News Archive - November 2006

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European Union to address African migrants, smuggling: The European Commission is planning several moves to try to save lives and deter large-scale smuggling of migrants from Africa. Thousands of people died this year during attempts to reach the coasts of Italy, Malta and Spain. Round-the-clock sea patrols will start next spring, and this program could lead to the creation of a European coast guard. In addition, laws will be proposed next year for all of the European Union to punish employers who hire illegal migrants. Franco Frattini, the vice president of the European Commission, also called for the creation of offices in African countries, where would-be migrants could find out whether jobs awaited them in Europe before they left. Many member states have resisted giving up sovereignty over immigration issues, making it difficult for the EU to create a long-term strategy. And some countries welcome new workers for growing industry, while others want more control over who joins their societies. See "EU targets smuggling of Africans to Europe," James Kanter, International Herald Tribune, 11/30/06.

US Coast Guard's converted patrol boats are suspended: Admiral Thad Allen, commandant of the US Coast Guard, has suspended the operations of eight patrol boats that were recently converted to be 13 feet longer. Significant buckling was found in the structural members underneath a main engine aboard one of the eight cutters. Rear Admiral Dale Gabel, the Coast Guard’s chief engineer, then personally inspected five more of the boats on November 16, and found similar deformations aboard all five cutters. The Coast Guard's Integrated Deepwater System had originally planned to convert 49 of the service's 110-foot cutters into 123-foot cutters. This was intended to increase the vessels' annual operational hours. The conversion process was stopped at eight hulls in 2005, when the Coast Guard determined the converted cutters didn't meet their expanded post 9/11 operational requirements. Following conversion, the 123-foot boats displayed deck cracking and hull deformation and developed shaft alignment problems related to other structural issues. See the press release "Coast Guard Suspends Converted Patrol Boat Operations," US Coast Guard, 11/30/06.

Japanese sub collision was caused by human error: A Japanese military submarine collided with a civilian vessel during exercises off southern Japan on November 21. A Maritime Self-Defense Force investigation has ruled out a malfunction in the submarine's sonar system or weather problems as the cause of the accident. Instead, Admiral Eiji Yoshikawa said crew members aboard the submarine Asashio apparently took too long to notice the tanker Spring Auster in the vicinity, causing a delay in evasive action. Either the sonar technicians missed the tanker, or they had problems relaying the information to those in charge of maneuvers. See "MSDF: Human error caused collision between submarine, tanker," The Asahi Shimbun at asahi.com, 11/29/06.

US tries to define "organic" fish: The US Agriculture Department is trying to define organic fish. In the US, organic foods are defined as being grown on farms that shun chemicals and synthetic fertilizers, and that meet certain government standards for safeguarding the environment and animals. Even though wild fish tend to swim in pristine waters they will likely not be given the "organic" label, since their living conditions aren't controlled. Many fishermen are unhappy about this, since the organic market can be lucrative. But fish farmers aren't in the clear yet, since there are disputes over which types of farmed fish could be included. It is generally agreed that the organic label is no problem for fish that are primarily vegetarians, since organic feed is available. But carnivores are a different matter, since they eat other fish — which can't be labeled organic. Even if proposed recommendations are adopted, it will still take several years before USDA-certified organic fish appears in stores or restaurants. See "Free or farmed, when is a fish really organic?," Andrew Martin, The New York Times at International Herald Tribune, 11/28/06.

Port of Vancouver plans to reduce air emissions: The Integrated Air Emissions Reduction Program will go into effect at the Port of Vancouver on April 1, 2007. Under the program, ships that burn cleaner fuel will pay less when they enter the port than those that simply meet regulations. Depending on the sector, ships may either pay lower fees, or avoid paying higher fees under the new rules. Other initiatives underway at the port include supporting an IMO Sulphur Emission Control Area, adopting third party environmental audits of operations, working toward relieving traffic congestion during peak hours, and enforcing a "no idling" policy for trucks. The program is designed to ensure the port grows in a sustainable manner. See the press release "Port Tackles Air Pollution," CNW Group, 11/28/06.

Pirates may threaten South Africa: The United Nations Security Council and international maritime safety organizations have warned that sea pirates are moving south along the coast of Africa, and could threaten South African waters. The pirates are believed to be using intelligence operatives stationed at Richards Bay, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town harbors to feed organized crime syndicates with information about ships passing by. The recent discovery of oil and gas off the Tanzanian coast and the fact that six million tons of oil is transported around South Africa's western coast every month seems to be luring pirates to the area. International Maritime Bureau director Captain Pottengal Mukundan said South Africa needs to step in and help its neighbors if piracy is to be eradicated from the region's waters. See "Sea Pirates drift south to threaten SA waters," Sapa at Mail & Guardian Online, 11/27/06.

Nicaragua's canal would bring big changes: Last month, outgoing President Enrique Bolanos announced that Nicaragua would build an interoceanic canal that would be largest in the world, and President-elect Daniel Ortega has said the canal will be part of his government plan. The canal will capable of transporting ships larger than can go through the Panama Canal — even after Panama's planned expansion. If the plans are approved, the southern portion of Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua could be transformed from a placid tourist spot to a global transportation route. Many local residents are worried about potential pollution on the waterway. Environmentalists are also skeptical about an interoceanic canal. They say it will ruin the area's natural beauty. See "Megaships may displace boats in Lake Nicaragua," Sara Miller Llana, USA TODAY, 11/26/06.

