News Archive - January 2006

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Russian Navy announces changes in submarine fleet: Admiral Vladimir Masorin, commander of the Russian Navy, announced at a conference that Russia's fleet will be equipped with four modern series of submarines. The Borei series of nuclear submarines, and a new multipurpose submarine armed with sub-launched cruise missiles, will form the backbone of the Navy's fleet. The latest diesel powered submarine, the St. Petersburg, which is being built under the Lada project, will be commissioned this year after trials are completed. Finally, design of a new type of nuclear submarine will begin soon. See "Russian Navy chief reveals submarine-fleet modernization plans," RIA Novosti, 1/31/06.

Masorin also announced that tenders would be held to give AS-28 mini-subs a radical overhaul using foreign-made submarine equipment and mobile systems; this will be based on Britain's Panther Command and Liaison Vehicle. This is the same class as the Priz mini-sub, which got trapped at the bottom of the Pacific last year. The Igor Belousov, a large rescue vehicle, is currently under construction. See "Navy to buy new mini-sub equipment overseas - commander," RIA Novosti, 1/31/06.

US dockworkers target pollution cuts at West Coast ports: Union dockworkers on Monday launched their first campaign to reduce air pollution from vessels calling at ports along the US West Coast, joining a wider global effort to curb pollution from shipping. Without new pollution controls, regulators expect California's ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will contribute 20 percent of all air pollution in the Los Angeles basin by 2025. A study published last year found that diesel fumes from the two ports raise the risk of cancer for people living up to 15 miles inland. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union aims to cut emissions from diesel-fueled vessels calling at West Coast ports by 20 percent by 2010 and to reduce pollution from trucks and cargo-handling equipment on the docks. The union will work with carriers and the port authorities to meet its goal, but has not ruled out making it part of negotiations during the next contract talks, in 2008. See "Union calls to clean up pollution from ports," Randal C. Archibold, The New York Times at International Herald Tribune, 1/31/06.

Piracy attacks drop in 2005: The International Maritime Bureau reported Tuesday that total piracy attacks worldwide dropped to 276 last year from 329 in 2004. This was the lowest number reported to its Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur since 1999. But 23 vessels were hijacked, the highest number since 2002. Although no crew members were killed compared to 30 in 2004, 12 were still missing. Indonesian waters, with almost 30 percent of the world's attacks, were the most treacherous despite a drop in attacks from the year before. Attacks in the notorious Straits of Malacca also fell significantly, prompting the IMB to credit governments for increased security patrols. Pirate activity grew in some regions, especially Vietnam, Tanzania and Somalia. But Iraq stood out "as a new world piracy hotspot," with 10 attacks in 2005 after none the year before. Most of Iraq's attacks were on vessels anchored near the Basra oil terminal and Umm Qasr off the country's southeastern coast. See "Pirates Target Iraq," News24.com, 1/31/06.

Speculation on an aircraft carrier for China: Although Chinese military and political officials believe that the People's Liberation Army Navy must add aircraft carriers to its fleet, the vessels are expensive, and need a fleet of warships for support and protection. Most experts have assumed that a Chinese carrier was decades away. But it is now emerging that China has a more ambitious plan. Work now appears to be under way on a carrier purchased from Ukraine, which analysts speculate could be used for training, or even upgraded to be fully operational. And Rick Fisher, vice president of the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said "I am convinced that before the end of this decade, we will see preparations for China to build its first indigenous aircraft carrier." Beijing has denied these claims, but most naval experts agree that China will almost certainly build or buy aircraft carriers. As recently as 2003 in its annual report to Congress on China's military, the Pentagon said China appeared to have "set aside indefinitely" its plans to acquire a carrier. But work on the Ukraine carrier seems to contradict that. See "An aircraft carrier for China?," David Lague, International Herald Tribune, 1/30/06.

Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review due out next week: America's Pentagon will release their Quadrennial Defense Review to Congress on February 6. A draft copy suggests the Pentagon will expand the military's special operations forces, build more bombers, and strengthen ties with foreign allies. The changes represent a shift in focus from defeating foreign armies to fighting terrorists and other irregular forces. The review calls for increasing the number of Navy ships in the Pacific Ocean. It would put six of the Navy's 12 aircraft carriers and 60 percent of its submarines in the Pacific at all times "to support engagement, presence and deterrence." Presumably, the buildup in the Pacific Ocean is intended to offset the rising power of China and India, and deter potential threats, particularly from North Korea. This Quadrennial Review is the first the Bush administration has conducted that incorporated lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. See "Pentagon plans to make a series of major changes as it prepares for the future," Drew Brown, Knight Ridder Newspapers at STLtoday.com, 1/29/06.

Many believe the stepped-up Pacific presence outlined in the Quadrennial Review reflects growing US concern over China's military aims. While the US and China are major trading partners, the relationship in the last decade has been characterized by episodic flare-ups and occasional brushes with outright military conflict. James Lilley, former US ambassador to China, said the planned Navy expansion in the Pacific "is a clear indication of deterrence to the Chinese." The Pentagon's most recent assessment of China's military might last summer said that Beijing "continues to invest heavily in its military, particularly in programs designed to improve power projection." See "Pentagon sees China challenge," Eric Rosenberg, TimesUnion.com, 1/29/06.

Japanese consumption of whale meat is slowing: According to a report compiled by a group led by freelance journalist Junko Sakuma, Japan's research whaling program is growing, while consumption of the whale meat has been relatively sluggish. This gap in supply and demand will likely invite even more criticism from anti-whaling groups. Japan conducts whale hunts for scientific research, but many believe this is simply commercial whaling in disguise. The meat of whales caught by research ships is sold on the Japanese market. The Fisheries Agency admits the whale meat inventory is rising, and has begun studying ways to expand sales in Japan. See "Whale meat inventory up amid sluggish consumption," The Japan Times, 1/29/06.

