News Archive - August 2006

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Ship finds tanker responsible for Philippines oil spill: A Japanese survey ship has found a sunken tanker three weeks after it went down in rough seas, causing the Philippines' worst oil spill. The Japanese vessel Shinsei Maru found the wreck in deep water off Guimaras island after carrying out a sonar sweep of the area. A remote-controlled submersible will also be deployed to check on the condition of the tanker Solar 1, and to determine how it can be raised or if its cargo of nearly half a million gallons of oil can be siphoned off. Marine experts and biologists from Australia, the United States and France are in the area, alongside environmental groups. The coastguard said it expected the clean-up to take more than six months. See "Japanese ship locates stricken Philippine tanker," AFP at Yahoo! News, 8/31/06.

Canada's Davie shipyard to be auctioned off after all: After 90 days of negotiation and delays, most of which were blamed on the demands of the yard workers' unions, Teco Management AS has failed to close a deal to buy Canada's historic Davie shipyard. Teco's Canadian representatives still hope that they can work out a deal. However, Patrice Van Houtte, trustee of the bankrupt yard, said he has asked the company that set up the cancelled June auction to reschedule the event as quickly as possible. Van Houtte said the earliest date for an auction would be mid-October. It's expected to attract about 2,000 buyers to bid on 10 lots with more than 10,000 items, including complete assembly lines, machinery and marine memorabilia accumulated over the yard's 181-year history. See "Plan to save historic shipyard scuttled," CanWest News Service, Montreal Gazette at Canada.com, 8/30/06.

Russia returns fishermen to Japan: A Japanese patrol boat was sent Wednesday to retrieve two fisherman Russia has held since their boat was seized for alleged illegal fishing — an incident in which one crewman was killed. The two fishermen, Akiyoshi Kawamura and Haruki Kamiya, were handed over to Japanese authorities on a fisheries patrol boat later that day. The captain, Noboru Sakashita, 59, has reportedly assumed all blame for the boat's alleged violation of the Russian border. Sakashita will remain in Russian custody for now. The incident took place near the southernmost of the four disputed islands that are claimed by both Japan and Russia, called the southern Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan. Each country claims the fishing boat was in its own territorial waters at the time of the shooting. See "Russia Releases 2 Japanese Fishermen," Carl Freire, Associated Press at Guardian Unlimited, 8/30/06.

Solar 1 tanker captain questioned: A Coast Guard report has pointed to human error as the cause of the sinking of the Solar 1 on August 11. Rear Admiral Danio Abenoja, chairman of the Board of Marine Inquiry, said the captain should have known that the tanker would encounter strong winds and rough seas on its way to Guimaras. Human error is backed up by the admission of the tanker's captain, Norberto Aguro, who said he had no experience handling this sort of vessel. In addition, his license expired in 2002. Around 50,000 gallons of oil has spilled into the waters around Guimaras, and another 450,000 gallons is still in the sunken ship. See "Captain of tanker was inexperienced," The Manila Times, 8/30/06.

In response to the spill, President Gloria Arroyo said on Tuesday she will ban ships carrying hazardous materials from passing by "ecologically sensitive" areas. See "Hazardous vessels to be banned from sensitive areas," Gilbert Felongco, Gulfnews.com, 8/30/06.

Seychelles to require ballast exchange offshore: The problem of invasive alien organisms is particularly acute in the Indian Ocean, where 98% of corals have died because of rising sea temperatures that leave an ecological vacuum for invading species. In response, Seychelles is setting up an area within its territorial waters where visiting ships will have to exchange their ballast water before docking. The measure is designed to protect the archipelago's ecology. Captain Wilton Ernesta, head of the Seychelles Maritime Safety Administration, said they will be able to check incoming ships to verify whether the ballast water pumps on board have been used as required. Penalties for non-compliance are still being drafted. Seychelles is conducting a study to investigate the presence of invasive species in its waters with the technical support of the World Conservation Union. They have already discovered three so-called bryozoan species that should not be in its waters. See "Seychelles targets ballast water in ecology drive," George Thande, Reuters at ABC News, 8/29/06.

Three Polish shipyards under investigation over subsidies: European Union regulators have warned that three Polish shipyards may be receiving illegal subsidies. Polish authorities have until the end of August to provide data for the Gdynia, Gdansk and Szczecin shipyards. EU rules prohibit governments from granting money to companies that would give them an unfair advantage over rivals. A one-time fund to turn around a troubled company is allowed, but the rules do not allow governments to pay a firm's running costs. The rules usually require that businesses pay back illegal aid already granted. Money given before Poland joined the EU in May 2004 is exempted. A total of 12,000 people currently work in the three yards. See "EU Warns Poland on Shipyard Subsidies," Associated Press at Chron.com, 8/28/06.