British report warns of sea changes: Britain's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is publishing a study this week called "Marine Climate Change Impacts." The study warns that the country's coasts and oceans are being changed by rising sea levels, bigger waves and stronger storms. Sea levels could rise by up to three feet by 2080, and the height of waves is already rising. This will dramatically alter Britain's shores, affecting wildlife and people that live around them. For a maritime nation like Britain, such changes would create serious problems, especially for the ports, oil rigs and coastal defenses on which the nation depends. See "British coast faces 2ft rise in sea levels," Jonathan Leake, Times Online, 11/26/06.

British arms programs are late and expensive: Parliament's watchdog, the National Audit Office, has revealed that Britain's biggest weapons projects are currently overspent by nearly £3 billion, and have been delayed by 36 years. The Eurofighter/Typhoon aircaft program was called out as particularly troublesome — the project's cost is no longer published because it is "commercially sensitive." But maritime projects are also mentioned. Most of the cost overruns affect a handful of projects, including the navy's new Type 45 destroyer, the nuclear Astute attack submarine, and a Nimrod maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. Delays to the Type 45 destroyer could affect the capability of the warship and lead to even higher costs. See "MoD projects overspent by £3bn and total of 36 years late," Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, 11/24/06.

Oil slicks are floating from the sunken wreck of the Prestige: The tanker Prestige foundered off the Galician coast on 2002, spilling fuel oil in what was Spain's biggest environmental disaster. An official report insisted the oil remaining in the ship's tanks would remain secure until 2025, when the remaining oil would disperse harmlessly from a bacterial treatment. But in 2004 marine scientists warned that the wreck would corrode more quickly. Scientists warned yesterday that the tanker is still leaking, and that the vessel's rapidly corroding hold could burst at any time. Researchers fear a "rapid spill" of oil could contaminate coastal waters again. See "Tanker still leaking oil four years later," The New Zealand Herald, 11/24/06.

Report out on Ivory Coast dumping scandal: Ten people died and more than 100,000 sought medical treatment after waste was offloaded in Abidjan in August from a vessel chartered by the Dutch company Trafigura Beheer BV. An Ivorian company called Tommy, set up solely to dump the toxic waste, loaded it on special trucks and dumped it at 17 sites around the city. A government commission investigating the incident blamed negligence and corruption among senior officials, and Salomon Ugborugbo, Tommy's owner and manager, for facilitating the tragedy. The findings of the report will not bring charges to bear on any of the accused. But a separate Ivorian judicial inquiry now under way will have powers to bring anyone accused of wrongdoing to justice. The report mentions Transport Minister Kobena Anaky, who granted Tommy a license to offload cargo, Energy and Mines Leon Monnet, who failed to coordinate with health authorities, and several other Ivorian officials. The report also said Trafigura was aware that Tommy was dumping the waste, rather than neutralizing it. Two of Trafigura's executives are in Ivorian custody where they face poisoning charges. A French company hired by the government to dispose of the waste is still moving it out of the country. See "Ivory Coast report blames corrupt, negligent officials for toxic waste scandal," Associated Press at International Herald Tribune, 11/23/06.

Charles Memel Kacou, director of the IRSPE, an Ivorian environmental research institute, believes that the toxic waste will cause long-term health effects. The waste, which contained concentrations of chlorine, contaminated horticultural products grown near the dumpsites and fish bred in the lagoon. He's called for long-term health studies. See "Carcinogenic fears in Ivory Coast toxic saga," Sapa-AFP at IOL, 11/23/06.

UN reaches compromise on fisheries, but doesn't ban bottom trawling: Despite intense negotiations, countries seeking a ban on bottom trawling in unregulated international waters failed Thursday to get United Nations support for the proposal. Bottom trawling is a fishing method that can cause irreparable harm to deep-sea ecosystems, destroying coral reefs and seamounts normally teeming with ocean life. Iceland and other fishing nations are pleased with the outcome, but environmentalists are dismayed, calling the UN approach weak and ineffective. The resolution is due to be taken up by the 192-nation General Assembly on December 7, minus strong language regulating bottom trawling. Routine approval is expected. While not legally binding, General Assembly resolutions carry great weight with governments as they reflect the will of the international community. See "U.N. drive for ban on ocean bottom trawling fails," Irwin Arieff, Reuters, 11/23/06.

Japanese sub collision investigated: A Japanese military submarine collided with a civilian vessel during exercises off southern Japan on Tuesday. The sub's crew was apparently unable to detect the tanker in time, possibly due to overlapping sonar signals from the screws of two ships. The JCG's 10th Regional Headquarters suspects the crew of the Asashio submarine failed to confirm that it could safely ascend. Although nobody was injured in the accident, the sub crew could be charged with endangering traffic by being negligent in their duties. MSDF sources said if a ship was moving away from the Asashio as the tanker approached from the opposite direction, it would be difficult to distinguish the screws of the two ships. It was the first time in 13 years that an MSDF submarine had collided with a private vessel. See "Confusing signals may have led to crash," The Yomiuri Shimbun at Daily Yomiuri Online, 11/23/06.