Wal-Mart to buy from sustainable fisheries: Wal-Mart is joining a small group of US retailers, including Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats, which source much of their fish from fisheries certified as being "sustainable" by the Marine Stewardship Council. Wal-Mart has also announced it will only source its shrimp from farms meeting industry standards established by the Global Aquaculture Alliance. The decision is seen as an attempt to improve the retailer's much criticized record on environmental and social issues. However, only a small number of fisheries have been certified as sustainable, so it will take between three and five years for Wal-Mart to achieve its goal. The world's largest retailer is making moves to show it is aware of other sustainability issues, but it is still struggling to persuade many of its critics that it is serious about its conversion to the cause of corporate social responsibility. See "Wal-Mart fishes for eco-friendly profile," Financial Times at MSN Money, 1/28/06.

Exxon Mobil returns to court: Exxon Mobil's appeal of a $5 billion judgment Alaskan jurors levied as punishment for the 1989 Valdez oil spill is heading back to a federal appeals court. The case, one of America's longest-running civil disputes, stems from a 1994 decision by an Anchorage jury to award the punitive damages to 34,000 fishermen and other Alaskans. Their property and livelihoods were harmed when the Valdez struck a charted reef, spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil and dirtied roughly 1,500 miles of Alaskan coastline. It's the third time the case has come before the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of appeals. The legal jockeying is best described as a game of cat-and-mouse between US District Judge Russel Holland of Anchorage and the appeals court, which believes the award was unconstitutionally excessive in light of US Supreme Court precedent. See "Dispute about $5 billion Exxon Valdez judgment returns to appeals court," David Kravets, Associated Press at the Houston Chronicle, 1/27/06.

Panic, not pirates, caused ship mayday off Somalia: The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) on Thursday said that a United Arab Emirates merchant ship with 20 crew aboard had not been hijacked off Somalia as the agency had reported on Wednesday. Instead, the IMB said that with the master's consent, two Somali militia men had boarded the general cargo ship Al Manara to discuss security issues with the crew on Sunday, the day of the reported hijacking. After investigation, it was found that the master of the ship, fearing an attack and hijack, panicked and issued a mayday call for help. The IMB, however, said a second attempted attack off Somalia it reported on Wednesday with the use of speedboats had taken place. See "UAE vessel was not hijacked, says maritime bureau," Shakir Husain, Gulfnews, 1/27/06.

Hijacked fishing boat freed in Somalia: The Chung Yi 218, one of the four Taiwanese fishing boats hijacked off the coast of Somalia last year, was released on Thursday. The ship and two other vessels, the Cheng Ching Feng and Hsin Lien Feng 36, were seized separately on August 16. The Feng Rong 16 was hijacked in November. Taiwan's government reported that the crews on the other three ships are safe, and rescue efforts are continuing. The four vessels carried a total of 62 crew members, including those from China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. Somali pirates reportedly had threatened to kill dozens of the crew unless the ship owners paid a ransom of about $500,000 for each boat. On Sunday, pirates hijacked another merchant ship off the Somali coast, believed to be registered in the United Arab Emirates. See "Somali pirates free Taiwan ship," BBC News, 1/26/06.

Canada plans to bolster presence in the Arctic: Stephen Harper used his first news conference as Canada's prime minister-designate Thursday to warn the United States to mind its own business when it comes to Canada's Arctic. The Conservative leader said he'll stick to his campaign promise to bolster Canada's military presence in the North and build big new military icebreakers. He was responding to comments Wednesday by US Ambassador David Wilkins, who criticized the plans, claiming the Arctic passage as "neutral waters." Harper said Canada will do what it wants in its territory. Arctic sovereignty has been a sensitive subject for decades, with American submarines and even ships entering northern waters without asking permission. See "Canada Reasserts Arctic Sovereignty," Associated Press at CBS News, 1/26/06.

Oil spill clean-up continues in Australia: Authorities have now worked for more than 24 hours to contain the spill in Gladstone Harbour on the central Queensland coast after 25,000 liters of heavy fuel poured from a Korean coal carrier yesterday. It is the worst spill in Queensland in 35 years. About 7,000 liters of oil has already been removed, but strong winds have forced crews out of deep water areas. Many say inside the harbor is the worst place the spill could have happened, since the area is home to dugongs, crocodiles, seabirds, and many more animals that will be affected by the spill. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating how the tug rammed into the bulk carrier and ruptured its fuel tank. See "Gladstone oil spill a tragedy for marine life," Kylie Bartholomew, ABC News Online, 1/26/06.

France joins UK aircraft carrier project: France will pay Britain as much as £100m in three installments over the course of this year for the rights to the UK design of an aircraft carrier based on the design of those being built for the Royal Navy. France has also agreed to put in another £40m towards the development of the carrier. Some see the deal as a victory for the Ministry of Defence, as the French payments will cut Britain's payments for development of their own carrier program nearly in half. In addition, Britain will retain full control of the program, despite the French participation. The deal allows the French to jump about two years ahead in their own efforts to build a partner ship to their current carrier. The first £30m French payment for the Royal Navy design is expected to come when the deal is officially signed, which could be in a few weeks. See "UK wins French carrier deal," Peter Spiegel, Financial Times, 1/25/06 (subscription required).

New South African submarine has a malfunction: South African submarine S101 was conducting sea training in Norwegian waters with a German navy team on board when a technical malfunction took place. Details about the malfunction are not known yet. The sub was preparing for its trip to South Africa in mid-February; it isn't clear if that trip will have to be delayed. The boat is one of three type-209 submarines commissioned from Germany. It was symbolically handed over to Defence Minister Mosioua Lekota in November and had been in training in the deep Norwegian waters. See "New SA sub hits training snag," News24.com, 1/25/06.