Demand grows for experienced ships' crew: Rising global consumption of everything from oil to iron ore and televisions means operators are scrambling to hire crews for thousands of bulk carriers and container ships due to enter service in the next few years. Some 4,700 oil tankers, bulk carriers and container ships are on shipyard order books worldwide, according to estimates by Omar Nokta, a maritime analyst at Dahlman Rose in New York. About half of these will replace existing ships, but the rest will be new, and require crews. More than 10,000 qualified officers, and up to 60,000 regular crew members could be needed over the next three years to man the vessels. Some shipping companies have teamed up with maritime academies, but others poach crews and especially officers from rival companies. Crews from developing countries like China and the Philippines are willing to work long hours for less money than European or American crews. See "Maritime shippers scramble to man growing fleets," Nick Carey, Reuters, 8/28/06.

TWIC program won't require ID card readers — yet: The US Department of Homeland Security has announced that facility and vessel owners and operators won't be required to purchase or install card readers during the first phase of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) implementation. The notice in the Federal Register states that the requirement won't be implemented "until the public is afforded further opportunity to comment on that aspect of the ... program." Critics complain that the Department has effectively gutted the TWIC program, since there will be no way to automatically authenticate holders of the new biometric ID cards. A senior congressional staffer familiar with the program predicted a delay of six months or a year before a mandate for card readers could be imposed. At issue is how the card readers will work in a marine environment, where the machines will be exposed to saltwater and sea air. See "ID program trips over hardware," Shaun Waterman, United Press International at The Washington Times, 8/28/06.

Iran tests submarine-to-surface missile: Iran tested a new anti-ship missile fired by a submarine during war games Sunday. The "Sagheb" is Iran's first missile that is fired from underwater and flies above the surface to hit its target, distinguishing it from a torpedo. While the missile showed some technological advances by Iran, its main importance seemed to be that it gives the country another means for targeting ships — analysts suggest the country could disrupt oil tanker shipments in the Gulf, through which about two-fifths of the world's oil supplies pass. The test took place during large-scale military exercises that Iran has been holding since August 19. It was the latest in a series of new naval weapons Iran has unveiled this year to tout what it calls its new technological prowess in arms production. See "Iran test fires long-range missile," Reuters at CNN.com, 8/27/06.

India to buy the USS Trenton: The Indian government has approved the purchase of the transport warship USS Trenton (LPD-14) from the United States. The Navy also wants to procure six SH-3 Sea King helicopters for use on the vessel. The Trenton will be the second largest warship in the Navy's fleet. Commissioned in 1971, the Navy estimates the ship still has 15 years of service left. Apart from a crew of 410, the ship has the capacity to transport around 900 soldiers over long distances. While a relatively small purchase, it does help establish the US as a reliable long-term defense supplier. Russia and Israel are currently India's largest defense suppliers. See "Govt nod to Trenton warship deal with US, The Times of India, 8/25/06.

Panama Canal task force begins: Eighteen countries met Thursday for a maritime exercise in Panama centered on the defense of the Panama Canal. The week-long exercise, called Panamax '06, is being conducted by a multi-national force task force commanded by a US Navy admiral. The participating countries will work as an international force to counter simulated threats to the approaches to the canal. Venezuela, which has strained relations with Washington, was not among the 15 Latin American countries taking part. Forces from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay are represented in the exercise. The US, France and Britain also are participating. See "Global forces train to prevent Panama Canal attack," Reuters, 8/24/06.

Concern over the North European Gas Pipeline: Although many worry about environmental issues, a project to build a 750-mile long gas pipeline beneath the Baltic Sea appears to be going ahead. Onshore construction of the North European Gas Pipeline (NEPG) has already begun in Russia, and the first gas is due to be transported in 2010. Sweden's Prime Minister Goran Persson has warned the construction would stir up a deadly cocktail of chemicals and spread them over a much larger area. Ivan Blokov of Greenpeace Russia said that the Soviet Union dumped tens of thousands of tons of German chemical weapons and ammunition in the area in the late 1940s, left over from World War II. Some of the material was dumped in the hulls of sunken ships — and could conceivably be retrieved. But some was dumped indiscriminately. Persson has suggested building most of the pipeline over water, instead. However, a spokeswoman for the pipeline consortium suggests that the environment would actually benefit, since the seabed would be cleaned before construction began. See "Baltic pipeline will lead to disaster, Sweden warns," Andrew Osborn, The Independent, 8/24/06.