Drug "submarine" was just a speedboat: A vessel seized by the US Coast Guard off Costa Rica last week turns out not to have been a submarine. Instead it was a "cigarette boat," typically used by drug traffickers, that had an ocean-colored fiberglass covering intended as camouflage. The boat rode low in the water because of the weight of the cocaine — 3.5 tons — but it didn't actually submerge. Tubes protruding from the boat initially gave officials the impression it was a submarine, but they turned out to be exhaust pipes. Costa Rican coast guard commander Rodrigo Peralta also added, "It was covered with lead lamination to conceal it from radar." See "Drug "submarine" off Costa Rica was disguised boat," Reuters at Yahoo! News, 11/22/06.

Gunmen seize hostages from oil ship: Gunmen have seized seven hostages from an Italian oil supply vessel off the coast of southern Nigeria. The incident occurred overnight on a vessel belonging to Agip, a subsidiary of Italian oil giant Eni SpA. The company said ten armed men attacked the ship and took seven people away on a speedboat; about 85 employees were on board at the time. Nearly all those on the vessel were held at gunpoint before the attackers left with the seven hostages. Eni said that the ship wasn't damaged, and those who remained on board were in good condition. The vessel was about 30 miles off the coast of Nigeria's Rivers State at the time of the incident. One security worker said a ransom demand had already been received by the company. The kidnappings were the latest in a series of attacks on oil installations in the volatile Niger Delta. Most oil workers kidnapped in the past year have been safely released, often after a ransom has been paid. See "Gunman Seize Seven From Italian Vessel," Dan Udoh, Associated Press at Guardian Unlimited, 11/22/06.

US shipbuilders sue to keep repair work out of China: The Shipbuilders Council of America has sued to stop Matson Navigation Co. from upgrading three ships at a Chinese shipyard, which would save the company millions of dollars. The Shipbuilders Council and Pasha Hawaii Transport Lines filed the suit against the US Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Vessel Documentation Center, arguing that Matson's plan was improperly approved. Matson, which wasn't named in the complaint, has said it is committed to supporting US builders and is sending some of the work to US yards. US shipping fleets are protected from foreign competition by the Jones Act; regulations allow US-flagged ships to be rebuilt overseas if the work involves no more than 10% of the vessel's steel weight. Allen Walker, president of the Shipbuilders Council, says there are three or four US yards that could do the work. See "Shipbuilders sue to bar upgrades in China," Times Staff and Wire Reports, Los Angeles Times, 11/22/06.

Barge carrying Philippines oil spill debris sinks: A barge carrying debris from the Philippines' worst oil spill has sunk in rough seas off the country's south coast. The coast guard says the vessel's crew has been rescued and there is no immediate indication the oily sludge has spilled. The barge sank with 59,000 sacks of contaminated rock and sand, raising fears of another environmental disaster. The barge was being towed to a processing plant on the southern island of Mindanao when it sank about four miles off the coast. The debris had been collected from clean-up operations after the tanker Solar 1 sank in August, spilling about 500,000 liters of bunker oil. About 1.4 million liters of oil is stuck in the tanker. Authorities will wait until calmer weather in January to siphon it off. See "Barge with oil spill debris sinks in Philippines," Reuters, 11/21/06.

Ballast in Great Lakes shipping is scrutinized: Viral hemorrhagic septicemia, known as VHS, was discovered in the Great Lakes basin last year, and it has been blamed for the deaths of thousands of fish in the eastern Great Lakes. Now the Michigan Natural Resources Commission wants the federal government to order an emergency ban on freighters filling their ballast water tanks in the virus-infected waters of Lakes Erie, Ontario and St. Clair, as well as the St. Lawrence River. The hope is that this will protect the virus-free Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior. As Glen Nekvasil, spokesman for the Lake Carriers' Association, which represents US shippers operating inside the Great Lakes, points out: "A ban on ballast uptakes would bring shipping to a halt." The request came in a November 9 resolution from the governor-appointed, bipartisan commission that oversees the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. It was forwarded to the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, early last week. APHIS has already proven it is keen to move quickly on this issue when it banned the export of several fish species from all the Great Lakes states on October 24. The group will meet with other federal agencies to evaluate the dangers posed by the virus. See "Fish virus could limit shipping," Dan Egan, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at SanLuisObispo.com, 11/21/06.

Japanese submarine collides with civilian vessel: A Japanese military submarine collided with a civilian vessel during exercises off southern Japan on Tuesday. The Maritime Self-Defense Forces submarine Asashio brushed against the Panamanian-registered tanker Spring Auster as it surfaced about 30 miles (50 kilometers) off the southeastern coast of Miyazaki, on the southern island of Kyushu, a defense agency spokesman said on condition of anonymity by protocol. None of the tanker's crew was hurt, but the extent of the damage was not immediately known. No injuries were reported among the 75 crew of the submarine. It apparently hit the ship's hull while surfacing, and the top part of the submarine's aft fin had been dented by the impact. See "Japan submarine hits cargo ship," Associated Press at CNN.com, 11/20/06.