Armed pirates hold UAE ship crew for ransom: Armed pirates have carried out two new attacks on merchant ships off Somalia. The attacks come only days after a US Navy warship captured a band of suspected pirates with a cache of arms. Gunmen stormed the UAE-owned Al Manara 150 nautical miles off the east coast of Somalia, threatened the crew, and are now demanding a ransom for their release. In a second atack, pirates used two speed boats to chase a dry-bulk ship off Somalia's east coast before giving up on an attempted boarding. The International Maritime Bureau said the speed boats were launched from a "mother ship," and carried machine guns. This new wave of attacks has badly shaken merchant shipping. See "Pirates hijack UAE ship off Somalia," Aljazeera.net, 1/25/06.

Oil spill in eastern Australia: A massive clean-up operation is under way in Gladstone Harbour in central Queensland, Australia, after 10,000 liters of fuel spilled from a Korean ship last night. It is believed the Global Peace was in the process of berthing when a tug boat assisting the operation rammed into the side of the ship, damaging the fuel tanks. It is the second oil spill in the harbor in a week. Gladstone is near the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef, although the Reef itself is not considered to be in danger. There are no immediate reports of wildlife killed by the slick, but the rising tide pushed the oil into a harbor, fouling mangroves, which are very difficult to clean. See "Emergency crews rush to clean up oil spill in eastern Australia," Associated Press at myTELUS, 1/25/06.

UN puts values on the natural world: A report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) puts a value on the natural world. For example, intact coral reefs are estimated to be worth between $100,000 and $600,000 per square kilometer a year to human kind, and mangroves are worth $200,000 to $900,000 per square kilometer. Benefits come from fisheries, timber and fuel wood, tourism, and protection of shore areas from erosion. The report suggests that the costs of safeguarding these vital area are small compared to the benefits they represent. The cost of protecting a square kilometer of coral reef or mangroves was just $775 a year, while the costs of building a concrete breakwater in the Maldives to replace a damaged reef was $10 million per square kilometer. See "Coral reefs cheaper to protect than neglect-U.N.," Alister Doyle, Reuters, 1/24/06.

Thames River whale's death explored: Marine scientists and animal welfare groups believe that navy sonar may have disoriented the whale that found its way into the River Thames and died. The Royal Navy responded that the HMS Grafton was on the coast, and no other vessel was near enough for its sonar to have affected the whale. But in north Kent, residents reported blasts from Shoeburyness Range, a Ministry of Defence site where QinetiQ was carrying out controlled detonations last week. QinetiQ responded that it didn't operate any sub-water testing at the site that might have affected marine life. A post-mortem exam will include studies of the animal's auditory organs, which might be affected by sonar or loud noises. Examiners will also look for evidence of a brain parasite that has been known to disorient whales. See "Navy denies killing Thames whale," Will Pavia, The Times Online, 1/23/06.

Many conservationists hope that the world-wide attention given to the Thames River whale will help bolster support for the marine mammals. Once tests are completed, the whale's body will be given to the Natural History Museum, which will clean the bones and preserve them for scientific research. See "What will happen to the whale now?," BBC News, 1/23/06.

Commercial krill fishing considered in US: Pacific krill form the backbone of the Pacific Ocean food chain. A controversial White House proposal to open up vast areas of federal waters to fish farming is working its way through Congress. The proposal would increase aquaculture by 500 percent and reduce a seafood trade imbalance. But environmentalists counter that ocean conditions have been in a period of flux, and that allowing krill fishing could destabilize populations all along the food chain. The Pacific Fishery Management Council plans to decide in March whether to extend the current bans on fishing for krill to the open seas of the Pacific. See "Panel weighs prohibiting krill fishing in open seas," Craig Welch, The Seattle Times, 1/23/06.

US Navy captures pirates off Somalia: Suspected pirates carrying small arms were held by the US Navy on Saturday, off the Somalia coast. The capture followed a report of attempted piracy issued by the International Maritime Bureau in Kuala Lumpur on Friday. The guided missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill and other US naval forces in the area located the suspected vessel and shadowed it, eventually firing warning shots. US sailors boarded the dhow and seized a cache of small arms. People on board the dhow told navy investigators that pirates hijacked the vessel six days ago near Mogadishu, and then used it to stage pirate attacks on merchant ships. The dhow's crew and passengers are being questioned to determine which are pirates and which are legitimate crew members. See "U.S. navy seizes pirate ship," Associated Press at CNEWS, 1/22/06.

Anchor blamed for costly oil spill: At first, officials said they might never know exactly why the Athos I spilled 264,000 gallons of crude oil into the Delaware River in November 2004. But Friday, the US Coast Guard officially announced the end of the mystery, saying a submerged 18,000-pound anchor of unknown origin caused the gash in the Greek tanker. More than $175 million has been spent on the cleanup so far, and the effects of the oil on the ecosystem will take years to fully determine. But Frescati Shipping Co. Ltd. and Tsakos Shipping & Trading S.A., the vessel's owner and operator, were not found to be negligent. Citgo Petroleum Corp. is responsible for maintaining the river bottom in that area, and the last sonar survey before the spill, a month before the Athos I incident, showed no obstructions. See "Coast Guard: Anchor caused spill; ship's owners not at fault," Associated Press at Newsday.com, 1/21/06.

Whale stranded in River Thames dies: The lost and distressed whale stranded in London's River Thames died Saturday as rescue workers ferried it on a rusting salvage barge in an effort to release it in the open sea. The Northern bottlenose whale had been lifted onto a barge by rescuers and was being taken downriver toward the North Sea when it suffered convulsions and died, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said. The whale struggled with the effects of being out of the water as it was ferried toward the Thames Estuary. See "Bottle-Nosed Whale Dies Before Making it Out to Sea," Associated Press at Los Angeles Times, 1/21/06.

