News Archive - November 2005

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Indonesia's patrols keep the Malacca Strait safer: Pottengal Mukundan, London-based director of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), said there was a dramatic reduction in attacks on ships in the Malacca Strait this year. The reduction is believed to be attributed to an increase in patrols by Indonesia, which launched sea and air patrols in July. He has warned that if the number of patrols goes down, the number of attacks will likely go up. Pirate attacks worldwide droped 18% in the first nine months of this year, but Indonesian waters remain very dangerous. The IMB disagrees with Lloyd's Market Association, which added the Strait to its list of areas that pose a security threat to shipping, since attacks in the area are now down. See "Piracy In Malacca Strait Down Thanks To Indonesia Patrols," AFP at TerraDaily, 11/30/05.

Chinese spy case continues: New developments in the case concerning Chinese nationals allegedly stealing US Navy information have been revealed. Court papers released Monday shed light on what US intelligence officials say will be one of the most damaging cases of Chinese technology spying on US weapons. According to court papers, Chi Mak, an electrical engineer who worked on more than 200 Navy contracts, told investigators that he had been sending sensitive but unclassified documents on weapons research to China since 1983. Although the information compromised was not secret, the list of information Chi Mak has admitted passing on to China is quite long. It includes direct current-to-direct current (DDC) converters for submarines, a 5,000-amp direct current hybrid circuit breaker for submarines, the power distribution system for the Aegis weapons system and its Spy-1 radar, and an aircraft carrier catapult. Chi Mak and his brother are now being held without bond. See "Defense contractor held in spy case," Bill Gertz, The Washington Times, 11/30/05.

Europe's fishermen face smaller cuts in their catches next year: In its 2006 plan for fish quotas, the European Commission has recommended less drastic reductions than in previous years, as well as some seasonal closures of waters to protect species where stocks are dangerously low. In general, the EU is starting to focus less on annual plans, and more on setting longer-term objectives for maintaining safe levels of fish stocks. Cuts of up to 15 percent have been proposed for the 2006 cod catch depending on the area, but have been raised for the Baltic where seasonal fishery closures are already in force. A two-month closure is planned for Celtic Sea cod fishing. The other main fisheries closure is for anchovy in the Bay of Biscay, the key trawling ground for the fish living off the North Atlantic coasts of France and Spain. See "EU long-term plan to prevent collapse of cod stocks," Jeremy Smith, Reuters, 11/30/05.

US 'ghost fleet' is still around: The US Maritime Administration says the most derelict ships in the James River Reserve Fleet have been removed to be scrapped. There are currently 64 ships in the fleet right now, down from 104 in 2001. Congress has mandated that all the ships be dismantled by September, 2006. But John Jamian, the interim head of MarAd, says there is almost no chance all the ships will be gone by then, as there isn't enough money available for the project, or enough shipyard capacity in the US. He does believe that they can scrap 11 ships in 2006, but noted that surplus vessels are regularly added to the inventory. See "Specter of "ghost fleet" is slowly fading," Tony Germanotta, The Virginian-Pilot at HamptonRoads.com, 11/30/05.

US fishermen create a national organization: Commercial fishermen in the US are forming a national organization called Commercial Fishermen of America, to promote their image and press their interests before Congress. Until now, the major advocacy group for the US fishing industry has been the National Fisheries Institute. But this group represents seafood processors, restaurants and distributors, and many felt the group couldn't adequately represent fishermen. National issues facing commercial fishermen include reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act — the primary federal law governing fisheries management; health care and workers compensation; pollution; overfishing; and protecting port facilities. See "Commercial fishermen forming national organization," Associated Press at BostonHerald.com, 11/30/05.

Somali pirates release second ship: Somali pirates have released the MV Torgelow, with no conditions or ransom paid, after elders intervened. The Sri Lankan captain and nine Kenyan crew members are in good condition. The Torgelow was hijacked 52 days ago 190 miles (300 kilometers) south of Somalia's capital Mogadishu. The Thai-owned ship MV Laemthong Glory, two Arab dhows and three Taiwanese fishing vessels are still held hostage by Somali pirates. See "Pirates free ship after 2 months," Reuters at CNN.com, 11/30/05.

Asphalt spill on Virginia's James River: The barge Piney Point ran aground early Monday morning as it was being pushed by the tug Barbary Coast on its way to Richmond, Virginia's Deep Water Terminal. No cause has been given for the grounding. The Coast Guard currently estimates that up to 63,000 gallons of the barge's cargo of hot asphalt has spilled; the tank holds more than twice that much. Oil containment booms have been placed around the nearly submerged barge, and the State Department of Environmental Quality says there isn't any sign yet that there has been significant damage to the environment. Cleanup can't begin until the barge is unloaded and moved. The Coast Guard closed part of the James River on Monday, but reopened it to limited traffic on Tuesday. See "Asphalt spill worse than thought," Jack Dorsey, The Virginian-Pilot at HamptonRoads.com, 11/29/05.

Somali pirates release hijacked ship: The Ukrainian ship MV Panagia has been released after being hijacked by gunmen more than a month ago in the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia. The 22-member crew were said to be in satisfactory condition. The gunmen seized the Maltese-registered Panagia on October 19 off the Somali coast as it sailed northward from South Africa to Europe with a cargo of iron ore. The hijackers demanded a ransom of $700,000 but it isn't clear if any ransom was paid. Some eight other vessels remain held by Somali pirates. See "Somali pirates release Ukrainian ship, crew," Reuters at CNN.com, 11/28/05.

