News Archive - December 2006

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Britain's Royal Navy to mothball eight more ships: Britain's Ministry of Defence has told the armed forces to save more than £250 million this year, and £1 billion by April 2008. This could cause the Royal Navy to put half of its active ships into reduced readiness to save money. Six destroyers and frigates, and two other vessels are expected to be "mothballed" — it can take up to 18 months to bring mothballed ships back into service. The MoD will also cancel the last two of the eight Type-45 destroyers the navy was supposed to get. Adam Ingram, minister of state for the armed forces, admitted this month that 13 of the Royal Navy's 44 main vessels were already in mothballs to save cash. A total of 13 were at sea, and a further 18 in port and ready to go to sea at any time. But the decision to mothball another eight ships will mean that 21 of the 44 are not available. The problems with the defense budget are apparently tied to cost overruns in procurement projects such as the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoon, the Bowman communications system, and the Navy’s Astute submarine and Type-45 destroyer programs. See "Half of Royal Navy's ships in mothballs as defence cuts bite," Michael Smith, Sunday Times at Times Online, 12/31/06.

Plans to offload oil from Solar 1 in place: The Italian company Sonsub has been hired to remove over a million liters of oil still in the hold of the tanker Solar 1. Petron had chartered the vessel when it sank off the coast of Guimaras last August, causing the biggest oil spill in the Philippines. The offloading is scheduled to begin next February, and should take about 20 days. The Protection and Indemnity Club is footing the bill for the offloading operation, but if the cost exceeds $6 million, the International Oil Pollution Compensation will shoulder the excess. See "Equipment being readied to offload oil from Solar 1," Ronilo Ladrido Pamonag, The Philippine Star 12/29/06.

World ship prices expected to remain high - for now: Four out of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect the world's three largest shipyards — all Korean — to book new ship orders at current prices. This will set prices for new vessels at record highs for a third year. The Koreans have increased prices as they seek to protect themselves from higher costs for steel, engines and the stronger won. Their profits dropped by as much as 67 percent in 2004 because they hadn't anticipated that steel prices would rise as much as they did. But analysts say business could drop anywhere from 10 to 30 percent in 2007, as an overcapacity in shipping starts to grow. See "Biggest shipyards may keep record-high prices to counter costs," Bloomberg at The Korea Herald, 12/29/06.

Taiwan quake shakes confidence in undersea links: The earthquakes that hit Taiwan on Tuesday rocked communications in Asia and underscored the vulnerabilities of a system where huge amounts of data speed through the region in cables laid deep beneath the sea. However, right now there is no other network that can compete with submarine fiber-optic cables. And there should be few problems in the cable systems as long as there are backup routes and carriers can cooperate in times of crisis. Service was back to normal on the last business day of the year with telecoms companies securing new routes via land and satellite, and ships are already being sent to repair the cables. But many believe it might be time to bolster the undersea network. The region hit by the earthquakes is known to have cable networks running in the same direction, along earthquake-prone geographic lines. See "Asia mends data cables, plans patches for sea grid," Jon Herskovitz, Reuters at Scientific American.com, 12/29/06.

South Korean shipbuilders are buying more steel from China: Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. and Samsung Heavy Industries Co., the world's three biggest shipbuilders, all based in Korea, are buying more steel plate to deliver a record number of ships over the next three years. Samsung Heavy recently admitted it can't secure enough steel plate from suppliers in Korea and Japan, and so will more than double purchases of steel plate from China next year. The company purchased 9% of its steel from China this year, but next year it will buy 21% of its steel from that country. Hyundai Heavy bought about 16% of its steel from China this year, but will buy 22% next year. See "Shipmakers seek steel from China," Bloomberg at The Standard, 12/29/06.

Michigan to start regulating ballast water on the Great Lakes: Starting Monday, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will be the first in the nation to require ocean-going ships that load and unload cargo at the state's ports to have a special ballast water permit. Any ship that plans to discharge ballast must have appropriate technology that can kill any organisms they might be carrying from foreign waters. Michigan's new law pertains mainly to residual ballast. But as of Wednesday, no permits have been applied for. It seems that ship owners and operators are so far planning to simply avoid Michigan ports. This "loophole" leaves the Great Lakes vulnerable to invasive species, and could damage the state's economy, which is already in bad shape. But environmentalists say it's a starting point. See "Will permits hurt shipping industry?," Maureen Feighan, The Detroit News, 12/28/06.

Reports on US Navy and Coast Guard procurement programs: The Secrecy News site from the Federation of American Scientists has made several updated reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) available. "Coast Guard Deepwater Program: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress" is dated December 18, 2006 (PDF file). The Integrated Deepwater Systems project is the largest and most complex acquisition effort in Coast Guard history, and it has run up against some problems. This document summarizes the current issues, and suggests that potential options for Congress include: "continuing with the program as currently planned; instituting additional or stricter reporting requirements; compressing the acquisition period from 25 years to 15 or 10 years; replacing the current Lead System Integrator (LSI); dropping the use of an LSI in favor of direct Coast Guard management and integration of the program; and replacing the Deepwater program with a series of separate procurement programs for replacing individual classes of cutters, boats, and aircraft."

