News Archive - May 2006

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Royal Navy's Astute class submarine launch date set: BAE Systems has revealed that the first Astute class nuclear submarine will be officially unveiled on June 8, 2007. The Astute program was found out to be in major trouble three years ago. It is nearly four years behind the original schedule and, for three submarines, considerably over the original cost. But since a new program was settled with the Ministry of Defence in 2003, it has met and exceeded production milestones. The Astute vessels will be the Royal Navy's biggest, most powerful attack submarines ever. It is expected the launch of the first boat in class will be conducted by a senior Royal. See "Launch date for nuclear submarine," BBC News, 5/31/06.

China's growth hits the maritime sector: Growth in international trade has had a tremendous impact on the growth of China's port sector. This has become of matter of national interest, with the government's 11th Five-Year Plan laying down a systematic port strategy development plan, with funds allocated for the projects. Already, 14 of the world's top 20 container terminals are Asian based, and seven of these are in China. Other types of terminals are being built and expanded, as well, serving commodities such as iron ore and grains, and oil. Increasing container volumes going in and out of China are resulting in the increase of feeder services, which bring in cargo from industrial centers and small, less accessible ports along the Yangtze River to main ports, where the cargo is consolidated for loading on mainline carriers. The growth in container cargo movement in and out of China has led ports throughout the ASEAN region to expand and improve — not only in terms of infrastructure and equipment but also in their functions and business activities. Many have added and improved value-added logistics and ancillary services to gain a competitive edge to attract cargo from China and to facilitate exports to it. See "China's ports could leave SE Asia's high and dry," Nazery Khalid, Japan Focus at Asia Times Online, 5/31/06.

Cruise ship Van Gogh stricken by virus: Five hundred vacationers had their travels put on hold yesterday after a virus-hit cruise ship was quarantined. Hundreds of passengers waiting on the dockside were angry at the sudden cancellation of their trip, but health authorities had to detain the stricken vessel in Harwich. More than 100 passengers and 16 crew were struck down by a highly contagious stomach bug — thought to be norovirus — on the MV Van Gogh's previous voyage. The virus started to spread on board several days ago. Yesterday, 14 people were still suffering severe symptoms, and two had to be taken off on stretchers and taken to hospital. The ship, due to leave for a seven-day cruise to Norway operated by Travelscope Holidays, could be detained for up to three days. The bug is passed on when food or drink is contaminated by human waste, or through raw oysters. See "Passengers turned away as virus outbreak hits liner," David Sanderson, Times Online, 5/29/06.

Sinking bulk carriers raise concerns: While oil tankers face a number of strict safety regulations, including phase-out dates for old ships and single-hulled vessels, dry bulk carriers do not. And a string of ship sinking accidents involving old bulk carriers is beginning to attract attention. The cement carrier Margaret sank off Italy last December. The Alexandros T, carrying iron ore, sank off South Africa in May. The cement carrier Portland sank on Thursday between Canary Island and Tenerife, off the coast of Spain. Apart from crew safety and potential oil spills, the sinking of older ships could have a bearish impact on freight rates for veteran ships, some brokers say. Others believe that, if properly maintained, older ships can be safe. See "Old ship sinking accidents may raise age concerns," Edgar Ang, Reuters, 5/26/06.

Piracy remains a threat: Global piracy only rose 8% in the first quarter of the year. The increase came largely from incidents around Somalia and Nigeria. Surprisingly, no attacks were reported in the Malacca Straight. Captain Pottegal Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau, believes that cooperation between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore has played a key role. The Indonesian Navy's Operation Gurita, which shows force in known hot spots, has "yielded positive results, with numerous gangs of pirates being arrested." But rising fuel prices are probably also slowing pirates' activities. And unfortunately, fuel costs also affect the patrolling navies, leading some to fear that the success of Indonesian surveillance might be short-lived. In any case, the Malaysian government has formally asked Lloyds to remove the country from the Joint War Committee's "enhanced risks" list for insurance purposes. For now, the country will remain on the list until the sustainability of government patrols can be determined. See "Free Flow: Piracy ebbs, but not cost of insurance," Vaudine England, International Herald Tribune, 5/24/06.

A string of attacks on ships by pirates in the Caribbean in the first quarter of 2006 may prompt the International Maritime Bureau to list Jamaica as a hot spot for piracy. In the first three months of this year, three piracy attacks were reported in Jamaican waters. The IMB is currently monitoring the situation. The Caribbean Sea is a vital route for the North and South American oil trade, with cargoes sailing daily. See "Pirates ply Caribbean, Jamaica may be listed as hot spot," Edgar Ang, Reuters, 5/24/06.

New Carissa settlement accepted: Oregon's State Land Board has approved a $22 million settlement to remove the wreckage of the New Carissa. The ship owners were found guilty of negligent trespass and the state was awarded $25 million in 2002 to pay for the removal. The settlement, which includes $19 million for clearing the wreckage and $3 million to pay for legal fees and other costs, ends the appeal from ship owners Green Atlas Shipping. The 660-foot freighter ran aground near Coos Bay in February of 1999. Attempts to burn off its engine fuel broke the ship in half, spilling fuel oil that contaminated the bay. The bow section was eventually towed out to sea, but the stern has sunk into the sand and poses a potential hazard at low tide, when beachcombers can go right up to the hull. The state will seek a contract contingent on the Legislative Emergency Board's approval in September so that salvage crews can plan to remove the ship next summer, when weather and sea conditions will allow the dangerous work. See "Settlement reached on Oregon shipwreck," William McCall, Associated Press at The Seattle Times, 5/24/06.