Northwest Passage won't be open for regular traffic for awhile: As climate change reduces the amount of ice in northern waters around the globe, many have suggested the Northwest Passage could finally open to commercial shipping between North American and Asian ports. But Ross MacDonald, a scientist at Transport Canada, says that ice in the Canadian Arctic is as unpredictable and dangerous as it ever was, and is likely to remain so for at least a few more decades. Others agree. Some areas of the Arctic, such as the sea off Russia's northern coast, are seeing less ice. But Canadian waters have the highest proportion of hard, dangerous, multi-year ice in the Arctic. While the passage is likely to see increased shipping from tourism and vessels serving resource development, regular shipping routes won't be feasible in the near term. See "Northwest Passage an unlikely Panama Canal, but some shipping to increase," Canadian Press at myTELUS, 8/23/06.

Israel signs contract for nuclear capable submarines: Israeli newspaper reports say Israel has signed a contract with Germany for two new U-boats capable of launching nuclear weapons. The U-212 submarines will be built by Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft (HDW). The Jerusalem Post newspaper says Israel wants the new submarines to counter the growing threat from Iran. Israel's Defence Ministry has refused to confirm or deny the report of the deal, said to be worth US $1.27 billion. A third of the costs will be financed by the German government. The vessels are powered by hydrogen fuels cells, and are capable of remaining submerged for much longer than the three German U-boats already in the Israeli fleet. It is unclear when the submarines will be delivered. See "Israel buys nuclear-capable subs," Reuters and Aljazeera at Aljazeera.Net, 8/23/06.

Somalia's ICU determined to stop pirates: Last week, Somalia's Islamic Courts Union (ICU) took control of a town widely considered to be a base for piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. The Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia ranks as one of the world's regions most prone to attacks by pirates; twenty crewmen from a high-jacked Arabian tanker remain in captivity. Warlords have been using proceeds from piracy activities to fund their militias. The pirates belong to at least four different groups, and are based largely out of the town of Haradere. The move to reign in piracy along Somalia's coast has been welcomed by the UN World Food Program, as their aid shipments have been disrupted by pirates on more than one occasion. The ICU is determined to put an end to the seaborne threat, and is also moving to ban the export of charcoal, wild animals and scrap metal across those parts of the country under their control. See "Pirates Sunk by Somali Islamists," Spiegel, 8/23/06.

Lebanon oil slick has sunk: An oil slick caused by Israeli bombing has begun sinking to the floor of the Mediterranean, blanketing marine life with sludge. A Greenpeace video, released Tuesday, shows some of the environmental destruction a month after the oil spill began sinking, creating what has been called Lebanon's worst-ever environmental disaster. The U.N. has said the spill could take as long as a year to clean up and cost $64 million. At first, the oil slathered 85 miles of Lebanon's coastline — reaching into Syria — and blocked sunlight from penetrating the water's surface, killing small plants on which many fish feed. Now that it is sinking, the oil threatens plants and fish that live on the sea floor; the film showed oil spread four inches thick over a 100-yard-wide area of the sea bed near Beirut. "It's like a big thick blanket that smothers living organisms," said Rick Steiner, a professor at the University of Alaska and oil spill expert who worked on the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. See "Lebanon's month-old oil slick sinks down to blanket Mediterranean marine life," Canadian Press at myTELUS, 8/22/06.

China's ship exports and imports: China exported 357,964 ships valued at a total US$3.4 billion during the first half of 2006. This represents a jump of almost 67% since last year. More than half of the exported vessels were one of three types: power container vessels with a capacity of less than 6,000 twenty-foot equivalent units, power bulk-good vessels with a capacity of less than 150,000 tons, and oil products tankers with a capacity of less than 100,000 tons. The ships were exported to 112 countries and regions; the biggest customers were Germany and Singapore. The biggest single exporter was the Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding Co Ltd. During the same period, the country imported 2,393 ships valued at $250 million, an increase of 36%. Officials believe an important target for China is to expand its supertanker fleet to safeguard its oil supplies. China is currently the world's second-largest importer of crude oil, but more than 90% of its oils imports are transported by foreign oil tankers. See "China's ship exports steam ahead," Asia Pulse/XIC at Asia Times Online, 8/22/06. Editor's note: While this is a legitimate online news source, these numbers seem surprisingly high.