Submarine with cocaine seized off Costa Rica: The US Coast Guard has seized a submarine carrying 3 tons of cocaine in the Pacific Ocean off Costa Rica. The submarine appeared to be a makeshift vessel unlike military submarines or those used by oceanographers. About 50 feet long, it could only submerge 6 feet under water, sailed at about 7 miles per hour, and held four men who breathed through plastic pipes. The submarine was spotted Friday 103 miles off the coast near Cabo Blanco National Park on the Nicoya peninsula. Two Colombians, a Guatemalan and a Sri Lankan were arrested and taken to the US, since they were captured in international waters. The boat is being examined by the Costa Rican Coast Guard, who are trying to determine its origin. No one thinks the vessel, which was made of wood and fiberlgass, could have traveled very far. See "Homemade Submarine Seized in Costa Rica," Marianela Jimenez, Associated Press at Guardian Unlimited, 11/20/06.

Canada's Navy puts its submarines to the test: Canada is holding a joint army-navy exercise in support of Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hiller's plan to create a new amphibious assault force capable of going into action anywhere around the world. It's been more than a decade since the Canadian military has practiced with submarines for such missions. Currently, an elite army group known as Pathfinders are practicing with the Victoria-class submarine HMCS Windsor. The navy has high hopes its submarines can play a key role in General Hillier's plan to transform the Canadian Forces for the future. The operation is seen as another way to prove the worth of its submarine fleet, purchased second-hand from Britain. A death on the HMCS Chicoutimi, and a host of technical issues plaguing the other Victoria-class subs, has put the fleet under close scrutiny. The fleet is doing well: most major technical problems have been resolved, the volunteer service is popular, and there are two subs at sea right now. But there is concern in some parts of the navy that the submarines could eventually fall victim to budget cuts. See "Stealth fighters," David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen at canada.com, 11/18/06.

Canada's Head Harbour could become part of international dispute: A dispute is growing between Canada and the United States over a proposal to build a liquefied natural gas plant and Maine's Mill Creek where the St. Croix River meets Passamaquoddy Bay; it's about 13 miles south of the border between the two countries. At least one LNG tanker is expected to pass through Head Harbour each week. Even before the plan has gone through environmental reviews on both sides of the border, Ottawa says it will not allow LNG tankers through what it claims are Canadian waters. The US claims that the Canadian government will be violating international laws by refusing to allow LNG tankers through the Head Harbour passage. The dispute could erupt publicly as early as next month, at hearings of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Canada has allowed US and foreign ships to pass through Head Harbour for centuries, but LNG ships are almost universally seen as environmentally dangerous. So far Canada has been adamant in opposing them. See "LNG: The Great Divide," Peter Morton, Financial Post, National Post at canada.com, 11/18/06.

French search North Korean ship at Indian Ocean port: French customs officers are inspecting a North Korean ship at an Indian Ocean island off the coast of Africa as part of United Nations measures prompted by the country's nuclear test. Inspectors had found nothing illegal as of late Thursday. The inspection, which began Saturday while the Am Nok Gang was docked at the island of Mayotte, appeared to be the first time French officials had examined a North Korean ship since the UN passed a resolution last month calling for searches of cargo entering and leaving North Korea as a result of its October 9 nuclear test. The US and Britain have not yet searched any North Korean vessels under the UN measures. China has inspected trucks along its border with North Korea, but has resisted checks of cargo ships. South Korea has joined the initiative only as an observer out of concern that its stopping and searching North Korean ships could lead to armed clashes. Japan has agreed to explore ways to coordinate in inspecting North Korean vessels, but has concerns over legal issues. See "France Searches N. Korea vessel," Associated Press at CNN.com, 11/16/06.

Canada has yet to decide if it will have its Navy intercepting illicit North Korean cargo. The Conservative government apparently agrees in principle with the project, but Ottawa has not announced the deployment of ships. The country hasn't received a formal request from the US for such a mission so far. See "Cabinet will decide navy deployment regarding Korean cargo, O'Connor says," Canadian Press at myTELUS, 11/17/06.

British shipyards are pressured to consolidate: The Ministry of Defence continues to pressure Britain's shipbuilding industry to consolidate by the end of the year. The MoD is using the future aircraft carrier contract, the largest ever Royal Navy procurement program, as incentive to speed up the consolidation plan. The MoD is concerned that after the carriers enter service there will be a drop-off in Navy procurement. Unless VT Group and BAE Systems consolidate now, when their shipbuilding businesses are performing well, the industry will go into another bust period, leading to job losses and yard closures. VT and BAE have attempted to merge assets, and are in talks again. Paul Lester, chief executive of VT, believes that a completed deal is unlikely by the end of the year, but said the companies hope to have the "framework" of a deal in place. See "Ministry urges VT Group and BAE to tie knot," David Robertson, Times Online, 11/15/06.

