News Archive - November 2004

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Whale beachings in New Zealand and Australia: A series of mass strandings left 169 whales and dolphins dead on Australian and New Zealand beaches, leaving scientists, wildlife officials, and volunteers working desperately to try to save them. The first beaching, at King Island, midway between the Australian mainland and Tasmania, happened Sunday: 96 long-finned pilot whales and bottle-nosed dolphins died. 43 whales beached themselves Monday on Maria Island, but rescue workers managed to save 24 that were found alive. 73 whales became stranded on New Zealand's North Island Sunday. While 20 were saved, some of those are weak and may still die. On Tuesday, a sperm whale washed up on a beach west of Auckland. Tasmanian wildlife officer Shane Hunniford said it was unlikely there was any connection between the Australian and New Zealand beachings, but scientists are still at a loss to explain the events. The Australian government plans to establish a national database on whale strandings. Bob Brown, leader of Australia's Greens party, has called for a stop to ocean seismic tests for oil and gas until the whale migration season ends. See "Whale strandings in New Zealand, Australia," Reuters at CNN.com, 11/30/04.

Calypso to be restored: Jacques Cousteau's famous research vessel Calypso sank in the Singapore harbor in 1996, and has languished in France's La Rochelle harbor ever since. Attempts to refurbish the boat have been frustrated by differences between the Cousteau Society, an association chaired by the late explorer's widow Francine, and Loel Guinness, whose grandfather bought the boat in Malta in 1950 and put it at Cousteau's disposal. But now, after a symbolic € 1 sale to Carnival Corporation, the former US minesweeper will be restored. The ship will be refitted a a yard in The Bahamas, and then moored there as an exhibit. The work is expected to be completed by the end of 2005. See "Underwater explorer Cousteau's boat Calypso sold," AFT at Yahoo! News, 11/30/04.

Arctic Ocean research shows it was once warm: Late this summer dozens of scientists and technicians traveled to the North Pole to drill down 1,400 feet for sediment cores. Despite some gaps, the cores span 56 million years. Scientists from around the world have gathered in Bremen, Germany to analyze the sample, and the initial findings have already proven some old theories wrong. For example, the Arctic Ocean has been constantly icy for at least 15 million years, far longer than scientists had previously theorized. And despite previous thought, at one point the area was warm and full of life. The cores provide the first evidence that vast amounts of organic material created by plankton and other life settled on the seabed. This has oil experts interested, as organic sediment is a precursor to the formation of oil. The project is financed by Europe, and conducted under the auspices of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. See "In Arctic history, warm water," Andrew C. Revkin, The New York Times at the International Herald Tribune, 11/29/04.

"Ghost fleet" ships still idle: What began as a plan to scrap 13 decommissioned US Navy ships in England has become an embarrassment for both governments, triggering lawsuits on both sides of the Atlantic. Four ships reached Hartlepool, England, but remain in a state of legal limbo. A lack of proper permits should have kept the ships from being delivered in the first place, but miscommunication between officials in England and the US allowed them to cross the Atlantic. Able UK still doesn't have the proper permits. Meanwhile, a suit claiming that the United States was violating hazardous waste laws when it exported the ships is due to be decided in the coming weeks. The situation has also forced a re-examination of the rules governing the international transport of waste in a global economy. For an in-depth history of the situation, see "Newport News, Va., 'Ghost Fleet' Casts Shadow over Ship-Breaking Business," David Lerman, Daily Press at Environmental News Network, 11/28/04.

Denmark decommissions its submarine fleet: On November 25, 2004, high-ranking members of the Danish military formally decommissioned the navy submarine fleet. Chief of Staff Jesper Helsø and Defense Minister Søren Gade were not present at the ceremony. General Helsø did speak with daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten from his office on Sealand; he denied that he was afraid to show his face at the ceremony, and suggested subordinate commanders were appropriate to lead the ceremony. Helsø has been accused of actively working to undermine the continuation of the navy submarine fleet. A number of current and former military personnel, and members of the newly formed Danish Submarine Association all assembled for the ceremony, many saddened, and even outraged that an entire military discipline is being shut down. The submarine HMS Seal was active during the Gulf War. See "On Thursday, the Danish Navy formally decommissioned its fleet of submarines," The Copenhagen Post, 11/26/04.