Plans for a European coastguard are questioned: The European Commission has written plans to set up a European coastguard, which would help enforce maritime legislation. It would have the authority to intercept shipping across all of Europe's traditional maritime borders. The Commission says its main role initially would be to avert maritime pollution disasters. The body would improve "coherence of forms of control and enforcement" of passenger safety at sea and environmental protection legislation. But critics fear the plan is an attempt to create an EU navy with its own powers to stop and search shipping. The plan to upgrade the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) into a fully-fledged coastguard is apparently buried in a policy document on EU transport policy that is due to be published next month. Lloyd's List has accused the Commission of attempting to build up a navy by stealth in a leading article last week. See "EU 'building navy by stealth'," Justin Stares, The Telegraph at Gulfnews.com, 5/22/06.

Lloyd's latest "enhanced risks" list released: Sri Lanka and Yemen have been included by Lloyd's of London's Joint War Committee on its list of "areas of perceived enhanced risks" last week. Areas on the list are reviewed every four months. The two countries had been removed from the list only last June, but a sea battle between the Tamil Tigers and Sri Lankan government forces, and the escape from jail by suspected al-Qaeda members in Yemen, has put the countries back on the list. This move will raise the insurance cost of sending shipments into their ports. As an example, a large container ship worth $75 million might pay about $15,000 for an annual insurance policy, which would cover the vessel to make unlimited stops at the world's safe ports. But the ship would have to pay the same amount for every single visit to a port on the "enhanced risks" list. Representatives of the Sri Lankan Government visited Lloyd's of London underwriters last week to discuss concerns that the country's inclusion on the list will damage trade. Also added to the list is the Strait of Malacca, because of the rapid rise in piracy. See "Lloyd's flags risks to ships in Sri Lankan and Yemeni waters," Christine Seib, The Times, 5/22/06.

Volvo Ocean Race loses a boat, but the crew is saved: Movistar, Spain's entry in the Volvo Ocean Race, was racing towards the English Channel when structural failures caused water to flood in. With a forecast of storm force 10 winds peaking at more than 50 knots expected to hit the area, Dutch skipper Bouwe Bekking made the call to abandon ship. The ABN Amro Two, also in the race, was the nearest boat, and rescued Movistar's crew. Bekking, who was one of the last to leave his boat, was full of praise for the rescuing team. "We all realized that turning around had been a very hard call for them, and hopefully they can find a little comfort that they have saved ten lives," he said. The ABN Amro Two already saw hardship last week, when crewmember Hans Horrevoets was swept overboard, and died. Four of the six yachts in the race's fleet have suffered technical failures; Movistar is among the worst affected. The yacht remains at sea with its generator on, running the satellite positioning system. It is hoped the boat can be tracked and eventually recovered. See "Race crew saved from storm by rival yacht," Edward Gorman, Times Online, 5/22/06.

So far, no icebergs spotted in the North Atlantic this year: The International Ice Patrol, created in 1912, is a division of the US Coast Guard that is funded by 17 countries. It is the only world body that constantly monitors icebergs that stray into the Atlantic shipping lanes parallel to and south of Newfoundland. In the past, in a single year, more than 2,000 icebergs have been spotted and tracked in order to prevent disasters at sea. Yet in other years, few if any bergs manage to migrate south from the Arctic Circle. On average, the IIP sees about 450 icebergs per year. With three fifths of this year's ice season already over, not a single berg has been spotted within 350 miles of the shipping lanes. Only once before, in 1966, has the IIP recorded zero icebergs in a season. There is no question the low number of bergs is unusual. But scientists are finding it difficult to pin the low number to climate change, since they expected climate change would create more icebergs, not fewer. In fact, so far scientists haven't found any pattern in the number of icebergs making it into the shipping lanes. See "Where have all the icebergs gone?," The Independent Online, 5/21/06.

World wide whaling ban could be overturned: Pro-whaling countries, led by Japan, are confident they have enough votes to win control of the International Whaling Commission for the first time since whaling was banned 20 years ago. A vote is to take place at the IWC's annual meeting, which starts in the Caribbean this week. Under the current system, voting is open so that each member country knows how other nations voted. But the Japanese and their growing band of allies are expected to force through a new secret ballot system that will conceal nations' identities. Once in place, the majority required to overturn the ban is expected to surface, and whales will become legitimate targets again. Wildlife and Countryside Link, an alliance of leading British green organizations, is asking for high-level diplomatic action to counter the threat now posed to the world's remaining whale populations. Japan has long been accused of giving fisheries aid to poorer countries in return for their votes at the IWC. Some of these countries have no whaling traditions, and two don't even have a coastline. See "Whaling ban on edge of extinction," Ian Mather, Scotsman.com, 5/21/06.