The report "Defense Procurement: Full Funding Policy — Background, Issues, and Options for Congress" was updated December 11, 2006 (PDF file). It describes the full funding policy, which is a federal budgeting rule imposed on the Department of Defense by Congress in the 1950s that requires the entire procurement cost of a weapon or piece of military equipment to be funded in the year in which the item is procured. Recently some items, notably Navy ships, have been procured in ways that do not conform to the policy as it has traditionally been applied to weapons procurement programs. This report suggests potential options for Congress.

US shipyards question federal ID requirements: Some US shipyards contend that the new screening system — the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) — would be redundant. While the new security efforts are geared toward port workers, some shipyards, other marine facilities and vessels would also fall under the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002. The law applies to shipyards capable of transferring more than 10,500 gallons (250 barrels) of fuel oil or other hazardous materials. The US Coast Guard will consider exempting shipyards if they can prove that existing security measures are equal to or exceed the new identification system. Northrop Grumman' Newport News shipyard has asked for an exemption, and the American Shipbuilding Association, a trade group that represents the nation's six major Navy shipbuilders, and the Virginia Ship Repair Association, among others, are expected to take steps to determine details of requirements. See "Shipyards say federal security rule may be redundant," The Virginian-Pilot at HamptonRoads.com, 12/27/06.

South Korea builds and designs complex ships: An article in The Chosun Ilbo describes three ships designed and built by Korean shipbuilders as being 'breakthrough concepts.' Samsung Heavy Industries has developed a multi-directional ice-breaking tanker that draws on cutting-edge technologies such as the world's lowest design temperatures, the world's best ice-breaking capability in all directions, and special paint technology to fight abrasion. Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering has created a new concept that moves unwieldy gas supply stations onto a ship. Daewoo created the world's first LNG-RV. Finally, Hyundai Heavy Industries has won a contract to build eight 11,400 TEU containerships. See "Korean Shipbuilders Design Breakthrough Concepts," The Chosun Ilbo, 12/26/06.

Jordanian ship's crew is handed over to the Red Cross: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Monday handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross the 25-member crew of a Jordanian merchant vessel, which had run aground off the Mullaitivu coast on Saturday. The crew, which included an Iraqi captain, 13 Jordanians and 11 Egyptians, are en route to Colombo. However, the fate of MV Farah III, which ran aground after engine trouble, remains uncertain. The Sri Lankan military believes that the ship was hijacked by the LTTE. See "Jordan shipwreck crew heads for Colombo," AFP at Yahoo! News, 12/25/06.

Urban and agricultural runoff harms coastal waters: Urban runoff is the fastest-growing source of ocean pollution. The storm water discharge, combined with partially treated sewage, agricultural waste, and pollution from smokestacks and vehicle tailpipes, is changing the chemistry of the seas. Algae, jellyfish and other primitive life-forms are thriving in this nutrient-rich environment, while corals, marine mammals and many fish species are struggling. Society is only starting to address the problem — the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility is the only urban-runoff recycling plant in the US. The Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, often has failed to enforce the Clean Water Act's requirement to stop pollutants from entering coastal waters, except when forced to do so by federal courts. One of the toughest tasks has been to discourage the excessive use of chemical fertilizers, which has created "dead zones" in the oceans. One way to ease the effect of agricultural waste on the oceans would be to restore some of the millions of acres of marshes and streamside forests that absorbed and recycled nitrogen before the land was cleared for farms. The US Department of Agriculture encourages such restoration, but many willing to set aside wetlands or plant buffers of grass and trees are turned away each year because of a shortage of funds. See "Slowing a tide of pollutants," Kenneth R. Weiss, Los Angeles Times, 12/25/06.

Sri Lanka vows ship rescue: Sri Lanka's military will mount an operation to rescue the crew of a Jordanian ship which drifted into waters near a Tamil Tiger stronghold, truce monitors said on Sunday. The ship was carrying a cargo of rice when it drifted off the Mullaittivu coast in the island's war-torn north-east early on Saturday after mechanical failure. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam earlier said the 25 crew of the Farah III were safe and that they were trying to arrange for their return through the International Red Cross. But the Sri Lankan military accused the Tamil Tigers of forcibly boarding the vessel while it was drifting in the seas, with its cargo of 14 000 tons of rice bound for South Africa from India. See "Sri Lanka to rescue crew of Jordanian ship from north," Reuters, 12/24/06.

Federal appeals court cuts oil spill judgment against Exxon: A US court has almost halved the damages oil giant Exxon Mobil must pay for a 1989 oil spill off Alaska. The San Francisco Federal appeals court reduced the payment from $4.5 billion to $2.5 billion, saying the previous decision had been excessive. It is the third time damages in the case have been reduced. The case, started in 1994 by more than 32,000 fishermen, native Alaskans and property owners, is one of the longest non-criminal ones in US history. In the original court ruling, Exxon was ordered to pay out $5 billion. Later decisions ordered the lower Alaskan court to set a lower limit for the penalty, but refused to say how much the penalty should be cut by. However, in the latest 2-1 judgment, Chief Judge Mary Schroeder and Judge Andrew Kleinfeld declared it was "time for this protracted litigation to end." Exxon has previously argued that it should have to pay no more than $25 million in punitive damages in the case as it has spent $3.5 billion on cleaning up the affected area and compensating victims of the spill. See "U.S. court cuts Exxon Valdez damages by $2 billion," Michael Erman, Reuters, 12/22/06.

