News Archive - February 2005

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Watching natural gas: The use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) has been hampered by the expense of liquefying, transporting and regasifying it. But with rising oil prices, a demand by countries to diversify energy sources, and the recent Kyoto protocol, interest in LNG is growing. Natural gas production has increased by more than 120% since the early 1970s, and the International Energy Agency reports that world-wide use of gas has grown 5% since 1973. Gas could account for 25% of the world's total energy consumption by 2025. Growing demand is spurring technology innovations that are bringing down the cost of liquefaction plants, tankers and regasification plants. Qatar's government is pushing to become the world’s predominant LNG supplier by giving foreign investors a friendly welcome. The Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch/Shell, America's ExxonMobil, and France's Total have all recently committed themselves to LNG projects with Qatar. See "The natural-gas explosion," The Economist Global Agenda, 2/28/05.

Japan barring most North Korean ships: Most North Korean ships will be barred from Japanese ports under a law that takes effect Tuesday, a move that will slash trade as Tokyo ratchets up pressure on the impoverished communist country over a decades-old kidnapping dispute. The law requires all foreign ships over 100 tons to be insured against oil spills, losses and other damage to enter Japan. Few North Korean ships are believed to meet the requirement, and some are billing the measure as economic sanctions in disguise since North Korea relies heavily on ships that travel to Japan. Japan fears outright sanctions could disrupt negotiations on the North's nuclear programs, but some say the shipping law could help squeeze information about the kidnappings from Pyongyang. See "Japan Ship Law to Close Ports to Most N.Korea Vessels," George Nishiyama, Reuters, 2/28/05.

Chicoutimi inquiry resumes: Although a military spokesman insisted on Monday that no one is the focus of the investigation into the fatal fire aboard HMCS Chicoutimi, some worry this is not the case. The inquiry, which reconvenes behind closed doors on Tuesday, was paused last month so the submarine's skipper and two senior officers could seek legal advice. Some members of the navy worry that Commander Luc Pelletier is being set up to take the fall for what they claim is bad workmanship by British shipbuilders. The key issue is why one of the two conning tower hatches was left open while the boat was underway. The decision to leave any hatch open could have only been made by the captain. See "Sub inquiry resumes behind closed doors," Murray Brewster, Canadian Press at Canada.com, 2/28/05.

US court hears case on access to ships: The majority of cruise ships visiting US port cities are registered in foreign countries, which allows cruise lines to avoid some US laws. On Monday, the US Supreme Court will take up a case to determine whether foreign-flag cruise ships doing business in US waters can be sued under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) for discrimination against disabled passengers. The case, Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line, stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2000 by Douglas Spector and a group of other NCL passengers who allege that they were discriminated against during their cruise vacation because of their disabilities. The case has huge implications for cruise lines, which could be forced to pay for retrofitting ships. The worldwide industry estimates two-thirds of its passengers are Americans. Cruise and shipping industry officials say the case is important because an NCL defeat could undermine the existing international framework governing worldwide shipping. See "Supreme Court takes up cruise ship case," Warren Richey, The Christian Science Monitor at USA TODAY, 2/28/05.

Michigan boaters asked to help in war on terror: Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land hopes to enlist Michigan boaters in the federal "America's Waterway Watch" in the war on terrorism. Michigan has unique homeland security issues. It has more miles of Great Lakes shoreline than any other state, it has more miles of borderline with Canada than any other state, and the two busiest ports of entry from Canada. (While Canada is a friendly neighbor, the border is fairly porous.) Michigan also leads all US states in registration of more than 1 million water craft — and 300,000 owners are about to get license renewal notices. In her mailing, Land will include a brochure from the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security with toll-free hotlines to report suspicious activity that might indicate security threats in or around waterways. See the State of Michigan press release "Secretary of State, partners work to promote security, vigilance on Michigan waterways," 2/28/05.

Giant submarine company discussed: Carlyle Group, a US private equity group, is considering a bid for DML, which owns the Devonport Royal Dockyard that refits Britain's fleet of nuclear submarines. Carlyle is interested in DML as a way of levering itself into the Ministry of Defence's plans to create a single British submarine company — dubbed Subco — by merging the commercial dockyards. Subco would control the submarine assets of DML, BAE Systems' yard in Barrow-in-Furness, Babcock International's facilities at the Faslane naval base in Scotland, and Rolls-Royce, which makes the nuclear power plants for submarines. Not all companies involved are happy with the plan. To buy DML, Carlyle would have to seek agreement from the company's largest shareholder, Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of the controversial US energy and construction company Halliburton. See "Carlyle mulls £450m swoop on Devonport submarine base," Clayton Hirst, The Independent, 2/27/05.