Canada's Davie Shipyard could be sold off in auction: Davie Shipbuilding, Canada's oldest and most illustrious shipyard, has been bankrupt for the past 4 1/2 years, and is being run by a skeleton crew. Barring a last-minute miracle, every moveable asset on the property will be liquidated in a public auction. Davie trustee Patrice Van Houtte said the sale became necessary when the deadline for a bid by a third potential buyer of the yard since 2001 — Montreal's Navamar Group — expired at the end of March. Van Houtte said that if a deal isn't concluded before next month's sale of the bankrupt company's rolling stock, it will probably mean the end for Davie. Van Houtte is still talking to the Navamar consortium, which now includes a Norwegian company called Teco Management AS. And Navamar president Pierre Boisclair claims to be on the verge of concluding an agreement with the trustee that will result in their buying the yard. The yard's total value, including rolling stock, has been pegged at $30 million, but neither side would talk about the sale price they are discussing. See "Davie on the brink of oblivion," Mark Cardwell, The Gazette at Canada.com, 5/20/06.

US Coast Guard searches aren't always a surprise: Four years after Congress upgraded its mission under the Homeland Security Department, the Coast Guard has strained to meet its obligations. It has had to rely on outsiders to fill crucial gaps on land, including recruiting volunteers from its auxiliary for routine shoreline surveillance and contractors to oversee federally mandated security plans by ports and their tenants. Last year, a government audit found that the Coast Guard is understaffed and struggling to balance its traditional mission with its greatly enhanced domestic security role. Currently at issue are surprise security searches, which began after the September 11 attacks. Shipping companies have complained about delays, as the searches can take from half an hour to half a day, and can cost them up to $40,000 an hour. Apparently, the Coast Guard has been tipping off some large commercial ships that they've been targeted for a search. The practice has caused considerable confusion and debate within the Coast Guard. Clearly, the practice undermines the inspections. But several commanders in some ports have acknowledged that they provided up to 24-hour notice. See "Some Ships Get Coast Guard Tip Before Searches," Timothy Egan, The New York Times, 5/20/6.

Long-Range Identification and Tracking of ships is accepted: The UN International Maritime Organisation (IMO) said governments party to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention had given initial acceptance to new safety measures at a 10-day meeting at its headquarters in London. The rules would track ships by satellite to fight terrorism and prevent the transport of materials used in weapons of mass destruction. Under the new proposals, merchant ships would be required to transmit through satellite-based technology their identity, location, date and time of their position. The new regulations would come into force under the SOLAS convention on January 1, 2008. The Long-Range Identification and Tracking of ships is the latest in a series of security measures adopted by the trillion-dollar industry since the September 11 attacks on the United States. See "Shipping nations agree satellite tracking rules, Reuters, 5/19/06.

Meteorologists link storm to the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald: A group of meteorologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday that they have solved at least part of the mystery of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the Great Lakes legend that sank November 10, 1975, in a Lake Superior storm. The study shows that the Fitzgerald was in the worst possible location, during the worst weather of the storm — in 69 mph winds carrying hurricane-force gusts and waves more than 25 feet high. To compound the problems, the study confirmed the wind and waves from the west hammered the 729-foot ore carrier broadside as it tried to run south to safety. All 29 men aboard were lost. The findings fill in the gaps between the few and sporadic weather observations of the storm. The results are published in the May 2006 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. See "U.S. experts detail storm conditions in Fitzgerald's 1975 sinking," Associated Press at Newsday.com, 5/19/06.

Nations have failed to stop overfishing: Governments worldwide have failed to prevent overfishing in the oceans, where a proliferation of bottom-trawling threatens to wipe out deep sea species, conservation groups WWF and Traffic said on Friday. The environmentalists said the existing system of regional fisheries regulation, meant to control the depletion of ocean life, had responded slowly to new threats and done little to enforce fishing quotas or rebuild vulnerable stocks. Their report, released ahead of a New York meeting on the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, argued that controls needed to be reinforced to prevent further damage to marine ecosystems and future food supplies. Illegal fishing "by highly mobile fleets under the control of multinational companies" was cited in the report as one of the top threats to the sustainability of marine life. Governments were also at fault for not respecting limits. See "Deep-sea fish stocks 'plundered'," BBC News, 5/19/06.

Aker Philadelphia Shipyard questioned on Jones Act: The AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department (MTD) has urged an investigation into the partnership between Aker Shipyard in Philadelphia and South Korea's Hyundai Mipo Dockyard. At issue is whether the series of ten Veteran Class MT-46 product tankers the yard is building will comply with the Jones Act, which requires that vessels moving cargo between US ports be built in the US, and owned and manned by US citizens. Aker is importing prefabricated steel bulbous bows and stern tubes directly from Hyundai. In addition, Aker is importing pre-assembled equipment modules and other components from HMD and other South Korean companies — all of which will be used in the construction of the tankers that Aker intends to be used in the Jones Act market. MTD President Ron Ault claims the current ship being built at Aker "is little more than a 'paint by numbers' prefabricated South Korean 'Kit' ship." The MTD has contacted the US Coast Guard and members of Congress to look into the matter. See "AFL-CIO Metal Trades Dept. Seeks a Coast Guard Ruling on Aker Shipyard's Failure to Comply with the Jones Act," PRNewswire at Yahoo! Finance, 5/18/06.

