News Archive - March 2005

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Global warming could affect plankton, fish: Oceanographers have predicted that the Atlantic Conveyer current could weaken or even come to a halt as global warming melts the Arctic polar ice cap. This could have a major impact on fisheries and the human food supply if it leads to a collapse of the North Atlantic plankton stocks. Writing in the science journal Nature, Andreas Schmittner of Oregon State University said there was evidence that the current had switched on and off during the ice ages. His computer models indicate that ocean productivity could drop by 20 percent as plankton vanished. The decline is not confined to the northern Atlantic. Schmittner suggested his results "have important implications for the assessment of future greenhouse gas emission scenarios." See "Study: Global Warming of Atlantic Could Hit Fish," Jeremy Lovell, Reuters, 3/30/05.

Selendang Ayu's captain to plead guilty: The Selendang Ayu was hauling soybeans from Tacoma, Washington, to China when an engine malfunctioned. The vessel broke apart December 8, spilling more than 335,000 gallons of fuel off Unalaska Island. Although eighteen crew members were saved, six crew members died when a Coast Guard helicopter crashed trying to rescue them. The ship's captain, Kailash Bhushan Singh will plead guilty to giving false information to investigators. The company spokesman said Singh initially told investigators he shut down both engines about two hours later than he really had. See "Guilty Plea Expected in Freighter Case," Associated Press at Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/30/05.

Millennium Assessment released: The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, drawn up by 1,300 researchers from 95 nations over a period of four years, finds that human activities are causing irreversible damage to the natural world. The way society has sourced its food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel over the past 50 years has seriously degraded the environment. The report is different than previous ones in that it defines ecosystems in terms of the services or benefits that people get from them: timber for building, clean air to breathe, fish for food, and fibers to make clothes. Two services — fisheries and fresh water — are said now to be well beyond levels that can sustain current, much less future, demands. See "Study highlights global decline," Jonathan Amos, BBC News, 3/30/05.

Canada's Defence Minister defends submarines: Canada's Defence Minister Bill Graham defended the country's submarine fleet while in Victoria visiting the headquarters of their Pacific fleet. Graham insisted Canada's four submarines, all docked since the deadly Chicoutimi fire, will play a vital role in strengthening Canada's military presence at home. The Canadian Navy is anxious to get the four boats back into service, but is waiting for results of an investigation into the October accident. See "Sub fleet will prove its worth: Graham," Dirk Meissner, Canadian Press at Canada.com, 3/29/05.

Canada's small ports are still vulnerable: The Canadian Maritime Workers Council, an umbrella group that represents unionized port workers, recently commissioned a survey of port security. Sixty police chiefs, port officials and municipal leaders from British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. were interviewed for the poll. The majority of those interviewed doubt that their communities could prevent terrorism, drug smuggling and other criminal acts at their ports. While most believe security has been improved at Canada's major ports, 90 percent of those surveyed said the government needs to do more to secure the country's smaller commercial ports. See "Ottawa not doing enough to secure small ports: union poll," Murray Brewster, Canadian Press at CNews, 3/29/05.

Peru may try to privatize port of Callao: Built in 1928, Callao is currently Peru's biggest port, handling 90 percent of international trade in and out of Peru. But it hasn't been updated in decades, can't handle today's giant container ships, and is the only port in the world's top 100 that isn't fully mechanized from berth to gate. Shippers say Callao's outdated technology and the time it takes to unload ships makes Callao one of the most expensive ports in Latin America. Peru wants to upgrade the port with a new container terminal, a new pier for minerals, and a cruise ship terminal, but doesn't have the public funds available. Instead, the government is hoping to privatize the port. But port workers wants the port kept in Peruvian hands, and have threatened to strike. See "Peru's aging port in race to become Pacific hub," Robin Emmott, Reuters, HoustonChronicle.com, 3/28/05.

Growth at Kenya's Port of Mombasa: Ship arrivals at Kenya's Port of Mombasa have grown modestly in the past few years, but container traffic has more than doubled in that time. Experts say the import, export and transshipment traffic has also doubled over the past five years, and these increases are beginning to show an effect in the country's economy. Some worry that import growth might lead to inflation. Others worry about the port itself, which saw a pile-up of containers in February, and more congestion in general. The Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) is working to expand capacity and modernize its facilities. Mombasa Port serves Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan and Somalia. It is hoped the port will soon serve landlocked Ethiopia as well. See "Kenya’s tidal wave of hope," Patrick beja, East African Standard, 3/28/05.

The changing role of the US Coast Guard: At the time of September 11 attacks, US coastal protections included only a small number of significantly armed patrols, mostly for use against drug smugglers. But that is changing, and New England has been among the first regions to experience the transformation. The United States is dramatically expanding its seacoast defenses by arming Coast Guard helicopters with machine guns, training security teams to rappel onto hostile ships, and deploying sensors, satellites and surveillance cameras. The buildup of maritime muscle, part of a program detailed in the 2006 budget plan of the Department of Homeland Security, stems from fears that terrorists may try to attack the nation through its coastline. A US-Canadian group is also working on a maritime defense arrangement inspired by the North American Aerospace Defense Command. See "US arms Coast Guard terror units," Charlie Savage, The Boston Globe at Boston.com, 3/27/05.