Investigation planned in oil spill in the Philippines: Petron Corp. said on Friday it will take responsibility for the oil spill off Guimaras, leaked from a tanker it had chartered. The company has sent equipment to clean up affected areas, and is sending relief assistance to the affected villagers. The company did not say how much it would spend. Petron now faces a congressional investigation over the oil spill, from the joint House Committees on Natural Resources and on Ecology, as well as the Committee on Oversight. If found liable, the company could be charged in court. There is some concern that the government might be conspiring to absolve Petron and the tanker owner Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. 2005 was a good year for Petron, the biggest oil refiner in the Philippines, and most believe the company can pay for cleanup. See "Petron Corp. faces probe into oil spill," Niel V. Mugas and Mark Ivan Roblas, AFP at The Manila Times, 8/19/06.

Russia hands over fisherman's body: Russia has handed over the body of Mitsuhiro Morita to Japan's vice foreign minister Akiko Yamanaka. Yamanaka also met with Russian officials and the three crewmembers of the fishing boat, involved in a dispute on Wednesday. Morita was killed when a Russian patrol boat seized his crabbing boat in contested waters. The captain of the Japanese boat is expected to be charged and fined for illegal fishing and entering Russian waters, and the crew members may also face fines and jail sentences for poaching, smuggling and making an illegal border crossing. This is the first time since 1956 that Russian maritime authorities have killed a Japanese fishermen around the disputed islands. Russia has expressed regret over the killing, but said the men were poaching despite previous warnings. See "Japan collects body of fisherman killed by Russian fire," AFP at TurkishPress.com, 8/19/06.

Marine mining for metals is starting to grow: Record high metals prices are making ocean mining more appealing, but costs and environmental challenges have kept progress going slowly. Sea mining is still in its infancy. A big draw is the high metal grades that are being found. Additionally, mobile, ship-based equipment makes it possible to mine smaller deposits. A conventional mine must be larger to be viable. Still, while it may be possible to go down to about a mile, no one has the practical technology. So far, if there are ore deposits that are cheaper to mine, dredgers and miners don't go that deep. A remotely-operated vehicle, used in the offshore industry, could be deployed to the seabed to scoop and recover raw material to the surface; these can go to almost two miles. But they will disturb the sediments, which would destroy the flow and potentially harm nearby organisms. See "Is marine mining the wave of the future?," Anna Stablum, Reuters, 8/18/06.

UN bodies call for Lebanon oil spill cleanup funds: UN agencies have called for 50 million euros ($64 million) to mop up an oil spill from an air strike during Israel's offensive in Lebanon, before the slick spreads further along the eastern Mediterranean coastline. Their plan calls for immediate aerial surveys to assess the extent of the damage, and a workforce of 300 people to tackle the worst-affected sites. The measures were agreed at a meeting in Greece attended by Lebanon, Syria, Greece, Turkey and the EU. Between 10,000-15,000 tons of oil spilled into the Mediterranean Sea when Israeli jets hit storage tanks at the Jiyyeh power plant south of Beirut on July 13 and 15. UN agencies such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the Environment Programme (UNEP) warned the spill, which has been left largely unchecked for about a month, was a threat to the wider region and the cost of recovery was rising. Officials said no timetable had been agreed for the action plan because it hinged on securing funding from governments, companies and organizations. See "UN agrees Med oil spill plan," BBC News, 8/17/06.

Philippines appeals for help with oil spill: An oil slick in the central Philippines is likely to spread much further unless international help is deployed quickly to salvage the ship that caused the disaster. The oil tanker sank last Friday, with some 2 million liters of thick bunker fuel on board. The tanker was chartered by Petron Corp., the largest oil refiner in the Philippines. Two of the 20 crew are still missing. Only one of the 10 fuel containers is thought to have ruptured so far; each tank contains 200,000 liters. Some 120 miles of coastline have already been enveloped by a thick sludge, and over 9 square miles of coral reef have been destroyed. An estimated 15,000 people in the area are thought to have been directly affected and more than 150,000 people who make their livelihoods from the sea are indirectly affected. Many are worried about the growing impact on fish, plants, people and tourism in the area. Officials have warned that the pollution could take three years to clean up. See "Stench of Fuel Hangs over Phillippine Marine Park," Dolly Aglay, Reuters at Environmental News Network, 8/17/06.