Giant trawler must wait another six months: The Australian Fisheries Management Authority has extended its freeze on the entry of new boats into Australian waters until at least June 2005. Local fishermen's call for the ban has focused on an Irish-owned trawler, the Veronica, which is the world's largest. Australian fishermen fear the Veronica would decimate the fishery. The AFMA has decided that an independent panel of industry, scientific, environmental and recreational fishing representatives will be set up to recommend on the allocation of future fishing rights. See "Freeze extended on new fishery boats," ABC News Online, 11/26/04.

Old munitions could blow up British coast: BBC Radio 4's program "Costing The Earth" has examined the risks posed by discarded weapons, wrecks and nuclear reactors in the waters around the British Isles. The Ministry of Defence says more than one million metric tons of weapons were jettisoned in Beaufort's Dyke, a deep submarine trench in the Irish Sea between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Former Royal Navy diver Michael Fellows, who now heads his own munitions clearance company, reported on the radio program that most of the weapons dumped in the Dyke weren't designed to be in water, and that there are two or three explosions a month in that area. He also warned that some of the oldest munitions in the area are likely corroding. He also believes the World War II wreck Richard Montgomery, sunk in the Thames estuary with a cargo of high explosives, is "a ticking timebomb," which shouldn't be ignored, particularly since a liquid gas terminal is due to be built on the coast of Kent. See "UK's undersea 'ticking timebombs'," Alex Kirby, BBC News, 11/26/04.

WTO rules in favor of South Korean shipbuilders: The World Trade Organization has cleared South Korean shipbuilders of charges that they received illegal subsidies, wrapping up a five-year dispute with European rivals. A WTO panel issued an interim report Wednesday, rejecting accusations by the European Union that the government-led restructuring of South Korean shipbuilders constituted a state subsidy. The panel's final report will come out next month. The dispute erupted in 1999 when European shipbuilders argued that unfair subsidies allowed South Korea to build vessels below cost and helped the country's shipbuilders dominate the global market. South Korea argued that its industry was simply more competitive. See "WTO to Clear Korean Shipbuilders of EU Subsidy Claims," Seo Jee-yeon, The Korea Times, 11/25/04.

British refit failed to fix glitches on Canadian submarine: The fire last month on board HMCS Chicoutimi may have started after a British refit failed to resolve two technical glitches. CBC's Investigative Unit has uncovered two problems that remained after the refit. First, an air vent located in Chicoutimi's tower malfunctioned after a nut fell off, causing the boat's crew to leave both hatches open. When a wave smashed across the sub, flooding compartments below, a number of electrical connectors in the captain's room became soaked. Second, those connectors had only one layer of waterproof sealant, instead of the three layers that British navy specifications required. The sub's deadly blaze was precipitated by a short in those connectors. Immediately after the disaster, defense officials from both sides of the Atlantic insisted the sub itself was beyond blame. BAE Systems, the British firm that performed the refit, the British navy, and Canadian officials would not discuss CBC's new findings. See "Two equipment problems remained after the refit of HMCS Chicoutimi, and led to fatal fire," CBC News, 11/25/04.

Royal Navy ship fitted with low frequency sonar system: Stating that the MoD did not recognize a moratorium on the use of sonar equipment called for by the European Parliament, that research is being carried out to ensure that the use of the sonar is "environmentally friendly," and that mitigation measures have been put into place, Britain's Ministry of Defence has unveiled its new low frequency sonar system. The HMS Westminster is the first ship to have the new technology installed; the Royal Navy plans to introduce the new sonar equipment by 2006. The new sonar system will improve ships' defenses against increasingly stealthy submarines. But critics say the new system is more powerful than previous versions, and therefore is much more likely to damage marine mammals. See "New sonar protection for warships," BBC News, 11/24/04.