Many killed in Ghana blaze: A devastating fire at Ghana's main port of Tema has killed at least 18 people. Apparently, oil had leaked from the pipeline into the sea, and sparks from a dock worker's welding gear ignited the spill. the Greek-flagged fishing vessel MV Polaris was docked for repairs at the PSC Tema Shipyard, and at least 17 people on board are feared to have burned to death. 13 bodies have been recovered from the ship so far. The fire affected the seawater pumping house which serves as a coolant for Ghana's only oil refinery, causing an immediate shutdown. Two companies near the shipyard were also seriously gutted by the fire. See "13 bodies recovered from ship," News24.com, 3/26/05.

Drug smuggling submarine found: Colombian police have found a homemade submarine designed to carry cocaine on a Pacific Ocean smuggling mission. Police, who acted on a tip, made no arrests after finding the submarine hidden in the port of Tumaco, near the border with Ecuador. It was the second publicized case of Colombian drug smugglers trying to use submarines. In 2000, another underwater vessel was found far from the coast in the Andean mountain capital, Bogota. The vessel had the capacity to carry 10 tons of cocaine, which could be worth from $200 million to $300 million on US streets. Authorities didn't say where the submarine appeared to be headed or how far it could travel. See "Colombian police find submarine for drugs," Associated Press at The State.com, 3/25/05.

UN stresses sustaining world's fisheries: The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has adopted a new plan to label fish that has been harvested in compliance with conservation and sustainability standards. These voluntary guidelines were adopted earlier this month by the FAO's Committee of Fisheries. A distinctive logo or statement will appear on a tag if the product is certified. This will allow consumers to make informed choices, and create a market mechanism that promotes sustainable production methods. The guidelines outline general principles that should govern eco-labeling plans, including the need for reliable, independent auditing, transparency of standard-setting and accountability, and the need for standards to be based on good science. The guidelines also call for financial and technical support to help poorer countries implement and benefit from eco-labeling. See the news release "UN-certified fish no red herring for environmentally-conscious consumer" from the United Nations, 3/24/05.

Bugaled Breizh may have been sunk by a submarine: The French trawler Bugaled Breizh sank off the English coast in January 2004; 5 fishermen were drowned. At the time, a NATO exercise was underway involving the Dutch submarine Dolfijn. The Dutch embassy says the sub was too far away to have caused the accident, but marine accident experts commissioned to investigate by the families of the crew and the Guilvinec fishermen's committee say the sub could have been involved. At a news conference on Thursday, the investigators said a submarine could have caught the trawler cable in its rudder or propeller which could have dragged down the back of the trawler. This theory has always been denied by the Sea Accident Investigation Office, and apparently the investigators didn't have access to the shipwreck. See "French trawler 'was sunk by sub'," BBC News, 3/24/05.

US Navy will hunt Swedish submarine: The Swedish Navy is sending one of their Gotland class submarines to San Diego, California, where the US Navy will use it for training. The vessel will remain Swedish-flagged, commanded, manned and operated; US Navy personnel will be on board as riders and observers. The US in interested in studying the diesel powered boat, since it no longer has any of its own. The US Navy will practice hunting the Swedish sub with its nuclear-powered subs, as well as other ships and planes. The project will also focus on acoustic analysis. See "Navy to hone hunting skills on Swedish sub," Jack Dorsey, The Virginian-Pilot, 3/24/05.

Indonesia and Malaysia discuss oil claims: Experts from Indonesia and Malaysia met to evaluate competing claims to an offshore oil field that sparked military tensions between the countries last month. Although few details have been disclosed, the talks apparently focused on maritime mapping of the Ambalat blocks, an oil and gas-rich area off the western coast of Borneo. The dispute between the neighbors flared after Malaysia awarded exploration rights in the area. Both countries deployed navy vessels and accused each other of trespassing and violating borders. Since then, both nations' leaders agreed to work together to resolve the dispute peacefully. Follow-up meetings will be held in Malaysia. See "Indonesia, Malaysia end first round of talks on oil dispute," Associated Press at HindustanTimes.com, 3/23/05.

USS San Francisco crew is disciplined: Attack submarine USS San Francisco ran into undersea rocks on January 8. One crew member died of injuries suffered during the crash, and some two dozen others were injured less severely. The rock obstacle was not on the ship's charts. A Navy spokesman reported Wednesday that six crew members have been found guilty of hazarding a vessel and dereliction of duty. Since it was a nonjudicial punishment, their identities will not be released. Punishment will include reduction in rank and punitive letters of reprimand. The skipper of the submarine has already been relieved of command and reprimanded. See "6 crewmembers of Navy sub disciplined," Associated Press at Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/23/05.