Japan protests Russian attack on boat, one dead: A Russian patrol boat opened fire on a Japanese vessel in disputed waters Wednesday, killing a fisherman and triggering a harsh protest from Tokyo. The incident occurred near four disputed islands — called the Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan — which were seized by the Soviet army near the end of World War II. Tokyo has demanded their return. Each country claims the fishing boat was in its own territorial waters at the time of the shooting. Russian officials also said the boat was carrying illegal crabs, ignored orders to stop, was maneuvering dangerously and tried to ram a Russian dinghy. They claimed the fisherman was mistakenly killed by a warning shot as he rushed to recover fishing equipment aboard the fishing boat. A group of Japanese diplomats was dispatched Thursday to Hokkaido to seek the release of the three other detained crew members and their seized boat, and to receive the dead fisherman's body. Tokyo said the incident could affect ties with Moscow. See "Japan, Russia negotiate over fishermen," Hans Greimel, Associated Press at TheState.com, 8/17/06.

Suspicious containers prompt evacuation of the Port of Seattle: Bomb-sniffing dogs indicated that two shipping containers at the Port of Seattle could contain explosives. The incident prompted the evacuation of the Port. But the containers didn't contain explosives or radioactive materials. US Customs and Border Protection agents used a "gamma-ray" device to peer through the containers' walls to determine what they contained. The containers were supposed to contain oily rags. It still isn't clear exactly what's inside, and it also isn't clear why the dogs were mistaken. The ship had originated in Hong Kong and made stops in China and Pakistan before arriving in Seattle on Monday. See "No explosives found at Seattle port," Associated Press at CNN.com, 8/16/06.

Philippines struggles to contain oil spill: Philippine authorities are scrambling to contain the country's worst oil spill, which has polluted protected marine areas in the central Philippines, and ruined the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen. The Philippines is appealing for international help to contain the spreading oil spill. The oil slick is now 19.5 nautical miles (over 22 miles) long. Lieutenant Commander Joseph Coyme, spokesman for the Philippine Coast Guard, says unless the sunken tanker Solar 1 is removed from the sea it will continue to damage marine life. But the Philippines, he says, does not have the capability to recover a vessel from some 900 meters (about half a mile) underwater. Local efforts have so far been limited to deploying oil spill containment booms, but strong currents in the area are making containment harder. See "Philippines seeks urgent help to battle oil spill," AFP at TurkishPress.com, 8/16/06.

Two oil tankers cause spills: A tanker carrying crude oil from the Middle East to Japan has spilled about 1.4 million gallons of crude oil in the eastern Indian Ocean, resulting in the biggest spill involving a Japanese ship owner. About 4,500 tons of crude leaked from the tanker Bright Artemis on Monday afternoon about 300 miles west of India's Great Nicobar Island. The tanker was damaged when its crew went to the aid of the cargo vessel Amar, which had reported a fire on board. There were no reports of injuries on board the tanker, or on the Amar. The Amar's crew was rescued by the Bright Artemis and other nearby ships. The tanker's owner Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd said the spill had been contained and there was no risk of further leaks. They hope the impact to the environment will be limited because the spill occurred far from land. See "Japanese tanker spills 1.4 million gallons of crude oil in Indian Ocean," Chisaki Watanabe, Associated Press at Chron.com, 8/15/06.

In a separate oil spill, the Philippines said that the tanker Solar 1 had sunk in rough seas Friday off the coast of Guimaras Island, about 312 miles southeast of Manila. The ship was carrying 2 million liters (about 528,000 gallons) of bunker oil, although it is not known yet how much fuel has spilled. Faced with a potential environmental catastrophe, the Philippine coast guard called for a national mobilization of resources to mitigate the impact of the large amount of leaking fuel, which is now considered to be the biggest major oil spill to hit the country. See "Philippines rushes to contain oil spill," Reuters, 8/14/06.

Toll may be charged for the Malacca Straits: Over the past year, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have increased joint air and sea patrols of the Malacca Straits in response to the increase of piracy incidents, and probably in response to Lloyds' Joint War Committee listing the waterway as a war zone. The 'war zone' listing has recently been removed. Syed Hamid Albar, Malaysian Foreign Minister, is now asking for other nations to contribute to the cost of keeping the strait safe. While there was strong opposition within the industry for such a toll when it was previously suggested in the 1990s, it appears to be less contentious today. It is generally accepted that such a charge to defray the costs of security is reasonable, and would certainly be less than 'war risk' surcharges by insurers. Exactly how such a charge would be enforced has yet to be decided. See "Transit toll proposed for Malacca Straits," Frank Kennedy, gulfnews.com, 8/14/06.