Deep-sea trawling is ruining oceans: Fishermen who rake giant nets across the ocean floor to maximize their catch are destroying ecological systems, according to a UN draft environmental report made public Wednesday. Just over half of the underwater mountain and coral ecosystems in the world are located beyond national boundaries, leaving them unregulated and vulnerable to the damaging practice known as bottom trawling, the report said. Trawlers' nets shatter coral and churn up sediment that can smother sea life. The worst damage often occurs to underwater mountains, or seamounts. Over-exploitation of traditional fish such as cod and hake has prompted fleets to trawl the high seas for deep-dwelling species, but they are harming biodiversity in vulnerable regions of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. UN delegates are scheduled to discuss a moratorium on bottom trawling next month in New York. See "Deep-sea trawling destroying underwater mountains," Patricia Reaney, Reuters at Scientific America.com, 11/15/06.

US admiral urges closer ties to China after sub scare: US Navy officials have confirmed that an aircraft carrier battle group failed to detect a Chinese submarine that surfaced within weapons range of the USS Kitty Hawk. Anti-submarine defenses for the carrier battle group will be reviewed as a result. Admiral William J. Fallon, the Navy's top commander in the Pacific, said that the Chinese had risked setting off a military confrontation. The incident also "illustrates the primary reason why we are trying to push to have better military-to-military relationships," he said. Pentagon officials said the matter likely will be raised during defense-policy coordination talks with Chinese military officials set to begin December 7 in Washington. China's government has said it was unaware of the incident. See "Admiral says sub risked a shootout," Bill Gertz, The Washington Times, 11/15/06.

South Korea backs off from intercepting ships from the North: South Korea will not help intercept North Korean ships suspected of carrying arms cargo. Seoul has reviewed whether to expand its participation in the so-called Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) since Pyongyang's October 9 nuclear test. But officials have said interdicting North Korean ships could lead to military clashes between the two countries, as they are technically still at war. Foreign ministry official Park In-kook told reporters, "We support the goal and principles of the plan, but because of the special circumstances we are in, we are here declaring that we are not formally joining." The PSI is a voluntary program and not an international treaty. Instead, it draws on political decisions and domestic laws of participating countries. South Korea is taking steps to implement a UN Security Council resolution adopted after the North's nuclear test; these include stepped-up inspections of cargo moving to the North by land and sea. See "South Korea says won't join North Korea arms watch plan," Reuters at The New Zealand Herald, 11/14/06.

Chinese submarine surprises a US aircraft carrier: A Chinese submarine, equipped with torpedoes and anti-ship cruise missiles, stalked a US aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean last month and surfaced within firing range of its missiles before being detected, a media report said on Monday. The Chinese Song-class diesel-powered attack submarine shadowed the Kitty Hawk undetected and surfaced within five miles of the carrier on October 26, The Washington Times said. The submarine encounter with the USS Kitty Hawk also is an embarrassment to the commander of US forces in the Pacific, Admiral William J Fallon, who is engaged in an ambitious military exchange program with China. Both Pacific Command and Pentagon spokesmen declined to comment on the incident, saying details were classified. See "China sub stalked U.S. fleet," Bill Gertz, The Washington Times, 11/13/06.

Canada considers beefing up security on offshore rigs: The Ottawa Citizen has learned that federal officials are looking at ways to give regional agencies that oversee offshore oil and gas platforms more formal authority over security. Current legislation governing the platforms in Canada was drafted in the late 1980s, and makes no mention of security threats such as terrorism. The amendments being considered would allow the agencies to issue security-related orders to rig operators and conduct security audits. Security at the offshore rigs is already fairly robust, in part because access is limited due to their location. But officials say the new legislative changes would give them clearer authority over security plans. See "Ministry moves to shield oil rigs from attacks," Andrew Mayeda, The Ottawa Citizen at Canada.com, 11/13/06.

India to model real-time updates of oil spills: India's Ministry of Earth Sciences has installed a computer simulation at Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) that can track oil spills. The model was developed by the Integrated Coastal Marine Area Management Project Directorate. Specific models will be developed for 42 sensitive areas in the country which fall along crude oil tanker routes; twenty highest risk locations will be tackled first. Once the location and quantity of an oil spill is known, the model will be used to predict the likely path the spill with travel, and the affected shorelines. The models can be combined with real-time data, and used by the Coast Guard and other authorities to deploy preventive measures, such as strategic deployment of booms and skimmers. See "A mechanism to track oil spills," Satyen Mohapatra, HindustanTimes.com, 11/11/06.

Trafigura faces charges over toxic dumping case: Trafigura, a London-based company that chartered the tanker Probo Koala, is facing a claim for compensation over allegations that its negligent actions caused injuries to people in Abidjan. The tanker was said to have dumped toxic waste in Ivory Coast, killing ten people and injuring close to 100,000. Representative claims have now been commenced in the High Court in London. The London law firm Leigh Day & Co has been working with Greenpeace International, which asked it to help represent the claimants. A spokesman for the law firm said that although the events took place far away, "It is right that this British company is made to account for its actions by the British courts." Trafigura has now set up its own independent investigation into the events that led to the disaster, and has stated that the material discharged was not "toxic waste," and that the material was offloaded properly to Tommy, an Ivorian ministry-certified disposal agent. See "British firm faces £100m claim for 'dumping toxic waste'," Robert Verkaik, Independent Online, 11/10/06.