Fraser River salmon fishery faces shutdown: Canada's House of Commons fisheries committee is citing unauthorized native fishing, federal mismanagement, and high water temperatures as key reasons for the disappearance of sockeye salmon from the Fraser River last year. Although fish counts in the river have been low in the past, 2004 was particularly bad, with one third of the total run missing. Usually one of Canada's richest fisheries, the Fraser River sockeye salmon run will likely be shut down for the 2008 season. Losses in the commercial fishery alone are estimated at $78 million in 2008. The forecast for 2012 and 2016 is also bleak, as the sockeye has a four year life cycle. See "Fraser River sockeye fishery could close in 2008: panel," Canadian Press at myTELUS, 3/22/05.

World Water Day, March 22: Unsustainable and wasteful use of water has led to many ecological disasters. World Water Day, sponsored by the United Nations, focuses attention on this precious and increasingly scarce commodity. The day also marks the beginning of the International Decade for Action on Water for Life, during which the world body is seeking to put the spotlight on the need to care for water resources and clean water. A major goal is to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 2.6 billion people lack even basic sanitation. Another 1.1 million must make do with unimproved and often unhealthy water sources. See the "Message of the Secretary-General for World Water Day" from the United Nations, 3/22/05.

Illegal fishers get bonuses: According to briefing notes provided last year to the director general of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, captains and officers of some foreign vessels have been getting handsome rewards from ship owners for catching illegal fish. Current penalties for illegal fishing are relatively low, and in some cases the vessel owner pays the fines on behalf of the officers. Cash incentives are high enough that the penalties for getting caught aren't enough to deter illegal fishing. In many cases, the illegal fish is worth more on the market, so illegal fishing will bring more revenues despite cash incentives and any penalties. Federal officials estimate that in 2003, foreign fishing fleets illicitly caught about 15,000 tons of banned species off the East Coast of Canada. The country has launched an aggressive surveillance and enforcement campaign. See "Foreign fleet owners reward illegal fishing with bonuses: internal documents," CP at myTELUS, 3/20/05.

Details emerge about pirate attack on Japanese tugboat: The Japanese tugboat Idaten was attacked by pirates off Malaysia's Penang island last Monday in the Malacca Strait. Three crewmen were kidnapped. The incident was one of two reported attacks in the Strait since the tsunami last December. Japanese Foreign Ministry official Masahiro Takagi has reported that the three sailors have been released. No details, including if a ransom was paid, were disclosed. See "Japan says piracy hostages freed," Associated Press at CNN.com, 3/20/05.

All three fishing boats used in the attack have been found, and are being checked by Malaysian police. Crew members from one of the fishing boats found off Pela Province claim they were attacked by armed men on Sunday night, robbed of cash and the fish they had caught, and held captive aboard their boat. After the attack on the Idaten, the fishermen were allowed to go. See "Pirates hijacked our boat to attack tug: fishermen," The Japan Times, 3/19/05.

China aims to become world's biggest shipbuilder: Currently number three in the world, China hopes to become the world's biggest shipbuilder by 2015. Even Winje, managing director of ship brokering firm Winmar, believes the country may succeed. China's biggest competitors in shipbuilding, Korea and Japan, have economies that have already moved far beyond the phase of industrial development associated with the industry. Some two-thirds of the working population in Korea and Japan are already employed in the services sector, and are unlikely to return to the more dangerous and dirty jobs associated with shipbuilding. On the other hand, some two-thirds of the Chinese population is ready to move to urban centers for just this sort of job. In addition, land suitable for shipbuilding is much less expensive in China. While steel supplies have become something of a bottleneck for the industry, there are also a number of investors interested in the country. See "China's shipping prowess," Michael Mackey, Asia Times Online, 3/19/05.

IMO may help with inter-Korean talks: South Korea's Minister Oh Keo-don has asked the International Maritime Organization to help establish a dialogue between fisheries officials of the two Koreas. South Korean officials believe inter-Korean talks may happen, since North Korea also badly wants support from the IMO to rehabilitate its maritime industries. North Korea recently invited IMO secretary general Efthimios Mitropoulous to visit to Pyongyang to discuss pending issues. South Korea wants to boost cooperation with North Korea to resolve various maritime issues, such as improving safety measures for ships working near the sea border, and conducting joint operations to develop natural resources. See "Seoul Seeks UN Role for S-N Maritime Talks," Na Jeong-ju, The Korea Times, 3/18/05.

Supplementary report on Chicoutimi completed: An initial report on the fatal fire on board the submarine HMCS Chicoutimi was submitted to the commander of Canada's Navy in December. But Admiral Bruce MacLean ordered a further probe into the incident, to examine whether the boat should have been operating on the surface in rough weather with two hatches open. A large wave is believed to have washed over the submarine, allowing water to pour into the control room, soaking an electrical junction box, shorting it out and causing the fire. After the report is examined by MacLean, the findings will be reviewed by political and naval personnel, and the family of the crewman who died, before it is released publicly. That is expected to happen in April. Some believe running a sub with open hatches is routine in the Canadian navy, and that the Chicoutimi's captain is being set up to be a scapegoat for poor British workmanship. See "Sub inquiry wraps up for second time," Murray Brewster, Canadian Press at Canada.com, 3/18/05.