Arctic states meet to counter global warming: The United States, Russia, Canada and the five Nordic states, which all have territories stretching into the Arctic, met on Wednesday with indigenous peoples to discuss plans to counter the rapid melting of ice in the region. Although all agreed to a vague plan to encourage "effective measures" to adapt to climate change, no tangible methods were spelled out. All countries were concerned by recent studies that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, and said they would take this into account in policies on everything from research to aiding indigenous peoples. But environmentalists and indigenous peoples felt the meeting was a lost opportunity to slow climate change. The United States was particularly accused of blocking action: it is the only country of the eight at the meeting that hasn't signed the Kyoto protocol on curbing global warming. Paula Dobriansky, US Under Secretary, Global Affairs, rebuffed the criticisms. See "Arctic States Agree Vague Plan to Slow Thaw," Alister Doyle, Reuters, 11/24/04.

Port of Antwerp to get radiation detection equipment: The US and Belgium have agreed to install radiation detection equipment at the Port of Antwerp, one of Belgium's busiest seaports. The radiation detection technology was developed by US Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) laboratories as part of overall efforts to improve the security of the international maritime trading system, and to stem nuclear proliferation. The agreement is part of the Megaports Initiative, where the NNSA works with foreign partners to provide equipment and training, in an effort to put a stop to terrorist attempts to use the global maritime industry for malicious purposes. See "U.S. and Belgian Governments Launch Initiative to Detect Illicit Trafficking of Nuclear Material," US Newswire at Yahoo! News, 11/24/04.

ISPS Code is bad for seafarers: The International Ship Managers Association (ISMA) is concerned that the practical impact of the International Ship and Port Facilities (ISPS) Code has adversely affected seafarers. The ISPS was was put into place on July 1 of this year, and was designed to protect shipping interests from terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, overzealous implementation of the new security laws has placed seafarers in the position of being viewed as potential terrorists rather than potential victims, which can only harm morale and productivity. ISMA president Rajaish Bajpaee has pointed out that in some ways the ISPS Code is counter-productive to improving the living and working conditions of seafarers generally — which has been a recent goal of both the International Maritime Organization and the International Labor Organization. Marine insurer North of England P&I Club has even linked the Code to increased accidents: Untrained personnel are being used to undertake seaman's duties because the ISPS Code creates an extra workload. See "Security rules taking a toll on seafarers," David Hughes, The Business Times, 11/23/04.

EU raises deep sea fishing quotas: With the depletion of EU commercial stocks such as cod and hake in recent years, deep water fish have become an attractive catch as trawlers switch from traditional fishing grounds. But these fish are also at risk of disappearing. They grow and reproduce far more slowly than fish living in shallower waters, and as a result are more vulnerable to overfishing. However, EU fisheries ministers agreed on quotas on Tuesday for new member states to catch deep water fish. Feeling that it was politically important to assign quotas to the EU's new members, EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg told a news conference that "Everybody got a little bit." Although the total EU deep sea quota has been raised, the EU has strict rules to control deep water fishing. See "EU Allows More Catches of Exotic Deep-Sea Fish," Reuters, 11/23/04.

Ocean census reveals hidden depths: A survey of the world's oceans is turning up more than two new species of fish a week, and has revealed the adventurous journeys creatures such as turtles and tuna make across the oceans. The discoveries have been made by a project called Census of Marine Life, which brings together the work of hundreds of scientists in 70 countries. The census's senior scientist, Ron O'Dor, says the project started four years ago and has another six years to run. The team is finding new marine species almost everywhere, including well-studied waters like those off Europe. The census will aid understanding of the oceans, the least-known part of the planet's surface, and help in monitoring threats including over-fishing and global warming. The census has so far registered 38,000 species, up from 13,000 a year ago. The census has turned up 106 new fish species so far in 2004, bringing the known total of fish species to 15,482. But the database now also includes more than 6,800 species of zooplankton. See " Science taps into ocean secrets," BBC News, 11/22/04.

