News Archive - May 2004

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Germany plans offshore windparks: Although Germany produces as much electricity from wind as Denmark, Spain and the US combined, the country has lagged behind Denmark, Sweden and England in making offshore windparks. That's about to change. Germany's federal maritime shipping and hydrography office is currently reviewing 30 applications for offshore wind parks; four have been approved so far. The first offshore parks will be starting up in 2006 at the earliest. Nature preservation has dominated the debate over proposed offshore windparks. As a result, Germany's offshore parks will have to be as far as 25 miles out at sea, which will add to the technical and engineering challenges involved. A company in Rostock, Arcadis, has a plan to cut costs with its "floating windmill," which could be towed back to shore for repair and maintenance work. Under German government plans, by the year 2020, some 20,000 megawatts of electricity are to be derived from offshore windparks. See "Germany plans offshore windparks to catch up with demand," DPA at The Taipei Times, 5/30/04.

ConocoPhillips seeks to build LNG terminal: US-based ConocoPhillips is seeking to build an offshore liquefied natural gas terminal in the Gulf of Mexico, 15 miles off the coast of Alabama. The proposed Compass Port facility would have a capacity to handle 1 billion cubic feet of gas a day. US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has said more than $100 billion needs to be invested in LNG projects to meet rising demand for natural gas. The Energy Department believes that the four existing maritime import terminals for LNG in the US aren't enough to avert supply shortfalls as early as this year. Construction of the Compass Port project might begin next year if it wins regulatory approval, and would take about three years to complete. See "LNG terminal planned for Gulf," Geoffrey Smith, Bloomberg News at the Houston Chronicle, 5/29/04.

Dangers of shrimp farming: Shrimp farming has been hailed as an environmentally friendly way of allowing often developing countries to produce and export food, while also enabling natural seafood stocks time to recover. The practice has grown dramatically in Asia — Thailand, China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh are now the top five producers by weight. But a new publication put out this month by the Environmental Justice Foundation warns of a "shocking environmental crisis" caused by the practice. Often, mangrove forests and other wetland areas are destroyed, and cleared illegally; the use of dangerous chemicals has created a build-up of pollution; and in some areas, notably in Thailand, pollutants are so bad that farms are simply abandoned after a while, with the land left ruined for other use. The report calls for international retailers and governments to pressure farmers into using more sustainable methods. See "Asian shrimp farmers are sowing environmental crisis," Business Report, 5/28/04.

US Navy awards LCS contracts: The US Navy has awarded contracts to Lockheed Martin Corp. and General Dynamics Corp. to build competing versions of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). This new-generation vessel will be capable of performing a wider range of missions than today's ships, and is a key element of the Navy's plan to address asymmetric threats. Lockheed Martin's contract has an initial value of $46 million and could grow over the coming four years to $423 million if all options are exercised. The General Dynamics contract has an initial value of $78 million, which could grow to $536 million. Each company is to build two ships under the contract. A follow-on design will then be picked. The program has faced some criticism in Congress. See "Navy Names Coastline Ship Contractors," Renae Merle, The Washington Post, 5/28/04.

Foreign flag ships and crews dominate US trade routes: The US flag merchant shipping fleet has declined dramatically since World War II. Foreign flag ships and crews made up 87% of the visits to US ports in 2002. Security experts now worry that the overwhelming presence of foreign flag ships and crews in US ports could present a significant threat. But ships carrying commercial material is only part of the problem. According to a recent General Accounting Office Report, about 43% of major equipment shipped in 2001 by the Department of Defense in support of overseas operations was carried on foreign-flagged ships. Some say fears of ships used as bombs may lead to a renewed legislative effort to rebuild the US flag merchant marine. See "Homeland Security Threat Cited From Lack of U.S. Flag Shipping, Crew Presence in U.S. Ports," Market Wire, 5/28/04.

New treatment for dredged sediment: About two million tons of sludge is dredged from sea and river beds in Singapore every year to deepen channels and harbors for ships. Contaminated by toxins, most of the sludge is dumped off the southern island of Pulau Semakau, which many estimate will be filled to capacity in four years. Two students from Nanyang Technological University have come up with an alternative plan, which is currently entering a one-year pilot phase, to combat the growing problem. Roy Tan Hsing Loong and Tang Tsen Meng add certain chemicals to the mud, which neutralizes the contaminants. The final product, baked into a ceramic mixture of granules, can then be used to reinforce building materials such as pavement blocks and concrete slabs. See "Sludge today, pavement tomorrow?," The Straits Times, 5/27/04.