Taiwan may be closer to arms deal with the US: Taiwan's Executive Yuan approved a draft bill for a weapons deal with the US that could be sent to the Legislature next week. The package was sent to the Legislature last year, but it was rejected due to the high cost. The purchase price has been lowered considerably, since it has been decided the submarines will not be built in Taiwan, and the new Taiwan dollar has appreciated against the US dollar. It still isn't clear if the bill will be approved. An arms package that includes eight diesel electric submarines, twelve P-3C Orion ASW aircraft and six batteries of PAC-3 was promised by the Bush administration in 2001. See "Executive Yuan approves draft bill for weapons," Taiwan News at e-Government Website, 3/17/05.

Tapping methane hydrates beneath the sea: Vast reserves of methane hydrates — a form of natural gas — are trapped and frozen under the sea. But so far, mining the deposits has presented an enormous technical challenge. Japanese and Canadian research in the Arctic has proven that economically viable quantities of methane can be obtained from onshore hydrates. But new research has started to try to tap hydrates under the sea. The semi-submersible drilling vessel Uncle John will spend 35 days in the Gulf of Mexico collecting the first-ever sediment samples from methane hydrate deposits at 4,300 feet beneath the gulf's surface. The expedition is just one part of a $23 million, four-year effort funded by the US Department of Energy and ChevronTexaco to get samples from the ocean and analyze them. See "Playing With Frozen Fire," Stephen Leahy, Wired News, 3/17/05.

US warns terrorists may target ships off east Africa: The United States is warning international shipping companies of possible terrorist attacks off the coast of east Africa. The special warning has been broadcast to maritime organizations since March 11. It cites intelligence that speed boats may be used to attack ships in inland channels, ports, territorial and international waters in and off the coasts of the Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, the Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan and Tanzania. The warning says the intelligence is unconfirmed and the timing or location of any such attack is unknown. See "US warns of terrorist threat to western ships off east Africa," AFP at Yahoo! News, 3/17/05.

GAO report on US Navy shipbuilding costs: The US Government Accountability Office released GAO report number GAO-05-183 entitled "Defense Acquisitions: Improved Management Practices Could Help Minimize Cost Growth in Navy Shipbuilding Programs" on March 10, 2005. The GAO was asked to investigate the long-standing problem of cost growth in the Navy's shipbuilding programs. They studied current and projected cost growth on construction contracts for eight different ships. The GAO's analysis suggests that total cost growth of the eight ships could reach more than $3 billion — over $1 billion more than Congress has already appropriated to cover cost growth. Increases in labor hours and material costs together account for 77 percent of the cost growth. Only five percent of overall cost growth was linked to costs of Navy-furnished equipment, such as radar and weapons systems. The report makes seven recommendations aimed at improving the Navy's processes for developing cost estimates, establishing realistic budgets, and providing better reporting on program costs. In its comments on a draft of this report, DOD concurred with two of the recommendations and partially concurred with five. You can download a PDF version of the report (1.1 MB), or read a text version online.

The new US mercury ruling may fall short: The Bush administration Tuesday issued the first US rules ever to target mercury pollution from power plants, but critics said industry is getting far too much leeway in curbing a toxic element linked to learning disabilities. Most observers believe the rules will be challenged in court. There are a number of power plants that have already reduced mercury emissions by higher levels than the new rules require — and at a modest cost. Pollution control experts believe that the new regulation offers little real improvement. Even EPA air chief Jeffrey Holmstead acknowledged that the new mercury power plant rule would not require power plants to adopt any new pollution control technology. One ongoing dispute between the EPA and researchers is over how much mercury contamination can be blamed on domestic sources. The EPA believes most of the mercury in fish comes from outside the United States, but other research estimates that at least 60 percent of the mercury deposited in the Northeast US comes from within the region. See "New mercury rules announced; levels lag behind current reductions," Seth Borenstein, Knight Ridder Newspapers at Yahoo! News, 3/15/05.

US Coast Guard needs more funding: For the first time, the US Coast Guard has been free to provide Congress with a list of additional funding requests not included in a presidential budget. The nearly $1 billion wish list underscores conclusions in two studies that said the Coast Guard has neither the equipment nor the funding to meet the country's national security needs in the post-September 11 era. The list includes more than $637 million to upgrade deteriorating ships and helicopters. Coast Guard Admiral Thomas H. Collins cited the example that Coast Guard cutters are suffering major equipment problems more than 50 percent of the time. Representative William Delahunt (D-Mass.), co-chairman of the House's Coast Guard Caucus, said it will be difficult for Congress to find the additional money, but added that "The Coast Guard has been underfunded for far too long." See "Coast Guard Releases $1 Billion Wish List," Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press at Yahoo! News, 3/15/05.