Harland and Wolff considers ship breaking: Belfast's famous Harland and Wolff shipyard, which built the Titanic, may try to take advantage of the many single-hulled oil tankers that will have to be scrapped soon. East Belfast Ulster Unionist councilor Jim Rodgers hopes the yard could take on some scrapping work, since it could lead to more jobs in east Belfast. But he admits that many former shipyard employees have moved on. A Harland and Wolff spokesman admitted the yard is considering the work. But since the yard is currently building bridges and repairing oil rigs, he wasn't sure H&W has the capacity. See "Has boatyard's ship come in?," Stephen Breen, Sunday Life, 2/27/05.

SS Norway may be scrapped: The cruise liner SS Norway is docked at the Lloyd Werft shipyard in Bremerhaven on the German North Sea coast. The vessel continues to be owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines, but it hasn't sailed since an explosion in its boiler room and subsequent fire killed several crew members in 2003. The former liner that helped launch Norwegian ship owners' venture into the cruise industry will reportedly be scrapped if no buyer steps forward. See "Scrapping looms for veteran liner," Aftenposten Norway, 2/25/05.

Run-of-river plant proposed for the Congo River: South Africa's state-owned power company, Eskom, has proposed building the world's biggest hydro-electric plant at the Inga Rapids on the Congo River. The plan would create a "run-of-river" plant, rather than damming up the river entirely. Instead, water is siphoned off, channeled through turbines, and then fed back into the river. Backers of the Eskom plan believe it could generate enough power for the whole continent. But while research generally shows that run-of-river plants are less damaging to the environment than dams, they may still eliminate fish migrations and damage silt flows — both of which could prove harmful to subsistence farmers. Another drawback is that the proposed location is in the western Democratic Republic of Congo, one of Africa's most unstable countries. See "Could a $50bn plan to tame this mighty river bring electricity to all of Africa?," Jeevan Vasagar, The Guardian, 2/25/05.

Matson buys two more freighters from Philly shipyard: Matson Navigation Co. has agreed to buy two more container cargo ships from Kvaerner Philadelphia Shipyard for a total of $290 million. The ships will be used in a new service linking the West Coast, Hawaii, Guam and two ports in China. The Matson deal also keeps the ships away from a start-up low-cost carrier, OceanBlue Express Inc., which had signed a preliminary agreement with Kvaerner. The first ship is to be delivered in July and the second in June 2006. The deal also gives Matson the right of first refusal on four additional container cargo ships to be delivered by 2010. Dave Meehan, president of the shipyard, said that with the new order announced Thursday, the yard is now "a sustainable and predictable shipbuilding operation." See "Repeat business for Kvaerner," Henry J. Holcomb, Philadelphia Inquirer at Philly.com, 2/25/05.

Finding new ways to sustain fish stocks: The 2002 UN Food and Agriculture Organization report, "The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture" is often used to support opposing claims. For example, the FAO reported "Twenty-five percent of the major marine fish stocks...are underexploited or moderately exploited." While the fishing industry might conclude that 75% of the world's fish stocks are operating at a sustainable level, an environmentalist might conclude that 75% of the world's fish stocks are being over fished. One thing that both sides agree on is that fish stocks are being exploited at ever-increasing rates. In response to this fact, a marine policy specialist at the New England Aquarium is helping the fifth largest US grocery chain, Ahold USA, to buy seafood from sources that are environmentally responsible. Many hope that influencing large-scale buying practices will open the market for more sustainable fish stocks. See "'Win-win' tie-up sets sights on sustainable seafood stocks," Stephen Hesse, The Japan Times Online, 2/24/05.

Fore River Shipyard land may finally be rebuilt: Car dealer Dan Quirk was the top bidder two years ago when the US Maritime Administration put the former Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, up for sale. Jay Cashman, whose bid placed second, sued to void the auction, saying his own re-use plan fit better with a merchant marine use. But yesterday, US District Judge Nancy Gertner decided against Cashman, saying that he failed to show the Maritime Administration ever put much weight on shipbuilding. Quirk should now be able to continue with his development plan, which includes commercial shipping and possibly retail and commercial uses. MarAd took control of the shipyard after Massachusetts Heavy Industries defaulted on millions in guaranteed loans and filed for bankruptcy in 2000; the agency lost almost $60 million in the deal. See "Shipyard deal gets judge's blessing," Jessica Fargen, BostonHerald.com, 2/24/5.