Dutch yachtsman dies in Volvo Ocean Race: Hans Horrevoets, a Dutch sailor in the Volvo Ocean Race, died on Thursday after being swept overboard from the yacht ABN Amro Two. The boat was sailing in five-meter seas some 1,300 miles off the British coast. The crew immediately turned the boat around, took the sails down and mounted a search-and-rescue effort. Horrevoets was located and lifted back on board. However, despite the efforts of crew members under the direction of medical advisors to resuscitate him, he failed to regain consciousness. Horrevoets is the fifth sailor to die since the event began in 1973-74 when it was known as the Whitbread race. Three sailors in the inaugural race were swept overboard, never to be seen again, while Briton Tony Phillips was buried at sea after falling overboard from Creighton's Naturally in 1989. The yachts in the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race are currently sailing on an Atlantic crossing from New York to Portsmouth. See "Volvo Ocean Race sailor dies after being swept overboard," Associated Press at USATODAY.com, 5/18/06.

Naval shipyard talks to resume: BAE Systems, VT Group and Babcock International will restart discussions in the next few weeks aimed at combining their naval shipyards, according to the chief executive of VT. The comments from Paul Lester, who was unveiling a 33% growth in annual profits at his company, come a week after BAE and VT decided against a joint bid for Babcock. Several organizational options are being considered. UK's Ministry of Defence is interested in combining shipbuilding interests, in hopes of cutting costs on upcoming major building projects. The MoD also seems interested in having VT run any unified naval company, since the Group has had success in overseas markets, and already has a prominent position on two shipbuilding projects. See "VT pledges to press ahead with BAE shipyard merger," Michael Harrison, The Independent Online, 5/17/06.

Korean military talks falter over maritime border: The disputed West Sea border remains a point of contention between North and South Korea. A meeting between defense ministers from the two countries was cut short, because the North insists on redrawing a boundary line right away. The North also declined to discuss establishing a joint fishing area in the West Sea and the safe passages of cars and trains across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), arguing that the maritime border issue should first be addressed. The fourth round of the talks is set to end on Thursday, so unless a last-minute compromise is found, there may be no definite results from the meeting. The last round of military talks in March also ended in stalemate over differences about the border. The resumption of train services between the two Koreas is also under discussion. See "Two Koreas Differ on Sea Border Line," Joint Press Corps & Park Song-wu, The Korea Times, 5/17/06.

Toxic Clemenceau is back in France: The French aircraft carrier Clemenceau was docked at the naval port of Brest on Wednesday under tight security, after a controversial journey to India and back. French President Jacques Chirac was forced to recall the decommissioned ship because Indian scrapyards refused to handle the asbestos, a carcinogenic substance, still on board. Officials have said there are about 45 tons on board, but environmentalists believe there are at least 500 tons. The vessel will be thoroughly examined over the next few months to determine exactly how much asbestos is on board. French authorities still have to decide what will happen next. The country has promised that the ship won't remain in Brest beyond 2008. See "French 'toxic' ship returns home," BBC News, 5/17/06.

Wildlife still feeling effects of Exxon Valdez oil spill: Oil from the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska 17 years ago could still be threatening wildlife, according to scientists who surveyed the shoreline. Researchers at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau, Alaska, found oil buried in the sand and silt that only dries during the lowest tides. The area is a prime feeding ground for sea otters, ducks and other wildlife. Scientists had thought that beaches were most contaminated by oil around their higher tide levels. However, now they've found buried oil that isn't exposed to weathering and other elements that might help it degrade. The study is to appear in the June 15 print edition of the American Chemical Society’s journal, Environmental Science & Technology. ExxonMobil disagrees with the conclusions, a spokesman said, noting the company's research suggests the area has recovered and is healthy. The spokesman also noted the research was being released about two weeks before a June 2 deadline for Alaska and the federal government to seek additional payments from ExxonMobil. See "Valdez oil spill still a threat: study," Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters, 5/16/06.

Bomb found in the River Mersey, detonated at sea: A penetration bomb dropped by a German plane during the Second World War was detected by a Royal Navy minesweeper in the River Mersey. It was spotted on the riverbed close to the city's Twelve Quays dock during a routine survey by the Royal Navy. An exclusion zone was set up as a precaution, stranding two passenger ferries and five merchant vessels, and shutting down road traffic on two tunnels. The bomb was towed out to sea, about eight miles west of Formby Point. It was then sunk and blown up using plastic explosives. Royal Navy spokesman Neil Smith said the device may have lain undetected for so long because penetration bombs are designed to embed into a target before exploding. See "Navy detonates 1,000lb wartime bomb," Ananova, 5/16/06.