UK shipyard consolidation goes slowly: The UK Ministry of Defence published a procurement plan in December, urgently calling for a consolidation of British shipbuilders. As the UK's biggest shipbuilder, BAE Systems had been expected to lead the changes. But the company hasn't made a move since a failed bid with VT Group for Babcock International in June. Although an MoD spokesman denied relations had deteriorated, industry sources suggest otherwise. BAE is said to be increasingly frustrated with the lack of clarity about future work and defense spending, and the MoD has expressed disappointment with the slow pace of consolidation. See "BAE and MoD split 'widens'," Danny Fortson, The Independent, 8/13/06.

Lebanon to sue Israel over oil spill: Tons of heavy fuel oil poured into the Mediterranean Sea after Israeli jets bombed a power plant south of Beirut on July 16, during the first days of the war between Israel and Hezbollah militants. A month later, Israel's maritime blockade is still in place, making Lebanese coastal waters far too dangerous for specialized teams to get to work on the spill, even though the international community has offered support. The spill has spread to nearly a third of Lebanon's coast, and has reached Syria's shoreline to the north. It has been described as the country's worst environmental disaster. Lebanon's Environment Minister Yacoub Sarraf said his country will take legal action over the incident, but did not give any details. It also was unclear whether the proposed suit would be part of possible wider compensation claims by Lebanon for damage to roads and other civilian infrastructure during the Israeli offensive against Hezbollah fighters. See "Lebanon seeks compensation for 'catastrophe'," Bassem Mroue, IOL, 8/13/06.

Giant kites may help propel cargo ships: With rising fuel prices, the Hamburg company SkySails is poised to help shipping companies reduce fuel use and cut emissions with kites. The company believes it has found a viable way to use giant kites to harness the wind and help propel oceangoing vessels. Depending on wind conditions and other environmental factors, operational periods, and the size of the vessel, the SkySails system could lower fuel costs for ships by 10% to 35%. The system's kite is connected to the ship with a towing rope, rather than a traditional mast. They fly about 330 to 985 feet above sea level, where the winds are less turbulent but stronger than on the sea's surface. Launching and recovering the system are done automatically; the steering is also automatic. The company's first confirmed client is Beluga Shipping, based in Bremen, Germany, which will start using kites at the end of the year for regular service in 2007. See "Free Flow: A fuel-saving system for ships relies on kites," Matthew Saltmarsh, International Herald Tribune, 8/9/06.

Basque case against ABS dismissed in Prestige claim: A US judge has dismissed the claims of the Basque communities against ABS related to the loss of the oil tanker Prestige. The various Basque communities had sought to recover $50 million from ABS for direct damages incurred from the incident. But District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain ruled in favor of ABS, and dismissed the motion "with prejudice" so that the Basque communities should not be able to pursue future suit against the company in the matter. ABS continues to pursue Spanish Court "nullity actions" against the Basque Government and other Basque entities in Spain. These actions seek a declaration by the Spanish courts that the Basques wrongly ignored Spanish law in pursuing ABS for damages that the Basques had always admitted publicly Spain would pay to them. See the press release "Judge rules for ABS in Prestige claim - Basque case dismissed" from ABS, 8/9/06.

Straits of Malacca is no longer a war risk zone: The Lloyd's Market Association's Joint War Committee (JWC) has removed the Straits of Malacca from its "war risk" list after it was convinced that “significant improvement” in security had been made in the area. One of the world's busiest sea lanes, the Malacca Strait had been plagued by a wave of pirate attacks and crime, and was declared vulnerable to "war, strikes, terrorism and related perils" about a year ago by the JWC. The decision incensed the shipping industry and regional governments, which have spent considerable funds on security patrols. The move to take the Straits off the list is a relief to the littoral states of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Malaysia's Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy has also called upon the international community to assist in the maintenance of security in the Straits. See "Straits no more a war risk zone," Mazwin Nik Anis, TheStar Online, 8/9/06.