Sailor killed in blast on Russian nuclear submarine: A Russian sailor was killed in an accident on board a Russian nuclear submarine at a Pacific base last Sunday. The boat was docked at the Vilyuchinsk base on the far-eastern Kamchatka Peninsula. Sailor Dmitry Koval received fatal injuries when a pipe burst. The accident damaged one section of the submarine but the vessel has remained fully operable. The ITAR-Tass and Interfax news agencies said Russian navy spokesman Captain Igor Dygalo identified the submarine as the K-223, a Delta-III-class submarine built in 1980. It is equipped to carry 16 intercontinental ballistic missiles. See "Report: Russian submarine blast kills 1," Associated Press at Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/19/04.

Ship backup at West Coast ports is clearing: Officials report that the backup of cargo ships at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, has been cleared. On Friday, only seven ships were anchored outside the ports, down from a more typical 40. The addition of more dockworkers to service the ships, combined with shipping lines diverting vessels to other West Coast ports, has helped break the cargo ship logjam. But while the ships are clearing out, the cargo containers are still piled up at the terminals. Truck drivers often must wait for hours idling before they can pick up their cargo. The railway system that feeds into the port to ease the cargo logjam on the ground needs to be improved. There are also plans to expand the hours that trucks can pick up cargo, although this won't start until next year. See "Ship Logjam at West Coast Ports Cleared," Alex Veiga, Associated Press at The State.com, 11/19/04.

New 16-nation anti-piracy campaign to start in Asia: A new framework for cooperation among 16 Asian countries in the fight against piracy in the region will come into force soon. Speaking at the opening of the Ninth Western Pacific Naval Symposium, Singapore Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean said that negotiations on the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Anti-Piracy (ReCAAP) have been completed, setting a positive example of multinational cooperation in maritime security. Teo said Singapore was chosen last week as the location for the Information Sharing Centre. The Japanese-initiated ReCAAP links the 10-member Asean grouping with three north Asian countries - China, Japan and Korea - along with three Indian Ocean states - Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. While the specifics of the agreement have not been released, the key aim of ReCAAP is to build a "robust and effective network for cooperation." See "Asia Ready to Roll Out Marine Anti-Terror Initiative," PA News at Scotsman.com, 11/18/04.

Many fear the dangers of eating fish: Although rich in omega-3 fatty acids vital to the heart and brain, many fish contain toxins that build up over time in the human body. More and more research suggests that fish can be dangerous to eat, but in many cases there isn't enough data yet to make clear decisions. Even when data is convincing action often falls short. For example, despite the clear risk from fish like swordfish, shark and types of tuna, public warnings are often not spelled out, or fall short of describing risk. Many fear that if women of childbearing years eat the US FDA sanctioned six ounces a week of albacore (canned tuna) they will put themselves and their children at risk. The crisis transcends borders. Three-quarters of fish eaten in America and Europe are imported, often from countries with no controls, or from independent small fishermen and trawlers which evade controls. California's Proposition 65 enforces labeling of potential risks, but warnings are less clear in other states. The European Union offers guidelines to consumers on a web site, but policy is left to its 25 member states. Britain and France, among others, set recommendations. But none posts warnings. Most feel that fish is too important to be cut from diets, but consumers must know their risks. See "Scientists Warn of Undetected, Unmeasured Toxins in World's Fish," Mort Rosenblum, Associated Press at Environmental News Network, 11/18/04.

Chicoutimi plagued by glitches: Telex messages between the HMCS Chicoutimi and navy headquarters in Ottawa, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, reveal a number of problems with the submarine: it had trouble drawing in fresh air, it could not dive to certain depths due to rust, and it suffered from computer bugs. The revelations raise questions about whether the boat was ready for its maiden voyage to Canada. Despite a refit the Canadian military has described as a nightmare, and a major fire that broke out some three days after the hand over, the navy has steadfastly insisted the submarine was seaworthy. Major Tony White said that none of the outstanding mechanical troubles could have contributed to the fire, and that all of the problems listed in the messages were discovered during sea trials last summer. A military board of inquiry is expected to issue a report on its investigation into the purchase of all four submarines at the end of the month. See "Sub plagued by glitches after handover," Murray Brewster, Canadian Press at Canada.com, 11/17/04.