Toxic ship's entry into India barred: The SS France was once the longest ocean liner in the world, and carried almost 2,000 passengers and more than 1,000 crew. Sold to Norwegian Caribbean Line in 1979 and renamed SS Norway, the ship sparked a trend for larger cruise ships. In 2003, while the Norway was docked in Miami, an explosion rocked the engine room, killing several crewmembers. In 2004, the cruise company decided to shut the ship down. It was sent to Malaysia and sold to an American dealer for scrap. She was renamed once again, the Blue Lady, and for months lay at anchor off the Malaysian coast. Fans still hope to keep the ship afloat, and the owners are still offering it for sale on the internet, but the ship is heading for the scrapyards. However, the ship was turned away from Bangladesh because of the asbestos threat, and now environmentalists are demanding the ship be turned away from India as well. Greenpeace says the ship contains even more asbestos than the Clemenceau, which was turned away from India earlier this year. The group insists the ship be decontaminated before it is sent for scrapping. Meanwhile, Indian scrapyards are afraid of losing work, and are calling for their yards to be modernized and fitted out safely. See "Last passage to India for boat that has become an 'ecological wreck'," Justin Huggler, The Independent, 5/15/06.

California's toxic 'ghost ships' keep getting older: The US Maritime Administration has been tasked with scrapping reserve fleets in California, Virginia and Texas. The Government Accountability Office has called the administration's scrapping decisions overly bureaucratic, and a government watchdog agency ripped the administration's inability to manage ship disposal. MarAd will miss by years a September 30 congressional deadline to scrap the vessels. The first priority has been to remove ships in Virginia's James River, as they are in the worst condition. This has left the fleet in California's Suisun Bay getting older and weaker. MarAd officials insisted the ships are safe, but for more than a year, they have stalled release of hull testing data that Knight Ridder requested under the Freedom of Information Act. The vessels have decayed so badly that it cost $4.97 million to make the last five scrapped seaworthy enough to tow to a Texas scrapyard. The administration budgeted only $1.2 million in fiscal 2006 to maintain the Suisun fleet. The former acting head of the Maritime Administration has said that Congress hasn't given the agency enough money to meet scrapping deadlines. See "'Ghost ship' fleet identified as toxic threat," Thomas Peele, Contra Costa Times at The State.com, 5/15/06.

Spain tries to keep African migrants away: Nearly 1,000 Africans were intercepted over the weekend trying to reach the Canary Islands by boat in attempts to enter Europe illegally. The archipelago has received more than 6,100 Africans so far this year. Deputy Prime Minister Fernandez de la Vega said Spain will reinforce its surveillance in the coming weeks with more sea patrol boats and reconnaissance planes in the area of Senegal, as well as two Orion planes equipped with radar and a satellite to detect the immigrant's boats at high seas. The government will send 10 diplomats to sub-Saharan African countries, which are departure points for many immigrants, and plans to open an embassy in Mali, where a large number of these immigrants come from. Spain is open to "legal, rigorous and orderly immigration," but is putting several plans in place to try to stem illegal immigration. The country also hopes to reduce the toll on human lives. Last year authorities caught 4,751 African migrants trying to reach the Canary Islands, the vast majority packed into narrow, open boats that sometimes take weeks to make the dangerous voyages. At least 1,000 more people are believed to have died in the choppy seas. See "Spain trying to stem flood of African migrants," Associated Press at CNN.com, 5/15/06.

Fight on luxury liner leaves Filipino dead: British police boarded the luxury cruise liner Queen Mary 2 to investigate the death of a crewmember following a fight below decks. The victim, a 40-year-old Filipino man, died on Friday as he was being airlifted to hospital in the Netherlands. A 49-year-old Filipino man was detained on the ship by the captain under section 105 of the Merchant Shipping Act. Four detectives boarded the ship at Bergen, and will question passengers and crew about the incident as it returns to Southampton. The vessel's owners, Cunard, are contacting the dead man's next of kin in the Philippines. Crimes aboard cruise liners have been thrown under the spotlight in recent months following a campaign by the International Cruise Victims Organisation, which has compiled a catalogue of horror stories on the high seas. See "Crewman dies after fight on luxury liner," Richard Gray, Scotsman.com, 5/14/06.

Canada's submarine Victoria needs a new electrical system: The Canadian navy caused "catastrophic damage" to electrical equipment on one of its used submarines when technicians tried plugging a modern power supply into a vessel designed to work with 1960s-era technology. The information comes from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, which cited recently released military documents. The technicians blew out the electrical system when they hooked up HMCS Victoria to a modern electrical generator, which uses a DC feed. The navy must now refit the boat with older electrical equipment, at a cost of about $200,000. Victoria is slated to come out of dry dock next spring, about one year behind schedule. It should be operational in early 2009. See "Navy technicians blew submarine's electrical system: report," CBC News, 5/14/06.

40 killed, 17 missing after battle at sea: About 40 rebels were killed and 17 Sri Lankan sailors missing after a sea battle Thursday instigated by the Tamil Tigers left the country on the brink of civil war. The Tigers say they were defending their waters. But they have been widely criticized after Thursday's incident, as most believe the rebels have no maritime territorial rights. The EU warned that it might impose restrictions on senior Tamil Tiger members in reaction to the sea battle, and the international community has expressed concern. The escalation in violence could mark a return to civil war, as a 2002 cease-fire that stopped almost two decades of fighting appears increasingly unlikely to last. See "EU slams Tigers over sea attacks," BBC News, 5/13/06.