Koreans make slow progress on naval issues: Generals from North and South Korea met Wednesday in the highest-level talks between military officers since the 1950s. The officers were discussing ways to avoid naval skirmishes along their west coast during the May-June crab-catching season, when fishing boats from the two Koreas jostle for position along the maritime border. They agreed to meet again next week to continue discussions, but fell short of agreeing on specific measures to reduce military tension on the last cold war frontier. South Korea urged North Korea to set up a hot line connecting their naval commands, and to share radio frequencies between vessels operating in the Yellow Sea to prevent deadly maritime clashes. The Koreas fought deadly naval battles there in June 1999 and again in June 2002. See "Koreas Agree to Stop Naval Clashes," Ryu Jin, The Korea Times, 5/26/04.

"Ghost Fleet" ships stuck in the US: The US Maritime Administration remains committed to Able UK, and a contract to have them dismantle 13 "Ghost Fleet" vessels. But Susan Clark, spokeswoman for the Administration, has admitted that "it seems very unlikely" the remaining nine ships will leave Virginia in 2004. Four of the ships were towed across the Atlantic last fall amidst controversy from both sides, mostly centered around serious environmental issues. In fact, the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair initially wanted to send the ships back, but earlier this month the government changed its mind, on the condition that the shipyard receives appropriate permits, and protects a neighboring bird sanctuary. A hearing to decide the fate of the remaining nine ships in the contract is scheduled for August 6. Meanwhile, MarAd has until September 2006 to get rid of about 150 obsolete ships. Environmental groups and US shipyards are questioning whether the deadline can be met, given scant federal aid for the project, and continuing delays with proposed foreign scrapping. See "'Ghost Fleet' ships may not leave this year," Scott Harper, The Virginian-Pilot, 5/26/04.

Funding for the US Coast Guard low: The United States Coast Guard's primary mission changed overnight on September 11, 2001, from watching for drugs and migrants, to supporting port security efforts. But despite being on the front line of homeland security, in many ways the Coast Guard is as overworked and underfunded as it was before 9/11. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution estimates that homeland security has increased the Coast Guard's workload by 25 percent, but personnel, while rising, has not increased in kind. And although a Senate panel recently agreed that the Coast Guard doesn't have all of the $7.4 billion it needs to enforce the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, and that port security is still underfunded, the panel rejected a measure to raise funds through users' fees. See "Same Ship, Different Day", Scott Berinato, CSO Magazine, May 2004.

ISPS deadline looms, many still unprepared: Efthimios Mitropoulos, the secretary general of the UN's International Maritime Organization, has stressed that the July 1 deadline for the ISPS code will not be extended. Unfortunately, many facilities are still unprepared. Only 301 of about 5,500 port facilities — fewer than six per cent — comply with the security code's conditions, and the agency has accepted only 1,933 security plans out of 12,283 submitted by commercial vessels. Mitropoulos was on a two-day visit to Singapore to watch an anti-terror exercise in the city-state's port. The International Ship and Port Security code was adopted after September 11, 2001, to protect ports and vessels from terrorists. See "Less than 6 per cent of int'l ports follow UN anti-terror measures," Associated Press at myTELUS, 5/25/04.

US considers plan to protect right whales: The population of right whales was depleted by centuries of commercial whaling, and now accidental collisions with ships and entanglements with nets threaten the species' recovery. Only about 300 right whales exist in the North Atlantic. Since the whales are slow-moving, love shallow water and spend time on the water's surface, often in shipping lanes, NOAA's Office of Protected Resources intends to set uniform speed limits on East Coast shipping interests, to try to protect them. After outlining options to maximize protection for whales, while minimizing the impact on industry, NOAA plans to complete an environmental assessment of potential impacts, and then propose new regulations by early 2005. See "Administration considers limits to save big whales," Associated Press at USA Today, 5/25/04.