US launches prototype biometric ID for transport workers: The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has begun testing the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) Program at the Port of Long Beach Container Terminal in California. The TWIC is a tamper-resistant card that contains biometric information about the owner. Currently, many transportation workers have to carry a different identification card for each facility they access. A standard TWIC would streamline the identity verification process, and help prevent unauthorized individuals from accessing secure areas. The prototype will soon be tested in six states, with some 200,000 workers from maritime, rail, aviation and ground modes of transportation participating. Once the prototype is complete, TSA will analyze the results to determine how the program will be implemented. See press release "TSA Launches Prototype Phase of New Biometric ID Card for Transportation Workers," US Transportation Security Administration, 11/17/04.

East China Sea gas field not worth fighting over: The East China Sea gas field is at the center of tensions between China and Japan. China began drilling there last year just west of a maritime boundary, but Tokyo protested, saying gas deposits may extend into Japanese territory. Last week, China apparently investigated the area in a nuclear powered submarine, crossing into Japanese territory and eliciting another protest from Tokyo. But Claude Mandil, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), says the amount of gas and oil that might be found in the field wouldn't satisfy China's energy demands over the next 30 years, and is not worth fighting over. Mandil has more concern over Siberian oil and gas deposits. Japan and China are competing to build pipelines to the region. See "Japan-China Dispute Over E. China Sea Field Not Worth It, Says IEA Chief," AFX News Limited at RIGZONE, 11/16/04.

Unidentified submarine penetrated Israeli territorial waters: A foreign submarine slipped into Israeli waters last week, cruising the coastline near Lebanon before being detected and departing, Israeli authorities have reported. The vessel belonged to a NATO member country and was detected during the night between November 9-10. The vessel was just inside Israeli territorial waters, about 12 miles off the northern coast. Israeli Army Radio said the sub was in the area of Nahariya, a northern Israeli coastal town near the border with Lebanon. The official army statement gave no details of the precise time or location of the incident. The IDF, which hasn't identified the boat's nationality, believes the submarine was gathering intelligence in the area. In light of the vessel's sophisticated navigation equipment, it is extremely unlikely a navigation error led to an accidental incursion. See "Submarine entered Israeli waters," Amos Harel, Haaretz, 11/16/04.

Old shipping containers used for affordable housing: The idea of using old steel cargo shipping containers in home and building construction has been tried in several Third World countries. Construction would be inexpensive, since units could be prefabricated and include plumbing and windows. The containers could be stacked and welded together, and floors, ceilings, electricity and water could all be added. The units would be strong, and less costly than traditional framing with lumber. Although the idea has never been tried in the US, the New York architectural firm Fox & Fowle Architects gave the concept some credibility last year when their proposal won a national competition on solutions to creating affordable housing. The concept will have to wait to be put into practice, though. Today's high steel prices means it is more cost effective to ship containers empty, rather than leave them around unused. See "Recycled Shipping Containers Make a Splash in Construction Scene," Jody Snider, Daily Press at Environmental News Network, 11/15/04.

Robert Ballard reports damage to the Titanic: Returning to the site of the Titanic wreck this summer for the first time since 1985, undersea explorer Robert Ballard found serious damage to the ship. Apparently, deep diving submarines had struck the ship, either hitting it, or even landing on it and crushing the deck. Ballard would like to see people respect the site, and is working on an international treaty designating the ship an international maritime memorial, and establishing rules for visiting the site without causing damage. In the US, the State Department has agreed to the treaty, although it still has to go to the Senate to be ratified. Britain has already signed the treaty, and Ballard hopes to get Russia, France and Japan to sign on next. See "Titanic Finder Laments Damage by Visitors," Randolph E. Schmid, Associated Press at Yahoo! News, 11/14/04.