Great Lakes states may regulate ballast water: Two Michigan state legislators have proposed that Great Lakes states regulate ballast water discharge from oceangoing vessels — bypassing the slow-moving federal government. Under the proposal, Great Lakes states, using existing state water laws, would craft ballast water standards and regulations, and coordinate them through the basin to create a comprehensive regional policy. Ships' ballast water is believed to be a leading culprit in introducing exotic species into the Great Lakes, which pose a major threat to the ecosystem. In 1993, the US Coast Guard ordered oceangoing vessels with ballast tanks to dump their contents in the open sea, treat the ballast or seal their tanks, but the Guard admits that exemptions to the ruling allows about 80 percent of salt-water ships entering the lakes to avoid these procedures. Bills seeking stronger policies have been introduced in Congress but haven't passed. Michigan State Senator Patty Birkholz, R-Saugatuck Township, will introduce a bill this week authorizing the state to form a coalition with the region's other seven states to deal with the problem. See "Michigan lawmakers want states to fight exotic species," Associated Press at Detroit Free Press, 3/14/05.

Investing in sustainable fishing: With funds from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and private investors, the Sea Change Management firm hopes to use the power of the market to encourage sustainable fishing practices — while providing solid returns for investors. The Sea Change Investment Fund is currently closed to new investors, but hopes to capitalize on the steady growth of socially conscious investing. The fund will not invest directly in fisheries that catch fish in an environmentally safe manner, but rather invest in suppliers and distributors developing more efficient ways to brand and market the catch to end users. This should boost the market for sustainable seafood products. The fund opened for business on Monday. See "A fish story," Arthur Goldgaber, CNN/Money, 3/14/05.

Malacca Strait hit by pirates again: The Indonesian-owned MT Tri Samudra was attacked by pirates in the Malacca Strait early Saturday evening. Some 35 pirates, armed with machine guns and rocket launchers, released the ship but kidnapped the captain and chief engineer. They are negotiating with the ship's owners for ransom. The gas tanker was fully laden when attacked, but the rest of the crew sailed it safely to Dumai on Sunday. The attack is considered to have been unusually daring. On Friday, Malaysia said it would boost security in the Malacca Strait with a 24-hour radar system to guard against attacks by terrorists and pirates. See "Gunmen seize gas tanker," M. Jegathesan, The Australian, 3/14/05.

The Piracy Reporting Centre of the International Maritime Bureau also reports that a Japanese tugboat was attacked in the Malacca Strait on Monday. Both the tugboat Idaten, and the barge it was towing, Kuroshio 1, were safely escorted back to the northern Penang state by marine police. But the pirates kidnapped the tugboat's captain, chief engineer and a crew member. This renewed pirate activity in the area, which had slowed to a stop right after the December tsunami, is rekindling fears of terrorist attacks in the busy waterway. See "Japanese tugboat attacked, crew kidnapped in Malacca Strait," AFP at Yahoo! News, 3/14/05.

Iran to put seized British boats on display: Iran's state television announced the country plans to put three British naval boats it seized last year on display on the shores of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which divides south-western Iran from Iraq. This will occur during Iran's New Year holidays which begin on March 21. Iran's Revolutionary Guards seized the three British patrol boats, which were being delivered to Iraqi police, in the Shatt al-Arab last June and arrested eight British servicemen aboard. The men were released after three days, but their boats and equipment — including weapons and navigational gear — were kept. Tehran says the boats had strayed into Iranian waters, while Britain says they were intercepted in Iraqi waters and forced over to the Iranian border. Britain has denounced the display plans and said talks were continuing for the vessels to be returned. See "Iran snubs UK over boats," Sky News, 3/13/05.

LPG containers adrift in the Bosphorus Strait: Turkish authorities closed the Bosphorus Strait to all traffic after a roll-on roll-off ship carrying liquefied petroleum gas sank in bad weather. Seven LPG tanks floated to the surface after the ship sank, and two of them still pose a risk. Five of the tankers were towed safely to a quay on the city's Asian side by Sunday afternoon. The other two were still lying on rocks on the city's European side, but were under control. Officials have launched an investigation into the ro-ro vessel, which was apparently sailing in the waterway with dangerous cargo on board outside the permitted hours, and despite the bad weather conditions. See "Gas scare closes down Bosphorus," BBC News, 3/13/05.

Officers blamed for US sub's accident: One sailor was killed and 98 were injured on January 8 when the submarine USS San Francisco crashed into an undersea mountain 360 miles southeast of Guam. The US Navy said the mountain was not marked on the charts, but investigators have found that several charts showed other possible hazards and had inconsistencies that should have prompted greater caution. US Navy investigators found that crew members did not look at some navigational charts of the area that might have suggested more caution. The sailors also should have checked the water depth more frequently, and should not have been traveling at high speed. The findings are part of a report that should be released in a few weeks. The Navy has briefed the rest of its submarine captains on maintaining "a skeptical attitude" about the charts. See "Officers missed warnings prior to submarine's crash," Christopher Drew, New York Times at The Seattle Times, 3/13/05.