Penguins wash up dead in Argentina: More than 100 Magellanic penguins washed up dead along the Argentine coast covered in oil, but officials are uncertain where the spill occurred. Another 200 or so birds washed up alive along the country's southern coast Friday. Rescuers worked to clean up the oil-coated penguins and plan to release them into the wild. The cleaning process can take as long as 40 days. In the meantime, an investigation has been launched to determine the source of the alleged spill that killed or injured the birds. Penguins regularly migrate from Antarctica to the southern shores of Argentina and southern Brazil. See "Oil-Soaked Penguins Wash Ashore in Southern Argentina," VOA News, 5/12/06.

IMO discusses tracking ships by satellite: The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) will discuss new proposals to deter terrorism at a meeting that began this week in London. At issue is a proposal to track suspect ships by satellite, and prevent the movement by sea of illicit material such as weapons of mass destruction. Long-Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) of ships could be used to track vessels whatever they were carrying: whether it is cargo that could be dangerous if it fell into the hands of terrorists, or cargo suspected of being dangerous itself. Under the new proposals, merchant ships would be required to transmit through satellite-based technology their identity, location and date and time of the position. The new ship tracking regulations, which would be mandatory once adopted, would be included in the existing Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention. See "Satellites may track ships to fight terrorism -IMO," Stefano Ambrogi, Reuters.com, 5/11/06.

Clean up needed for shipwreck filled with oil and bombs: The American army transport vessel Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski, a ship used in both the first and second world wars, ran aground and sank in a storm in 1946 in the Grenville Channel, north of Hartley Bay. Canadian officials were alerted to the wreck's dangers in 2003, when oil was discovered on the surface near the site. But leaking oil is the least of the concerns: the ship was carrying bombs. The area has been off limits since 2004, when a warning was issued to keep ships at least 200 meters away from the wreck site. Five departments in the Canadian government are developing a response plan. The US government has been contacted, to try to acquire a cargo manifest, and help in assessing the risk posed by the munitions. The Royal Navy has also been contacted, due to its expertise in dealing with unexploded bombs and shells at the Scapa Flow site off the Scottish Coast. See "Canada solicits help to raise bomb-laden ship off West Coast," Peter O'Neil, CanWest News Service at the Vancouver Sun, Canada.com, 5/11/06.

US House cuts DD(X) program in defense bill: The US House authorized $512.9 billion for defense in fiscal year 2007. The Senate may vote on its version of the defense authorization bill as early as next week. The bill cut another destroyer from the Northrop Grumman Corp.-General Dynamics Corp. DD(X) destroyer program, saying the program still is not "affordable." The Navy has reduced the program over the last several years to seven vessels from 32. But the measure adds $400 million to accelerate production of the new Northrop-General Dynamics Virginia-class submarine. The Navy plans to buy only one a year until 2012, when it will build two a year if costs can be reduced to $2 billion a sub, down from about $2.4 billion today. The House "is deeply concerned about the process used for establishing the Navy's ship cost estimates," the report said. See "House Approves $512 Bln for Defense; Restores GE Engine Funding," Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg.com, 5/11/06.

Oil tanker explodes off the Philippine coast: An explosion Thursday rocked a small oil tanker docked at the Lamao wharf in Limay, critically injuring two workers. The Philippine Coast Guard detachment reported hearing the explosion at the MT Daniella Natividad at about 9 a.m. The ship wasn't carrying a cargo of fuel, and the fire was put out quickly. After an initial investigation, the Coast Guard ruled out a terrorist attack, and believes the explosion was an accident. See "Oil tanker explodes off Philippines, 2 injured," Wendy Ferrer, Reuters.com, 5/11/06.

BAE and VT won't buy Babcock International: Since news of BAE Systems' and VT Group's interest in a joint bid for Babcock International came out six weeks ago, Babcock's market value has surged. As a result, the two have abandoned their plans. Had the deal gone through, BAE would have acquired Babcock's naval interests, and VT its support services business. VT would then have sold its Portsmouth shipyard, leaving BAE in control of building Britain's warships, and VT as a support services company. Britain's Ministry of Defence is eager to consolidate naval shipyards as a way to drive down costs. People close to the abandoned talks said a stumbling block was the difficulty in valuing the shipyards. The three companies are expected to explore other possibilities for combining shipyards, and it is possible that BAE and VT will explore another bid for Babcock later in the year. See "BAE and VT scrap move Babcock," James Boxell, Financial Times, 5/10/06 (subscription may be required).

House panel votes to lift restrictions on natural gas drilling: The US Congress has repeatedly included in its Interior appropriations bills language putting most US coastal waters off limits to oil and gas companies. President George H.W. Bush, President Clinton and the current President Bush have reinforced the bans. Many coastal states have supported the moratoria, arguing that oil and gas development could threaten their recreational and tourist industries. But on Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee voted to remove the moratorium for developing natural gas on most of the country's Outer Continental Shelf. The action doesn't affect the presidential moratorium that bars offshore oil and gas drilling until 2012 — although opponents fear that allowing drilling for offshore gas would encourage industry to try to go after oil. Representative John Peterson (R-PA.) expects a fight when the bill gets to the floor, but he contends that the country needs the offshore gas reserves to east tight fuel supplies and keep major industries from leaving the country. See "House Panel Signals Gas Drill Ban Backing," H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press at Newsday.com, 5/10/06.