Taiwan may not get submarines: US President George W. Bush approved the sale of eight diesel-electric submarines and ships to Taiwan in 2001. Jane's Defence Weekly will report that the deal is mired in political and financial troubles. One difficulty is that the US has not built conventional submarines for more than 40 years, and still hasn't come up with a modern design that satisfies Taipei. According to Northrop Grumman Ship Systems president Philip Dur, the company is offering a version of the Barbel class submarine, similar to the USS Blueback. Jane's said a US defense official confirmed the offer was made in partnership with Germany's submarine house Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft. Another potential obstacle to the deal is the upcoming presidential elections in the US — a change in administration may well change the country's policy toward arms sales in the region. See "Taiwan-US arms deals stalled," The Australian, 5/23/04.

Ship sinks near Singapore after crash: The Maritime and Ports Authority of Singapore reported that the tanker MT Kaminesan, carrying nearly 279,950 tons of crude oil, and the car carrier MV Hyundai, carrying over 4,000 cars, collided late Saturday night just south of Singapore. Twenty crew members were rescued from the Hyundai, and rescue tugs were able to tow the car carrier out of the busy shipping lane before it sank on Sunday. No oil was reported leaking from the Kaminesan, but the collision caused water to enter a ballast tank near the front of the ship, and debris was scattered in the water. Officials are investigating the cause of the accident; weather conditions were mild. See "4,000 cars sunk as ships collide," Associated Press at CNN.com, 5/23/04.

India seeks to link ship reporting system: Vice Admiral Suresh Mehta, director general of the Indian coast guard, has had discussions with his American and Japanese counterparts about the possibility of linking the three countries' ship reporting systems. The plan would help coordinate search and rescue missions, and help deal with the threat of piracy. The discussions haven't been finalized. The US, Japanese and Australian reporting systems are already linked, but the Indian system and those operated by South Korea and China are independent. See "India To Link With US, Japan To Check Piracy On High Seas," Financial Express, 5/21/04.

Greenpeace found not guilty under archaic maritime law: Two years ago, members of the international environmental group Greenpeace were accused of illegally boarding a ship about six miles from the Port of Miami-Dade. The activists were protesting the Amazon mahogany lumber that was part of the APL Jade's cargo. At the time, six activists pleaded no contest to misdemeanors, and were sentenced to time served and fined up to $500. But a year later, a Miami grand jury indicted Greenpeace as an organization for conspiracy, and illegally boarding the cargo ship under an obscure 1872 maritime law originally intended to end the practice of "sailor-mongering." The law was meant to stop brothels from luring sailors to shore. On Wednesday, US District Judge Adalberto Jordan issued a rare directed verdict finding Greenpeace not guilty, concluding that the boarding six miles from shore didn't meet the law's requirement of a ship "about to arrive." See "Greenpeace wins U.S. case," Jay Weaver, The Miami Herald, 5/20/04.

Melting frozen methane could speed global warming: If the vast, ice-like deposits of methane gas under oceans and in the permafrost begin to thaw, global warming could accelerate sharply, scientists said this week. Global warming is already thawing some of the permafrost and releasing methane, which is 21 to 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Enormous quantities are involved in the oceans — two small deposits off the North Carolina coast contain at least 1,300 trillion cubic feet of methane — and even small releases could speed up global warming. If enough gas is released, entire continental slopes could collapse in enormous landslides, triggering tsunami waves about 50 feet high — enough to level coastal cities. See "Thaw of Icy Gas May Worsen Global Warming," Alister Doyle, Reuters at Planet Ark, 5/20/04.

Panama Canal may be expanded: Martin Torrijos, Panama's incoming president, supports a new plan to expand the Panama Canal. As shipyards start building bigger and bigger container ships, industry analysts predict that the Canal will become obsolete — at least for these large ships — in ten years. The plan will be unveiled this summer. The project will likely involve building separate, larger locks; building a new dam; and creating an artificial lake that would swallow a large swath of farmland. The Gaillard Cut section of the canal would also be widened, and all the excavated dirt would likely be used to built a new port. The lock construction alone could take a decade, and the entire plan might not be completed until 2025. Many Panamanians are worried about the loss of farmland, and the cost, although international treaty dictates that other countries are expected to assist in any large-scale expansion, and toll fees could be raised. See "Supersizing the Panama Canal," Mary Jordan, The Washington Post at The Seattle Times, 5/19/04.