Greenpeace asks Canada to recall toxic ship: The ship Ferbec was owned and flagged by Canada Steamship Line (CSL) since 1977. But according to the Montreal Port Authorities the ship left on January 24 with an unknown shipbreaking destination. The ship has since been renamed Michalakis and is believed to be flying the Mongolian flag. In a meeting between Greenpeace and CSL on March 4, CSL confirmed that the ship had been sold with a destination of India for breaking. CSL also stated that it provided the ship's buyer with a complete list of dangerous materials on board. Some of the products are prohibited by the Basel convention on the exportation of dangerous materials. Greenpeace and the Basel Action Network have sent a letter to Canada's Paul Martin asking him to ensure that the ship is returned to a Canadian port. The letter also accuses Canada of failing to advise India about the contamination present on the ship. See "Transfer of former contaminated CSL ship to India was proper, says Ottawa," Canadian Press at Canada.com, 3/11/05.

Asbestos present on Canadian subs: Any fire will produce noxious smoke and gases, but it turns out that the crew of the Canadian submarine HMCS Chicoutimi may have been exposed to asbestos. All four of the leased boats contain some asbestos insulation, and the navy has admitted to being worried about the "toxicity levels of cables (and the) extent of asbestos onboard." But the inquiry isn't complete, and the navy has stressed there was no indication the material was disturbed during the fire that broke out during the Chicoutimi's maiden voyage to Halifax. Asbestos becomes problematic when it is damaged and the fibers can be inhaled or ingested. The asbestos was first discovered on a hazardous materials list prepared by the British Ministry of Defence when the first of the four mothballed submarines was reactivated. The material is systematically being replaced with less harmful products in all four boats. See "Some submarine systems lined with asbestos: Defence Department," CP at myTELUS, 3/10/05.

US shipbuilders create lobbying coalition: Northrop Grumman has helped organize a new "Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition" to remind US lawmakers of the financial impact that delaying construction of the Navy's new aircraft carrier, CVN-21, would have on their states. Northrop Grumman has carrier suppliers in about 45 states, so hundreds of congressional districts could be adversely affected by the Bush administration's proposed delay. Mike Petters, president of NG Newport News Shipyard, said it was too soon to predict whether the delay will force the yard to lay off any employees. But he did point out that previous delays in the Navy's purchasing plans have already driven experienced shipbuilders to find new jobs. See "Changes in Navy's plans hurts shipyards, Petters says," Dale Eisman, The Virginian-Pilot, 3/10/05.

Cetacean death rates soaring in the UK: A new study reveals that whale, dolphin and porpoise strandings have doubled in the UK over the past ten years. An increase in general fishing activity is blamed, as is military use of sonar, but the main focus is on pair trawling, where giant nets are suspended between two vessels. Pair trawling generally occurs between the months of November and April. The greatest numbers of dolphin strandings occur at that same time. 782 cetacean strandings were reported in 2004, but researches believe that this figure may represent only 10% of actual occurrences. In September, Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) announced new measures to help reduce death and injury to dolphins by pair trawling techniques used in the South West of England. See "Whale stranding cases 'increase'," BBC News Online, 3/9/05.

Commons defence committee to deliver report: Canada's Commons defence committee has completed its study of the procurement of four submarines from Britain, and will make several sweeping recommendations. The report's main focus is on political delays in military procurements. For example, the subs stayed in British docks for four years while then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien refused to go ahead with the purchase because he considered it politically unpalatable amid 1990s government cost-cutting. Crucial training for submariners was also held up. The report will provide specific recommendations on improving major procurements in the future. The panel's investigation is unrelated to a navy board of inquiry looking into the HMCS Chicoutimi tragedy. See "Interminable delays hurt military," Stephen Thorne, CP at Montreal Gazette, Canada.com, 3/9/05.

Congress wants to focus Navy research funding: Members of Congress from the northeast are trying to force the Navy to commit some $600 million available for research over the next six years toward undersea systems. Their goal is to preserve the country's submarine industrial base at a time when the Pentagon has proposed cutting billions of dollars from the Navy's shipbuilding budget. The Congress members, who include Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., and Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn., are from states with shipyards. At a recent meeting of the Armed Services Committee, Navy Assistant Secretary John Young would only say that various programs are under consideration, including an array of submarine alternative vessels, unmanned undersea vehicles and airborne sensors. Some of these alternatives are quite small. See "Lawmakers target research funding for submarines," Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press at Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/8/05.