Mediterranean security force proposed: Franco Frattini, the European Union's justice commissioner, has proposed that a Mediterranean security force be established that would stop illegal immigrants from Africa from getting into Europe. As many as 100,000 a year are thought to enter the EU illegally across the Mediterranean, and many drown. The proposed force would be made of ships and equipment contributed by European and north African countries bordering the Mediterranean. One of Frattini's main objectives was to create a network of satellite systems that could detect the immigrants' boats leaving African ports. If the plan is approved by the EU's 25 governments, the force could start up as early as next spring. See "Europe plans naval taskforce to stop illegal African migrants," Nicola Smith Brussels, The Sunday Times, 11/27/05.

US firm to fight Somali pirates: A US company has been given a two-year contract to help fight piracy off the Somalia coast — seen as among the world's most dangerous waters. The contract was awarded by Somalia's fisheries ministry of its transitional government. The agreement is designed to defend Somalia's territorial waters, defeat the pirates and put an end to the illegal fishing and poaching of natural marine resources. There have been 32 pirate attacks off the Somali coast since March this year, according to the International Maritime Board. Under the deal, Topcat Marine Security will supply the necessary equipment and training to help Somalia's coastguard and special forces monitor the coastline. See "Somalia engages US firm to fight pirates," Allan Kisia, The Standard, 11/25/05.

Oil spill in the Barents Sea: An oil spill was discovered on November 23 near the Transocean Artic rig from a Statoil-operated ship in the Norwegian sea. About 280 barrels of oil is believed to have spilled. Statoil is working to identify what happened, and the ship won't resume production until the cause is understood. The company doesn't think there is any risk of the oil reaching land. Environmentalists say the accident highlights the risks of developing the Barents Sea. The debate over whether to expand oil exploration into the arctic Barents Sea has raised passions in Norway, the world's third biggest oil exporter, and featured prominently in the country's September election. See "Statoil says spill clears, environmentalists worry," Reuters, 11/25/05.

Canada's HMCS Chicoutimi will return to service: General Rick Hillier, Canada's chief of defense staff, insisted on Thursday that the submarine HMCS Chicoutimi will return to service. There have been rumors that the damage from last October's fire was so bad that officials were considering scrapping it. Hillier says the sub might return to the sea by the summer of 2007, but Naval officials have only completed about 80% of the damage assessment, so there could be further delays. Commander Ziggy Richardson-Prager, who is in charge of the repair plan, dismissed concerns over the bulkhead, a crucial piece of equipment that was thought to be so badly disabled in the fire that it might lead to the cancellation of the repairs or delay the boat's relaunch. He said, "we are not anticipating having to replace the bulkhead at all." See "Hillier insists Chicoutimi will be back in water, despite extensive damage," Alison Auld, CP at CANOE, 11/24/05.

General Hillier will present the crew of Chicoutimi with the Canadian Forces Unit Commendation on Friday for their heroic efforts to save the crippled submarine. He said the 57 crew members worked courageously to save the boat after it was left powerless after the fire and at the mercy of a storm. See "Chicoutimi crew honoured," CBC News, 11/25/05.

US Navy's undersea glider is launched: An underwater glider was launched for the first time from the Dry Deck Shelter aboard the submarine USS Buffalo (SSN 715) on November 14. A tool that will be used to "characterize" the ocean, the underwater glider is a mobile network component equipped with sensors that will gather data, and surface periodically to transmit the data via a built-in satellite phone. The battery-powered device paints a picture of assets both below and above the ocean. The gliders have demonstrated their capability in several naval exercises already. The next step in testing is to retrieve a glider via submarine. See"US Navy Submarine Makes First Launch Of Underwater Glider," David Rush, SpaceWar, 11/24/05.

New US DD(X) destroyer sails ahead: The Pentagon has opted to press ahead with a new multibillion-dollar destroyer being developed by Northrop Grumman Corp. and General Dynamics as the centerpiece of the US Navy's future fleet. Ending speculation the project might be killed, the Defense Department cleared a Navy plan to let each company go ahead with detailed design work on the ship. Under the newly approved "dual lead ship" strategy, each company will build a ship of its own to meet requirements set by the Pentagon and the Navy. On completion, the Navy will recommend to the Pentagon how to acquire the rest of a projected $18 billion DD(X) fleet. See "Lott: Destroyer Program to Move Forward," Holbrook Mohr, Associated Press at Newsday.com, 11/23/05.

Putin signs Russia's Maritime Doctrine 2020: President Vladimir Putin has signed Russia's Maritime Doctrine 2020, which makes maritime revival one of Russia's national priorities. The doctrine will help coordinate relevant business interests with state activities and shipbuilding with other sectors of the economy; promote modernization in the industry; work out proposals on priority projects and bills to improve the legal base; and shape a national maritime policy, part of which is support for national shipbuilding. A so-called "Second Register" bill will provide for better registration conditions for ship owners who want to register their international vessels in Russia. Commentator Vasily Zubkov points out that previous maritime doctrines were not administered well, and largely failed. Certain aspects of the current doctrine could also be problematic, but it suggests that the country is interested in once again becoming a leader in the global maritime industry. See commentary by Vasily Zubkov, "Will good intentions revive Russian shipbuilding?," at RIA Novosti, 11/22/05.

Report details harmful effects of ocean noise on marine life: A report released Monday by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the affects of ocean noise on marine life range from long-term behavioral change to hearing loss to death. The report included details from necropsies performed on beached whales suspected of being exposed to Navy sonar in September 2002. The whales were found beached in the Canary Islands, with bleeding around the brain and ears, and lesions in their internal organs. Michael Jasny, the report's principal author, said that the "physical evidence has led scientists to understand that the sonar is injuring the whales in addition to causing them to strand." The report urges the National Marine Fisheries Service to better enforce the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, and calls for year-round restrictions of excessive ocean noise in critical habitats and seasonal restrictions on migration routes. The NRDC also wants to require the US Navy to obtain permits for its sonar exercises. The group sued the Navy last month in an attempt the curb its use of mid-frequency sonar during training exercises. See "Report: Ocean noise harms dolphins, whales," Paul Chavez, Associated Press at SiliconValley.com, 11/22/05.