Pirates hit Indonesia's main oil exporting port: The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported Friday that an oil tanker, a bulk carrier and a container ship were targeted by armed pirates at Balikpapan, one of Indonesia's main oil exporting ports. A crew member was taken hostage during one of the attacks. As a result, the IMB has issued a special warning to ships in the area. The IMB said there had been a total of 13 attacks close to Balikpapan in the last six weeks. Some security experts say there is growing evidence linking ship piracy and terrorism, but the IMB continues to assert there is still no hard evidence linking the two. All agree, however, that an aggressive attack on an oil tanker, port, or strategic waterway like the Malacca Straits would result in severe consequences, particularly for energy markets. See "Pirate attack prompts ship warnings," Reuters at CNN Money, 11/12/04.

Japan accuses Chinese sub of entering its waters: Japan lodged a formal protest with Beijing Friday after concluding a Chinese nuclear submarine spent time in Japanese waters without identifying itself. The boat was first spotted on Wednesday, which put Japan's navy on alert. Tokyo concluded it was a Chinese nuclear submarine based on a number of factors, including how long it spent underwater, the noise it made and the fact that it was traveling toward China. Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura summoned a Chinese envoy Friday to formally protest the action, and demand an explanation. While Tokyo wants to maintain peaceful diplomatic relations with China, it is expecting an appropriate response from Beijing. Beijing hasn't commented on the report, but on Thursday, China's foreign ministry discouraged "any random suppositions on this question." See "Japan Says Chinese Sub Intruded Waters," Kenji Hall, Associated Press at Yahoo! News, 11/12/04.

Mystery sub sparks Japan alert: Some media sources are claiming that the mystery submarine that entered Japanese territorial waters Wednesday might be a Chinese vessel linked to the development of a national gas field in the East China Sea. In August last year, China began a development project in the Chunxiao gas field, which is about five kilometers from the boundary line of the exclusive economic zone set by Japan in the East China Sea. Japan protested at the time, since it is possible that natural gas resources extend to the Japanese side of the line. Despite the media alerts, government officials have rejected such speculation. Japan's ministry will lodge a protest, and take "appropriate measures" once the nation of origin of the boat is determined. One government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, did say it was highly likely the submarine is nuclear-powered, given its noise patterns. See "Unidentified submarine intrudes near Okinawa," Reiji Yoshida and Nao Shimoyachi, The Japan Times Online, 11/11/04.

Britain tackles ship recycling: Following the serious disagreements last year when the US contracted with Able UK Ltd. of Hartlepool to dismantle some of their "ghost fleet" ships, an inquiry was set up to look at ship recycling. The Commons Environment, and Rural Affairs Committee found that Britain's old ships are being dismantled under "inadequate" conditions in developing countries, and that the need to eradicate irresponsible ship dismantling was "urgent." In their latest report the all-party committee of MPs urged the Government to use its forthcoming presidency of the EU and chairmanship of the G8 to encourage responsible international ship breaking. The group also acknowledges that there aren't many suitable facilities in developing countries, which raises a significant barrier to a responsible industry. See "MPs warn over dismantling of ships," ic Newcastle, 11/11/04.

Canada's concerns over porous borders: Canadian deputy Conservative leader Peter MacKay warns that the government has done little to beef up security and inspections at bridges and ports. He joins Liberal Senator Colin Kenny in criticizing some aspects of national security. MacKay feels that federal officials have offered "platitudes" and "public relations" efforts instead of real actions. He feels that port and maritime security remain vulnerable, that staffing levels at the Canadian Border Services Agency need to be bolstered, that critical infrastructure continues to be inadequately protected, and that the electricity grid and oil and gas pipelines remain vulnerable to attacks. Federal officials insist that plans to step up Canada's emergency preparedness measures are ongoing. See "Canada remains vulnerable to terrorism," Sean Gordon and Peter O'Neil, CanWest News Service at National Post, 11/10/04.