Beached whale report downplays effects of sonar: Documents released under a court order show that a government investigator studying the stranding of more than 30 whales on the North Carolina coast last year changed her draft report to eliminate all references to the possibility that naval sonar may have played a role in driving the whales ashore. The issue of sonar's effects on whales is a sensitive topic for the US Navy. It has clashed with environmentalists in several court suits seeking to limit use of the technology because of its possible effects on marine mammals and other sea creatures. The January 2005 stranding occurred shortly after naval maneuvers in the area — which is off North Carolina and in the region where the Pentagon wants to build a controversial underwater sonar training range. See "Reports on beached whales show gap over cause," Kate Wiltrout, The Virginian-pilot at HamptonRoads.com, 1/20/06.

Korean shipbuilders are eying Chinese steel: Two of the world's leading shipbuilders — Hyundai Heavy Industries and Samsung Heavy Industries — are planning to import more steel plates from China this year. Currently, imported steel plates from China are being sold at around 10 percent less than products from Korean makers POSCO and Dongkuk Steel. The Korean steelmakers are lowering their prices. Despite these efforts, Hyundai Heavy Industries announced last month that it reached a preliminary agreement to buy a stake in Chinese steelmaker Qinhuangdao Shouqin Metal Materials. Samsung Heavy Industries has also been negotiating with another Chinese maker, BaoSteel. See "Chinese Steel Boon to Shipbuilders," Cho Jin-seo, The Korea Times, 1/20/06.

Grand opening for Busan New Port: Korea launched its bid to become the logistics and financial hub of Northeast Asia yesterday as it raised the curtain on the Busan New Port. Operations began immediately at three of the 30 container berths. Construction of the facility began in 1995 and cost an estimated 9.2 trillion won. Korea hopes its largest port will eventually become the world's busiest logistics terminal because of its strategic location and competitive services. Busan now ranks as the world's fifth-largest container port and is directly competing with Hong Kong, the world's top cargo destination. See "New port opens Korean bid as regional hub," Yoo Soh-jung, The Korea Herald, 1/20/06.

EU needs better reporting, policing of fish quotas: The European Union's annual "fisheries scoreboard" states that only Belgium and Sweden properly reported fishing efforts from their national fleets in 2004. In general, most EU countries aren't doing enough to police fishing restrictions, but Ireland and Spain were listed as the worst offenders when it came to applying catch quotas on endangered fish. EU inspectors see far too much illegal fishing. Environmentalists and scientists have long claimed that the current rules, even when properly respected, fall woefully short of keeping fishing sustainable in the EU's Atlantic waters. See "EU: Rules to protect fishing stocks flawed," Associated Press at CNews, 1/19/06.

Cadets stranded after training ship fails: Hundreds of cadets from Massachusetts Maritime Academy were stranded in Virginia after their training ship broke down. This is the second time the costly, taxpayer-funded vessel has broken down in as many voyages. The federal government, which owns the Enterprise, has spent $38 million on renovations to the vessel over the past several years, including $25 million to convert the 39-year-old former military cargo ship into a training vessel for the school. The problems are expected to be fixed next week, but the delay means the tour for about 500 now-stranded cadets will be shortened, and possibly scrapped. See "The Flub Boat: $38M sunk into ship that broke down," Dave Wedge, BostonHerald.com, 1/19/06.

EU rejects plan to force changes at ports: The European Parliament on Wednesday rejected plans to liberalize port services across the European Union that had sparked mass strikes by dock workers and a violent protest in front of the EU legislature. The draft legislation proposed opening cargo handling to competition in ports where loading and unloading currently is run by monopoly handlers. The bill would also have allowed ship's crews to handle cargo themselves on some EU routes. The vote was welcomed by dock workers' unions and some EU governments which feared the new legislation would compromise safety and do little to enhance competition at European ports. But some say the vote shows how reluctant Europe is to reform its economy. See "EU Parliament Axes Law to Boost Competition in Sea Ports," Spiegel Online, 1/18/06.

Maritrans barge secured after fatal tug accident: The US Coast Guard secured a drifting fuel barge owned by Maritrans Operating Co., following an accident that killed two crew members on a tug towing the barge. Six crew members have been rescued, and the Coast Guard is continuing its search and rescue efforts for a missing seaman. The tug, Valour, took on water in heavy seas late Tuesday and sank early Wednesday off the coast of Cape Fear, North Carolina. The Valour was towing a double-hulled petroleum barge carrying 135,000 barrels of residue fuel oil, which was set adrift after the after the tug sank. Now secured, the barge is being towed to be inspected, but so far Maritrans says it hasn't been damaged. The cause of the accident has not been determined. No oil has been spilled. See "Maritrans tug sinks in heavy seas, two crew lost," Nick Carey, Reuters at Reuters AlertNet, 1/18/06.

South Korean officers charged with leaking classified data: Five officers from the South Korea's new arms acquisition agency will face charges of breaking confidentiality regulations after a classified document detailing weapons projects was posted online. Evidence supporting the charges was obtained during a joint investigation by The Defense Security Command and the National Intelligence Service. The three pages of data concerning medium-term weapons procurement appeared on the agency's website from January 1-5. The document contains details of 256 weapons procurement projects, of which two-thirds have been confirmed as confidential. Among them are plans for the Navy's 3,500-ton class submarine development plan. See "Five military officers detained over leak of classified data," Jin Dae-woong, The Korea Herald, 1/18/06.

Royal Navy ship's schedule found in pub: Student Michael Blown found a sensitive Royal Navy document lying on a pub table in Portsmouth. The document lists every planned movement of the HMS St Albans, a Type 23 Frigate, until the end of 2007, including the ship's patrols in the Middle East. The document was marked "restricted" and warns servicemen that the information must not be "divulged to anyone" outside their immediate family. The lapse could have left British Royal Marines and sailors open to an attack similar to the suicide bombing of USS Cole in 2000, which killed 17 sailors. The Navy may now be forced to change the ship's schedule. Mr. Blown gave the document to the Mirror, which handed it over to the MoD, without publishing any exact details. The Navy is disappointed about the incident, and will take it into account when making risk assessments for the ship's program over the next year. See "Exclusive: Top Secret Navy File Found in Pub," Greig Box and Chris Hughes, Mirro.co.uk, 1/17/06.