Portsmouth overhaul of sub to save US Navy $59 million: The US Navy has recently decided to repair the submarine USS Philadelphia at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine, rather than at Electric Boat shipyard in Connecticut. Navy spokesman Lt. John Gay says the decision was made to save money: the move should save $59 million. Paul O'Connor, president of Portsmouth's metal trades council, said the move was proof the Defense Department had sought to use the Base Realignment and Closure as an instrument to privatize Portsmouth's work, despite the yard's efficiency. See "Shipyard overhaul here, rather than in Va., to save $59m," Douglas P. Guarino, Foster's Daily Democrat at MSNBC, 11/22/05.

New project to save Venice from sinking explored: A group of engineers and geologists from Italy's University of Padua are proposing a dramatic new solution to the watery threat facing the city of Venice. Rather than battling to keep the sea out, they want to use it to help raise the sinking island-city. The plan would involve pumping huge quantities of sea water into the ground beneath Venice down 12 pipes. The sea water would make the sand beneath the city expand, lifting it by 30 centimeters (about 12 inches) in 10 years. The Italian government is spending 4.5 billion euro ($116 billion) on a controversial project to build floodgates across the entrance to the lagoon in which the city stands in an effort to keep the sea at bay. The new plan would cost just a fraction of that, about 100 million euro ($5 million). The two plans are designed to work together. Scientists want to carry out a trial to see if the theory would work in practice. See "Engineers float plan to save Venice," Marta Falconi, Associated Press at The Globe and Mail, 11/21/05.

Transport Canada criticized for slow response to boating tragedy: Canada's Transportation Safety Board has criticized Transport Canada for failing to implement recommendations made after a fatal boating accident three years ago. In 2002, five people died when they became trapped in the hull of the Cap Rouge II after it capsized. The TSB made several recommendations after that tragedy, but they have not been adopted by Transport Canada. At issue is a loophole that makes vessels more than 20 meters in length (about 65 feet) subject to more stringent safety rules than smaller boats. Many owners keep their vessels under 20 meters, but build them high and wide for more capacity. Although there is no stability assessment required of those vessels, they can be more prone to capsizing. According to the safety board, instability was at issue in the sinking of at least five incidents since the Cap Rouge report was released. See "Response to tragic B.C. fishboat capsizing unsatisfactory: safety board," Canadian Press at myTELUS, 11/21/05.

Alcatel considers a £5bn bid for Thales: The future of the French defense group Thales has been uncertain since it was put in play by a thinly veiled takeover attempt last year by EADS. The current bid could come from Alcatel, the French telecoms-equipment group. The EADS move was stopped in part by German resistance to the creation of a French-centered aerospace giant, but also by opposition from Britain's Ministry of Defence. Thales is the second-largest supplier to Britain's MoD, and is a key player in several British programs — including the construction of two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy. Alcatel already holds 9.5% of Thales, making it the second-largest shareholder. The key to the situation will be the attitude of the French government, which has a 31% stake in Thales. See "Alcatel plots £5bn takeover of Thales," Dominic O'Connell, The Times, 11/20/05.

BAE won't head the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier program: Sir Peter Spencer, chief of the UK's defense procurement, has decided against having Murray Easton take the job of chief executive on the aircraft carrier program. Spencer says Easton is too valuable where he is: managing BAE Systems' Astute submarine program. Easton is believed to be unhappy to be shut out of such an important job in defense contracting. But the decision also marks a blow for BAE Systems, which is the biggest of several partners forming the alliance that will design and build the carriers. The top position is seen to hold a strong influence over the alliance. Peter McIntosh of VT Group and Allan Cameron of Thales are now thought to be fighting it out for the job. See "Whitehall torpedoes navy project favourite," Oliver Morgan, The Observer at Guardian Unlimited, 11/20/05.

Somali pirates release hijacked ship: Somali pirates have freed a ship and its crew after holding them hostage for almost one month off Somalia's northeast coast. The Maltese-owned San Carlo tanker had been hijacked on October 20 in the Indian Ocean as it made its way from Bahrain to South Africa. It is carrying a 24-member Greek crew and a cargo of gas. It isn't clear if a ransom was paid. According to the International Maritime Bureau, there have been at least 25 hijackings and attempted seizures of vessels by Somali pirates since March. There are still six ships being held by pirates along with their crews. See "Somali pirates release hijacked oil tanker," Associated Press at CANOE, 11/20/05.

FREMM program begins: In a contract to be apportioned equally between DCN and Thales, the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAr) has awarded ARMARIS and Orizzonte Sistemi Navali the first phase of the contract for the development and building of a new generation of European multi-mission frigates. This initial phase of the FREMM program covers development, building and support for the first eight frigates for the French Navy. The vessels will be delivered in stages from 2011 to 2015. Italy has committed itself to order the development and building of its first two frigates no later than May 2006. A total of 27 frigates are planned, making the FREMM program one of the most extensive series of warships built in Europe. The FREMM frigates will serve as front-line vessels with autonomous strike capabilities, carrying out multiple missions linked to deterrence, crisis mitigation, maritime security, force projection, and deep land strikes with superior effectiveness based on a wide range of combat systems permanently installed onboard rather than for specific missions. See "Europe's largest Naval Program Launched," Euronext, 11/18/05.