The US Navy's "sea base" concept: The US Navy is trying to redefine 21st-century warfare. The focus is the concept of a sea base — a dozen or more ships that provide offshore artillery fire, air support, food, ammunition and even a place to sleep for ground troops. The Navy has always been part of the supply chain for US ground troops fighting overseas, but the sea base concept makes the ships the end of the supply line. Admiral Vern Clark, the outgoing chief of naval operations, calls the concept a "revolution." The only boat planned for the base that currently exists is the submarine. The rest, including a next-generation carrier, DDX class destroyers, and the Littoral Combat Ship, are only in planning stages. The sea base concept largely grows out of the conviction that future enemies are likely to be the kind of insurgents US troops are now battling in Iraq. But the new ships rely heavily on unproved technologies, and many on Capitol Hill are skeptical. See "The Navy's Changing Tide: Service floats ''sea base'' concept," Dale Eisman, The Virginian-Pilot, HamptonRoads.com, 3/8/05.

The online paper also provides an overview of the vessels the Navy has said could be included in the force. See "Sea bases: the Navy's new way to fight," The Virginian-Pilot, HamptonRoads.com, 3/8/05.

WTO rules on South Korean shipbuilders: The World Trade Organization ruled that South Korea must halt some financial support for the country's shipbuilders, but rejected European Union accusations that the country committed wide-ranging breaches of the rules of global commerce by helping its shipyards restructure. The EU claimed government restructuring assistance gave South Korean yards an unfair advantage, helping them bounce back from the 1997 Asian economic meltdown. It filed a formal complaint with WTO arbitrators in 2003. South Korea said its shipbuilders were simply more competitive, thanks to tough cost-cutting measures after the economic crisis. Although WTO's dispute panel rejected the EU's protests over restructuring aid, it upheld the EU complaint on some of the export financing given by the government-owned Korean Export-Import Bank, saying Seoul should act within three months to remove such help for shipyards. Both sides in the shipbuilding dispute can still appeal the ruling. See "WTO: S. Korea Must Nix Some Shipbuilder Aid," Jonathan Fowler, Associated Press at Yahoo! News, 3/7/05.

Cargo volumes predicted to rise in western US: Ports in Southern California hit a crisis last summer when the shipping industry underestimated the volume of cargo that would be coming into West Coast ports. The result was cargo ships stacked up off the coast, waiting to be unloaded. Although the backlog has been cleared, cargo from Asia and China is expected to double by 2020. Experts say that unless there are considerable infrastructure improvements, and more cooperation among shipping companies, labor, rail, and truck drivers, the backlog of last summer could seem "inconsequential." Some estimate that there could be an 18% increase in cargo at West Coast ports in the coming year. In response, ports like Oakland are looking to expand. And Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may suggest that China, South Korea and Japan invest in California port infrastructure during his visit to Asia later this year. See "Ports just keep getting busier - West Coast expects volume of cargo to double by 2020," George Raine, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/6/05.

Probe into possible sonar link to dolphin beaching: The US has launched an investigation into whether the mass beaching of dolphins in southern Florida this past week was caused by naval exercises involving a sonar-equipped submarine. About 70 rough-toothed dolphins swam into shallow waters off the Florida Keys last Wednesday. About two dozen mammals have died. Nobody knows exactly at this point what caused the dolphins to beach, and the US Navy has refused to say if the submarine was using sonar. But US Navy and environmental officials said they were looking into the possibility that top-secret exercises involving the USS Philadelphia, a Los-Angeles-class attack submarine, had anything to do with the event. See "Dolphin beaching followed sub's exercises," Associated Press at SiliconValley.com, 3/5/05.

The volatility of the steel market: Global demand for steel, fueled in large part by China's growth, has made these past two years remarkably profitable for steelmakers. But the world's iron-ore producers want to share the profits, and are starting to impose hefty prices on steel firms. Last month, the big ore miners shocked the steel industry by demanding a 71.5% price rise in initial negotiations with Japan's steelmakers — Luxembourg-based Arcelor agreed to the same rise, which suggests similar prices will be seen world-wide. Steelmakers insist they will have to pass on these cost rises to customers, and carmakers have already warned these costs will hit profits this year. If China's recent breakneck growth is as unsustainable as many experts suspect, then steel prices could come crashing down again. See "The world's steel makers enjoy a boom - Enjoy it while it lasts," The Economist Global Agenda, 3/4/05.

East Timor, Australia to discuss maritime boundaries: After nearly a year of negotiations, both Australia and East Timor seem willing to discuss dividing up the oil-rich Timor Sea energy reserves. Some $41 million is at stake in the oil and gas deposits. Talks will resume in Canberra on Monday. Negotiations reached an impasse at the end of last year, with East Timor accusing Australia of bullying its smaller neighbor. These new discussions will focus on a compromise which would involve setting aside permanent maritime boundary talks for up to a century. East Timor's foreign minister Jose Ramos Horta is confident an agreement can be reached, possibly as early as the middle of the year. See "Timor Sea compromise near, Sandra O'Malley, The Australian, 3/4/05.

'Flags of convenience' endanger rare fish: Australia will ask other nations to help stop ships flying "flags of convenience" from fishing the rare patagonian toothfish. Fisheries Minister Ian Macdonald says the Australian patrol vessel Oceanic Viking is tracking six ships in the Southern Ocean flying the flags of the African nation of Togo and the republic of Georgia. They have been ordered to leave the area, but under international law Australia cannot force them to move on because they are flagged to nations which have not signed a convention to conserve Antarctic marine life. Senator Macdonald says he will encourage other countries to take action at meetings on illegal fishing next week. See "Australia powerless on illegal fishing," AAP at The Australian, 3/4/05.

