flag made an emergency call soon after 6 p.m., saying there had been an explosion on board. The blast apparently occurred after a fire started on the deck of the ship, although it's too early to speculate on the cause of the accident. The spilled ethanol was evaporating, but the fuel oil slick had spread over a large area. See "Three dead as tanker sinks off U.S.," Reuters, 2/29/04.

Terror group says it bombed Philippines ferry: The Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf have claimed responsibility for Friday's explosion and fire aboard the Philippine Superferry 14. The Radio Mindanao Network said Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sulaiman claimed Friday's explosion was revenge for government attacks in the southern Mindanao area. The fire occurred the same day that two alleged Abu Sayyaf members were convicted of kidnapping an American in 2000 and another was arraigned in a separate mass abduction. Officials have not speculated on the cause of the fire, but said they could not rule out terrorism even though police dogs checked the ferry before it left Manila. Several witnesses have described at least one explosion. Officials generally agree that two people are dead, 12 are injured, and 180 more are still missing; about 900 were on board. Coast guard divers managed to enter the partially submerged ship on Sunday, but have not yet recovered any bodies. See "Group Claims It Blew Up Philippines Ferry," Associated Press at ABC News, 2/29/04.

Fore River Shipyard sale included hefty tax settlement: After Massachusetts Heavy Industries defaulted on its mortgage of the Fore River Shipyard, which was held by the US Maritime Administration, it declared bankruptcy, and the federal agency reacquired the title to the yard. March Fourth LLC, managed by automobile dealer Daniel Quirk, purchased the shipyard property for $9 million last year. Robert C. Haley, vice president of the Quincy Taxpayers' Association, filed a complaint last month with the state Department of Revenue alleging that the city acted inappropriately when it agreed to a tax settlement as part of that sale. The settlement reduced more than $1 million in taxes owed to the city, and waived hundreds of thousands of dollars in accrued interest and fees on delinquent taxes. Joan Grourke, a spokeswoman for the Division of Local Services at the Department of Revenue, said it is too early in the investigation to make any comments. See "State probes tax settlement for shipyard," Jenn Abelson, The Boston Globe, 2/29/04.

At least 100 still missing in Manila ferry fire: A powerful explosion ripped through the Philippine passenger vessel Superferry 14 carrying about 900 people early Friday, sparking a fire that killed at least one person, injured 12 and left more than 100 missing. Officials have given different accounts of the exact number of people on board, but it seems that most of the 744 passengers and the entire crew of 155 survived by jumping into the sea or boarding rescue boats. The fate of about 110 passengers remains unknown. There are also conflicting reports about what caused the explosion and fire, with the engine room and an exploding air conditioner the two current explanations. Twice, the fire appeared to be out, only to rekindle. Shortly after dawn two loud successive explosions inside the back section of the ferry were followed by billowing black smoke and walls of flame. The ferry was towed to a cove near the mouth of Manila Bay, where it is being allowed to cool before being searched for bodies. See "Manila ferry fire: 110 missing," CNN, 2/27/04.

Philippine ferry ablaze with hundreds aboard: Close to 300 people have been taken from a burning ferry in the Philippines, but hundreds of passengers and crew are still on board. Super Ferry 14 was traveling from the capital Manila to Bacolod in the central Philippines when a fire broke out in the kitchen. The freighter Fortune Express rescued about 200 people near Corregidor Island; navy vessels, coast guard ships and fishing boats are also taking part in the rescue. The ferry's manifest showed that almost 900 people were on board. Maritime accidents are relatively common in the Philippines, a nation of more than 7,000 islands linked by networks of passenger ferries and cargo ships. See "Ferry Catches Fire Near Manila," Associated Press at Yahoo! News, 2/26/04.