Locals speak out against proposed US Navy sonar range: North Carolinians told US Navy officials that they missed the mark with a draft environmental impact statement for a proposed anti-submarine training range off Camp Lejeune. Almost all who spoke at a public hearing on the subject Thursday said the draft EIS needs more work. Many of the speakers disagreed with a conclusion in the draft EIS that the concentrated use of sonar would not significantly affect fish or fish habitat. A great deal of the economy in eastern North Carolina depends on fish, and the fishermen spend time and money trying to minimize the sounds coming from their boats so as not to scare the fish. Several people at the meeting pointed out that the Navy's range would clearly affect the fish, and thus hurt their livelihoods. The Navy is also considering sites in Virginia and Florida. See "Fishermen, Environmentalists Oppose Sonar Range Off NC Coast," Associated Press at WRAL.com, 11/18/05.

Higher water temperatures threaten fish: Higher water temperatures are threatening the world's fish by reducing food stocks and stunting growth, the World Wildlife Fund said. Global warming is causing the world's rivers, lakes and oceans to heat up. Some temperate fish like salmon, catfish and sturgeon cannot spawn at all if winter temperatures do not drop below a certain level. Fisheries worldwide generate more than $130 billion annually, employ at least 200 million workers and feed billions of people reliant on fish as an important source of protein. The WWF urged an upcoming United Nations meeting in Montreal, Canada, to set tougher targets for reducing greenhouse gases from power plants, factories and cars, which many scientists say are driving up temperatures worldwide. See "Climate change threatens world fish stocks: WWF," Reuters, 11/17/05.

Northrop Grumman wants FEMA funds for hurricane damage: The US Navy is asking for $2 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to restore Northrop Grumman's three Gulf Coast shipyards from hurricane damage. Most of the funds would be used to rewrite current Navy contracts to shift the burden of hurricane-related cost overruns and building delays from the company to the government. Under "fixed price incentive" contracts between the navy and Northrop Grumman, cost overruns on many of the ships under construction are usually split evenly. Under the navy proposal, FEMA would pay Northrop's half. The Navy contends that shipyard delays would increase the cost of the ships anyway. But critics wonder if the Navy and Northrop are using Hurricane Katrina as an excuse to gain additional funding on shipbuilding programs that are notorious for cost overruns. They point out that $2 billion is suspiciously high for shipbuilding delays that are expected to take months — not years. Northrop is also expected to receive from $500 million to $1 billion from its insurers to cover physical damage to property. See "U.S. Navy seeks hurricane aid for shipyard," Leslie Wayne, The New York Times at International Herald Tribune, 11/17/05.

US lawsuits target Canadian salmon fishing: Two lawsuits were filed Monday in US District Court by the Salmon Spawning and Recovery Alliance — a collection of groups from Washington state and Oregon — and the Snohomish County Public Utility District. They state that Canadian fishing is severely cutting into salmon-recovery efforts in the US Pacific Northwest. The lawsuits name the Commerce Department, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the State Department and US Customs and Border Protection, the Interior Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service as defendants. One lawsuit seeks to bar the import from Canada of any salmon protected by the Endangered Species Act, while the other would force the US government to reconsider a biological opinion it wrote supporting the 1999 Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada. See "U.S. group targets Canadian salmon fishery with lawsuits," Associated Press at Canada.com, 11/16/05.

Royal Navy starts to divide aircraft carrier contract: BAE Systems looks to be the big winner from a new agreement on "roles and responsibilities" on the Royal Navy's new aircraft carriers. The agreement hasn't been finalized yet by the alliance of companies working on the carriers, but the Ministry of Defence wants the deal signed within the next few weeks. The carrier contracts are seen to be vital to keeping UK shipyards alive. The various companies and the MoD have been arguing for years about how the project should be managed. The final structure of the carrier alliance will be used as a blueprint for the future of naval shipbuilding. Lord Drayson, defence procurement minister, will use it to form a strategy for weapons-building capabilities that must be maintained in the UK. The latest plan would add two more companies — VT Group and Babcock International — to the alliance currently comprised of BAE Systems, Thales of France, Halliburton's KBR subsidiary and the MoD. See "BAE set for most of £3.5bn carrier contract," James Boxell, Financial Times, 11/15/05.

Lake in US-Canada dispute has no invasive species: Despite a study that found no invasive fish or plants in North Dakota's Devils Lake, from which water is being drained to end up in Canada, the Canadian province of Manitoba has said it still wants the water filtered more. The study did find four types of toxin-causing algae in Devils Lake, and three parasites that are not found in Canadian waters. These could have an impact on Manitoba's Lake Winnipeg, the world's 10th largest freshwater lake and home to a substantial commercial fishery. Canadian officials tried unsuccessfully to stop North Dakota from pumping water from land-locked Devils Lake, which has swallowed up more than 90,000 acres of land as it tripled in size in 12 years of wet weather. US officials have long maintained the water is safe but the issue has been diplomatic sore point, with Canada fearing environmental damage. The two countries have agreed that a more advanced filtering system will be built based on studies of the lake water. See "No invasive species found in Devils Lake," CBC News, 11/15/05.

Exploring the Arctic Ocean's Canadian Basin: The US Coast Guard icebreaker Healy and the Swedish vessel Oden spent six weeks traveling through the ice of the Arctic Ocean's Canadian Basin. They were the first ships to traverse a region of ice-covered sea between Alaska and the North Pole. The area has been crossed by submarines below the ice, but the central Arctic Ocean is still almost unknown. The research team spent nearly six weeks on the trip and collected data about sea ice, ecosystems, extreme northern climate and marine life. Although it will take some time to compile all the data, one thing was immediately clear: The Arctic is warming up, and losing its summer ice cover at a rate of about 8 percent per decade. Scientists are concerned about the slow thaw of ice because it might affect sea levels. Just as important, the melting ice could alter global ocean circulation and the amount of solar energy absorbed or reflected back into space. See "Breaking The Ice," Kurt Loft, The Tampa Tribune, 11/14/05.