Joola children named 'orphans of the nation': The ferry Joola was carrying nearly four times as many people as it should have when it capsized off the Gambian coast during a storm in 2002. The sinking claimed 1,863 lives, many of them children; only 64 people survived. An inquiry into the accident concluded that it had been caused by overloading, and negligence on the part of the boat's operators, the Senegalese navy and rescue services. Senegal's parliament has just passed a bill which would make about 1,900 children of the surviving families "orphans of the nation," and eligible for free health care and education. The law comes four years after similar promises were first made, and don't take effect immediately. In addition, some suspect the law could be a ploy to win votes ahead of elections due early next year. See "Senegal to care for ferry orphans," BBC News, 11/9/06.

China may be drilling in disputed gas field: Japan and China have long been in disagreement over which sea resources the two sides can claim in the East China Sea, which separates China's eastern coast and Japan's southern island chain of Okinawa. The disputed area is located close to what Japan claims as the median line that separates the two countries' 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones. Each side is afraid of losing potentially lucrative natural gas fields. Japan has protested to China on Wednesday, after seeing flames at a drilling platform in the Pinghu gas field earlier this month. The activity suggests that production may have started there. The flames were spotted at the Bajiaoting site last week. Six rounds of discussions on the gas fields have been held in the last two years, with little progress. There is no date scheduled for more meetings over the disputed area. See "Japan protests to China over gas field," Reuters at tehrantimes.com 11/9/06.

Islamists free hijacked UAE ship: Forces loyal to Somalia's powerful Islamist movement stormed a ship hijacked by pirates off the Somali coast, freeing the vessel and its crew after a fierce gun battle. At least two of the six gunmen who had seized the United Arab Emirates-flagged MV Veesham 1 last week were reportedly seriously injured in late Tuesday's clash, but the 14 crew members were unharmed. Andrew Mwangura of the Seafarers' Assistance Program in the Kenyan port of Mombasa said that the pirates will be tried under Islamic law; if found guilty, they could have their hands cut off. The ship is now en route to Mogadishu. See "Somali Islamists free pirate ship," BBC News, 11/8/06.

Blue Lady still stuck at Alang ship breaking yard: Last February, environmentalists got the French government to recall the Clemenceau, an asbestos-laden aircraft carrier that was headed to India's Alang ship breaking yard. Now they've asked the Indian Supreme Court to block the scrapping of the Norway, renamed Blue Lady, which is already at Alang. A hearing is scheduled for December. The lawsuit has frightened India's ship breaking industry. If ship owners are forced to remove toxic material in Europe, as the suit asks, they may find it more cost-effective to scrap the vessels there, too. A representative of the ship breaking companies at Alang wants environmentalists to give India a chance to prove they can successfully and safely scrap the Blue Lady. Alang opened in 1983 and gradually grew to 173 yards. Competition from Bangladesh has prompted India to introduce safety training and equipment, and start negotiations with Indian hazardous-waste companies to take over removing the asbestos. See "India's ship-breaking industry under scrutiny," Ken Moritsugu, McClatchy Newspapers at The State.com, 11/8/06.

BAE Systems warns against skills gap: Murray Easton, head of BAE Systems' submarines division, warned that it would be catastrophic for Britain's skills base if the government does not give the go-ahead to a new class of nuclear submarines. Maintaining a skills base is needed to build such complex vessels, and that requires a regular flow of orders. Spokespeople for Rolls-Royce, which will build the nuclear generators for any new submarines, agreed with Mr. Easton. Design work on the Astute submarines will come to an end next year, and industry sees a gap looming. Prime Minister Tony Blair has said the government will decide later this year whether or how to replace Britain's ageing nuclear defense, which consists of Trident missiles carried aboard four Vanguard class nuclear-powered submarines. Chancellor Gordon Brown, Blair's presumed successor, has signaled his backing for replacing Trident, but such a decision would be contested by some Labour Party lawmakers who think Britain should give up nuclear arms. See "Industry warns against Trident delay," Paul Owen and agencies, Guardian Unlimited, 11/7/06.

Northwest Passage conflict could grow: Canada claims the Northwest Passage as an internal waterway, over which it can impose its own environmental controls and deny passage to other ships. The country believes it is in the best position to protect the region from unsafe ships and accidental spills. Most other maritime powers, including the United States, consider it to be an international waterway, where right of passage is guaranteed. As the Arctic ice pack continues to melt, the issue has become more critical. Last week, Paul Cellucci, the former US ambassador to Canada, told Canadian newspapers that "It is in the security interests of the United States that it be under the control of Canada." In response, David Wilkins, the current US ambassador, restated the US claim that the Northwest Passage is an international strait. Michael Byers, an international law expert at the University of British Columbia, has pointed out that if foreign ships begin using the route, Canada will lose its claim of oversight. See "Dispute Over NW Passage Revived," Doug Struck, The Washington Post, 11/6/06.