Tsunami and quake didn't alter shipping lanes: Both British and American teams have been surveying major shipping lanes in the areas affected by the earthquake and Indian Ocean tsunami last December. Some authorities had feared the quake may have changed the sea floor radically. But a survey by the British Royal Navy's HMS Scott hasn't found any evidence of dramatic changes to the sea floor. The British team surveyed waters off Indonesia's Sumatra island near the epicenter of the earthquake, and found that areas of the seabed moved no more than 10 meters (33 feet). This would not create hazards for shipping. The US Navy surveyed the Malacca Strait, but has not released results yet. See "Quake, tsunami 'altered sea bed'," Reuters at CNN.com, 2/23/05.

Titanic plan for iceberg: An odd plan has been hatched to tow an iceberg into Belfast harbor to celebrate the shipyard where the ill-fated Titanic liner was built. The idea would see the iceberg towed from Norway to the city's dockyards to mark the redevelopment of the Titanic Quarter. Rita Duffy, the artist who came up with the idea, admits it may raise a few eyebrows. But she and her supporters are hoping to celebrate the technological edge the city and the Harland and Wolff shipyard once had, and restore confidence in Belfast. It is only recently that people have taken pride in their history, and recognized that the disaster was an accident. The plan has been backed by the city's lord mayor, and the artist has formed a firm called Thaw to develop the plan. See "Artist hopes to boost peace by towing iceberg to Titanic birthplace," AFP at Yahoo! News, 2/23/05.

Criticism of fishing boat aid: The European Commission has been exploring the possibility of sending de-commissioned fishing boats to replace some of the 20,000 lost in Asia from the tsunami. The plan has come under fire on several fronts. One criticism is that European fishermen are trying to avoid scrapping fees. But others point out that European ships, which are primarily deep-sea vessels, are inappropriate for the type of fishing done in south east Asia, even if they met the stringent conditions that must be met for transfer. The Maritime Rescue Institute in Stonehaven has recommended sending specialist workers to repair and replace instrastructure instead. The European Parliament is due to vote on the issue on Tuesday. See "MEP criticises fishing boats aid move," Hamish MacDonell, The Scotsman.com, 2/22/05.

Research vessel sparks concern for marine mammals: Research vessel Maurice Ewing, owned by the US National Science Foundation, has been using air guns to blast low-frequency sound up to 20 miles into a meteor crater off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, and listening to the sound waves as they travel through the earth. The scientists are hoping to explain how dinosaurs went extinct. But environmentalists are worried that the testing is harming marine mammals, and even link the Ewing to the fatal beachings of whales. Gail Christeson, a University of Texas marine seismologist involved in the project, says there isn't proof that the air guns have harmed marine mammals, and that a greater cause for concern is Navy sonar, which is used for more prolonged periods of time. She also pointed out that the researchers use mitigation devices, such as ramping up the sound gradually to scare marine mammals away, before emitting full-scale blasts. See "Noise makers," Marion Lloyd, The Boston Globe, 2/22/05.

Erika disaster trial moves forward: Although the prosecutor's office had sought a new experts' report on the causes of the sinking of the Maltese-registered tanker Erika, the appeal was rejected. This move by the Paris appeals court on Monday officially concluded preliminary investigations, and cleared the way for a full trial late this year or early next year to establish responsibility for the disaster. The tanker broke up in rough seas in December 1999, spilling 10,000 tons of heavy fuel oil. French oil giant Total has been implicated in endangering lives and causing maritime pollution. But last year Total claimed that corrosion in the tanks — which would not have been detected by inspectors — led to the sinking. See "French court ruling opens way to trial over Brittany pollution disaster," AFP at Yahoo! News, 2/21/05.

Audit faults spending on US port security: The Department of Homeland Security's inspector-general has released a report that finds the department's port security program "has not yet achieved its intended results in the form of actual improvement in port security." Over $500 million has been distributed to ports, but those grants were not directed to the ports that are the most vulnerable. The grant program was intended to limit awards to what were considered strategic ports, meaning terminals that handle large volumes of cargo, high numbers of passengers, or that are next to military facilities or where hazardous cargo is handled. After examining four rounds of port grants, the inspector-general found that the department appeared to be intentionally distributing the money as widely as possible. While major ports received large allocations, smaller grants went to ports that did not appear to meet grant eligibility requirements. The audit concluded that distribution has compromised the nation's ability to better defend the most critical ports against terrorist attacks. See "Port-security grants misdirected, audit says," Eric Lipton, The New York Times at The Seattle Times, 2/20/05.