Diplomatic protest issued against Japanese whaling: A written statement calling on Japan to "cease all its lethal scientific research on whales" was delivered to Japan's foreign ministry on Monday and farm ministry on Tuesday. The 17 countries that signed the protest were Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. Japan abandoned commercial whaling in 1986, in line with an international moratorium, but began catching whales again the following year for what it calls scientific research. Critics say the whale meat goes to up-market Japanese restaurants. "The fact that 17 countries supported this representation, shows how important this issue is, and the depth of feeling around the world," British fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw said in a statement. See "Japan Receives Diplomatic Protest From 17 Nations Over Whaling," Bloomerberg.com, 1/17/06.

People rarely go overboard from cruise ships: A database compiled by Canadian professor and cruise critic Ross Klein has found 52 cases of people going overboard from cruise ships in the past decade; 40 of the cases were fatal. This is about twice as many cases as mentioned recently by the industry. Suicide, suspected suicide or attempted suicide accounts for 18 of the cases; the cause or motive remains unknown in 20 cases. Although often sensationalized by the media, these overboard incidents are rare, considering that more than 8 million passengers vacation aboard cruise ships each year. Still, many wish cruising were safer. See "Passenger deaths becoming a concern for cruise industry," Donna Balancia, Florida Today at The Enquirer, 1/17/06.

Spain arrests hacker after breach at US navy base: Spain's Civil Guard has arrested an 18-year-old man who hacked into a US defense department computer, breaching security at a US naval base in California. The man was part of a group of hackers which attacked more than 100 computer systems, including one at the US Navy's Point Loma base in San Diego where nuclear submarines are maintained in dry docks. US security services found someone had illegally accessed the computer and subsequently traced the link to Spain. Spanish authorities pinpointed the group in the southern city of Malaga and arrested one man. A computer and other items were seized, and are being analyzed. See "'Hacker' held over U.S. Navy breach," Al Goodman, CNN, 1/16/06.

East Timor didn't get the best deal on the Timor Sea: The new treaty between the governments of Australia and East Timor to share oil and gas resources from part of the Timor Sea temporarily resolves a long-standing and difficult dispute. However, the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) believes this agreement does not fully serve the rights and interests of the people of East Timor. Unfortunately, the deal may be the best that could be achieved at this time, given the pressures on East Timor from Australia and oil companies. The agreement divides revenues from the Greater Sunrise field between the two countries equally, and delays finalizing their maritime border for 50 years — by which time the oil and gas reserves may be exhausted. ETAN believes East Timor should receive all the revenue. See "Gas fields deal 'short changes' East Timor," ABC News Online, 1/16/06.

Study recommends offshore drilling for Virginia: A study prepared for former Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner and state lawmakers recommends that the state allow offshore exploration of natural gas and oil deposits, but only after taking environmental precautions. The report suggests that drilling take place only 50 miles or more from the coast, and that no pipeline or infrastructure be built on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The report noted that Virginia only holds 11 percent of the potential gain from the outer continental shelf along the Atlantic coast, and the state's estimated profits range wildly from zero to over $10 billion. It would take an act of Congress to allow offshore gas exploration off Virginia's coast. See "Study: Virginia Should OK Offshore Natural Gas Drilling With Precautions," Associated Press at MSNBC, 1/16/06.

Greenpeace activist falls into water during whale hunt: A Greenpeace activist fell into the water on Saturday when he was struck by a harpoon cable that was shot from a whaling vessel. The activists had intentionally placed their inflatable boat between a whale and a harpoon. The environmental group admits the action was risky, and is considering changing their approach to stop the hunt. Japan's Fisheries Agency says that their whalers are doing their best to ensure the safety of the activists, but they also have warned that the Agency can't be held accountable for any injuries sustained by protesters. The activist was not reported hurt by the fall. See "Greenpeace to review anti-whaling protest measures," ABC News Online, 1/16/06.

'Asbestos' ship gets the all clear: Egypt on Sunday approved the transit through the Suez Canal of a decommissioned French warship heading for an Indian scrapyard that had been stranded for three days over fears it was an environmental hazard. The environment ministry said documents provided by Paris proved the asbestos-insulated Clemenceau did not fall under the 1989 Basel convention banning the export of toxic waste. The agency said experts from the environment ministry and Suez Canal authority were due to inspect the ship on Monday, before it goes through the canal. The environmental group Greenpeace charges that the ship is still carrying tons of asbestos, which will endanger the health of Indian workers who will scrap it. See "Egypt grants 'toxic' ship passage," Heba Saleh, BBC News, 1/15/06.

Polish shipyards are struggling to survive: The Polish economy has grown and become more productive since the fall of communism, but many of the heavy industries are starting to suffer. Although Poland ranks fifth in the world in terms of tonnage built, shipyards today are struggling to survive. The industry's strengths include cheap labor, domestic equipment suppliers, and good research and development facilities, but its weaknesses include over-manning, outdated construction facilities, and the departure of skilled workers. In response, the manager of Poland's Gdansk Shipyard has appealed for workers from Ukraine to help fill jobs vacated by emigrating Polish workers. The Gdansk Shipyard once employed 17,000 workers, but now has barely 3,000. See "Gdansk appeal for Ukraine workers," Jan Repa, BBC News, 1/13/06.