South Korean fishing vessel still held by Somali pirates: The South Korean-flagged fishing vessel 628 Dongwon was captured earlier this month off the coast of Somalia. Negotiations to set the vessel and its 25 crewmembers free are at a standstill, as conflict within the group of Somali kidnappers is apparently preventing a breakthrough in negotiations. KBS, a South Korean broadcaster, recently conducted a telephone interview with the ship's captain, who suggested he and his crew are experiencing ill treatment, but a Korean ministry official said that the government has not received any indications of this. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official did not elaborate on the terms of release, and declined to answer whether the amount of ransom is the stumbling block. The kidnappers have argued they are not pirates and what they want from Dongwon Fisheries is not ransom but a "fine" for the vessel's illegal fishing in its territory. See "Detained Fishermen in Somalia Safe But Exhausted," The Korea Times, 5/9/06.

The dangers of whale watching: Despite the best intentions of whale watchers, accidents happen, and the numbers are growing. Between 1975 and 2005, there were 33 reported strikes involving whales and boats among the Hawaiian Islands, with no more than three in one single season. But the current season has already set a record, with seven confirmed encounters before the season has ended. Environmental groups call the trend alarming, and it is easy to assume that there are too many boats in the water. But researchers hope it has more to do with a rebound in the endangered humpback's population than with negligent boaters. The humpback population roaming the North Pacific is believed to have been growing at an annual rate of about 7 percent since the mid-1990s. See "Hawaiian waters dangerous if you're a whale," Associated Press at CNN.com, 5/8/06.

Orcas living around Washington state's San Juan Islands are also being affected by more traffic. University of Washington researcher David Bain recently reported declines in foraging of more than 30 percent when boats were present. The closer the boats came to whales, the steeper the decline. Federal law states that whale watching boats must travel below 13 knots, never leave the helm unattended, post a lookout, cut their engines at 400 feet and stay 100 yards away from the whales. But Canada has prosecuted just two whale-watch boat operators in the Washington and British Columbia area, and the US has yet to penalize anyone. See "Visitors to Northwest Pay to See Orcas," Peggy Andersen, Associated Press at Las Vegas Sun, 5/9/06.

Bigger cruise ships make emergency evacuations harder: Beginning in July, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) will drop the rule requiring crew members on cruise ships to board life rafts during drills, because too many seamen have been killed or injured in accidents. The new rule could leave sailors even less prepared for emergencies, such as the fire on a Princess Cruises ship in March that killed one passenger and injured 13. Many are starting to question whether cruise lines could successfully evacuate large vessels in emergencies, such as the Freedom of the Seas, which will carry more than 5,000 people. Cruise lines do simulate emergencies for internal readiness, and shipyards are starting to use computer generations of emergencies to design ships. But as ships grow, so does the potential for catastrophe. The IMO Maritime Safety Committee has been addressing the growing size of cruise ships, and is expected to approve new rules to increase ship safety. Proposed changes focus on making ships safer with things like redundant power systems, since keeping the ship safer for longer is more viable than trying to pluck dozens of small lifeboats out of the ocean. See "As cruise ships get bigger, evacuation becomes tougher," Tom Stieghorst, South Florida Sun-Sentinel at The State.com, 5/8/06.

Pirates off Somali coast release ship: Somali pirates have released a cargo vessel they seized off the coast of their country after a businessman paid a ransom, a maritime official said yesterday. The United Arab Emirates-flagged ship was seized on April 27 by Somali gunmen and commandeered to a coastal town near Harardheere. One crewmember was killed and two others seriously injured during the hijacking. The pirates freed the MV Al Taj, its Libyan captain and nine Indian crew on Saturday. Somalia's waters have become among the most dangerous in the world. See "Pirates off Somali coast hijack cargo ship," Associated Press at USA TODAY, 5/7/06.

Port security bill passes in the US House: The House overwhelmingly approved legislation Thursday to provide $7.4 billion in spending on new port security inspectors, nuclear weapons screening and the development of an automated system to pinpoint high-risk cargo. The 421-2 vote came just hours after the White House expressed misgivings over the cost and feasibility of the bill. But the vote underscored how politically sensitive the issue of port security has become since the state-owned Dubai Ports World moved to purchase major terminal operations at six major US seaports in February. Republicans had voted several times during the past two years against Democratic proposals to increase funding for port security, saying that enough already was being spent. White House officials repeated that assertion Thursday in a statement that depicted the House bill as overly generous and technologically unrealistic. But the furor over the Dubai deal brought House Republicans and Democrats together on the legislation. See "House OKs $5.5 billion for port security, screening," Amy Fagan, The Washington Times, 5/5/06.