Drilling for oil poses less of a risk than shipping it: A survey of potential impacts from oil and gas exploration in the Arctic is due to be published next year. The survey is part of a wider Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, sponsored by the United States, Russia, Canada and the five Nordic nations. Survey results suggest that drilling poses fewer dangers to the Arctic environment than a major oil spill from a tanker. New technology is making drilling increasingly clean, whereas shipping has always had risk associated with it. The study will recommend that countries improve their plans for coordinating handling of a major oil spill in the Arctic seas. See "Shipping, Not Drilling, Main Oil Risk for Arctic," Daniel Frykholm, Reuters at Yahoo! News, 2/20/05.

US lawmakers try to restore warship funding: Congressional delegations from US shipbuilding states are working together to try to restore warship funding that President Bush has proposed cutting from the defense budget. In the past, the states have not worked together, since US shipyards compete with each other for some contracts. But as Maine Senator Susan Collins said, "This time, everyone is united." The concern is that if shipyards are cut too deeply, some of them may not survive the lean years while waiting for the Navy to expand the fleet. Another item supporting the shipyards is a statement Admiral Vern Clark made at a Feb. 10 Armed Services hearing, where he said the shipbuilding cuts and reduction of the carrier fleet were driven by budget restraints and not the Navy's needs. But some defense analysts say there's debate in the Navy about how many shipyards are needed. While some believe competing shipyards help drive down costs, others point out that costs are up anyway, since the Navy is ordering so few ships. And some view the process as driven by politics, not competition. See "Disparate delegations team up to fight proposed shipbuilding cuts," David Sharp, Associated Press at The State.com, 2/19/05.

Ship scrapping discussed: A Joint Working Group on ship scrapping established by IMO, the International Labour Organization and the Conference of Parties to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal concluded its first meeting at IMO headquarters in London on Friday. As this was the first meeting of the Group, time was spent establishing ways the three organizations will cooperate in their work related to ship scrapping. The second meeting of the Group will take place in December 2005 or January 2006, and will focus on issues such as environmentally sound management; health and safety of workers; possible roles of concerned States; reporting requirements; pre-cleaning and preparation of ships and its role in sustainable ship scrapping operations; the abandonment of ships on land or in ports; and the potential benefits of a mandatory ship recycling plan. See the press release "Agencies adopt co-ordinated approach to ship scrapping as Joint Working Group makes progress" from the International Maritime Organization, 2/18/05.

The environmental group Greenpeace and the Basel Action Network condemned the meeting as an utter failure, saying the event was hijacked by the shipping industry interests. According to environmentalists, the IMO delegates allied with the shipping industry held sway over the meeting, effectively blocking most of the recommendations made by Basel delegates or non-governmental organizations. Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network believes that solutions may not come from the IMO, but rather from the "163 countries who made a commitment to the Basel Convention principle of minimizing transboundary movement of hazardous waste through pre-cleaning, strict controls, and the promotion of green ship design." See the Greenpeace press release "Industry scuttles progress on safe ship disposal" published by Scoop, 2/18/05.

Chicoutimi hearing postponed: The renewed investigation into the fatal fire aboard HMCS Chicoutimi — which was supposed to take place next week — has been put off until next month while the submarine's captain and two officers seek legal advice. The main focus of that meeting will be the decision to leave a hatch open while underway, which is believed to be a key link in a series of events that led to the fatal electrical fire. Some in the submarine community say the key question is why the British didn't waterproof the junction box in this boat, when the problem was fixed on the three other submarines leased to Canada. But sources say Canada's Navy is hoping to avoid a diplomatic row with Britain, and that the open hatch will deflect attention. See "Renewed sub fire probe delayed," Murray Brewster, Canadian Press at Canoe - CNEWS, 2/18/05.

New proof that man has caused global warming: The strongest evidence yet that global warming has been triggered by human activity has emerged from a major study of rising temperatures in the world’s oceans. A research team led by Tim Barnett of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography examined more than seven million observations of temperature, salinity and other variables in the world’s oceans, collected by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and compared the patterns with those that are predicted by computer models of various potential causes of climate change. They found that the present trend of warmer sea temperatures can be explained only if greenhouse gas emissions are responsible. Details of the study were released at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The results should put further pressure on nations that are not part of Kyoto to reevaluate and see if it would be to their advantage to join. See "Greenhouse gases 'do warm oceans'," Paul Rincon, BBC News, 2/17/05.