Judge rules on 'Ghost Fleet' ships slated for the UK: Four of America's "Ghost Fleet" ships from Virginia have been docked in Hartlepool, England since 2003, and nine more could be on the way after the case against the Maritime Administration (Marad) was dismissed in a US court. US District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer dismissed the lawsuit largely on technical grounds. The remaining ships from the 13-ship contract with Able UK could be towed to England this summer. The Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club and the Seattle-based Basel Action Network did not say if they would appeal the ruling. Although the ruling is good news for Marad, the Administration also heard bad news this week. A draft report from the Government Accountability Office sharply criticizes the agency's ship-disposal program, and concludes that the 2006 deadline to scrap more than 100 obsolete ships probably will not be met. See "Judge allows Ghost Fleet ships to be disposed of in England," Scott Harper, The Virginian-Pilot at HamptonRoads.com, 3/3/05.

The ruling was hailed as "an important step forward" by Able UK, but the firm has been told that it can't start work on the four ships already docked in Hartlepool until planning and environmental regulations are met. The company has submitted a planning application to Hartlepool Borough Council to expand their dismantling yard, but doesn't know when the application will be reviewed. Environmental groups in the US and the UK are disappointed by the ruling. See "Ruling signals more 'ghost ships'," BBC News, 3/3/05.

Pirates back in the Malacca Strait: Noel Choong, regional manager of the Piracy Reporting Centre of the International Maritime Bureau, has reported that the first piracy incident in the Malacca Strait since December's tsunami disaster took place on Monday. A Malaysian tugboat was attacked by gun-wielding pirates about 50 nautical miles off Penang, in the northern end of the Malacca Strait. The pirates kidnapped the Malaysian captain and Indonesian chief officer. Since late 2003, there had been a steady increase in attacks in the strait, but the attacks halted after the tsunami hit. See "Pirates attack tugboat," The Australian, 3/2/05.

China's growth good for VLCC market: China's four biggest shipping lines are buying or building oil tankers with the combined capacity to carry more than half the global increase in oil production this year. The country is scouring the world for more oil as domestic output lags behind demand. The International Energy Agency predicts global oil demand to grow by 1.8%, with China's demand to grow 6.3% this year. China's four shipping lines had no tankers in 2001, and plan to create a fleet of 18 by 2008. Demand for new tankers, container ships and gas carriers has led to a backlog of orders at shipyards in South Korea, China and Japan. A VLCC ordered today will not be delivered until 2008. The expansion of China's fleet has helped increase the price of a new VLCC by 56 percent since 2003. See "Shipping lines are amassing fleets to meet rising oil demand," Will Kennedy, Bloomberg News at International Herald Tribune, 3/2/05.

Refitting subs isn't straightforward: Charles David Lightfoot, a Commander in the British Royal Navy, says that Canada may have underestimated how much time and money it would take to refurbish the four used British submarines. Lightfoot was in charge of training Canadians to use the four boats, although he didn't train Chicoutimi's crew. The four Upholder-class subs were mothballed by the British in 1993, and were idle for five years before Canada decided to purchase them in 1998. The original price increased due to structural problems. Lightfoot said that "maybe there was a bit of naiveté in thinking that it was anything like a straightforward transition." See "Canada 'naive' about refitting subs: British officer," Canada News at myTELUS, 3/2/05.

South Africa's navy struggling to train submariners: South Africa's first of three new submarines, recently launched in Germany, will start sea trials soon. Although the crew of the first submarine, known only as S101 so far, are in the process of qualifying, many are not experienced, particularly in international waters. This is due in part to the decommissioning of the navy's last Daphne submarine last year — the training of submarine crew was downscaled in the years leading to its withdrawal. But another obstacle is an affirmative-action policy put into place in the past two years, which requires three black submariners to each white one. While the navy wants to be cautious with its new boat, particularly in the light of Canada's accident last year, many agree that delivering the sub on a freighter would be an embarrassment. A final decision about the matter will be made soon. See "SA's new sub may arrive by ship," Erika Gibson, News24.com, 3/1/05.

Pollution, over-fishing are destroying UK seas: A new report by UK's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) — dubbed the most comprehensive study of the waters surrounding the country — says that the seas are seriously ailing. The report blames industrial activities, pollution, acidification and warming waters for the decline in certain sea species. It also states that much of the open ocean is not affected by pollution and some contaminants are decreasing. The main findings state that fish stocks are declining, sea surface temperatures are on the rise, salinity is decreasing, and numbers of plankton are changing. Defra will do further research into the UK's marine environment, and hopes to establish a more "holistic" management approach to marine ecosystems. See "UK seas 'in peril' - says report," BBC News, 3/1/05.

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