Adding up Staten Island Ferry costs: New York City is starting to add up its costs related to last October's accident, when the passenger ferry Andrew J. Barberi crashed into a pier, killing 11 people and injuring 71 others. Among the expenses are $5.96 million to repair the Barberi and another $1.5 million to fix the damaged city-owned pier. About $15 million will be spent on the Department of Transportation's effort to overhaul ferry operations in connection to the recommendations made by the Global Maritime and Transportation School. Although the city is trying to limit its liability, it faces up to $3.2 billion in lawsuits. So far, it has spent $666,975 in fees to three law firms. See "City ups safety spending to keep S.I. Ferry Floating," Clemente Lisi, New York Post, 2/26/04.

Cleaning up oil spills: Dutch marine ecologist Martin Schulton has suggested that it may be less environmentally damaging to push oil spills towards beaches. There's not much life on beaches, he reasons, and it's easier to clean up a beach than a rocky shore. In particular, Dr. Schulton was speaking in light of the Prestige oil spill. In this case, the tourist industry would be against such a strategy, as would the area's fishing industry. See "Oil spills 'should go to beaches'," BBC News, 2/26/04.

First North Americans may have arrived by boat: A new report in American Antiquity suggests that the first inhabitants arrived in North America by boat — not over a land bridge into Alaska, as is traditionally believed. Researchers studies ancient tools found at Eel Point on San Clemente, one of the Channel Islands that lie off the coast of California, and believe that they have the same functions as implements used in boat-building by Chumash Indians in the early 20th Century. Furthermore, any inhabitants of Eel Point would have to be accomplished seafarers, since the only possible source of food was from the sea. The problem for those backing this coastal migration theory has always been a lack of evidence. Some researchers won't be convinced by anything less than a boat. See "Seafaring clue to first Americans," Paul Rincon, BBC News, 2/26/04.

UK wants to search ships: Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said his country is seeking powers to counter the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction. Since current international law stipulates that countries need to gain permission from the national flag state before stopping and searching a vessel, one effort is to sign agreements with the world's larger commercial flags. Mr. Straw wrote, "So with a relatively small number of such agreements, a large proportion of the world's shipping would be covered." In fact, the world's ten largest commercial flags covers some 70 percent of global maritime trade. The agreements, which support the US Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), would mirror those already in place to counter the illegal trafficking of drugs. Straw also said Britain had already begun to screen goods to stop the illegal movement of radioactive material, which would eventually cover all air, sea and traffic through the channel tunnel. See "UK wants to search ships for WMD," Reuters, 2/25/04.

Officials struggle to reopen Mississippi: The supply boat Lee III, which sank in the Mississippi River's main shipping channel on Saturday after colliding with a container ship, has been moved. But the river is only partly opened. The Coast Guard said ships would have to wait until authorities evaluated whether dredging would be needed to clear the channel. Fifty-two ships are still waiting to enter the Gulf of Mexico, and 51 others are sitting in the Gulf waiting to move upriver. Officials with the Port of New Orleans predicted it would take two to three days to clear the logjam for each day the river was closed. By Monday evening, the bodies of three of the missing men had been recovered, but officials expressed doubt that two others would be found alive. See "Sunken ship moved; Mississippi partially reopens," Associated Press at the Houston Chronicle, 2/25/04.

Britain to pay to dismantle Russian submarines: Britain will pay $21.5 million for the dismantling of two Russian nuclear submarines as part of an environmental safety deal. Trade and Industry minister Nigel Griffiths was at the Zvoyzdochka plant in northwest Russia Tuesday to see the work under way. Russia has pleaded for international assistance to dismantle its rusting fleet of Soviet-built nuclear submarines, saying it lacked its own funds to do the job. The slow pace of Russia's effort had prompted international concern about leaks and the possibility of nuclear materials being transferred to other nations or terrorists. Russia, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United States and the European Union signed an agreement in May clearing the way for billions of dollars worth of foreign donations to help dismantle the mothballed nuclear navy. See "Russia gets $21.5m for nuclear submarine dismantling," The Russia Journal, 2/24/04.