EU fish quota deal hammered out: European Union ministers have reached a deal to regulate permitted fish catches in 2007, aimed at stimulating the recovery of depleted stocks. During late-night talks, the ministers agreed to a series of concessions offered by the European Commission, including a 14% cut in the North Sea cod catch. Cod will also be further protected by a cut in the days vessels spend at sea. For years, scientists have said that stocks will only recover if there is a total ban on cod fishing, but politicians ruled this out. EU Fisheries Minister Joe Borg said the Commission was trying to balance the need to rebuild depleted fish stocks with the needs of those whose livelihoods depend on fishing. "The result was a proposal that has been severely criticized by all sides for being too drastic for some and too weak for others," he said. The hope is that a gradual but sustained approach will deliver sustainable fisheries. Ministers agreed a 20% cut in waters to the west of the UK, 14% in the North Sea and 15% elsewhere. The number of days allowed for cod fishing was also reduced by between 7% and 10% depending on the mesh size of the net used. See "EU fish-quota fight finds unhappy compromise," Damian Carrington, NewScientist.com, 12/21/06.

The BBC News provides various ministers' "Reactions to EU fish quota deal," 12/21/06.

Shanghai set to become the word's biggest port: During the 1980s and 1990s, growth in China's economy outpaced capacity in its ports. Large container ships, too big to dock in Chinese ports, called at the regional hubs near China and unloaded their cargo there. Ports like Busan, Hong Kong and Kaohsiung, Taiwan grew as they handled cargo on its way to China; today, Busan is the biggest transshipment port in Northeast Asia. But China has been building up its port facilities at Shanghai, Shenzhen, Qingdao, Ningbo, Tianjin, Guangzhou and elsewhere. These new deepwater ports and more and bigger berths have freed China from relying on foreign ports to ship its own goods. China's seven biggest ports grew an average 53% a year between 2003 and 2005. Shanghai, currently the world's third biggest container port, is set to become the world's biggest by 2010. In contrast, Busan's grew only 3% between 2004 and 2005. In response, major ports in Asia are adding more facilities to offer a faster and cheaper handling of cargo. Many are also offering incentives to draw customers. See "Asian ports struggle to keep up with Shanghai," Choe Sang-Hun, International Herald Tribune, 12/20/06.

Barents Sea under threat from oil exploration: State-controlled oil company Statoil ASA is developing Norway's first Barents natural gas field, Snoehvit, which lies about 90 miles off the coast. It is a pioneering venture to extract natural gas in the fragile Arctic waters. Snoehvit is expected to come online a year from now. But the exploration is controversial. Both Norway and Russia are weighing the odds of hitting pay dirt against the potential damage to fragile Arctic ecosystems already under assault by global warming. Russia is developing the world's largest offshore natural gas field, Shtokman, off its own Arctic coast. And the Italian oil company Eni SpA discovered oil and natural gas at another field, called Goliat, off the Arctic coast. But the World Wildlife Fund calls the Barents "Europe's last wild sea," and warns these moves pose a serious threat to the area. See "Hunger for oil puts 'Europe's last wild sea' at risk," Doug Mellgren, Associated Press at Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/20/06.

New standards for passenger ship safety: A number of new international standards for passenger ship safety were adopted during IMO's Maritime Safety Committee meeting held 29 November to 8 December 2006. Topics include: Revised passenger ship safety standards; Fire regulations on balconies; Prevention of accidents involving lifeboats; Protective coatings; IMSO appointed to oversee new satellite providers; Goal-based new ship construction standards; Measures to enhance maritime security; Long Range Identification and Tracking; Explosions on chemical and product carriers; Impact of ISM Code; Near misses; and Implementation of the revised STCW Convention. The document also lists the resolutions that were adopted; and lists the circulars and circular letters approved by MSC 82. See the press release "MSC 82 - outcome" from the International Maritime Organization, 12/19/06.

Experts say entomb WWII sub off Norway: The German vessel U864 was sent by Adolf Hitler to Japan in 1945 with a cargo of mercury for weapons production and engine parts for aircraft. The British submarine HMS Venturer sunk the U-boat off the Norwegian coast. The wreck of U864 was found by the Norwegian navy in 2003. Authorities found toxic levels of mercury contamination, and documentation suggests the boat contains 65 tons of mercury. The wreck cannot be removed because the mercury canisters might disintegrate. The shipwreck is considered to be the most threatening of the 2,500 the Norwegian Coastal Administration currently monitors, which says entombment is the only option to avert an environmental catastrophe. The wreck will be covered with sand and gravel, or possibly even concrete. The entombment would also be appropriate for the captain and his crew of 72, killed when the boat sank. See "Toxic timebomb surfaces 60 years after U-boat lost duel to the death," Martin Fletcher, The Times Online, 12/19/06.

Panel wants US port security czar: A task force established by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has called for a port security czar to coordinate the federal agencies that oversee the nation's 361 seaports. It also wants mandatory security standards for cargo. The task force determined that an attack at or through any one port would likely disrupt operations nationwide. It recommended that each port develop its own recovery plan, so it could return to business as soon as possible after a disaster. US Department of Homeland Security spokesman Jarrod Agen said that a port security czar would simply add to bureaucracy. The department plans to maintain a balance between proper screening, and ensuring that commerce is not strangled. See "Ports panel calls for security czar, U.S. standards," Jeffrey Gold, Associated Press at Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/19/06.