Mystery sub spotted in Japanese waters: An unidentified submarine was briefly spotted in Japan's territorial waters off Okinawa early Wednesday but it later departed the area. The government's top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, revealed the information to a news conference. A reconnaissance aircraft and destroyer were dispatched to investigate. The aircraft confirmed that the submarine had entered Japanese territorial waters, but that it later left. The boat's country of origin could not immediately be determined. See "Japan on alert after sub scare," Reuters at CNN.com, 11/9/04.

Global warming affects the Arctic: The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), funded by the US, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Finland, predicts that global warming is heating the Arctic almost twice as fast as the rest of the planet. While there are possible benefits, such as more productive fisheries and easier access to oil and gas deposits, these are generally outweighed by threats to indigenous peoples and the habitats of animals and plants. Many of the four million people in the Arctic are already suffering: indigenous hunters are falling through thinning ice, prey is harder to find, and buildings, oil pipelines, roads and airports are sinking or becoming destabilized from thawing permafrost. Polar bears are unlikely to survive as a species. Scientists will meet in Iceland this week to discuss the report. Foreign ministers from Arctic nations are due to meet in Iceland on November 24, but diplomats say they are deeply split, with the US least willing to take drastic action. See "Arctic meltdown gathers speed," Reuters, 11/8/04.

California ports look to technology: Although the backlog at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach has improved, the area is still facing dramatic growth in container volume, and a labor shortage. The failure to implement new technologies has also been identified as a factor. Carriers at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles want more digitizing of information to gain greater productivity, which the labor union agreed to in 2002. But the impact of these technologies on union jobs remains a concern. Being considered are remote cameras, global-positioning systems, and radio-frequency identification technology to eliminate bottlenecks as containers are moved in and around ports. The Port of Rotterdam has implemented RFID for this purpose, while Singapore uses optical character recognition to read container numbers as they come into the shipping yard, and an automated clearance system to let truckers clear cargo before they arrive at the gate. See "Port Crowding Won't Ease Without Tech Help," Laurie Sullivan, InformationWeek, 11/8/04.

Canada sub fire investigation blames crew: An investigation into a fire on a former British submarine that killed a Canadian sailor will blame the crew, according to reports from a British newspaper. The Royal Canadian Navy board of inquiry will say they left hatches open that should have been closed. This allowed water to reach the battery compartment, causing a short circuit. It happened as HMCS Chicoutimi was sailing through heavy seas on its maiden voyage from Scotland to Nova Scotia. The boat caught fire last month west of Ireland days after it was handed over to the Canadian navy. There were suggestions the boat had not been refitted properly and that the Canadian Navy could sue Britain for damages. The board is expected to release its report by the end of the month once hearings are finished. See "Sub crew to blame for lethal fire," Sutton Eaves, The Ottawa Citizen at Canada.com, 11/7/04.

Command shifts amid fears of terrorist attacks on ports: Reflecting growing fears that a major terrorism attack could come by sea, a top American naval officer officially took over the US Northern Command (Northcom) on Friday, vowing to enhance maritime security nationwide. The choice of a naval commander to run an operation usually dominated by Air Force officers reflects the new reality of terrorism that could come from air, land or sea. Northcom was established two years ago to coordinate domestic defense efforts alongside the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which patrols the skies daily along with Canadian forces. Admiral Timothy J. Keating is replacing retiring Air Force General Ralph Eberhart, and will control both Northcom and NORAD. See "New command at Peterson," Eileen Kelley, The Denver Post, 11/6/04.

MoD approves Windows for warships: Ministry of Defence contractor BAE Systems was responsible for the selection of a Combat Management System for the forthcoming Type 45 class of destroyer, according to UK's Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram. BAE's decision to use Windows 2000 was subject to review, however. In fact, BAE's CMS subsidiary, AMS, has standardized on Windows for future CMS development, and will likely use Windows for any Royal Navy vessel it works on. This decision was made in spite of criticism from some of BAE's own engineers. Ingram said that Windows 2000 represents the "lowest risk choice of operating system" for Royal Navy destroyer Combat Management, and "any residual risks associated with reliability [are] well understood by the contractor." See "Windows for Warships safe for Royal Navy, says MoD," John Lettice, The Register, 11/5/04.