Sunken vessel causes Mississippi River traffic jam: The Mississippi River could remain blocked for several days as rescuers seek five crew members missing from the 178-foot supply boat Lee III, which sank after colliding with the 534-foot container ship Zim Mexico III in fog on Saturday near where the river empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The accident forced the closure of the Southwest Pass, the only entrance into the river for deep draft ocean-going vessels. There is a back up of at least 80 ships, including several passenger ships carrying thousands. The Zim Mexico III, which reported minor damage and no injuries, is owned by B. Rickmers GMBH Cie and operated by Zim American Israeli Shipping Co. The Lee III is owned by Ocean Runner Inc. in Galveston, Texas. The cause of the accident is under investigation. See "Shipwreck Blocks Key Mississippi Channel," Brett Martel, Associated Press at Newsday 2/23/04.

Prestige captain doesn't win shipmaster of the year award: In Spain, Captain Apostolos Mangouras is a suspected criminal, out of jail on bail, banned from leaving the country, and facing charges of both disobeying authorities and provoking an ecological disaster when his ship, the Prestige, went down in November 2002. But seafarers have a different opinion, and several different groups nominated him for the Nautical Institute's Shipmaster of the Year award. He behaved, they say, like a model captain, saving his crew, staying with his sinking ship, and risking his life trying to save it when he could have left it to sink. But Wednesday night the judges, although sympathetic to Captain Mangouras, ruled it would be inappropriate to examine his nomination while a court case is pending against him. See "Prestige captain fails to win top sea award," Kathimerini, 2/20/04.

Dangers of chemical tankers: Timothy McVeigh used two tons of ammonium nitrate, packed into a Ryder rental truck, to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. On Feb. 22, 2003, the chemical tanker Cefalonia ran aground in the mud near Pittsburg, California carrying 27,000 tons of the same substance. Oil tankers must be escorted into ports by tugboats that can stop them if they lose power, lose steering or suffer a fire — a law passed in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill. But chemical tankers aren't subject to the same laws. The shipping industry says that the world's 2,000 chemical tanker ships, most of which are double-hulled, are among the most modern and safest afloat; and there haven't been major chemical disasters in the US. Coast Guard safety measures for chemical ships focus on protecting against terrorism. But the number of chemical ships entering San Francisco Bay has nearly tripled since 1995, and many experts fear that the consequences of a disaster are too great to risk. See "Dangerous chemical ships poorly regulated," Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News at The State, 2/19/04.

European Commission tackles port security: Ports already address security issues, but a new European Commission report suggests that security measures should be reinforced with coordinated EU standards. Many security procedures only cover vessels, and the loading and unloading terminal areas of the ports. The report calls for EU governments to agree on common security plans that cover the entire port, and to establish links between the political level and arrangements on the ground. See "New Moves to Protect Ports from Terrorists," Geoff Meade, PA News at Scotsman.com, 2/17/04.

Norwegian's ship is afloat again: Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America was refloated Friday and will be in dry dock by Sunday, the company said. NCL can then assess damage to the ship that last month took on water up to the third deck in stormy weather at the Lloyd Werft yard in Germany. The ship was undergoing a $340 million refurbishment to have been completed by the end of April. It was to start service in Hawaii on July 4. Lloyd Werft declared insolvency as a result of a payment dispute with NCL, which says payments are tied to the delivery date of the ship. See "Pride floats; damage report next," Howard Dicus, Pacific Business News, 2/17/04.

France, Britain may work together on aircraft carriers: France has decided on a design of a new aircraft carrier that could lead to joint development with Britain. Specifically, France's new aircraft carrier will not be nuclear-powered. President Jacques Chirac's office stated that the choice "opens an improved perspective of cooperation with the United Kingdom." In London, the Ministry of Defense said that the two countries had been discussing cooperation for some time. There has been speculation that Britain's two planned carriers and France's one could be built in the same shipyards, but analysts said it was more likely the cost savings would come in sharing designs and in-ship systems. Guy Teissier, president of the National Assembly's defense committee, said the decision was "first of all political - because on the diplomatic level it opens up the possibility of Franco-British cooperation and supports the establishment of a European defense with Europe's foremost military power." See "France acts to cooperate on new carrier," International Herald Tribune, 2/16/04.

