News Archive - February 2007

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Verdict on Al Dana boat tragedy is delayed: The tourist boat Al Dana capsized in calm Gulf waters only a few hundred yards off the Bahrain coast on March 30, 2006, killing 58 people. The Criminal Court, which had been expected to announce a verdict on the issue, has been adjourned until March 27, 2007. The boat owner, Abdulla Al Kobaisi, has been accused of manslaughter in the case. He maintains his innocence, and has filed a counter case against Island Tours. Apparently, the boat was surveyed and the owner was given a list of requirements the vessel had to meet before it could be given a safety certificate for carrying passengers. But the process was not completed and the boat went to sea without the all-clear. Although Al Kobaisi had denied giving orders to the captain of the boat to sail, he later confessed to the Public Prosecutor that he did so, despite having the knowledge that the vessel was not allowed to leave the jetty. See "Al Dana boat case adjourned till March 27," Khaleej Times Online, 2/28/07.

Japan cuts short Antarctic whale hunt: Japan has abandoned whale hunting in the Antarctic for this season after its main whaling ship was crippled by a fire two weeks ago, the Fisheries Agency said on Wednesday. The Nisshin Maru, the flagship of what Japan calls its research whaling fleet, restarted its engines at the weekend after being stranded in frigid waters since the fire, which killed a crewman. The whaling ship can now sail under its own power, but given the damage to equipment from the fire, continuing the hunt would be difficult, the Agency said in a news release. The fleet has caught 505 minke whales and 3 fin whales since it set out in November last year, compared with a planned catch of 850 minke and 10 fin whales. The Nisshin Maru is due back in Tokyo in late March, when it will undergo an inspection to try to determine the cause of the fire. The Fisheries Agency hopes to repair the ship for another expedition this year. See "Japan cuts short whale hunt," Shigemi Sato, AFP at Yahoo! News, 2/28/07.

Old US ships are cleaned in international waters: The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board announced on February 16 that tests showed that cleaning old ships waiting to be scrapped in the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet causes copper, zinc, lead and other toxic metals to come off, along with organic materials such as seaweed and barnacles. California clean water regulators are currently deciding whether to require permits for the work because of concerns about pollution. The spread of invasive species is also at issue. However, two World War II ships from Suisun Bay are being cleaned in international waters in the Gulf of Mexico, where environmental scrutiny doesn't apply. Maritime administrator Sean Connaughton said late Monday the ships left California without cleaning in order to determine what marine growth on their hulls could survive the 45-day journey to Texas, where the Jason and the Queens Victory will be scrapped. Texas officials had asked that the ships be cleaned before entering state waters. See "WWII vessels cleaned in Gulf," Thomas Peele, ContraCostaTimes.com, 2/27/07.

Four of the UN aid ship hijackers are arrested: Gunmen used speedboats to intercept the Kenyan-owned MV Rozen on Sunday, taking twelve crewmembers hostage. The ship has been anchored off Bargal since the hijacking. Four of the gunmen stayed onboard the ship, but another four were arrested when they went on shore to buy supplies. Andrew Mwangura, director of the Mombasa Seafarers Assistance Program, says negotiations for the release of the crew and vessel are underway, and going well. The vessel is surrounded by five police boats and was sailing southward. The ship, chartered from Mombasa-based Motaku Shipping Agency, was seized after unloading 1,800 tons of food aid at two northern Somali ports. It was the third hijacking in two years of a ship hired to carry relief supplies by the WFP. See "U.N. agency: Somalia arrests 4 pirate suspects," Reuters at CNN.com, 2/27/07.

More protection for bluefin tuna is sought: Joe Borg, the European Union's top fisheries officials, is pressing for stronger protections for the bluefin tuna. His plan includes extending the fishing off-season, reducing tuna sold on the black market, and imposing new worldwide cuts in catch quotas as quickly as possible. The EU's 27 member states are expected to approve the measures within weeks. Illegal fishing has been a particular problem for the species; it is estimated that one in three catches goes undeclared onto the black market. The new measures will prohibit companies from sending helicopters out to spot large groups of bluefin at sea, and will allow controllers from one nation to check vessels from another. Limits will also be put on recreational fishing. See "EU Wants to Speed Up Tuna Protection," Raf Casert, Associated Press at Newsday.com, 2/27/07.

Indonesian ferry sinks during inspection: An Indonesian passenger ferry that caught fire last week capsized Sunday as accident investigators and journalists inspected the charred Levina 1, killing one person and leaving three others missing. The accident occurred hours after authorities announced that the death toll from Thursday's blaze had climbed to at least 49. The gutted wreckage had been towed and anchored near Jakarta's port when it suddenly tilted and sank. Life vests were available, but police did not make wearing them a condition of joining the trip. The Levina 1 was carrying at least 330 passengers when a fire broke out before dawn Thursday in a truck on the car deck. More than 290 people were rescued from the stricken ferry, in the second maritime disaster in Indonesia in recent months. The death toll could rise, as families are still identifying missing relatives. See "Death Toll in Indonesia Ferry Fire at 49," Irwan Firdaus, The Associated Press at Examiner.com. 2/26/07.