Egypt denies Clemenceau entry through the Suez Canal: The Clemenceau's two-month-long trip behind a tugboat and with a naval escort, following months of legal battles with environmental groups and refusals from other countries to decontaminate the ship, has sparked controversy in France and India. Paris says it has taken all necessary precautions to make the ship safe, but opponents have sharply criticized Paris for unloading its nation's toxic waste on the developing world. Now Egypt is refusing to let the decommissioned warship pass through the Suez Canal, saying that the vessel is leaking toxic waste. The French Defense Ministry says there is no leak coming from the ship. French authorities say that most of the asbestos was removed in France, and the remaining amount has to be kept in place to keep the ship seaworthy on its last journey to India. See "Egypt bans French ship from Suez over waste leak," Reuters, 1/12/06.

East Timor gas deal signed: Maritime boundary negotiations between Australia and East Timor have been put on hold for 50 years under a deal to share the Timor Sea's petroleum riches that will deliver much-needed cash to the fledgling democracy. Details of the deal, which adds more than $11 billion to the previously calculated value of the revenue transfer to East Timor, were disclosed after a new treaty was signed in Sydney yesterday. The deal is the culmination of long-running negotiations between Australia and East Timor on how to split the oil and gas resources between the two countries. A Woodside Petroleum Ltd. spokesman congratulated the two governments in signing the agreement, but reiterated the company's position that it needed the agreement to be ratified by the parliaments of both countries before considering whether to proceed with the Greater Sunrise project. See "East Timor strikes it rich with gas and oil pact," Philippe Naughton, Times Online, 1/12/06.

HHI reduces onshore ship production time: Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. started its onshore ship assembly program two years ago, so that it could build more vessels while docks and water areas were fully occupied. The company has already built six ships using this method, and has orders for another ten vessels to be assembled on the ground. Now the company has announced it has reduced the time needed to assemble a 105,000-metric-ton crude carrier onshore from 85 days to 55 days, a time similar to normal shipbuilding on water. They have done this by making the blocks larger. See "Hyundai Heavy cuts ship assembly time," The Korea Herald, 1/11/06.

Singapore and Dubai bid for P&O: Britain's shipping company P&O now has two bidders. Dubai port operator DP World made an offer last November, which has already been accepted by the P&O board. The port authority of Singapore made a higher bid last night. DP World has indicated it was likely to come back with a higher bid, saying it was "committed to the successful completion" of its deal with P&O. A merger of P&O and DP World would create the world's third-largest ports group; a merger of P&O and PSA would create the world's largest port operator in the world. Industry experts believe the deal will come down to money. See "Singaporeans spark P&O bid battle," Michael Harrison, The Independent Online, 1/11/06.

Clemenceau controversy continues: The French government's plan to send the decommissioned warship Clemenceau to India for scrapping has sparked fierce controversy in both countries. Critics on both sides are accusing Paris of dumping its toxic waste on the developing world. But the Alang ship-breaking yard needs the contract, since it's been facing stiff competition from Bangladesh, China and elsewhere. The environmental group Greenpeace fought a court battle in France and is vowing one in India to force the Clemenceau to turn around if New Delhi does not reject the ship. An Indian Supreme Court panel has temporarily blocked the ship's entry while it gets more data on the amount of toxins still in the ship. See "Greens see red over asbestos ship," AFP at Aljazeera.Net, 1/10/06.

Japan's power experiment highlights territory dispute: Nobody disputes that the Okinotorishima coral reef belongs to Japan, but many dispute its definition. If the parts above sea are islands, under the UN convention on the Law of the Sea they give Japan a much larger exclusive economic zone. If they are rocks, then China's exploration of the disputed zone for gas and oil can be justified. Japan has made the next move in the dispute, by starting an experiment to generate electricity from seawater on the atoll. If the experiment works, Japan believes the power generator will make its territorial claim stronger. See "Japan rocks China with island plan," Leo Lewis, The Australian, 1/10/06.

Staten Island ferry captain sentenced to 18 months in deadly accident: The pilot of the deadly Staten Island ferry disaster received his punishment Monday: 18 months in prison for killing 11 people in one of the deadliest maritime accidents in the city's history. Former Captain Richard Smith, who fainted at the helm of the Andrew J. Barberi on October 15, 2003, because of exhaustion and a combination of prescription drugs he was secretly taking, had pleaded guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter. The judge also gave the city's former ferry director, Patrick Ryan, one year and a day in prison for failing to enforce the city Department of Transportation's two-pilot rule, which might have prevented a crash. The sentences were the climax of months of legal wrangling that reveal how the Staten Island ferry was plagued by nepotism, poor supervision and mismanagement at the highest levels of the Department of Transportation. See "S.I. ferry crash pilot gets stiff sentence," Anthony M. DeStefano, NYNewsday.com, 1/10/06.

Captain's tirade left submariner in tears: A British submarine captain berated his subordinates with such rage that his face became "gorged" with blood and his tirades made a lieutenant ill and reduced him to tears, a court martial heard yesterday. The case, being heard at Portsmouth Naval Base, relates to Captain Robert Tarrant's period of command of the nuclear-powered Trafalgar-class submarine HMS Talent, based at Devonport. Judge advocate Jack Bayliss ruled that a substantial part of the case is to be heard in secret because the evidence is likely to include information relevant to national security. Commander Alison Towler, prosecuting, said Captain Tarrant's behavior towards his subordinates could not be excused by the stress of being involved in top-secret missions. Tarrant denies all five charges of ill treatment. The hearing continues. See "Captain 'was dressing gown bully'," BBC News, 1/10/06.

Electric Boat may keep some jobs: Last month, after the US Navy decided to move most of its submarine maintenance work from Connecticut's Electric Boat to New Hampshire's Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the firm warned it may need to halve its 11,800-employee work force in future years. But an $85 million contract for work next year on the USS Texas is expected to ease some future job cuts at the General Dynamics facility. The 2007 contract won't effect plans to cut up to 2,400 jobs this year, and it isn't clear how many jobs the contract could save next year. The contract isn't for maintenance work. The Navy decided it could save about $30 million by opting for Electric Boat, which has a dry-dock facility for a special hull treatment, rather than Northrop Grumman's Newport News, Virginia shipyard. See "Electric Boat wins $85 million contract for sub work," Andrew Miga, Associated Press at Newsday.com, 1/9/06.