Asia's fishing industry loses $520 million in tsunami: The December tsunami cost the fishing industries of the seven countries hit hardest by the catastrophe $520 million, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. The agency has 22 fisheries specialists in the area already, with another 11 on their way. Investigators are looking at immediate relief and a longer-term strategy, which will include advice on sustainable fishing. 111,000 fishing vessels were destroyed or damaged; 36,000 engines were lost or damaged beyond repair; and 1.7 million units of fishing gear — such as nets, tackle, and similar equipment — were destroyed. See the UN news release "Asian fisheries lost more than $500 million to tsunami – UN," 2/17/05.

Aceh, on the northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island, was hard hit by the tsunami. Although damage to the fishing industry may be lighter than first feared, many fishermen are still suffering deep trauma. 6,611 fishermen — almost 11 percent of the total number on Aceh's east coast — were killed, and 46 percent of the fleet was lost or destroyed. Numbers for the west coast are expected to be higher. The fishing industry accounted for 6.5 percent of Aceh's GDP before the disaster, but officials fear that reconstruction of the fisheries sector could take several years. See "Aceh's fishermen go back to sea," Karima Anjani, Reuters at swissinfo, 2/17/05.

Cape Flattery caused extensive damage to coral reef: The bulk cargo ship Cape Flattery grounded on top of the coral reef off Barbers Point Harbor, Hawaii on February 2, and was stuck for nine days. No fuel spilled, but some of the ship's cargo — granular cement — was spilled into the ocean as it was offloaded to float the ship off the reef. The reef where it was stuck was "flattened," and broken coral and globs of hardened cement could continue to damage the remaining reef organisms. The Fisheries Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service and state Department of Land and Natural Resources will do what they can to make repairs during the next few weeks. Scientists will experiment with different adhesives to see if they can reattach larger broken branches of coral, and they will make detailed maps to monitor the reef's recovery over time. The cause of the grounding remains under investigation by the US Coast Guard. See "Extensive reef damage found from stricken ship," Diana Leone, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 2/17/05.

Time is running out for single-hulled oil tankers: Worldwide, there are over 1000 single-hulled oil tankers that won't be allowed to transport oil after April 5; this figure includes 334 European tankers, and 100 British tankers. This is causing a crisis in the ship breaking industry, because few shipyards in Europe have the capacity to clean the tankers, and it is illegal under European law to export toxic waste to developing countries. The International Labor Organization, the International Maritime Organization, and the Basel Convention is meeting from 15 to 17 February 2005 to try to agree how to scrap ships without breaking international laws. Even if the ships are cleaned, scrapping is a dangerous business; an average of one worker a day dies in ship breaking yards in India, Bangladesh and other Asian countries. One suggestion is to require ship owners to pay a levy. See "Oil tankers face scrapping crisis," Paul Brown, The Guardian, 2/16/05.

The documents of the first meeting of the Joint Working Group, as circulated by the IMO Secretariat, may be accessed at the Basel Convention site.

Canada's navy is chronically underfunded: Vice-Admiral Bruce Maclean told Canada's national security and defence committee Monday that the navy was underfunded by $142 million last year, and faces a similar shortfall this year, leaving the fleet aging, the sailors scrambling, and consequences mounting. Virtually every class of naval vessel is paying the price of fiscal neglect, creating what Maclean called "performance gaps." Maclean reported that the government is putting demands on the navy that aren't consistent with the funding provided. As a result, the only way to deal with some issues is to reduce capabilities. The navy's role off Canada's coasts and elsewhere is suffering. See "Blue-sea navy's books in deep red, chief tells Senate committee," Canadian Press at myTELUS, 2/14/05.

Backlog at California ports has been resolved: The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco reports that the backlog of inbound ships at the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach has largely been resolved. The ports managed to catch up by hiring and training more longshoremen. A few months ago shippers were sometimes waiting several days at sea before getting a crew to unload their vessels. Shippers such as Matson put more ships into service, and sailed the ships faster, in order to try to keep up with scheduling. To compensate for their higher costs, they increased prices for ground and sea transport. According to FRBSF contacts, international shipping lines have not lowered their prices as the backlogs have been resolved, due at least in part to the price of fuel. The Pacific Maritime Association, a trade group of West Coast shippers, reported Sunday that none of the 24 ships at the docks were shorted on labor. See "Fed declares port crisis over in L.A.," Pacific Business News, 2/14/05.

Cruise ship runs into trouble off Spain: French and Spanish rescue aircraft and boats went to the assistance of a cruise ship limping in the Mediterranean with more than 700 people aboard Monday after a storm knocked out its engines. The Voyager, en route from Tunisia to Barcelona, Spain, sent out a call for help after a wave struck the boat and knocked its engines out near the Spanish island of Menorca. The vessel has since been able to start up one of its engines, and is now on its way to the Italian island of Sardinia, the nearest port. Several people were slightly injured. Most of the passengers were from Spain. See "Cruise ship OK after battering by storm," Associated Press at HoustonChronicle.com, 2/14/05.