India's ship scrapping industry is contracting: Alang is a prime example of a dying industry. In the fiscal year ending June 1999 — the height of the ship-breaking business — 361 vessels came to Alang to be dismantled by 40,000 workers. In the year ending June 2005, 196 ships arrived. And in the past four months, since the Clemenceau controversy heated up, only 33 ships have docked in Alang. About 3,500 people now work at the yard. Officials worry about the drop in business, blamed mainly on environmental concerns, higher taxes and competition from countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan. According to a December report by Greenpeace and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, several thousand workers die in the ship breaking industry every year — not counting those who suffer from long-term contamination. The fate of the one-time boom town of Alang highlights what will happen increasingly in India as it moves from being a Third World country to being a player in the international marketplace: dangerous jobs from the old economy will start to disappear. See "India ship scrap yard has that sinking feeling," Kim Barker, Chicago Tribune at TheState.com, 5/4/06.

South Korea tightens its grip on disputed islands: South Korea on Thursday announced a five-year plan to explore and develop resources in waters surrounding a string of disputed islets in a move to bolster its control over territory also claimed by Japan. South Korea said it will spend about 34 billion won (US$36.6 million) until 2010 to explore and manage fisheries and mineral resources in waters around the islets. Called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, the islets are at the center of a long-running dispute between South Korea and Japan, which flared anew last month when Japan said it would conduct a maritime survey in nearby waters. The area is a rich fishing ground believed to also have deposits of methane hydrate, a potential natural gas source. South Korea will also bolster monitoring of the ecosystem on and around the islets and upgrade facilities there, where a small police detachment is stationed. See "S Korea plan for disputed islands," BBC News, 5/4/06.

Asbestos victims hit by UK ruling: The House of Lords has upheld three test appeals in which it was argued that damages should be limited in cases involving several former employers, none of whom could be specifically blamed for the onset of the fatal asbestos-related lung disease mesothelioma. Each company will now have to pay a proportion of the damages based on time of service and other factors. The decision will affect UK compensation claims running into millions of pounds. About 1,900 people die in the UK each year from the disease. Damages for the test cases will now be reassessed by the High Court to reflect the proportion of blame attributable to the claimant's time with a company, rather than 100% liability for illness and death. In the light of today's ruling, new asbestos cases will become much more complicated as the courts have to quantify the extent to which an employer was responsible for asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is an uncommon form of cancer usually associated with previous exposure to asbestos. Shipyard workers were often exposed before the risks associated with the substance were well known. See "Asbestos victims lose out after Lords ruling," Michael Herman and PA, Times Online, 5/3/06.

Ship piracy up: Piracy attacks worldwide rose slightly in the first three months of 2006, with the waters around Somalia, Nigeria and Indonesia especially vulnerable, an ocean crime watchdog said on Wednesday. But there were no cases of piracy reported from the Malacca Strait, a known hotspot, the International Maritime Bureau said. It said acts of piracy had risen to 61 between January and March this year, compared with 56 during the same period last year. Pirates boarded 40 merchant ships, hijacked four vessels and shot at three others. They took 63 mariners hostage and kidnapped 13 people. The agency said pirate activity continued in the waters off Somalia and Nigeria, and called on regional enforcement bodies to step up patrols. It praised Malaysian and Indonesian authorities for strict patrolling of the Malacca Strait. The narrow waterway links Asia with the Middle East and Europe and carries some 40 percent of the world's trade, including 80 percent of the energy supplies of Japan, China and South Korea. See "Pirate attacks, hostage-taking on the rise in 2006," Elisia Yeo, AFP at Mail & Guardian Online, 5/3/06.

Northop Grumman's hurricane losses in controversial funding bill: A US bill to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and hurricane relief on the Gulf Coast continues to grow despite a veto threat from President Bush. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) pressed to strip a plan to give Northrop Grumman, which owns the Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, up to $500 million for hurricane-related losses that its insurers are unwilling to pay. Coburn says it's wrong for taxpayers to pay for losses that should be borne by insurers, and that Congress should stay out of the battle between the giant defense contractor and its insurers. But by a 52-47 vote, the Senate supported the plan, after it was defended by GOP Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran. Cochran said the shipyard had huge costs not covered by insurance, especially costs associated with its inability to fulfill contracts after Hurricane Katrina devastated the shipyard. Delays in getting the shipyard back in business would make ships more expensive in the long run, he said. However, the Navy fears that the measure could further raise the cost baseline for already expensive shipbuilding programs. See "US Senate backs funds for Northrop hurricane losses," Andrea Shalal-Esa, Reuters, 5/2/06.

US Navy investigates suicides among submarine crews: Last year, seven American submariners took their own lives, up from three in 2004. There have apparently been two more this year. The losses are especially acute in the tight-knit submarine community, and Navy officials are looking at what more they can do to prevent tragedies. Commander Anthony Doran, a psychologist who works at the Naval Personnel Command in Millington, Tennessee, cautions against reading too much into the increase. The rise from three to seven suicides might look dramatic, but it could be an anomaly. Regardless, prevention efforts are increasing. While the military has gotten better about reducing the stigma of mental illness, there's still a long way to go. And unfortunately, while the military encourages members to seek treatment if they're depressed, medications pose problems. A submariner on anti-depressants, Doran said, "would be unfit for sub duty." See "Navy takes action to curb suicides among sub crews," Kate Wiltrout, The Virginian-Pilot at HamptonRoads.com, 5/2/06.

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