Nuclear-powered Savannah to be restored: In 1955, US President Dwight Eisenhower proposed building a nuclear powered merchant ship. Congress authorized NS Savannah as a joint project of the Atomic Energy Commission, the Maritime Administration, and the Department of Commerce. She was designed by George G. Sharp, Inc. of New York. Her keel was laid down by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation at Camden, New Jersey. Her nuclear reactor was manufactured by Babcock and Wilcox. She was launched in 1962, and sponsored by Mamie Eisenhower as a showcase for President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace initiative. Never commercially viable, the ship is now being rescued from the James River Reserve Fleet. The ship will be repaired by Colonna's Shipyard in Virginia. After Colonna's, the Savannah will head for another yard for more preparations and maintenance, then spend two years at a nuclear-capable shipyard where the reactor core will be decommissioned. The national historic landmark will then likely become a museum. See "Nuclear-powered ship to get $1M rehab," Associated Press at The State.com, 8/7/06.

CNOOC starts production at disputed gas field: A Chinese state-run oil company says it has started production at a natural gas field in the East China Sea near a disputed maritime boundary with Japan. China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) quotes a senior government official as saying full-scale production began last month at the Chunxiao gas field. CNOOC's web site says the official made the comment during a visit to the gas field in late July. Chinese workers began drilling at the site last year to explore for gas. The gas field straddles the disputed sea boundary between China and Japan. Beijing says the exploration work lies within Chinese territorial waters, but Tokyo has complained that China's actions could drain energy reserves from Japanese territorial waters. Tokyo has proposed that Japan and China carry out joint exploration for gas in the area. Beijing has rejected the idea. Both sides have held several rounds of talks on the dispute, but the last meeting in July failed to break the deadlock. See "China's CNOOC starts production at disputed gas field," AFP at Yahoo! News, 8/5/06.

Oil spill threatens Squamish waterfront: Wildlife officials are concerned about how an oil spill from a cargo vessel will affect parts of a coastal estuary on the British Columbia coast. Fifty tons of heavy bunker fuel leaked into the water Friday after the Japanese cargo ship Westwood Arnette struck a set of pilings while leaving port, puncturing two holes in its side. The fuel was pushed into Howe Sound by the wind, and it seeped into the Squamish Estuary. There are many types of water birds in the area, and because of the marshy terrain, it will be virtually impossible to clean up the area. In addition, bunker fuel is difficult to clean up because it is thicker than other oils. See "Ship dumps 50 tonnes of fuel in spill," Chantal Eustace and Emily Chung, the Vancouver Sun at canada.com, 8/5/06.

Canada's fish farms claim low escape numbers: A provincial aquaculture report released on Friday states that the number of farm-raised salmon escaping into the ocean from British Columbia fish farms has plunged in the last year. According to the report, the number of salmon escapes went from just 40 in 2003 to 43,985 in 2004, to 64 last year. The vast majority were Atlantic salmon. But Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation calls the numbers "totally unbelievable." Ritchlin said the global average for fish-farm escapes is about one escape for every 200 or 300 fish raised. So if the 2005 B.C. escape number is accurate, that would work out to about one fish escape for every 700,000 fish raised. Ritchlin also points out that the source of the report's data comes from the farms themselves. In any case, Agriculture and Lands Minister Pat Bell said the 2004 and 2005 inspection reports on B.C. fish farms show an increasing level of compliance with government regulations. Last year the industry was more than 90% compliant with more than 100 checks established by the provincial agriculture and environment ministries. He acknowledged not all operators are compliant, and wants government inspectors to conduct more random inspections of fish farms to gain a clearer picture of operations. See "Escapes dramatically down, farms claim," Bruce Constantineau, Vancouver Sun at canada.com, 8/4/06.

Australia proposes to use a prison ship: The Australian Government wants to lease a large ship which will be converted into a holding center to detain illegal fishermen and asylum seekers at sea. The facility is planned to hold 30 detainees, for up to 30 days. So far this year, Australian authorities have intercepted 235 foreign fishing vessels. Fisheries Minister Eric Abetz says the detention ship will help protect Australian waters by allowing more boats to be intercepted. Currently patrol boats have to return to port every time they intercept a vessel and detain people. The plan has come under fire from several groups, who worry about the rights of those held on board. Others point out that the ship would likely have to be big, and therefore impractical for the shallow waters in Australia's northern waters. Some say the ship would be just a stopgap measure, and that the country really needs a fully-fledged coast guard. The ship is expected to cost $10 million a year to lease. See "Govt under fire over prison 'mother ship' plan," ABC News Online, 8/3/06.

An international law expert says the Federal Government may need Indonesia's cooperation if it goes ahead with the plan, as many of the detainees would likely be Indonesian. See "Detention ship plan 'requires Indonesian support'," ABC News Online, 8/3/06.