Deep sea coral in danger from trawling: The word's top marine scientists have called for a moratorium on deep-sea trawling. The statement was released concurrently at the 7th Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Seattle. The scientists are calling for an immediate UN moratorium, to give them time to learn more about the diversity, importance and vulnerability of deep-sea coral. It was only recently that scientists learned that the majority of coral species live in colder, darker depths. Bottom trawling in particular gouges coral and sponges by dragging heavy chains, nets and steel plates across the ocean floor. See "Stop deep-sea trawls to protect coral, scientists urge," CBC News, 2/16/04.

Indonesia cited for being soft on pirates: An analysis of the growing dangers facing shipping in south-east Asia, released yesterday by the UK-based World Markets Research Centre (WMRC), states that Indonesian coastguard and naval forces have failed to confront the threat of piracy. The report argues that piracy has largely been eliminated in areas where governments have taken action. For example, ships passing through nearby Malaysian waters suffer only a fraction of the pirate attacks that occur in Indonesian waters. Corruption in Indonesia's maritime law enforcement agencies was blamed. The vulnerability of shipping passing through the Malacca Straits — through which a third of global maritime trade passes — has become a big concern since intelligence agencies discovered evidence that the al-Qaeda terrorist network might have considered using ships as mobile bombs. See "WMRC report blames Indonesian corruption for rise in piracy in south-east Asian waters," Mark Huband, Financial Times, 2/14/04.

UN agrees on laws against 'alien' marine invaders: The International Maritime Organization — the world's top maritime body — met this week to finalize a global treaty, 10 years in the making, on how to stop the destructive impact of "invasive alien species." The various species, carried in ships' ballast, are estimated to be causing billions of dollars worth of economic damage every year; ballast water has even been linked to facilitating the spread of major diseases like cholera. Experts says the environmental problem is getting worse due to increasing globalization and exploding international trade. The series of proposed deadlines begin in 2009 and end in 2016, and relate to the size, type and age of vessels — ships that carry over 5,000 cubic meters of ballast water will be given the longest time to comply. But it could take years to ratify the treaty. See "Alien invaders in ballast water - new Convention adopted at IMO," International Maritime Organization, 2/13/04.

Camera could help save dwindling fish stocks: Scientists estimate that fishermen typically throw out up to a third of their catch, either because the fish are too small or because a trawler has filled its quota. Most of the fish that are thrown out die from exhaustion. A new camera, being tested by Norway's Institute of Marine Research and Norwegian marine electronics maker Scantrol, might help fishermen sort out unwanted fish more easily, limiting the amount of discarded fish to around 25 percent. The camera takes a digital photograph of the catch, which is then divided into a grid, allowing a computer to measure the shape and color of each fish in the grid. It needs one-tenth of a second and identifies 98 percent of fish correctly. See "Camera could help sort fish, save stocks," Elinor Schang, Reuters at ENN News, 2/13/04.

Pact with Liberia lets US search ships: In a landmark deal, the United States and Liberian governments have signed an agreement that will allow US authorities to board and search Liberia-registered vessels suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction. The agreement, part of President Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), is significant because, except for Panama, more of the world's merchant ships fly the Liberian "flag of convenience" than any other. In an era of terrorism, and with reports emerging sporadically about al Qaeda using cargo ships to carry explosives and operatives around the world, flags of convenience pose significant security concerns. The agreement did not authorize boardings in advance, but established a working relationship under which the US would contact Liberia, via the Registry, about concerns, and decisions would be made "on a case-by-case basis." See "Pact lets U.S. search Liberia-flagged ships for WMDs," Associated Press at CNN, 2/13/04.