EU ministers haggle over fish quotas: European fisheries ministers are being urged to ban cod fishing in the North Sea completely during annual negotiations on catch quotas that began today. The European Commission has recommended cutbacks including a 25% reduction in the permitted cod quota. It also advised smaller but significant reductions in plaice, sole and hake allowances. But scientific experts — for the fifth year in a row — insist nothing short of a total ban will save the most depleted species. Ross Finnie, the Scottish environment minister, has already indicated he would be against even the compromise cut in order to protect the dwindling fishing industry. And every year, ministers have agreed that a shutdown would be politically unacceptable. EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg said he was heeding the scientific advice and looking to reach a compromise. He insisted there were positive signs of recovery in some fish stocks which have been subject of EU recovery program. See "EU urged to cut cod fishing quota," Guardian Unlimited, 12/19/06.

British submarine plan could be in jeopardy: Britain's Commons Defence Committee have expressed concerns over the nuclear-powered submarine plan put forward by the Ministry of Defence: first, that the MoD lacks the capacity to manage such a large and complex project effectively, and second, that the skills base in Britain has fallen to the "minimum level" necessary to maintain a submarine industry. The Committee feels that the skills base is already at a critical level, and insists that it must be retained. The Committee is particularly concerned over the MoD's shortage of systems engineers and project managers. MPs will vote on the submarine plan in March. See "Skills warning over submarines plan," Press Association at Guardian Unlimited, 12/19/06.

France's DCN and Thales will form alliance: The board of France's state-owned naval shipyards DCN approved a tie-up with defense electronics group Thales. DCN manufactures warships and submarines, and supplies defense computer systems and advanced technology. The French navy is its main customer, but it also supplies navies around the world. Thales supplies electronics to the defense and security sectors. The new alliance will be one of Europe's three biggest shipbuilders. The transaction is expected to be completed in June of next year. Both companies declined to say how much they would be worth after the join-up. See "French shipbuilder DCN approves tie-up with Thales," AFP at Yahoo! News, 12/18/06.

US Coast Guard won't create live firing ranges on the Great Lakes: The US Coast Guard is withdrawing plans to establish several live firing ranges on the Great Lakes. The move would have periodically closed 2,500 square miles of the lakes. The plan was criticized by several US and Canadian mayors, business leaders and environmentalists who said it could be unsafe and disruptive, and that it could threaten commercial fishing and boating interests. During several public hearings in the region, Coast Guard officials said the training exercises were vital to its homeland security and law enforcement missions. But the service is also aware of the diverse uses of the Lakes. See "Coast Guard withdraws Great Lakes live fire exercises on Great Lakes," Ken Thomas, Associated Press at The Columbus Dispatch, 12/18/06.

Report accuses Japan of overfishing bluefin tuna: A report by a committee of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna suggests the Japanese fishing fleet is taking far more than its quota. Japan's Fisheries Agency has said that 1,800 tons were caught above quota in 2005. But the report estimated that 100,000 tons of bluefin above quota were sold in Japan between 1996 and 2005. During a meeting in October, Australian officials were sharply critical of Japan and forced the country to agree to halve its quota. The meeting was not public. Bluefin is highly valued in Japan for sushi and sashimi. The Commission was founded in 1994 because stocks of the fish were becoming seriously depleted. See "Japan's excessive fishing of southern tuna detailed," Kyodo News at The Japan Times Online, 12/18/06.

Fisheries group fails to cut tuna quotas: The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission voted in Samoa to maintain quotas for bigeye tuna and yellowfin tuna in the central and western Pacific Ocean, including the waters around Japan, in 2007 and 2008. In the face of declining worldwide tuna stocks, experts had recommended reducing catches of bigeye tuna by 25 percent and yellowfin by 10 percent, but no agreement could be reached at the meeting. In recent months, drastically depleted stocks of bluefin tuna led international agencies to cut quotas for it by nearly eight percent. See "Pacific Fisheries Group Maintains Tuna Quotas," Reuters at Environmental News Network, 12/18/06.

China is exploring the ocean: China has been putting quite a bit of effort into the ocean this year, since the country's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) includes the mandate of "reasonably utilizing oceanic resources." The Dayang Yihao, China's first scientific research ship, circumnavigated the globe, mapping the ocean floor for future deep-sea mining operations, and conducting biological research. The country began construction of a base for polar expeditions in the Pudong New District of Shanghai; the project is scheduled to be completed in 2010. The country is building what will be the world's first manned submersible capable of going down to 30,000 feet (7000 meters). China will also launch an upgraded satellite designed to monitor the marine environment. See "2006 sees China vigorously exploring ocean's secrets," Xinhua at People's Daily Online, 12/17/06.

US approves change to package labeling for surimi: In November, the US Food and Drug Administration changed its rules to allow "imitation" seafood producers to drop the word from labels. Packages of surimi — whitefish processed to approximate crab, lobster and other types of seafood — can now use labels that say "flavored seafood." Fisheries groups worked for more than a decade to persuade the FDA to permit the labeling change, since they felt that the word "imitation" was viewed as a negative description. But some fishermen worry that consumers could perceive "crab-flavored seafood" to be closer to the real thing, which might drive down the price of genuine crab. See "It's still imitation crab by any other name," James Temple, Contra Costa Times, 12/16/06.