BAE Systems may have overspent on destroyer contract: BAE Systems may have overspent as much as £500m on the six Type 45 destroyers it is building for the Royal Navy. However, industry sources indicate that BAE doesn't accept liability for the cost overruns. The head of the company's naval ships division has apparently submitted a case to MoD officials stating it isn't to blame for £200m of increases; these include changes to specifications, and delays on the integration of the missile system. Significant overspending on the program would cause problems for the defense contractor, which has already overspent on the Nimrod aircraft and Astute submarine programs. See "New row for BAE over £500m overspend," Oliver Morgan, The Observer, 2/13/05.

US port officials concerned about security budget: President Bush's proposed federal budget will create a new program that combines security infrastructure needs of seaports with those of trains, trucks, buses and other public transit. Bush's budget proposal says the new approach, called targeted infrastructure protection, "closes the most critical gaps in state and local terrorism prevention and preparedness capabilities." But the American Association of Port Authorities is concerned that ports will now have to compete for shrinking federal funding resources. Within the next 15 years, industry analysts predict the approximately 2 billion tons of cargo that U.S. ports and waterways now handle each year will double. See "Port Officials Concerned on Bush Budget," Garry Mitchell, Associated Press at The State.com, 2/13/05.

New maritime ID enters into force: In an effort to pre-empt terrorism on the high seas and in the world's ports, a new biometric identity verification system that could potentially affect 1.2 million maritime workers handling 90 per cent of global trade has entered into force as of February 9. Although only three countries — France, Jordan and Nigeria — have so far ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention 2003 (No. 185), only two need do so for it to enter into force. But more than 50 countries have submitted the Convention, replacing Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention 1958 (No. 108), for consideration by their national parliaments. Many, including India, the Philippines and Indonesia, which have large numbers of seafarers, are making plans for implementation while considering the ratification. See the press release "New international labour convention for seafarers' ID documents comes into force" from the ILO, 2/10/05.

Oil spill off Unalaska called 'significant': The US Coast Guard and other government agencies now estimate that 321,047 gallons spilled from the Selendang Ayu, out of the 424,000 gallons of intermediate-grade fuel oil and 18,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board. Leslie Pearson, manager of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's emergency prevention and response program, describes the spill as "the largest intermediate fuel oil spill that we've ever had." The spill from the grounded cargo ship is dwarfed only by the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, although it will take further study to determine the specific damage done. State officials have closed commercial fishing in the area around the wreckage. The ship's spilled cargo is also causing concern; some soybeans have coated the beaches in layers up to four feet thick. See "Aleutian Oil Spill Now Biggest in Alaska Since 1989," Reuters, 2/10/05.

Meanwhile, cleanup efforts at the freighter have concluded for the winter. The salvage firm SMIT America has pumped more than 145,000 gallons of oil and water out of the ship's fuel tanks since early January, and the worst of the spilled oil has been shoveled off nearby beaches. When the weather improves, probably in April, efforts will focus on cleaning additional beaches of oil and beans, and removing the freighter itself. To date, the cleanup has cost $25 million, according to Coast Guard spokeswoman Gail Sinner. See "Selandang Ayu cleanup ends for winter," Associated Press at The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/10/05.

Vessels at Japanese ports will soon need insurance: The Marine Oil Pollution Compensation Guarantee Law, which goes into effect on March 1, bans larger vessels from entering Japanese ports unless they carry sufficient insurance to cover potential damage from an oil spill. The law was put into place in part in response to the Chil-Song, a North Korean freighter that ran aground at Hitachi Port in Ibaraki Prefecture in 2002. The Chil-Song was uninsured, and the central and local governments ended up spending over 600 million yen to clean up the spilled oil. Although the law's stated purpose is to protect the environment, some have described it as a de-facto sanction without a formal declaration. And North Korea is sure to feel its effects. Japan is North Korea's third largest trade partner. Only 2.5% of North Korean ships were covered by insurance in 2003. North Korean ships are generally older and would require more expensive insurance, and the country doesn't have the money to build new vessels. See "'Stealth sanction' starts in March," Yuji Anai and Hiroshi Ikematsu, Daily Yomiuri On-Line, 2/09/05.