USS Intrepid gets stuck in the mud: After 24 years at the same Hudson River pier, the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid was inched out of its berth by powerful tugboats on Monday. But the trip down river never got under way because the ship's propellers got stuck in the mud less than five meters out of its berth. Monday's departure was timed to take advantage of yearly high tide so the tugs could pull the vessel to a shipyard at Bayonne, New Jersey, for a $60 million overhaul. Restoration and repairs are expected to take 18 to 24 months. The pier will also be renovated. See "Historic aircraft carrier USS Intrepid stuck in the mud," Associated Press at USATODAY.com, 11/6/06.

Oil rig project to create Teesside jobs: SeaDragon Offshore plans to float on the London Stock Exchange next year to raise funds for a project to build deep-sea rigs on Teesside. It is being announced today and comes after the oil services firm struck a deal with the Tees Alliance Group to build the rigs at the local group's yards. SeaDragon intends to build three semi-submersible rigs in Teesside, with the hulls to be bought from Russia's Sevmarsh shipyard. The project will bring hundreds of support jobs to Teesside, filling the gap that has been left by major construction companies such as Odebrecht and Kvaerner, which left the Tees in the late 1990s. The first rig is set to be delivered in 2009. See "Oil rig work for Teesside in new firm's £822m plan," David Robertson, Times Online, 11/6/06.

Pressure on for UK shipbuilders to merge this year: Lord Drayson, the minister for Defence Procurement, had set next month as the deadline for the UK's handful of naval builders to merge into one group. But analysts believe this milestone won't be reached until 2007. Although several options have been discussed, a deal has proved elusive. VT has been in constant talks with BAE Systems, the top name in the sector. The companies have also been in discussions with smaller players, such as Babcock International and DML, which owns Devonport dockyard. Lord Drayson remains hopeful that a solution can be reached by the end of the year, and has warned British shipbuilders they might lose contracts if they don't work more quickly. See "Ship won't come in for naval mergers," Danny Fortson, The Independent, 11/5/06.

Ship hijacking reported off Somali coast: On November 1, the Veesham-I left the Somali port of Al Maan loaded with coal, and set sail for Salalah, Oman, and then on to Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Six and a half hours into the journey to Saudi Arabia, Dubai-based Veesham Shipping, which owns the vessel, radioed the ship and learned that armed attackers had stormed aboard and taken control. The hijackers directed the ship's captain to change course for the Somali port of Obbia. After that, the ship's crew stopped responding to calls from Veesham's operations center. Somali patrol boats and the US Navy have tracked the Veesham-I to a location 20 miles off the Somali port of Obbia. Veesham is hoping for a resolution that doesn't include a ransom payment, but is worried about the crew. So far, the six gunmen have treated the crew well. The incident raises new fears of a resurgence in piracy in Somali waters. The region had seen little activity since the Somali Islamic militia seized control of the capital Mogadishu and much of the south of the country in June. See "US Navy and Somalis 'tracking cargo ship'," Ivan Gale, Gulfnews, 11/5/06.

Tugboat that secured crashed New York ferry wants compensation: The tugboat Dorothy J. secured the Staten Island Ferry Andrew J. Barberi after it crashed in 2003. The accident killed 11 passengers and injured dozens of others. The tugboat owner, Henry Marine, and crew believes that the tradition of "pure marine salvage" entitles them to compensation. Tugboat mate Robert Seckers is seeking $2 million and plans to distribute the money among the four-person crew of the tugboat. Henry Marine is asking for $6 million. New York city disputes the tug crew's claims, believing the Dorothy J. has a city contract requiring it to help out in case of trouble. The city also contends the boat was not going to sink. See "NYC ferry Samaritans want $8M," Associated Press at The State.com, 11/3/06.

"Collapsing" seafood study discussed: A study just published in the journal Science claims that if seafood species continue to decline at the present rate, they could disappear within 40 years. Countries worldwide have been reacting to the report.

Seafish, the UK seafood industry body, and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF) believe the study doesn't fully take into account current and ongoing programs to help keep fisheries sustainable. They also believe the study may not be looking at positive steps being taken in regional fisheries. The SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong called the report "superficial" and a "doomsday prediction." Seafish is commissioning its own scientists to review the report's findings. See "Vanishing seafood study dismissed," Helene Mulholland and agencies, Guardian Unlimited, 11/3/06.

UK fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw ruled out a complete ban on cod fishing, despite the study's warning. The government has already set fishing quotas in line with healthy stocks, and a ban on cod fishing would devastate the industry in the UK. See "UK 'must shield fishing industry'," BBC News, 11/3/06.

The New Zealand seafood industry has not had an opportunity to review the study in the journal Science, but will do so with some skepticism. The country's seafood industry operates within the Quota Management System (QMS), and is actively working with the Ministry of Fisheries. The industry has confidence that its fisheries will remain sustainable and continue to be managed well for future generations. See the press release "Sustainably Managed Fisheries Not at Risk," Seafood Industry Council at Scoop, 11/3/06.

Environmental experts across Asia are paying close attention to the study. The economic fallout from any changes to fishing practices would have a profound effect on the region, where Japan is the world's largest consumer of fish. A South Korean official called the report alarmist, but many other environmentalists are taking note. A Greenpeace spokesman in Australia has called for 40% of oceans to be set aside as protected reserves. And WWF Hong Kong said the city's once-thriving fisheries were in a "critical state." See "Experts urge action on fish stocks after stark warning," AFP at Yahoo! News, 11/3/06.