Wave technology is maturing: Several companies are designing systems to make electricity out of waves, but one, Ocean Power Technologies, could start creating electricity as early as 2007. OPT, led by George Taylor, uses buoys, either individually or a dozen or more linked together, that can convert a wave's up-and-down motion into electricity. The power can then be carried ashore by undersea cables and fed into the national power grid. OPT already has working prototypes in the water, and is generating power off several countries. Researchers at Oregon State University say that only 0.2 percent of the ocean's untapped wave energy could power the entire world. And so far, no major environmental problems have been found with the technology. See "Energy from the motion of the ocean," Dan Drollette, FSB Magazine at CNNMoney.com, 12/15/06.

Problems with US Coast Guard's new cutters: It has been revealed that the US Coast Guard failed to inform Congress about warnings from its chief engineer about structural design flaws in its new National Security Cutter. In 2004 Rear Admiral Erroll Brown warned Rear Admiral Patrick M. Stillman, the official in charge of the Coast Guard's Deepwater acquisition program, that the vessel's design had "significant flaws" and that construction should not begin until they were addressed. The Coast Guard provided Congress information about problems with two other programs — the renovation of 49 110-foot patrol boats, and construction of the Fast Response Cutter. But Congress was not told details about the National Security Cutter, and several Congressional leaders have expressed concern. The Coast Guard intends to reinforce the first two versions of the National Security Cutter and to change the design of the remaining six versions, a plan it notified Congress of last week. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman were hired in 2002 to design the ships, build them and oversee most of the other project details. The companies have declined to comment. See "Lawmakers Say Coast Guard Withheld Warning of Flaws in Cutter Design," Eric Lipton, The New York Times, 12/14/06.

The New York Times also published an editorial about the issue, entitled "Ships That Don't Dare to Sail," 12/14/06.

BAE Systems, VT Group in talks over joint venture: Britain's shipbuilders BAE Systems and VT Group are in talks to combine their businesses into a joint venture. BAE Systems' submarine business would not be included. A BAE spokesman said they hoped to conclude the joint venture talks in the first half of next year. The announcement was probably triggered by defense procurement minister Lord Drayson's desire to see progress on industry consolidation talks by Christmas — and before the Ministry of Defence awards a deal to build two new aircraft carriers. The carrier deal would go to an alliance of companies, including BAE and VT, and is expected to get final ministerial approval by early next year. See "BAE, VT Group Discuss Joint Venture," Andrew Chuter, DefenseNews.com, 12/14/06.

Yellow Sea biodiversity needs protection says WWF: In response to worsening pollution in China's Yellow Sea, environmental group WWF is pushing for the establishment of a network of protected areas between China and South Korea. WWF says that industrial pollution, agricultural runoff, and sewage contaminate coastal waters of the Yellow Sea, while river dams disrupt natural nutrient flows. The Yellow Sea is home to a number of threatened species including the gray whale, the dugong, and several species of sea turtle. It is one of the largest shallow areas of continental shelf in the world. The call for the establishment of a network of protected areas came at recent meeting of the East Asian Seas Congress. Scientists from China, Korea, and Japan have identified 23 priority areas for conservation. See the press release "Protecting China's Yellow Sea" from WWF, 12/13/06.

EU steps up safety inspections for vessels in ports: European Transport ministers have reached agreement on a directive aiming to ensure that safety inspections are carried out on all ships calling at EU ports in a bid to prevent pollution at sea. The proposed directive on port state control, which is part of the Commission's third maritime safety package, will be transmitted to the European Parliament, where it will be debated. Currently, individual countries set their own rules for inspections, and only about 25% of vessels are checked. But if the ministers' proposals are approved, all ships in EU ports will be checked, and inspections on vessels known to be substandard will last longer. See "EU to ban unsafe ships from its ports," Reuters at Jamaica Gleaner News, 12/12/06.

US Navy's NMCI gets bad marks: The Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) project was designed to offer stronger computer security. The US Government Accountability Office has just released a report stating that the 10-year, $9.3 billion system is behind schedule, and performing poorly. After more than six years and $3.7 billion spent, the system is short some 100,000 planned "seats," and those systems that are in place aren't fully functional. The software and applications do not meet the needs of many users, according to GAO's reporting, and many users continue to utilize their old computer systems and software. In fact, the report notes that "The Navy has not met any of its performance categories associated with achieving NMCI strategic goals and realizing program benefits." See "$9B Navy computer system foundering," United Press International, 12/12/06.

More outbreaks of Norovirus are being seen on cruise ships: The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta say the Norovirus family of viruses seems to be on the rise lately. Generally, the bug gets the spotlight only when it shows up in a group setting — such as a cruise, a nursing home, a school or a restaurant. And the CDC only receives data for cruise ships and food-borne outbreaks. Cruise ships tend to get bad publicity from Norovirus, since they are required to log gastrointestinal incidents, and the CDC gets involved when outbreaks strike 2 percent of the passengers or crew. After 338 passengers and 43 crew members took ill on the Nov. 26-Dec. 3 voyage of Freedom of the Seas, Royal Caribbean scrubbed the ship. Yet on her next voyage, some 97 of 3,907 passengers and 11 of 1,400 crew showed gastrointestinal symptoms matching Norovirus. At the urging of the CDC, the ship's voyage was delayed two days until today so an extra team of cleaners could disinfect the ship. This is a particularly active year for Norovirus aboard cruise ships. So far in 2006, the CDC has logged outbreaks of Norovirus-like illness on 33 cruises, compared with 18 cruises during all of 2005. The most recent case, Holland America's Zaandam, was reported Monday. But Dr. Marc-Alain Widdowson, a CDC medical epidemiologist, says that "Informal reports suggest there has been an increase in Norovirus outbreaks around the country." See "Norovirus cases appear to be increasing -- and not just on cruise ships," Martha Brannigan, MiamiHerald.com, 12/12/06 (free registration required).