The new look for the US Navy: Today's military conflicts are more likely to involve nations without navies, or terrorist groups that turn a fishing boat into a suicide weapon. So instead of focusing on new blue water technology, the US Navy is testing out a new class of ships that will be lighter, faster and more suited to today's military and maritime realities. The 262-foot Sea Fighter, christened last week, is the first prototype to be tested. This souped-up version of a high-speed passenger catamaran, built by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, can go into waters as shallow as 11 feet. The deck can carry two helicopters and the stern can retrieve small boats and underwater drones. Its cargo bay can accommodate 12 shipping containers, each capable of holding gear needed for vastly different missions. The highly maneuverable ship can travel at 50 knots, and possibly as high as 60. The Navy's next prototypes will be bigger, but if Sea Fighter performs well, it may find a place for itself in the future Navy. See "'Sea Fighter' alters the look of the Navy," Sandi Doughton, Seattle Times at The State.com, 2/9/05.

US shipyards unhappy with defense budget: Cynthia Brown, president of the lobbying group American Shipbuilding Association, has spoken out against the Bush Administration's 2006 defense budget proposal. The budget calls for fewer new ships, which Brown says will make it impossible for US yards to do significant long-term planning, or sign meaningful contracts with suppliers. Her group plans to fight to have ships added to the budget, or at least speed up some building schedules. But Admiral Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations, told reporters Monday that he believes the Navy's old goal to have 375 ships can be cut back 325, and could possibly drop to as low as 260. The Navy's six civilian shipyards are owned by two companies, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics. While NG Newport News shipyard employees may feel budget cuts, GD shipyards may not notice right away. See "Shipbuilders criticize budget proposal," Dale Eisman, The Virginian-Pilot, 2/09/05.

New underwater acoustic camera: With so much of the planet covered by oceans, quite a bit of the landscape underwater is unknown. Scanning techniques have been ineffective until recently, and charts still use the depths that Captain Cook measured with lead lines. But a new technology at the CodaOctopus laboratory at the Cardiff University in Wales is set to change that. Chris Wooldridge's team will map extensive areas off the coast of Wales to create a virtual reality image, allowing scientists to "walk" the seabed from the laboratory, or from aboard a vessel offshore. Their Echoscope uses an array of more than 16,000 sonar beams to create an instantaneous, real-time image, instead of traditional tools that use only one beam. With luck, accidents like the USS San Francisco running into an underwater mountain won't happen anymore. See "What Exactly Is Under the Sea?," Rowan Hooper, Wired News, 2/8/05.

Ellen MacArthur sets solo sailing record: Ellen MacArthur has broken the world record to become the fastest round-the-world solo sailor. The British yachtswoman finished her epic voyage off the west coast of France last night, having spent 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds at sea. MacArthur beat the record set last year by the Frenchman Francis Joyon by one day, eight hours, 35 minutes and 49 seconds. Her 75-foot trimaran B&Q was met by small planes and a flotilla of well-wishers as she sailed into Falmouth, Cornwall, on the south coast of England. Queen Elizabeth II approved a damehood for MacArthur, the female equivalent of a knighthood, just hours after she finished the voyage. MacArthur slept an average of 30 minutes at a time and four hours in any one day. She had to fix her generators, water maker and a broken sail, she endured stormy seas and heavy winds, and had a close encounter with a whale. MacArthur's achievement follows her 2001 record as the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe and the fastest woman. See "MacArthur home after setting new record," Paul Kelso, The Guardian, 2/8/05.

KBR appointed 'physical integrator' for UK aircraft carriers: The British government has chosen Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root to coordinate construction of two aircraft carriers that will be the Royal Navy's largest ships. Britain's largest defense firm, BAE Systems, was initially chosen to lead the project, but the Ministry of Defense has instead opted to hire a committee of firms. The MoD says it wants an outsider to coordinate a project that will be spread out across companies and shipyards up and down the UK. BAE has pointed out that KBR doesn't have any experience building ships, but others point out that BAE has had problems meeting large contracts itself. The Ministry of Defense and BAE held weekend talks to head off a showdown between the two sides. It is believed that the MoD agreed to limit KBR's powers. See "Halliburton wins key carrier contract," Rhys Blakely, Times Online, 2/7/05.

Murders by pirates on the rise: The International Maritime Bureau's piracy watchdog center in Malaysia reports that 30 mariners were murdered by pirates in 2004. That number made the year one of the bloodiest since the center starting collecting statistics on piracy 15 years ago, although the number of attacks in 2004 actually fell. There were 325 acts of piracy reported last year, compared to 445 reported in 2003. The coasts of Nigeria were the deadliest waters, with 15 seafarers murdered. Indonesia accounted for more than a quarter of attacks, with 93 raids in its waters; down from 121 the previous year. The center also noted that attacks in the Malacca Straits all but ceased in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami. See "Fatal attacks by pirates surge in 2004: watchdog," AFP at Yahoo! News, 2/6/05.