Demand makes ships more expensive: Ships worldwide have been getting more expensive in the past three years. In February, a ship built in 1990 and capable of carrying 150,000 metric tons of cargo (Capesize) was sold for $20.5 million. This week, a ship just one year younger and of the same size, is receiving offers of more than $35 million. At the end of June, $28.7 million was paid for a ship built in 1997 that can carry 72,000 metric tons of cargo (Panamax). Its sister ship, the same size and age, sold Monday for $35.5 million. Some ships are being chased by 16 serious buyers around the world at one time. Because of a backlog, new ships ordered now aren't expected to be ready for three or four years. Five years ago, a buyer could expect a new order to be delivered within 22 months. The demand is mainly driven by the rise in value of the cargo being carried by the ships — and by Chinese demand. China's shipyards are growing, and Hong Kong's role is also growing. Although the Hong Kong Shipowners' Association admits that this trend can't last forever, they're not worried about oversupply yet. See "Free Flow: Hunting for cargo ships is no easy task," Vaudine England, International Herald Tribune, 8/3/06.

India's Supreme Court allows Blue Lady to dock at Alang: Norwegian cruise liner Blue Lady will finally be broken down at Alang ship-breaking yard after the Supreme Court Technical Committee gave its formal consent on Tuesday to the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) to grant beaching permission to the ship. The Supreme Court committee gave the go-ahead to GMB on condition that the 210 tons of disposable hazardous wastes generated while breaking the ship will be disposed of in a safe manner. Environmental groups such as Bas Asbestos Network and Greenpeace say the ship contains 900 tons of toxic materials that could endanger the lives of workers, and at least one group will challenge the Committee's report. The ship, originally the SS France, was renamed the SS Norway and later the Blue Lady after being sold by its French owners in 1979. See "India court allows "toxic" ship to be broken up," AFP at Khaleej Times Online, 8/2/06.

US Senate approves drilling in Gulf: The US Senate has voted to open up 8.3 million acres of ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and natural gas exploration, but that sets up a tough negotiation with the House, which wants to expand exploration to an area almost 100 times that size. With a vote of 71-25, many senators feared a political backlash in the November elections if they blocked a bill that promises to lower gasoline prices. The House version of the bill that passed last month includes the same acreage of Gulf waters, but also opens virtually all of the nation's Atlantic and Pacific coasts to exploration. It also includes provisions to alter the federal-state split of oil and gas revenues. The Senate legislation was praised as a way to immediately increase domestic oil supplies, lower gas prices and protect national security by reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil. Democrats, however, complained that the bill did not include incentives for new energy resources, and some Republicans said it wouldn't open enough of the outer continental shelf to oil and gas exploration. See "Senate Approves More Offshore Drilling," Associated Press at abc7.com, 8/2/03.

Member of salvage team dies in fall aboard the Cougar Ace: One member of the four-member salvage team examining the Cougar Ace slipped down the ship's deck as he was leaving the ship, and suffered a fatal blow to his head. All the salvage team members were equipped with safety harnesses and clipped onto a safety line, but somehow he became disconnected from the safety line. Although efforts were made to revive him on the ship, and he was flown to a nearby Coast Guard cutter equipped with a surgeon, he was declared dead about an hour later. The victim was a naval architect from Seattle; his name is being withheld until relatives can be notified. The salvage team was making an assessment of the structural condition of the ship, and determining the best way to transfer the ship's ballast water to correct the list. The team determined Sunday that the cargo is still in place, that the engine room is dry and in good condition, and the ship's fuel tanks don't appear to be leaking. See "Member of Salvage Team Dies Aboard Drifting Ship off Aleutian Islands," Associated Press at FOXNews.com, 8/1/06.

War risk rating could hurt funding for sea patrols on the Malacca Strait: Pirate attacks in the Malacca Strait have decreased since coordinated sea patrols began in 2004. Air patrols over the Straits began the following year. But in June 2005, the Joint War Committee of the British-based global shipping insurer Lloyd's Market Association gave the Strait a "war risk" rating, which adds transport costs for vessels passing through the sealane. Companies and government officials in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, the three states bordering the Straits, have protested the war risk rating. Malaysia said Tuesday that the rating could hurt the region's ability to fund increased patrols there — just as it is beginning to reduce piracy in the busy waterway. The International Maritime Bureau confirms that attacks have been dropping since the patrols were launched. See "Malaysia says war risk rating on Malacca Straits could hurt funding for security patrols," Associated Press at The Star Online, 8/1/06.

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