Spills from hurricanes hurting Gulf Coast: Hurricanes Katrina and Rita rank among the worst environmental disasters in US history. A Houston Chronicle review of data from the National Response Center shows the two storms caused at least 595 spills across four states, releasing untold amounts of oil, natural gas and other chemicals into the air, onto land and into the water. Some have even compared the total amount of oil released — estimated at 9 million gallons — to the tragedy of Exxon Valdez, the oil tanker that ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989, spilling an estimated 11 million gallons of oil. Many also worry about the long-term effects of the spills. See "Oil Spills from Hurricanes Staining the Coast," Dina Cappiello, Houston Chronicle at Environmental News Network, 11/14/05.

New dams are a cause for concern: New dams are destroying important sources of water and causing economic disruption, despite having been designed to provide cheaper power and support irrigation systems, the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature said on Monday. Part of the problem is that dams can destroy wetlands, which are a valuable resource as they hold water like sponges and cannot be replicated by manmade storage facilities. The WWF report assessed the environmental impact of six dam projects around the world. As well as flooding valleys, dams also destroy fisheries and are threatening endangered species, whose natural habitats in valleys can end up under water. See "New dams said to destroy water sources," Sam Cage, Associated Press at SiliconValley.com, 11/13/05.

Piracy returns as a menace to shipping: Lloyd's of London has decided to treat the threat of piracy as a war risk, rather than part of a ship's hull insurance, pointing out the extent and the costs of the problem. About 25 hijackings and attempted seizures have taken place by pirates operating from Somalia since March. Marine cover tends to allow ships to move freely around the world, while war insurance covers most parts of the world but requires policyholders to contact their insurer if they intend to trade in danger areas. Removing piracy from marine insurance policies will help underwriters to price the piracy risk more accurately, and to reduce the risk of legal wrangles. Underwriters will discuss the new piracy cover with policyholders and their insurance brokers before implementing the changes. See "Lloyd's to overhaul piracy policies," Christine Seib, The Times Online, 11/12/05.

Shipyard workers sue US Defense Department: A group of 10 labor organizations representing more than 700,000 federal workers has sued Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over new regulations they say would eliminate collective bargaining rights. Known as the National Security Personal System (NSPS), the regulations would affect all civilian employees, including the nearly 5,000 workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The lawsuit, filed at US District Court in Washington, DC on Monday, seeks an injunction to stop the Defense Department from implementing the regulations, most of which are expected to take place November 28. A federal judge had already ruled similar regulations devised by the Homeland Security department overstepped authority granted by Congress. See "Shipyard workers union suing government over new labor rules," Associated Press at BostonHerald.com, 11/11/05.

Pirates using mystery ship: Somali pirates have attacked five more ships this week after a failed attempt to seize the luxury liner Seabourn Spirit. At the center of the wave of recent attacks is a mysterious, so-called "mother" ship that has been spotted three times since late July drifting off the northeast coast of Somalia. After the failed raid on the Spirit, the pirates apparently raced back to the mother ship, which then unsuccessfully tried to catch the fleeing cruise ship. The name, owner, and nationality of this ship is still unknown. International groups have expressed serious concern about the recent wave of pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia. Some nine ships are still being held hostage by pirates, with more than 100 crew members being held for ransom. See "Pirates attack more ships: official," Daniel Wallis, Reuters, 11/11/05.

Proposed bill would put more oil tankers in Puget Sound: Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska has introduced legislation that would open Puget Sound to significantly more traffic from oil tankers. The bill would rescind the Magnuson Amendment, enacted in 1977, which severely limits the number and size of tankers serving Washington's five refineries. The protections were put in place to keep the Cherry Point refinery from becoming a giant port for crude oil flowing south from Alaska. But Stevens says the protections restrict the nation's ability to squeeze every drop of capacity out of existing refineries. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington believes turning Puget Sound into a superhighway for tankers would be a mortal mistake. She and other critics fear the risk of a major oil spill. A similar proposal offered last month by Representative Greg Walden of Oregon was withdrawn in the face of strong opposition. See "Plan allows more tankers in Sound," Alicia Mundy, The Seattle Times, 11/10/05.

Norway, Russian ministers begin Barents Sea talks: On Thursday, Norwegian and Russian foreign ministers began negotiations to resolve a decades-old dispute over a shared border in the Barents Sea. Disagreement between Moscow and Oslo about how to demarcate the border stretching into the Arctic Sea has made the disputed area — estimated to hold 12 billion barrels of oil equivalent — all but untouchable for exploration and development for the past 30 years. The two ministers will also continue talks to resolve fishing conflicts in the Barents Sea; and they will discuss the recent incident when a Russian trawler caught allegedly fishing illegally by the Norwegian Coast Guard was accused of kidnapping two crew members in an effort to escape prosecution. Although these are the first official talks to resolve the border dispute in several years, both sides have expressed optimism about finding a resolution. See "Lavrov Sees Norway in Close Partnership," Alister Doyle, Reuters at The MoscowTimes.com, 11/10/05.

Eskimos try a bigger bomb in whale hunts: Eskimo whale hunters are switching from black powder to penthrite, an explosive considered more humane. Penthrite kills by causing an explosion that shocks the whale's central nervous system. Black powder, which was first used by Yankee whalers in the 1800s, generally kills by causing bleeding; it sometimes takes multiple strikes with black power to kill a whale. Researchers say that black powder generally takes 60 minutes to kill a bowhead whale, while penthrite takes only about 15 minutes. The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission began researching new weaponry after an international whaling agency two decades ago ordered that more humane methods be developed for killing bowheads. See "Eskimos try new explosive in whale kill," Rosanne Pagano, Associated Press at SiliconValley.com, 11/10/05.