More US cities consider short sea shipping to ease truck traffic: The Northeastern United States is facing increasing truck traffic. One option being considered by several states and international port organizations is to allow container ships to unload their cargo onto barges, so that trucks will carry it over shorter distances. A new barge terminal will be built in Bridgeport, Connecticut. A similar service is being considered in Providence, Rhode Island. The state of Massachusetts and the city of Portland, Maine, have launched major efforts to lure more barges, along with other types of cargo traffic, to smaller cities, with less truck traffic. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has also begun funding a new barge network to include Wilmington, Delaware, Camden, New Jersey, Albany, New York, Bridgeport, and Providence. The Port Authority estimates that within 20 years, this system could eliminate 700,000 truck trips originating out of its main ports. Barge transportation can cost less, but is usually slower, even with traffic jams. See "Next busy highway may be 'W-95'," Beth Daley, The Boston Globe, 2/12/04

Report on Staten Island ferry system released: A city-commissioned study of the Staten Island ferry system has been released. Conducted by the Global Maritime and Transportation School at the US Merchant Marine Academy, the review didn't focus on the immediate causes of the October 15 crash, but safety standards were a priority. The review urged the appointment of a new chief operations officer, and the immediate hiring of 24 new staffers, including a senior port engineer, a senior port captain and a safety manager to help change the culture of the system. In fact, the report considers that the 489-worker ferry system is 95 employees short of proper staffing levels. The report also recommended replacing the current 30-hour work week with a 40-hour week; purchasing more modern equipment, including digital, multi-directional speed indicators; increasing the number of lifeboats; and significantly reducing overtime to help curtail fatigue and reduce costs. The report didn't estimate the cost of the suggested changes, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg waved aside the expense. See "Ferry review calls for new top officer, better training and procedures," Timothy Williams, Associated Press at Newsday, 2/12/04.

Germany's Lloyd Werft shipyard files for bankruptcy over NCL ship: The Pride of America, whose hull was built by Northrop Grumman's Mississippi shipyard, has been at the Lloyd Werft shipyard in Bremerhaven for refurbishing in December 2002. But when the nearly-completed ship sank up to the third deck last month, owner Norwegian Cruise Line's planned Spring schedule in Hawaii went awry. Since NCL's payments to the yard are tied to the delivery date of the ship, which is now expected to be several months late, the German yard says it has no choice but to file for bankruptcy. Apart from this project, the yard is in good shape, and has future contracts pending. The cause of the accident hasn't been announced yet. The ship is expected to be refloated this week. See "NCL in payment tussle," Dale K. DuPont, The Miami Herald, 2/10/04.

Preliminary report released on Haro Strait porpoise investigation: Experts who examined 11 harbor porpoises that died last spring around the time the Navy ship USS Shoup conducted mid-range sonar tests in the area have released a preliminary report. The team stated that the physical examinations and subsequent analyses were difficult, because most of the carcasses were badly decomposed. Although the team could not find specific evidence of acoustic trauma, the report stated that the possibility of acoustic trauma exacerbating or compounding the conditions that it found "cannot be excluded" in any of the animals. In fact, the cause of death was determined for only five of the 11 animals studied. The preliminary report is available for scientific review and comment for 30 days from the Northwest Regional Office of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service. A final report is expected to be released in April. (Report released 2/9/04.)

US Coast Guard needs radio frequency: Apart from maritime facilities and ships that have been slow to meet deadlines for security plans, the US Coast Guard has another obstacle to fulfilling its role of protecting the country from terrorists — it's missing a crucial radio frequency for monitoring ship movements. The Federal Communications Commission sold the frequency at auction to MariTEL Inc. in 1998 for $6.8 million. Now MariTEL is saying they'll sell it back to the Coast Guard, for $20 million. The Coast Guard says it objected when the sale was proposed, saying two channels on the frequency were important to navigation. The FCC says it went ahead with the sale with the understanding that the Coast Guard and MariTEL would work out an arrangement - which they have failed to do. Hearings on the matter are being scheduled. Possible resolutions include anything from a negotiated settlement to the government, to a voiding of the original sale. See "Coast Guard's efforts to protect ports from terrorists encounter obstacles," Associated Press at the Boston Herald, 2/7/04.