Dubai Ports sells interest at six US ports: Dubai Ports World announced Monday it has reached a deal to sell its US port operations to a subsidiary of AIG Global Investment Group. The operations comprise marine terminal concessions in the ports of New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami, Tampa and New Orleans, coupled with stevedoring operations in 16 locations along the east and Gulf coasts and a passenger terminal in New York City. "While we are disappointed to be exiting the US market, the price we received was fair," said DP World chairman Sultan bin Sulayem. The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and is expected to close during the first quarter of 2007. The US Congress opposed DP World's acquisition of US operations on security grounds, and although President Bush backed the deal, the Dubai government put an end to the controversy by deciding in March to cede control of the ports to a US entity. See "Dubai Ports sells US operations," Associated Press at International Herald Tribune, 12/11/06.

Report on the US LCS procurement program released: The US Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently published the report Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Oversight Issues and Options for Congress (PDF file dated 11/30/06). The report states that the LCS program raises several potential oversight issues for Congress, including the increase in reported LCS unit procurement costs, the program's total acquisition cost, the acquisition strategy for later ships in the program, and the funding of LCS mission packages. For example, cost estimates for the first few ships in the program have increased from the FY2006 budget submission to the FY2007 budget submission. The Navy states these differences are due mostly to the fact that last year's budget omitted items that are usually included, such as program management costs. Another point raised is that the LCS mission packages will be procured through the Other Procurement, Navy (OPN) appropriation account rather than the Navy's ship-procurement account. But skeptics could argue that LCS mission packages, which will incorporate sensors as well as weapons, aren't comparable to items generally procured through OPN, such as missiles and gun shells. The CRS report outlines a number of options for Congress to take regarding the LCS program, including finding ways to better understand total potential costs. (Thanks go to the Secrecy News site from the Federation of American Scientists for distributing this report.)

Fisheries overhaul slated for the US: Congress has passed the broadest overhaul of the rules that govern the US fishing industry in a decade, with provisions instructing fishery managers to adhere strictly to scientific advice so as not to deplete the ocean. The final language of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which passed the Senate on Thursday and the House early Saturday, was a compromise between environmentalists and fishing interests. The measure mandates an end to overfishing of depleted species within 2 1/2 years and allows the selling and trading of shares in a fishery to promote conservation. It also would create a 10-year permit system that would still allow limited access in some waters that have been overfished. President George W. Bush said the US "is committed to maintaining our thriving commercial and recreational fishing communities." He is expected to sign the bill (HR 5946) into law. See "Bush says U.S. committed to strong fishing industries," Matthew Daly, Associated Press at TheState.com, 12/9/06.

Crime aboard cruise ships is scrutinized: Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, an industry lobbying group, claims that "Cruising remains one of the safest vacation options available." And statistics seem to support that claim: 24 passengers were reported missing by cruise lines from 2002 to 2005, which is a fraction of the roughly 10 million tourists who cruise every year. But many critics believe the cruise lines underreport crime on their ships to protect their image. The disappearance of George A. Smith IV from a Royal Caribbean ship sparked congressional hearings and a stalled bill sponsored by US Representative Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), requiring cruise lines to quickly report cases of missing passengers and crimes directly to the Department of Homeland Security. US Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), is considering adding a missing passengers bill to her agenda for next year. See "Missing passengers a dilemma for image-conscious cruise industry," Adrian Sainz, Associated Press at MiamiHerald.com, 12/9/06.

More scrutiny of the US Coast Guard's Deepwater program: The New York Times has published the first of two articles entitled "Failure to Navigate" that discuss the US Coast Guard's Deepwater Program. The first article gives detailed descriptions of the current procurement projects — all problematic so far — and points out that the service's problems will only grow worse in the next few years as old boats fail and replacements aren't ready. Many people point to the joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, created to run the Deepwater program, as the main problem, as it allows the contractors to sometimes put their interests ahead of the Coast Guard's. Part of the reason the Coast Guard turned to Lockheed and Northrop Grumman was because the two companies have strong lobbyists, and are large enough to get the White House and Congress to listen to them. But the problems encountered so far have forced the Coast Guard to renegotiate its contract with them to ensure that the companies honor a commitment to open the work to competition and deliver what they promise. Admiral Thad W. Allen, commandant of the service, said the Coast Guard engineers and procurement staff team would now play a much larger role in overseeing the project in an effort to rein in its private sector partners, adding that the mistakes made were unacceptable. See "Billions Later, Plan to Remake the Coast Guard Fleet Stumbles," Eric Lipton, The New York Times, 12/9/06 (registration may be required).