Too easy to get cockling license: One year after 23 Chinese cocklers died when caught by rising tides Morecambe Bay, a BBC journalist — who has never even been to the Bay — was able to get a cockling permit by sending just a driver's license and utility bill in with her application. A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that the North West and North Wales Sea Fisheries Committee issued the reporter a license. She added that the committee doesn't have the power to discriminate on the basis of experience, and that health and safety guidelines were sent with the permit. Other areas have stronger licensing programs, and most assume that such programs will lead to fewer fatalities. The North West and North Wales Sea Fisheries Committee hasn't commented. See "Easy pickings for cockle licence," BBC News, 2/4/05.

Planes may help track ships in the US: The US Coast Guard may ask commercial planes to pick up routine ship signals, and pass the information on to US authorities. Ships over a certain size must already transmit the Automatic Identification System signal — with the ship's name, size, speed, location and cargo data — which can be picked up on shore within about 20-30 miles. But the US wants to track ships within 2,000 nautical miles of its shores. If commercial aircraft tap into the AIS signals, the Coast Guard could have speedier and much more detailed information about a greater number of approaching ships than it currently has at its disposal. Because planes move so much faster than ships, the information could either be sent in real time, or handed to authorities on the plane's arrival, and the data would still reach the Coast Guard in plenty of time to avert terrorist attacks. The Coast Guard hasn't approached any airlines with the proposal as of yet. See "U.S. May Ask Planes to Help Track Ships for Security," Caroline Drees, Reuters, 2/4/05.

Canada's submariners lack experience: Former Canadian submarine commander Peter Kavanagh told the Commons Defence Committee that lack of funding in the late 1990s created many problems for the country's submarine program. These problems were compounded while the navy waited for the government to decide whether it would buy new subs. The Oberon-class sub program was undermanned during the waiting period; when it came to training men for the new Victoria-class boats from Britain the pool for qualified submariners was very small; the navy certified sailors with only five days at sea as qualified submariners, so they lacked vital hands-on experience. Although Kavanagh feels that Canada's sailors still lack experience today, he doesn't think that this contributed to the Chicoutimi tragedy. That crew, he feels, "was actually full of experienced submariners." See "Navy qualified sub-standard submariners, says retired skipper," CP at myTELUS, 2/3/05.

Rebuilding Sri Lanka's fishing fleet: The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has taken its first step to help rebuild Sri Lanka's fishing fleet, devastated by December's tsunami. The initial $380,000 consignment of boat repair kits represents the start of FAO's $20 million initial response to the disaster that destroyed more than three quarters of the country's fisheries industry. The immediate six month relief project will be followed by a long term rehabilitation program, which will provide fishing nets and gear and engines, and will help repair or replace boats. The FAO will also provide technical assistance to help create a new, sustainable fishing industry, and avoid some previous problems of over fishing and waste. See "UN takes first step in rebuilding Sri Lanka's fishing fleet, destroyed by tsunami," UN News Centre, 2/3/05.

Canadian Coast Guard's role could shift: Canadian Coast Guard duties currently focus on fisheries surveillance, search and rescue, and navigational maintenance, but there has been talk of boosting the organization's profile as its role shifts toward coastal security. Although the service was moved from the Transport department to Fisheries in the mid 1990s, the service may be moved again to the new Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. The Senate national security and defense committee believes the Coast Guard is uniquely qualified to play a constabulary role, since it is already so familiar with Canada's coastal waters. But Michael Wing, president of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, fears that the service is suffering from "chronic under-funding, over-commitment, and government neglect." See "Canadian Coast Guard role could shift toward security," CP at myTELUS, 2/2/05.

Yachting erases racial barriers in South Africa: Nobody really expects South Africa's Team Shosholoza to win the next America's Cup, scheduled for 2007 in Valencia, Spain. But their accomplishments are impressive already. First, the group started by Salvatore Sarno, founder of Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Company, and his friend Ian Ainslie are mounting Africa's first challenge in the 153-year-old America's Cup series. Second, in a first for yachting, nearly a third of the crew will be nonwhite; some are from South Africa's toughest townships. Of eight contenders for the Cup, Team Shosholoza is currently seventh after three regattas. But that is deceptive: others are racing state-of-the-art boats, while the Shosholoza yacht is two generations old. But the team is getting new boats, thanks to German sponsor T-Systems, and the crew is improving. See "A diverse crew sets sail for America's Cup," Michael Wines, The New York Times at International Herald Tribune, 2/1/05.

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