Feds demand better port security, but don't provide funding: John P. Leyden, port director of San Francisco Bay for the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, announced that next-generation radiation-detection equipment will be deployed at the ports of Oakland and San Francisco as early as this summer. This radiation portal monitoring program was supposed to be phased in at major ports in New York/New Jersey, Miami and Los Angeles — Leyden didn't comment on the change, nor did he mention the cost. But the announcement, made at a symposium on international trade and transportation security, underscores the problem that most ports have in trying to beef up security: paying for it. Ray Boyle, the Port of Oakland's general manager of maritime, pointed out that his organization has had $5 million in unreimbursed security costs at the seaport since September 11. For example, the port asked for $28 million last year for perimeter security and other projects, but got only a $4. 8 million grant from the Transportation Security Administration. See "S.F., Oakland ports to get high-tech security," David Armstrong, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/7/04.

Ballast water controls urged: Conservation group WWF International is calling for mandatory treatment of ships' ballast water to prevent alien marine species from invading foreign waters. The call comes before an International Maritime Organisation conference next week in London, which is due to discuss an international convention on the issue. Tons of ballast water containing minute organisms and fish larvae are transferred around the world each year. Alien species can have a disastrous effect on fisheries, endangered species and marine habitats, and can be as damaging as oil spills. Examples include the European zebra mussel in the US Great Lakes area, the mitten crab in Europe, the North American jellyfish in the Black Sea and Asian kelp in Australia. See "Environmentalists Urge Action on Ship Ballast Water," Reuters, 2/3/04.

Ferry safety school planned for New York: The Global Maritime and Transportation School is playing a big role in New York's reaction to the crash of the Staten Island Ferry system's Andrew J. Barberi last October. The school is assessing the city's overall maritime operations, and is expected to release their report this week. The city is now planning to spend $1.4 million over the next four years for the school to "review and recommend changes" for improving passenger safety aboard the vessels. See "$1.4M for ferry-safety school," Clemente Lisi and Frankie Edozien, New York Post, 2/2/04.

Call for a national ocean policy act: A group of environmental leaders are calling for ocean protection legislation and the formation of a global governing alliance. Among sponsors and participants in the forum were the World Affairs Council, Environmental Defense, and Pacific Environment. Former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, now the Pew Oceans Commission chair, supplied the keynote address. Many presenters painted a bleak picture of the ocean — for example, a three-year Pew Oceans Commission study reported that virtually every fish species worldwide had declined by 90 percent or more in the past 50 years. Determining how to use ocean resources wisely may be difficult for the US, since less than 4 percent of the national science research budget is allocated to oceans. And the present energy bill backed by the Bush administration, not yet passed in Congress, would likely spur huge increases in offshore drilling and liquified gas terminals. See "A Commotion to Save the Ocean," Kari L. Dean, Wired News, 2/2/04.

More thorough ship inspections suggested: Inspections of foreign vessels are already conducted during port calls, but at a meeting of the International Maritime Organization of the United Nations last November, member nations agreed to a more thorough system. About 30 nations, including Japan — which led the proposal — will join in a trial inspection scheduled for July. Participating nations hope that compulsory inspections of ships by all members will be conducted in the future, and eventually rid the seas of defective vessels that could cause major disasters. Japan suggested the proposed safety inspections be based on its own Ship Safety Act and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), as stipulated by the IMO. See "U.N. eye on ship inspections aims to prevent spills," The Asahi Shimbun, 2/2/04.

New sonar system tested for harmful effects on whales: Researchers at Scientific Solutions Inc. are testing an experimental sonar system that uses high-frequency sound waves. The sound waves are believed to be higher than the hearing range of whales, and so won't harm them. So far, the new system appears to be working, but some environmentalists are concerned about long-term effects, which haven't been studied yet. The research is being funded by the US Navy's Office of Naval Research. The Navy has been criticized for its low- and mid-frequency sonar systems, which have been blamed for injuring or killing whales. Backers of the high-frequency sonar system claim they share the environmentalists' goals of protecting whales, but some fear that if it proves successful, the sonar will make it easier for the military to declare an area of the deep sea to be relatively free of protected species, and thus open to more destructive activities. See "Experimental Sonar Sparks Whales Debate," Terence Chea, Associated Press at Las Vegas Sun, 2/1/04.

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