Somali pirates strike again: Pirates hijacked a Thai-flagged cargo ship close to the coast north east of Mogadishu on Monday. The pirates kidnapped the vessel's 26 crew members, who are being held for ransom. Three other ships were attacked off the coast of Somalia over the weekend. The UN Security Council has expressed "serious concern" over a wave of pirate attacks off the Somali coast, and called on regional powers and international bodies to urgently address the issue. See "Pirates strike again off Somalia, kidnap crew," Reuters, 11/10/05.

On Tuesday, Somalia's UN ambassador, Elmi Ahmed Duale, appealed for international help in protecting its coastline against pirates. He also urged the UN Security Council to ease an arms embargo on the country so that the African Union and neighboring states could help it create and train a police force. His government has appealed for an easing of the arms ban in the past, but the situation, he believes, has become more urgent. See "Somalia appeals for help against pirates, chaos," Reuters, 11/8/05.

Australia, East Timor close to a deal over Timor Sea: Talks this week between East Timor's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta and Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer went well, and Mr. Ramos Horta expects that a boundary agreement between the two countries should be completed by the end of the year. Australia has changed its original offer of 18% of the reserves of the Greater Sunrise Field in the Timor Sea to a 50-50 revenue split. The two governments have agreed that a final maritime boundary in the Timor Sea will be deferred for 40 years. The remaining difference to be sorted out is over any future mediation or arbitration if disputes arise. See "Hopes for Timor Sea Deal by Year's End," Australian Broadcasting Corporation at RIGZONE, 11/9/05.

New Zealand's Best Fish Guide is full of bad news: New Zealand's Forest and Bird has released its second annual Best Fish Guide, revealing that New Zealand's commercial fishing practices have not improved in the past year. The wallet-sized guide is designed to inform consumers which seafood to buy in New Zealand to minimize impacts on the environment. Sixty-eight commercial fisheries were assessed. Forest and Bird says 51 of the 68 commercial fisheries in New Zealand waters caused habitat damage, 65 caused adverse ecological effects, 32 killed a significant number of marine mammals and 27 kill significant numbers of seabirds. None of the fisheries have a management plan. See the press release "Sustainable fish guide launched w celebrity chips" at Scoop, 11/8/05.

New Zealand's Seafood Industry Council reacted strongly to the Forest and Bird Guide. Owen Symmans, the Council's CEO, pointed out that the Ministry of Fisheries assesses fish stocks annually to ensure continued sustainability, through scientific research and analysis. He added, "To suggest that Forest and Bird are in a better position than the Ministry of Fisheries to assess New Zealand's fish stocks is laughable." See the press release "Forest and Bird claims - "Absurd"" at Scoop, 11/8/05.

Japan whalers will double their usual kill: Under JARPA II, the new Antarctic program Japan unilaterally adopted earlier this year, the country's whaling fleet will harvest up to 945 whales in the next six months. The quota is more than double what the fleet caught last year. Besides angering whale conservation nations, the expanded catch could ruin Japan's market for whale meat. Of course, Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research insists the meat is a "by-product" of scientific whaling, and the sale funds research. Whaling enthusiasts claim the Japanese would eat more whale if they could. But currently about 45% of the annual catch is distributed through schools as government-subsidized meals, and critics say the majority of adults don't eat the meat once they leave school. See "Japan's whalers bite off too much," Peter Alford, The Australian, 11/8/05.

Experts say cruises vulnerable, but lines defend security plans: Cruise industry officials have been quick to assure travelers that their crews and ships are well prepared for attacks like the one off the coast of Somalia this past weekend, when pirates fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at the Seabourn Spirit. While the luxury vessel safely evaded the pirates, with only one crew member injured, security experts say that cruise liners remain vulnerable to attacks. Kim Petersen, president of maritime security consultant SeaSecure and a former cruise line security official, says that only a naval vessel is really prepared to defend itself against an assault, and points out that even the USS Cole was damaged in an attack. While attacks on cruise ships have been very rare, cruise lines fear that their image as safe havens of fun could be tarnished by the Spirit attack. See "Experts: Cruises vulnerable to attacks," John Pain, Associated Press at The State.com, 11/8/05.

Piracy down worldwide: The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) on Tuesday said that acts of piracy had fallen to 205 in a nine month period this year, compared with 251 during the same period last year. During that period, pirates boarded 141 merchant ships, hijacked 11 vessels and shot at 15 others. They took 259 mariners hostage and kidnapped 10 people. Twelve people are still missing. While the fall in the number of attacks is welcomed, rising crime numbers near Somalia, Iraq and Nigeria are worrisome. Indonesia once again had the highest number of attacks with 61 incidents, or nearly a third of the total. See "Piracy down but Indonesia, Somalia seas a threat," Reuters, 11/8/05.

Many fear Somali pirates are out of control: The International Maritime Bureau has for several months warned ships to stay at least 150 miles away from Somalia's coast, as reports of pirate attacks grow in number. US and NATO warships patrol the region to protect vessels farther out, but they are not permitted in Somali territorial waters. Despite those patrols, heavily armed pirates attacked the cruise ship Seaborne Spirit about 100 miles at sea last weekend, suggesting they are becoming bolder and more ambitious. The pirates may have been from the same group that hijacked a UN-chartered aid ship in June and held its crew and food cargo hostage for 100 days. See "Pirates near Horn of Africa grow bolder, more vicious," Rodrique Ngowi, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/7/05.