Admiral Suchkov convicted for sub deaths: A Russian military court has handed down a suspended four-year prison sentence to Admiral Gennady Suchkov over the sinking of decommissioned nuclear submarine K-159. He was suspended as head of the Russian Navy's Northern Fleet shortly after the submarine, which was being towed to a scrapyard to have its nuclear reactors removed, sank in the Barents Sea last August. Nine of the ten crewmen died when a storm ripped the pontoons from the boat; only two of the bodies were recovered. Admiral Suchkov pleaded not guilty to the charge of negligence, and his lawyers said he would appeal. The Russian navy commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov has said Northern Fleet commanders disregarded safety rules, but some blame him for failing to improve the navy's degrading condition. See "Sub sinking: Admiral convicted," News24.com, 5/18/04.

ThyssenKrupp to acquire Germany's biggest shipbuilder: German industrial group ThyssenKrupp plans to take over the country's biggest shipbuilder, HDW, and merge it with its own shipbuilding operation. Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft is a leading manufacturer of non-nuclear military submarines, and also builds ferries, large yachts and specialist vessels. HDW is owned by One Equity Partners, an investment firm backed by Chicago-based Bank One Corporation. The new shipyard group, which will be managed by ThyssenKrupp Werften GmbH, will have about 9,300 staff and a sales volume of about $2.6 billion. The company will include ThyssenKrupp's Blohm und Voss and Nordseewerke, and HDW's domestic activities, as well as Swedish unit Kockums and Greek subsidiary Hellenic Shipyards. The deal should be completed in the fall of 2004. See "Shipbuilding giant to be born," Business Day, 5/17/04.

Toxic red tide off eastern China sparks alert: According to China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), the country is witnessing its most serious red tide since the beginning of this year. Red tide is a high-than-normal concentration of the microscopic algae Karenia. This organism produces a toxin that affects the central nervous system of fish so that they are paralyzed and cannot breathe. The tide is caused primarily by industrial and agricultural pollution discharged into the Yangtze River. The red tide, which started on May 2, is occurring along the central and southern coast of China's eastern Zhejiang Province, and still shows no sign of diminishing. See "Tide containing toxins swells near Zhoushan," Qin Chuan, China Daily, 5/15/04.

Sweden's new stealth ship: The first of the Visby Class corvettes, being built by Kockums, is the first of five patrol ships on order for the Royal Swedish Navy. The ship recently finished sea trials, and is due to be fully operational in January. It is the largest vessel ever built using carbon fiber. According to Kockums, the Visby costs roughly one and a half times more to build than a conventional corvette, but it is lighter, has better shock and flame resistance than steel, is less detectable by radar, and is less prone to enemy mines and other forms of electronic detection such as infrared. Kockums believes the Visby will be more cost-efficient in the long run. Maritime analysts believe this could be the start of new trend in shipbuilding materials. The next generation of US destroyers, the DDX, is also reported to be built using composite materials, and the Royal Navy is believed to be looking at carbon fiber as a potential shipbuilding material. See "Secrets of the stealth ship," Sean Dodson, The Guardian, 5/13/04.

Cod may disappear in 15 years: A new World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report shows that the world's cod stocks are in a dramatic decline: global catch of cod has gone down by more than 70% in 30 years. If such a trend continues, the report warns, the world will have no more cod in less than fifteen years. The worst example is that of the North American fishery, where there is a decline by more than 90 percent since the early 1980s. The world's largest remaining cod stock, found in the Barents Sea, is now highly threatened by overfishing, illegal fishing and industrial development. The report looks generally into the status of the world's cod fisheries, in order to take a closer look at the current status of the Barents Sea cod. In the conclusion, WWF gives recommendations for the future management of this cod stock. See "No More Cod in 15 Years, WWF Report Warns," World Wildlife Fund Newsroom, 5/13/04.

Safety in the Malacca Strait: US officials are calling for regional cooperation in Asia-Pacific waters, to improve the capability of countries to deal with threats such as piracy and terrorism. The proposal will be presented at a meeting of officials from the 23 member ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) security grouping. Last month, Admiral Thomas Fargo, the top US military commander in the Asia-Pacific, said the US was considering deploying special forces in the Malacca Strait as part of its counter-terrorism efforts — but a Canadian delegate has stated that the current US proposal doesn't call for a standing naval force or a joint patrol. See "US proposes maritime security cooperation for Asia-Pacific," ABC News Online, 5/12/04.