US Corporations are starting to buy sustainable fish: Only about 6% of the global fish catch is certified as "sustainable," meaning that fish are not pulled from the ocean faster than they can reproduce and are not caught in ways that destroy other sea life or undersea habitat. Some corporations are starting to join the sustainability movement. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the largest seafood retailer in the US, has pledged within three to five years to sell nothing but wild-caught seafood that meets standards for sustainability set out by the nonprofit Marine Stewardship Council. McDonald's is talking to its suppliers to come up with sustainably caught fish for its Filet-O-Fish sandwiches. Darden Restaurants, parent of Red Lobster, is taking similar steps, as is the Compass Group, America's largest food-service provider to corporate and university cafeterias. While this is good news, critics say it's too late for the market alone to protect fish when the world's population is growing and two-thirds of the world's commercial stocks are already being fished at or beyond their capacity. Critics say governments need to restrict catches and take other measures to slow the plunder of the sea's diminishing bounty. See "Corporations put clout behind effort to save fish," Kenneth R. Weiss, Los Angeles Times at ContraCostaTimes.com, 12/8/06.

Scientists model the deterioration of a shipwreck: The USS Arizona, which has been sitting at the bottom of Pearl Harbor for the past 65 years, still has about 500,000 gallons of bunker C fuel oil trapped in its hull. Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have created what they think is the first mathematical model to simulate the ship's deterioration, to try to determine when the hull is likely to collapse, and set loose the remaining fuel. The model could be used to predict the deterioration of hundreds of wrecks around the country. The model is based on the design of the ship, the properties of the metal used to build it, corrosion and damage, and external forces, such as water pressure, gravity and waves. Although not perfect, the model is expected to give a time frame within which the ship is likely to fail, as well as the type of failure. See "At Pearl Harbor, a cautious wait," Michael E. Ruane, The Washington Post at The Seattle Times, 12/8/06.

US Coast Guard's Deepwater program gets bad marks: The US Coast Guard's decision last week to suspend operations of eight recently-lengthened cutters highlights some of the problems the unit has been having with its 25-year modernization program. Deepwater will upgrade and replace the Coast Guard's entire fleet of aircraft and ships. But problems with the program are hobbling the service's transformation into a front-line homeland security force. The program's failures are spelled out in a series of Government Accountability Office and Department of Homeland Security inspector general's reports and in congressional testimony, which point to the leeway given to the program's contractors, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. Their joint venture, Integrated Coast Guard Systems, has been given unusual authority to run the Deepwater program. The companies make many of the important decisions, including which ships and aircraft are needed and which subcontractors will design and build them, according to GAO and inspector general reports. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have declined to comment, referring all questions to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has taken criticism of the program seriously and made significant improvements in the past few years. See "Costly Fleet Update Falters," Renae Merle and Spencer S. Hsu, The Washington Post, 12/8/06.

Global warming will affect phytoplankton: A new study of the oceans suggests that phytoplankton, the vital first link in the ocean's food chain, will be affected by global warming. The research team was led by Michael Behrenfeld at Oregon State University, and used a sensor on NASA's SeaWiFS satellite to measure different shades of green (from chlorophyll) in the ocean. Behrenfeld's "map" of phytoplankton found that the mass underwent two big changes over the study period, both linked to El Nino effects. The scientists, whose paper appears in Thursday's issue of Nature, say the results clearly link the sea's surface temperature with the abundance of phytoplankton, and thus provide an excellent indicator of what could happen in a warming climate. Fisheries in the tropics and mid-latitudes could be badly hit by the loss of these micro-organisms as a result of warmer waters, the paper implies. Conversely, colder, higher-latitude seas could benefit. Behrenfeld says, "Prolonged warming is going to cause changes in biodiversity." He now wants to take a more detailed look at the changes happening in the oceans. See "Warming oceans produce less phytoplankton," Catherine Brahic, NewScientist.com, 12/6/06.

Shift in Massachusetts shipping lanes proposed to help whales: Three years ago, the International Maritime Organization shifted shipping lanes in Canada's Bay of Fundy to protect right whales from collisions with ships; this was the first time a shipping lane was altered to protect an endangered species. This week, the IMO is expected to vote for a similar shift in shipping lanes off Massachusetts. The move is expected to reduce the risk of ship strikes to the North Atlantic right whale by up to 60 percent and other large baleen whales by as much as 81 percent. If the US government request is approved, the shift will take place in June to ensure there is time to make changes to navigational charts. Not everyone is happy about the plan, however. The Massachusetts Port Authority and the Boston Harbor Pilot Association say that the proposed change could cause more ship collisions because it narrows each inbound and outbound lane by half a mile, making each of them one mile wide rather than the traditional two miles. See "Whales to get more breathing room off Massachusetts," Beth Daley, The Boston Globe at International Herald Tribune, 12/6/06.

Japan works on a comprehensive marine policy: Japan is working on a draft marine law that would integrate the nation's ocean and maritime policies. Should it be passed by the Diet next year, the bill will be the first law to incorporate all maritime policies. The policies include management of the exclusive economic zone, protection and preservation of the marine environment, development of underwater resources and marine transport. The draft bill also urges the central government to promote education concerning the sea, improve research and development and better arrange ocean probe measures. Japan's responses in troubles over marine-related interests have been quite slow, including the issue of gas field development by China in the East China Sea. The government has been criticized for its lack of comprehensive marine policies. See "Govt panel eyes unification of marine policies," Yomiuri Shimbun, The Daily Yomiuri, 12/6/06.