First of four transformational submarines completed for the US Navy: General Dynamics Electric Boat has finished its conversion of the USS Ohio from a strategic-missile submarine to a guided-missile and special warfare platform. The Ohio is the first of four Trident submarines to be reconfigured as multimission SSGNs. The Michigan, Florida and Georgia will all be converted by 2007. Each SSGN will carry up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and support up to 66 Special Operations Forces for an extended time. See "General Dynamics Completes Conversion of USS Ohio, First of Four Transformational Submarines for the U.S. Navy," PRNewswire at StockHouse USA, 1/9/06.

Whaling crash sparks shouting match: Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru and the Greenpeace protest ship Arctic Sunrise have collided in the Southern Ocean. Greenpeace say they were deliberately rammed, and has released video footage of the incident, which they say clearly shows the Nisshin Maru was the aggressor. But Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research has accused Greenpeace of being responsible for the collision. No one was injured, but the bow of the Arctic Sunrise was dented. Greenpeace has been shadowing the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary in recent weeks. Japanese ships plan to continue to use water cannons to deter the activists. See "Greenpeace, whalers clash at sea," CNN.com, 1/8/06.

Stowaways die after being tossed into the ocean: The crew of the Bahamas registered ship Mv African Kalahari threw seven stowaways into the sea. Five survived the ordeal and reported the incident, two Kenyans died. The ship last called at the Port of Mombasa to offload fertilizer; the incident occurred near the Port of Durban, South Africa. Four Ukrainian crewmembers, including the shipmaster, have been arrested in South Africa, and are expected to be arraigned in court today. Some ship's crews throw stowaways into the ocean to avoid the cost of taking them back home, as required by international conventions. If evidence is found to implicate the captain in ordering the stowaways to be thrown overboard, he will face a murder charge. See "Two Kenyan stowaways thrown into sea," Philip Mwakio and Patrick Beja, The Standard, 1/8/06.

Two new chemical spills in Chinese rivers: Two major new toxic spills in China have threatened water supplies for millions of residents, officials and state media said, as local governments took emergency measures. A diesel oil spill has hit the Yellow River, and cadmium has leaked into a tributary of the Yangtze River. State media have been carrying frequent reports of water pollution since the November benzene spill in the Songua River, particularly when accusations were raised that the local government tried to conceal the disaster from the public for ten days. China will spend $3.28 billion to clean up the Songhua, in a five-year effort that should provide over 90% of the population in the four provinces access to clean drinking water. Officials must also now notify the government within four hours of serious disasters like chemical spills, bird flu outbreaks and mine accidents. The new emergency response plan also says officials must notify the public as quickly as possibly, although it sets no time limit for this. See "China to invest $3 billion to clean up polluted river," Associated Press at BostonHerald.com, 1/8/06.

China sets five year defense plan: China has put together a five-year research and development plan to support its defense industry and the national economy. Nuclear energy, a manned space program, a lunar probe program, civilian planes, and shipbuilding are all included. China also plans to improve its fundamental capability in basic science, and its research infrastructure. A new framework is also planned, that will allow its military and civilian sectors to interact more easily together, to ensure fast progress in the military sector. See "China sets target for defense industry," Xinhua at China Daily, 1/6/06.

France impounds Maltese ship: Maltese cargo ship Sichem Pandora has been impounded on suspicion of colliding with the trawler Kleine Familie that sank in the English Channel, as the search resumed for five missing crew members. French maritime police were still hunting for the sailors but there was little hope of finding them alive in the chilly waters, more than 24 hours after the boat went down. The chemical carrier is being held in the northern French port of Dunkirk, and safety investigators and paramilitary gendarmes were on board the vessel early yesterday, according to marine authorities. See "Trawler sinking - ship impounded," BBC News, 1/6/06.

Piracy still high around Somalia: Somali clan leaders have just signed an agreement to try to end over two decades of factional fighting in the country. They are also making attempts to address the piracy off the country's eastern coastline. Many shippers say piracy in the area has become even more dangerous than spots traditionally plagued by piracy, such as the Straits of Malacca. Captain Jayand Abhyankar of the Maritime Bureau agrees, saying "The Malacca Straights used to be one of the worst, and the waters off Nigeria and Iraq are currently bad. But Somalia's the worst." Patrols of western navies has done the best job of keeping pirates away, and Somali authorities have signed a contract with a private company to patrol the coast. But the problem won't be resolved until there is more political stability in Somalia, and less incentive for people to turn to piracy to make a living. See "Somali piracy is worst in world," Mark Doyle, BBC News, 1/5/06.

'Critical danger' warning on fish: New research by Canadian scientists suggests that deep sea fish species in the northern Atlantic are on the brink of extinction. In an article published Wednesday in Nature, researchers from Newfoundland's Memorial University describe a 17-year decline in the number of blue hake, spiny skate, two types of grenadier and the spiny eel. Some populations have plummeted by 98% in a generation, meeting the definition of 'critically endangered.' Scientists and conservation bodies are pressing for a global moratorium on the deep-sea fishing practice known as bottom-trawling, which is particularly destructive. Deep sea fish are highly vulnerable to disturbance because of their late maturation, extreme longevity, low fecundity and slow growth. See "Deep-sea fish in Atlantic at brink of extinction: study," CBC News, 1/4/06.

Colombian oil installations hit by terrorists: Eight wells and three pipelines, all operated by Colombia's state oil company Ecopetrol, were hit in three terrorist attacks on New Year's Eve. The company has activated contingency plans to minimize damage to the environment and rivers. The plan includes suspending use of the pipelines, constructing barriers to control contamination, and informing local Amazon communities how to take precautions. Ecopetrol does not yet know the extent of the contamination in the Sucio, Guamuez and Putumayo rivers. See "Ecopetrol Adopts Contingency Plan After NYE Attacks," BNAmericas at Rigzone, 1/4/06.