The Seaborne Spirit arrived in Seychelles on Sunday. There were rumors that an unexploded grenade was still on board, but experts found the grenade had exploded. Parts of the shell were embedded in a passenger cabin, but were removed. See "Cruise Ship Attacked by Pirates off Somalia Arrives Safely in Seychelles," VOA News, 11/7/05.

Pirates attacked two more merchant ships off Somalia over the weekend. A large bulk carrier and a roll-on roll-off cargo ship were attacked on Saturday and Sunday off the east coast. The latter was attacked with heavy machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades close to where the Seaborne Spirit was ambushed on Saturday. The International Maritime Bureau declined to name the ships but said both managed to outrun the pirate gangs, with no injuries. See "Somali waters "out of control", more ships hit-IMB," Stefano Ambrogi, Reuters, 11/7/05.

The UK maritime union Numast has called for a naval task force to try to stop future pirate attacks, plus danger pay for sailors working in Somali waters. If the area were formally declared a 'war zone,' sailors who worked there would be granted extra rights. International Maritime Bureau director Pottengal Mukundan said "Unless the international community takes action against these criminals, vessels passing this coast face considerable danger." See "Sailors demand Somalia protection," BBC News, 11/6/05.

Speedboats are traffickers' tool of choice: In the 1980s and 1990s, drug traffickers often used airplanes to smuggle cocaine from Colombia to Central America and Mexico for onward shipment to the United states. But improved radar surveillance has made boats the transport of choice. Known as "go-fasts," the boats have GPS systems, satellite telephones, and engines that can go 50 miles an hour and more. Another advantage of the go-fasts is that they can hold three tons of cocaine, a load that only larger planes can carry. The flow of cocaine through Central America increased from just under 55 tons in 2000 to 256 tons last year. Maritime cocaine seizures have correspondingly skyrocketed. To match the go-fasts, the United States has given Colombia eight Midnight Express powerboats and four more are being readied for delivery. See "High Seas Drug Runners Ditch Cops," Associated Press at Wired News, 11/6/05.

Spy ring uncovered, allegedly giving information to China: Four people have been arrested for allegedly being part of a spy ring feeding US military information to China. The ring was led by Chi Mak and his wife, Rebecca Laiwah Chiu, along with Mr. Chi's brother, Tai Wang Mak, and his wife, Fuk Heung Li. Key compromises uncovered so far include sensitive data on Aegis battle management systems that are the core of US Navy destroyers and cruisers; classified details related to the new Virginia-class attack submarines; electromagnetic pulse weapons, and the Quiet Electric Drive (QED) systems used in Navy warships. All four people were arrested yesterday, the investigation is still ongoing. See "Four arrests linked to Chinese spy ring," Bill Gertz, The Washington Times, 11/5/05.

US weapons programs may be cut next year: The war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and domestic needs are all combining to make a difficult budget year for the US military. Pentagon officials are looking to cut as much as $15 billion from aircraft, shipbuilding and other weapons purchases. The Navy's new DD(X) destroyer may be targeted. The ongoing spending discussions coincide with the Defense Department's quadrennial defense review, a broad-based look at what the military will need — in people, equipment and structure — to fight 21st century wars. The review is expected to recommend what types of ships, aircraft and other systems should be bought. The Pentagon budget process is in its earliest stages and could undergo a number of changes before recommendations are unveiled next February. Final decisions are up to Congress, he said. See "Pentagon Eyeing Cuts in Weapons Programs," Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press at Las Vegas Sun, 11/5/04.

Pirates fire at luxury liner: Pirates fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at a cruise ship carrying more than 300 people in the Indian Ocean on Saturday, but the vessel escaped and no one was hurt. Men in two small boats approached the Seabourn Cruise Line ship Spirit about 100 miles off the Somali coast, fired on it and tried to board in an apparent bid to rob passengers and crew, cruise line spokesman Bruce Good said. The 161-member crew gathered the 151 passengers, mostly Americans with some Australians and Europeans, into a central lounge away from windows and decks during the attack. No passengers were hurt, but one crew member was injured by shrapnel. The ship sustained minor damage. Seabourn is headquartered in Miami and is a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise group. See "Cruise Ship Escapes Pirate Hijack Attempt," Rodrique Ngowi, Associated Press at Las Vegas Sun, 11/5/05.

Toothfish crew found not guilty: Five men detained after a 4,350 mile (7,000km), 21-day chase across three oceans have been found not guilty of poaching the rare Patagonian toothfish in Australian waters. The verdict ends the second trial of the men after an earlier jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. But the second jury found them not guilty, apparently on the grounds that their vessel, the Viarsa, did not have fishing gear in the water when it was finally caught. The men were arrested in August of 2003 after Australian coastguards spotted their Uruguayan boat in the Southern Ocean. Australia's fisheries minister has said he is amazed at the verdict, which follows the most expensive maritime chase in the country's history. See "No convictions from epic sea chase," Robin Pash, The Australian, 11/5/05.

Peruvian Congress votes to redraw maritime borders with Chile: Peruvian lawmakers passed a bill on Thursday that would set maritime boundaries with Chile without Chilean consent. The move is seen as a first step for Peru to claim rich fishing grounds now controlled by Chile. The new law uses a technical formula established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Chilean President Ricardo Lagos has formally objected to the move, saying that Chile will continue to exercise full sovereignty over its maritime territory. Chile's lower house of congress voted Wednesday to support his position, which says the maritime border was set in a treaty 50 years ago. See "Peru, Chile in dispute over maritime border," Associated Press at CNN.com, 11/3/05.