While environmentalists in Australia have called for more fish stocks to be protected, Australian fishing groups say this isn't necessary, and that the study in Science is "scaremongering." Neil Green, the president of the Queensland Seafood Industry Association, says Australian fishermen have been harvesting fish in environmentally friendly ways. In addition, the Australian government has been buying fishermen out to ensure economic sustainability. See "Fishing lobby bags indsutry sustainability report," ABC News Online, 11/3/06.

Some scientists were impressed by the overall article, but were uncomfortable with the projection that many fisheries could collapse by 2048 if no action is taken. In a note to colleagues that was mistakenly sent to The Seattle Times, Boris Worm, lead author of the study, wrote that the projection could act as a "news hook to get people's attention." "One reason why nobody cares about marine biodiversity is that there seemed no clear end in sight," he continued. "... Well, it's time to wake up — IF the current trend continues we will see drastic consequences in our own lifetime." When asked about the e-mail, Worm said that the 2048 projection is accurate, but there is still time to try to reverse the trend. See "Will seafood nets be empty? Grim outlook draws skeptics," Hal Bernton, The Seattle Times, 11/3/06.

Iran fires missiles in war games: Iran's Revolutionary Guards on Thursday started ten days of military maneuvers in the Gulf and Sea of Oman to show the country's "defensive strength." Thursday's exercise included firing missiles capable of carrying cluster warheads. The maneuvers follow US-led naval exercises involving 25 nations in the Gulf on Monday to train forces to block the transport of weapons of mass destruction and related equipment. The Revolutionary Guards held war games in the Gulf in April. Analysts interpreted those exercises as a thinly veiled threat that Iran could disrupt vital oil shipping lanes. See "Iran fires unarmed missiles," Reuters at CNN.com, 11/2/06.

Ocean fish, seafood could collapse by 2048: The world's fish and seafood populations will collapse by 2048 if current trends in habitat destruction and overfishing continue, resulting in less food for humans, researchers said on Thursday. In an analysis of scientific data going back to the 1960s and historical records over a thousand years, the researchers found that marine biodiversity has declined dramatically, with 29% of species already in collapse. Extending this pattern into the future, the scientists calculated that by 2048 all species would be in collapse. This applies to all species, from mussels and clams to tuna and swordfish, said Boris Worm, lead author of the study, which was published in the current edition of the journal Science. A greater use of protected areas could safeguard existing stocks. But protecting stocks demands political will. An unfortunate example is the North Sea cod fishery, which scientists have recommended be closed for the last several years. Politicians have been keeping it open. See "'Only 50 years left' for sea fish," Richard Black, BBC News, 11/2/06.

IMB releases pirate numbers: Piracy is generally down worldwide, but there are still dangerous regions. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recorded 174 attacks on the high seas in the first nine months of 2006, compared to 205 in the same period last year. Six crew members were killed and 20 were kidnapped, while 113 ships were boarded. The IMB noted that Chittagong in Bangladesh is now the world's most dangerous port, and that attacks near Nigeria had been particularly violent, with a rise in incidents against foreign oil workers there. Increased patrols are credited with a drop in the number of piracy and armed robbery incidents in Indonesian waters: there were 61 incidents in the first nine months of 2005, and only 40 for the same period this year. But Indonesia still had more attacks than anywhere else. See "Piracy on decline, but Bangladesh a hotspot: IMB," AFP at Khaleej Times Online, 11/1/06.

Somali pirates get jail sentence in Kenya: A Kenyan court on Wednesday sentenced 10 Somali men to seven years in prison each after convicting them of piracy in a landmark case that began with their capture by the US navy earlier this year. The sentences, which can be appealed, were handed down in Mombasa; last week all 10 were found guilty of piracy for hijacking the Indian vessel from which they were seized in January. They could have received life sentences. The defense had unsuccessfully argued that Kenya had no jurisdiction to try the men because they had been captured by the United States in international waters off Somalia's coast. The men were convicted of hijacking the dhow, the Safina Al Bisaraat, threatening the lives of its 16-member crew and demanding a ransom for their release. See "Somali pirates captured by U.S. Navy get 7 years each," Associated Press at CNN.com, 11/1/06.

Oil platform with 75 on board goes adrift off Norway's coast: Norwegian rescuers are working to stabilize an oil platform with 75 people onboard that is drifting about 100 nautical miles from Oslo. Rescue services said a coast guard ship would tow the platform as soon as weather conditions improve. The oil platform, Bredford Dolphin, operated by Norway's Fred Olson Energy company, recently underwent a regular maintenance procedure, and was being towed to the Gdansk shipyard in Poland. It went adrift in the south of the North Sea early on Wednesday, after a strong wind and rough seas broke the rope linking it to the tugboat. The rig is under control, and the passengers aren't in danger. See "Oil rig in "controlled drift" in North Sea," Marianne Fronsdal and Wojciech Moskwa, Reuters at Scotsman.com, 11/1/06.

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