Submarine crew rescued from seabed: The Australian Submarine Rescue Vehicle (ASRV) Remora was conducting a certification trial about 15 nautical miles west of Wanneroo when one of the cables attaching it to the mother ship snapped. The vessel was lowered 226 feet (130 meters) to the sea floor, where its two crew remained for about 15 hours. During the rescue, a secondary cable attached to the mother ship was used to winch the vessel to just below the surface, where divers swam down and brought the men to the surface. The two men are receiving medical treatment, but are reported unharmed. See "Stranded Australian submarine crew rescued," Reuters at Yahoo! News, 12/5/06.

Chinese vessel charged with failure to render assistance: On August 5, four passengers lost in the open Pacific Ocean allegedly came into contact with the Chinese fishing support vessel Hai Shun. The vessel didn't offer assistance, and the castaways spent another 29 days at sea. After being rescued, supporting evidence that the Hai Shun had, indeed, abandoned them became clear. Master of vessel, Zhang Xiaohui, was charged on November 29th with failure to render assistance to persons in distress within the Federated States of Micronesia Exclusive Economic Zone. Zhang Xiaohui faces a penalty of $100,000 and/or one year in jail if he is convicted of the offense. The four passengers may also have civil recourse for the alleged abandonment. It is also alleged that the vessel's VMS may have been switched off several times during recent voyages through Micronesia's EEZ. It is not clear if charges can be filed against the vessel for the VMS violations. Colonel Pius Chotailug, Chief of Federated States of Micronesia's Police said, "This is a very clear breach of not only national and international law but it is a fundamental obligation of all mariners to render assistance to one another in distress." See "Fishing Vessel Said to Have Left Chuukese Stranded in Open Ocean," Bill Jaynes, The Kaselehie Press at SmallTownPapers News Service, 12/4/06.

Project to use kites to propel ships continues: For the past four years SkySails, a German company, has been testing out the concept of tethering a kite to a ship's mast in order to boost the vessel's propulsion, and conserve fuel. Bremen ship owner Beluga Shipping is an early adopter; their MV Beluga SkySails will make its maiden voyage in early 2007. Inventor Stephan Wrage says that by cutting fuel use, the SkySail could help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Depending on the vessel and winds, fuel costs for shippers could be cut by more than $1,000 a day. SkySails use offshore winds between 330 and 985 feet above the surface of the water, but they would be useless with head-on winds and would not benefit ships traveling above 16 knots. Still, Wrage projects 1,500 vessels will have the system by 2015. European Union restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions threaten penalties for those who fail to act to curb them, and the fuels that ships use are especially dirty. See "German high-tech sky sail may cut costs, emissions," Erik Kirschbaum, Reuters, 12/4/06.

Blair unveils nuclear deterrent plans: Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair laid out plans Monday for a new multibillion-dollar nuclear deterrent, telling lawmakers the future may hold perilous threats from rogue regimes and state-sponsored terrorists. "In these circumstances, it would be unwise and dangerous for Britain alone of any of the nuclear powers to give up its independent nuclear deterrent," he said. Blair said Britain may reduce its nuclear-armed submarine fleet from four to three and cut back on its stock of nuclear warheads from 200 to 160 — a move that makes the proposal more acceptable to detractors within his own party. Opposition leaders endorsed the new deterrent. See "UK to keep nukes, cut warheads," Reuters at CNN.com, 12/4/06.

The Sunday Times reported on Sunday that the new submarines might not be built in Britain. This fact, along with the stated option of cutting the fleet down to three, would threaten thousands of jobs, since the UK has traditionally manufactured its nuclear arsenal domestically. The proposed cut in the number of warheads might be a move to placate Labour MPs. See "Trident fleet could be built abroad," David Cracknell and Michael Smith, The Sunday Times, 12/3/06.

Solar 1 settlement announced: The International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF) will pay some 13,000 claimants from the Solar 1 oil spill off Guimaras about $2.7 million in compensation. The IOPCF hopes to pay the claims before Christmas. The types of claims vary, from property damage to economic loss in fisheries, marine culture and fish processing sectors; claims for clean-up costs, for tourism losses, to measures easing economic loss and environmental damage and post spill studies. Claimants include 32 resort owners and 3,700 fishermen. The IOPCF is an international group that provides compensation for oil pollution damage resulting from spills of persistent oil from tankers. See "Guimaras oil spill victims get $2.7M," Ely Suyom, The Manila Times Internet Edition, 12/3/06.

Japanese sub's captain blamed for collision: The Japanese military submarine Asashio collided with the chemical tanker Spring Auster when it broke the surface of the sea off southern Japan on November 21. No one was hurt, but a vertical fin on the submarine's tail and the tanker's bilge were damaged. An investigation into the incident now puts blame on the sub's captain. The boat's sonar crew reported the approaching tanker, but the skipper thought it was the sound of a propeller of a ship sailing away from it and had the submarine continue surfacing. The Japan Coast Guard is considering sending information on the skipper's case to prosecutors by the end of March for possible indictment on charges of professional negligence posing danger to traffic. See "Sub skipper's error blamed for collision," Kyodo News at The Japan Times Online, 12/3/06.

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