Greenpeace releases video of whale hunt: The environmental group Greenpeace, which has had boats following Japanese whalers, has provided video footage of the hunt to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Greenpeace asked IFAW to review the film because of concerns of cruelty to the whales; particularly concerning was the amount of time it took some whales to die. IFAW scientist and whale expert Vassili Papastavrou, who watched the footage, noted that in one case, a whale was tethered by a harpoon but did not appear to have been hit in a vital organ. The whale spent a considerable time thrashing around, and may have died from asphyxiation because its head was kept under water. He noted "This is how a whale was killed when the boats were being observed, so what happens when they're not being seen?" IFAW will review the full, unedited footage to determine the amount of time it took for this whale to die, and subsequent cruelty issues. See the International Fund for Animal Welfare press release "Harpooned whale's agonising death in whale sanctuary," CCN Matthews, 1/4/06.

Global warming brings fears for Arctic pollution: Oil and gas activity is starting to increase again in the Arctic as global warming thins the polar ice. Both energy exploration and shipping will pose threats to the fragile environment. The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) is coordinating a report, commissioned by the eight nations in the Arctic Council, about benefits and environmental risks. Oil and pollution spills are problematic in the Arctic partly because bacteria that can break down oil thrive only briefly in the short summer. Although the US has worked out ways to prevent corrosion and pipeline leaks, clean-up technology is still not robust. One factor holding up the report is a lack of documentation from Russia. See "Oil spills in Arctic feared as ice melts," Reuters at MSNBC, 1/4/06.

Alstom to sell ship-making business: Alstom SA said Wednesday it will sell control of its money-losing shipbuilding business to Norway's Aker Yards ASA, another step in the French industrial conglomerate's attempt to turn its fortunes around. Alstom will take a loss of up to €100 million (US$118 million) on the sale of a 75 percent stake in Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard in the town of St. Nazaire, northwestern France, and another in nearby Lorient. The unit of Aker ASA will pay €50 million ($59 million) for its controlling stake and will invest €350 million ($415 million) in the new joint venture. Aker could later buy the rest of the unit, depending on financial performance. Alstom committed to keeping its 25 percent stake until 2010. The deal, which has yet to be finalized, will have "no direct impact" on Alstom's 3,000-strong shipyard work force and leaves unchanged the marine division's existing cost-cutting program. See "Alstom offloads shipbuilding division," Laurence Frost, Associated Press at TheState.com, 1/4/06.

Report on Bow Mariner disaster released: A US Coast Guard investigation of the Bow Mariner disaster, obtained by The Virginian-Pilot through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveals a number of questionable events. Included in some 20 conclusions from the investigators is the fact that the captain, Efstratios Kavouras, abandoned ship without sending a distress call or trying to save his crew, and he gave the order to open 22 tanks that had held methyl tert butyl ether. The report gives the captain most of the blame for the disaster, although it also notes that the crew was poorly trained in safety procedures, and that significant culture problems between the Greek officers and Filipino crew members contributed to the death toll. The tanker ship exploded — most probably when the remaining vapor from the open tanks was accidentally ignited — and sank off the coast of Virginia on February 28, 2004. Only six crewmen survived; the captain was among the missing. See "Captain given brunt of blame in ship disaster," Jack Dorsey, The Virginian-Pilot at State.com, 1/3/06.

Tsunami warning system doesn't exist yet: Despite some progress, the $200 million network of sensors for detecting another tsunami like the one that hit the Indian Ocean in December, 2004, is emerging only on a piecemeal basis. UN officials say the ability to warn local populations in the event another tsunami is detected is still at least two or three years away. To detect tsunamis and issue alerts as swiftly as possible, UN officials had hoped to see the creation of a single warning center like that which now exists for the Pacific Ocean. But the major powers of the Indian Ocean basin — Indonesia, Thailand, India and Australia — couldn't agree which of them would host the program. As a result, there will be at least three, perhaps four, regional centers, and several countries are proceeding with their own network of sensors designed primarily to protect their own shores. See "Tsunami alert systems 2-3 years away," Mike Toner, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 1/2/06.

India wants report on toxins on board the Clemenceau: India's Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) have asked the Gujarat Enviro Protection and Infrastructure Limited (GEPIL) to submit a report on actual hazards still on board the decommissioned French aircraft carrier Clemenceau. In France now gathering data, the GEPIL is expected to submit a report in a week. The ship is expected to reach Alang ship-breaking yard in three weeks; it has at least some hazardous asbestos still on board. H K Dash, vice-chairman and CEO of GMB, reported that the ship was given authorization to make the trip already, since the French government said they would be removing most of the toxic materials. He said the GEPIL research team was sent for "verification." Realistically, India can't safely handle much more than 25 tons of asbestos. Reports from various sources suggest the ship could contain somewhere between 40 to 500 tons of the toxic material. It isn't clear what the GMB will do if too much asbestos remains on board. See "Warship sets sail, so does GMB team," Palak Nandi, Indian Express Newspapers, 1/2/06.

Japanese warship 'to guard whalers': A standoff between Japanese whalers and environmentalists has escalated, with a conservation group claiming the Japanese Government has sent a warship to Antarctic waters to protect its fleet. The Washington-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said it had received a tip-off that a Japanese naval ship had been sent to the region to defend its whalers from protesters. Japanese whalers say the environmentalists' claim is nothing more than a publicity stunt. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's vessel joined two Greenpeace boats in the Antarctic waters last week to try to stop the whale hunt. A combination of a fast boat and communications technology have enabled the environmentalists to keep up with the hunt and send pictures of it worldwide, which has undoubtedly added to the escalation. See "Warship claim 'a publicity stunt'," Denis Peters, The Australian, 1/2/06.

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