Pirate attacks drop worldwide, but casualties are high: The International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Watch Centre has released its report on the first nine months of 2004. While there has been a drop of pirate attacks worldwide since the same period of 2003, casualties remained high. Thirty crew members were killed in the first nine months of 2004, compared to 20 at this point last year. Half the deaths occurred in Nigerian waters. There were 251 pirate attacks globally between January and September, a 27% drop from the 344 attacks in the same period of 2003. Indonesia remains dangerous, accounting for a quarter of the global total, but its 70 attacks this year were down from 87 in the same period last year. The number of attacks in the Malacca Straits was nearly unchanged, but the Singapore Straits and the South China Sea saw eight attacks each this year, compared to none in both territories last year. Despite fewer attacks overall, the IMB warned law enforcement authorities against becoming complacent. See "Fewer Pirate Attacks Worldwide," PA News at Scotsman.com, 11/4/04.

Melting ice breaks polar food chain: British research being published in the journal Nature shows that numbers of krill — tiny shrimp-like creatures that prop up the Antarctic marine food chain — have fallen by 80% since the 1970s. The ocean within the Antarctic Circle is warming at one of the fastest rates of any location on the planet, and melting the sea ice. Because the area is an important breeding ground for krill, scientists fear this will have a disastrous effect on the long-term prospects of Antarctica's large marine mammals and birds by severely disrupting the food chain. This could also have important implications for commercial fisheries, many of which are founded on fish that feed on krill. See "Antarctic food web under pressure," BBC News, 11/3/04.

Cause of second fire aboard Chicoutimi may be determined: The second fire that broke out on the crippled HMCS Chicoutimi was a minor fire compared to the major electrical fire. As the crew struggled to control the boat, already filled with clouds of black smoke, someone lit a chemically laden candle, which is part of an oxygen generation system. Although the candle was thrown away in a bucket and doused with fire retardant, so it can't be examined, it may have been contaminated with grease or soot following the first fire. A source close to the internal military investigation has said that under those conditions, "they're almost certain the candle had some kind of crap on it." There are four of the oxygen-producing cylinders on the sub; the cylinder that caught fire is directly over a hatchway that leads to the lower deck, where the electrical fire broke out. This is the second time an oxygen generator on one of Canada's newly leased submarines caught fire. See "Sooty candle likely caused second fire aboard sub: sources," Murray Brewster, Canadian Press at Canada.com, 11/3/04.

Taiwan blocks arms procurement bill: The proposed US/Taiwan arms deal has been controversial in Taiwan since the Bush Administration first allowed it. On Tuesday, Taiwan's opposition groups Kuomintang and People First Party lawmakers united to block the proposal. The bill will not be addressed until after legislative elections on December 11. The opposition has argued that the price tag is too high. Some legislators also wanted to postpone the issue until after the elections so it wouldn't affect voters' decisions. Several demonstrations were held outside Tuesday's legislature, resulting in verbal clashes and the intervention of riot police. See "Taiwan postpones arms purchase bill," UPI at The Washington Times, 11/3/04.

Basel Convention decides on ship scrapping: The Basel Convention has affirmed that ships can be considered toxic waste under international law, and that its 163 signatories must control the export of ships under the terms of the Convention. In 1994, the Basel Convention banned the export of hazardous waste. But waste contained as components in old ships had still been sent to countries such as India, Turkey, Bangladesh and China. This decision closes that loophole. Under the decision, signatory countries must prohibit exports without the consent of recipient countries, and must assure that shipbreaking is performed in an environmentally sound manner and minimize the movement of hazardous wastes between countries. Some in the shipping industry, including the US, opposed the Basel Convention's involvement in this issue, hoping instead that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) would assume total control over end-of-life ships and impose far less rigorous standards. See "Obsolete Toxic Ship Dumping To Be Controlled," Scoop, 11/1/04.

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