Repairs to Canada's submarine Chicoutimi will take two years: Although the HMCS Chicoutimi has been in for repairs for almost a year, the extent of the damage from the flash fire just over a year ago is still unclear. The fire started just below the bunk in the captain's cabin on the main deck, but the area still hasn't been cleaned up, and the Navy is still assessing what needs to be done to make the boat seaworthy again. The repairs are expected to cost at least $20 million, and take another two years to complete. See "Repairs to Chicoutimi likely to take 2 years, cost $20 million," CBC News, 11/2/05.

US plans to impose new labor regulations for shipyards: The US Department of Defense is planning to implement new labor regulations later this month. But Paul O'Connor, president of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard's Metal Trades Council, believes the regulations would give the DOD the power to make policy changes that are non-negotiable and override existing contracts. O'Connor fears the new rules in the National Security Personnel System (NSPS) would adversely affect the labor-management relationship that had helped establish Portsmouth as the most efficient shipyard in the country. In a press release issued Wednesday, US Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire, said he stressed the importance of maintaining the shipyard's labor-management relationship during an introductory meeting with Naval Sea System's new commander. See "Shipyard officials angry about new labor regulations," Douglas P. Guarino, Foster's Daily Democrat at MSNBC, 11/2/05.

USCGC Mackinaw to be decommissioned: Commissioned in 1944, the USCGC Mackinaw was the nation's largest and strongest ice breaker, and was created to keep shipping lanes in the Great Lakes passable during the winter. During warmer months, the ship is also used for domestic operations, marine science, search and rescue, flood relief, and charitable operations; visitors are also allowed on board for tours. Due to the age and life service of the vessel, the United States Coast Guard is building a new vessel to take over ice breaking missions in the Great Lakes. The USCG is now proposing to decommission and excess the Mackinaw (WAGB-83) to the General Services Administration. Because the ship meets criteria of eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the Coast Guard is inviting public comments. The due date for comments and related material is November 26, 2005. Please contact Susan Hathaway at SHathaway@comdt.uscg.mil for more information. The Coast Guard's Environmental Management Division has published several documents (in PDF and DOC format) about and photographs of the cutter at their National Environmental Policy Act page (about halfway down the page).

Right whales may get protection: In June a federal judge sided with environmental plaintiffs' claims that the Bush administration had illegally delayed taking action to protect endangered Pacific right whales. In response, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has proposed designating a 36,750-square-mile (95,000 sq-km) area just outside of southwestern Alaska's salmon-rich Bristol Bay as a critical habitat for the whales. If the designation becomes official, federal agencies would be required to work with NMFS to ensure that no activities in the area destroy or threaten the whales' habitat. The marine mammals were believed to have vanished entirely from the eastern Pacific, but they have been sighted in the designated area since the 1960s; in 2004 three mother-calf pairs were spotted there. See "US proposes protections for imperiled right whales," Reuters, 11/1/05.

Louisiana fishermen are slow to get back in the water: Louisiana previously ranked No. 1 in commercial seafood landings among Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast states, with about $294 million in dockside sales in 2003. But with nearly 2,000 fishing vessels on the US Coast Guard list to be salvaged, and with salvers taking more than a day to get a single boat back into the water, it will be a while before the industry gets back on its feet. Coast Guard officials won't give a definite timetable for the work, but hope to be finished in six months to a year. Meanwhile, some boat owners are hiring their own salvage teams. Fishermen with boats are reporting good catches, but not all areas have passed water tests yet. Some locations are also still without power, so diesel fuel and ice have to be hauled in. See "Slow pace of salvage work worries Gulf Coast fishermen," Brian Brueggemann, Knight Ridder Newspapers at The State.com, 11/1/05.

China's ports see backlogs: A topic at this week's World Shipping (China) Summit in Shanghai is the growth of China's economy. The building of power generation capacity, highways and railroads, as well as projects for the 2008 Olympics, is driving the Chinese economy, stoking demand for oil, coal and steel. One of the results is that capacity hasn't kept pace with demand in the transport network, and one of the hardest hit areas are ports that handle commodities used for steelmaking. Bottlenecks at ports have forced vessels to lie idle outside harbors — ships at Beilun, China's second-largest ore port, were delayed by an average of seven days in October. This has been pushing up global shipping rates, and could slow the country's economic expansion. See "China Port Backlog Threatens Economic Growth, Shipbrokers Say," Saijel Kishan, Bloomberg.com, 11/1/05.

Russian captain who fled Norway investigated: The trawler Elektron was seized by the Norwegian Coast Guard for alleged fishing violations, but it slipped away from its escort and reached Russian waters with the inspectors still on board. Russian prosecutors have now opened a criminal investigation of the captain, Valery Yarantsev, saying he "deliberately deprived two Norwegian citizens of their freedom and opportunity to leave the ship." Russian officials have also promised to investigate the incident thoroughly, and to prosecute the crew if fishing violations are confirmed. Yarantsev could face up to five years in prison if convicted. He is still in hospital, having suffered a heart attack during the chase. See "Prosecutors investigate Russian captain who fled Norwegian Coast Guard," Associated press at myTELUS, 11/1/05.

Flags of convenience are depleting fish stocks: A report from the Australian government and the conservation group WWF estimates that illegal fishing is worth at least $1.2 billion a year — and perhaps as much as $10 billion. The biggest problem are ships that take advantage of international rules to adopt flags of convenience, which can provide a cover for illegal fishing practices. Under international law, the country under whose flag a vessel flies is responsible for ensuring it abides by national and international regulations, such as fishing quotas. However, some countries fail to enforce such rules. Claude Martin, director general of WWF International, has called for an end to the flag of convenience system. See "Report warns on threat of illegal fishing fleets," Fiona Harvey and Frances Williams, Financial Times, 11/1/05.

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