A significant amount of world trade and oil goes through the Malacca Strait, and the area is known for pirate attacks. Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, the three countries sited along the waterway, differ in their views of security. Singapore has warned there isn't enough security in the area to stop a terror attack there, but Malaysia opposes any US intervention. Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar has stated he understands that many countries have an economic interest in the straits, as it is an international waterway, but added that this fact "does not convert the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the area." See "S'pore can't invite US to patrol straits," New Straits Times, 5/12/04.

Panama, US reach ship inspection agreement: In an agreement to be signed on May 12, Panama will allow US officials to board its flagships to search for weapons of mass destruction. However, if the US wants to charge someone intercepted on the ships with a crime, they will have to submit a formal extradition request. Panama is the world's largest shipping registry, with 10,000 ships sailing under the country's flag. The US State Department reached a similar accord in February with Liberia, which is the world's second largest registry. The Panama Maritime Authority is already ensuring that Panama meets the July 1 ISPS deadline. But the new accord comes amid fears that terror networks could launch attacks on ships. See "WMD search extends to high seas," Associated Press at CNN.com, 5/11/04.

Pirates target Southeast Asian waters: The piracy watch center of the International Maritime Bureau recorded 79 pirate attacks worldwide from January to March, compared to 103 last year. While the number was down, the level of violence had increased, the Kuala Lumpur-based center said. Southeast Asian waters remained the most dangerous. The highest number of attacks, 21, occurred in Indonesian waters. Another eight occurred in the Malacca Straits, and six in the Singapore Straits. More than one quarter of the world's trade and half its oil are shipped through these waters, which Asian governments fear are a likely target for terrorist attacks. See "Pirate attacks on the wane," Stefano Ambrogi, Reuters at swissinfo, 5/7/04.

ISPS deadline approaches: As the July 1 deadline for the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) code looms, industry officials worry that time is running out. Both Andy Mitchell, head of the maritime security program at ship safety and classification societies Lloyd's Register, and Lee Adamson of the UN's International Maritime Organization agree that only about 20 percent of ships trading internationally have been certified. It is unclear how many key ports have brought the new security measures into force. The US Coast Guard has repeatedly warned that ships that do not have security plans in place or that call at a non-compliant port could be denied entry, or in extreme circumstances be impounded. With over 90 percent of world trade transported by sea, many fear that the measures could slow or even harm world trade. See "Sea Anti-Terror Progress Slow as Deadline Looms," Stefano Ambrogi, Reuters at Yahoo! News, 5/5/04.

US delays sending toxic-laden WW II ship to China: The US Environmental Protection Agency has moved to halt the export of the vessel USS Crescent City, (aka Golden Bear, aka Artship) from Mare Island at Vallejo, California, to China for scrapping. Samples from the ship had PCB concentrations greater than 125,000 parts per million, while EPA regulations prohibit the export of materials that contain more than 50 parts per million. The ship's owners, Sanship, Inc., must remove and dispose of the toxic materials before the ship can be sent overseas. The action raises questions of a double standard, where the EPA takes action against private owners but fails to halt the export of government vessels. Last year, the EPA exercised "enforcement discretion" in an attempt to help MARAD export 13 "ghost fleet" vessels to the United Kingdom for scrapping despite their contamination with asbestos, PCBs, and old fuel oil. See "Discovery of PCBs Prevents Bay Area 'Artship' from Being Scrapped in China," US Newswire at Yahoo! News, 5/4/04.

Pakistan rejects limits on ship breaking: Many Western nations have taken steps through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to ensure that their ships aren't being sent to countries to be broken up under dangerous and polluting conditions. But ship breaking is seen as an important and growing industry in developing countries, and any limits to it would have a negative impact on their economies. As a result of a strong stand taken by Pakistan, the proposal put forward to the IMO by developed countries will be deferred. Pakistan was fully supported by member delegates from India, Bangladesh, Turkey and China. See "US move to impose harsh terms foiled: Shipbreaking," Parvaiz Ishfaq Rana, Dawn, 5/1/04.

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