Japanese whaling ship clears danger zone: A Japanese whaling ship, stranded off the Antarctic coast after a fire, appears to no longer pose a danger to wildlife. The Nisshin Maru, the flagship of Japan's whaling fleet, re-started its engines over the weekend for a "test run" following a fire below deck which killed a crewman. It is not entirely clear if the ship will be leaving. Karli Thomas from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza said the Japanese expedition leader told Greenpeace "their destination was Japan." But Japan Fisheries Agency official Hideki Moronuki denied the whaling season had ended. The fire broke out in the middle of the yearly Japanese whale harvest, which Tokyo insists is conducted for research purposes. Anti-whaling countries argue the hunt violates a 1986 global ban on commercial whaling. The blaze sparked concern from anti-whaling activists that oil or chemicals could spill into the pristine Southern Ocean, close to the world's biggest Adelie penguin breeding colony. See "Japan whaler finally heading home?," Associated Press at CNN.com, 2/26/07.

James River fleet funds go elsewhere: The US Maritime Administration has reported that the most environmentally unstable of the "Ghost Fleet" ships remaining in the James River Reserve Fleet have already been removed. Therefore, the federal agency will spend 2008 funds to dispose of ships in California and Texas that are still considered to be at high risk. About 55 ships have been removed from the James River fleet since 2002; 44 obsolete ships still remain in Virginia. President Bush has proposed spending $20 million on ship disposal for the National Defense Reserve Fleet in 2008, a slight increase from the amount provided by Congress this year. See "Maritime agency: No funding in '08 for Va. 'Ghost Fleet' removal," Associated Press at TimesDispatch.com, 2/26/07.

NYC can't limit ferry crash damages: On October 15, 2003, the ferry Andrew J. Barberi hit a concrete maintenance pier at full speed, killing 11 people and leaving dozens of other passengers injured. Pleading guilty to negligent manslaughter in 2005, ferry director Patrick Ryan, the top-ranking city official charged in the crash, admitted he failed to implement or enforce a rule requiring two pilots during docking. Captain Richard Smith had blacked out, and the ship drifted. Nearly 180 claims were filed after the crash; 119 have been settled for $27.6 million. The city had sought to cap damages on outstanding cases at $14.4 million — the value of the vessel — based on a 19th century maritime statute. But a federal judge has refused to limit liability claims. City officials are considering an appeal. See "Judge denies NYC bid to limit damages in S.I. ferry crash," Tom Hays, Associated Press at Newsday.com, 2/26/07.

Pirates seize UN aid ship: Pirates who disappeared from Somali waters during a battle for control of the nation on land returned on Sunday and hijacked a UN-chartered vessel just off the tip of the Horn of Africa. It was first hijacking reported since the interim government, with Ethiopian military help, late last year drove out Islamists who controlled southern Somalia and had helped crack down on piracy, partly to protect their weapons shipments. And it was the third seizure of a ship hired to carry food aid by the UN's World Food Program (WFP) in the past two years. The heavily-armed pirates intercepted the Kenyan-owned freighter MV Rozen and its crew of six Kenyans and six Sri Lankans off the northeastern Puntland coast. The ship had had already offloaded its cargo of food aid. The group believed to be responsible was a band of pirates based in the port of Harardheere, who have regrouped since the Islamists shut them down in August. See "Pirates hijack UN-chartered ship near Somalia," Mustafa Haji Abdinur, AFP at Yahoo! News, 2/25/07.

Spain asks ships to watch for whales: Spain is advising ships passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, one of the world's busiest maritime lanes, to slow down and look out for whales. The channel is a principal feeding ground for whales and several are hit each year, some killed or injured, by ships that do not see them or fail to change course. In the first such initiative in Europe, the Spanish navy this month began recommending vessels go no faster than 13 knots (15 mph) and exercise caution at times of the year when sperm whales flock to the Strait to feast on squid. Collisions are difficult to document partly because currents in the Strait are so strong that when a whale gets hit it is quickly washed into the open Mediterranean, marine biologist Renaud de Stephanis said. See "Spain Warns Ships to Watch for Whales" Daniel Woolls, Associated Press at Newsday.com, 2/24/07.

Disney to double the size of its cruise ship business: The Walt Disney Co. is expanding its fleet of cruise ships, more than doubling its capacity. Disney said Thursday it has signed a letter of intent with Meyer Werft shipyard of Papenburg, Germany, to negotiate a contract to build two 122,000-ton cruise liners. The ships will each be two decks taller than the two existing Disney cruise ships. Each ship will have 1,250 staterooms and are expected to be ready by 2011 and 2012. The company has not yet determined where the ships will be docked or what routes they will travel. See "Disney to add 2 ships to fleet," Beth Kassab, Orlando Sentinel, 2/23/07.

New Zealand fishermen land massive squid: New Zealand fishermen may have caught the largest Colossal squid ever found, weighing around 990 pounds and with rings the size of tires. The adult Colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) was caught by fishermen long lining for Patagonian toothfish in deep ocean off Antarctica. The squid was still alive when caught and was eating a hooked toothfish when hauled aboard. The squid was frozen in the ship's hold and brought back to New Zealand for scientific examination. It could be the first intact adult male Colossal squid to ever be successfully landed. See "Huge squid hauled from deep," Ray Lilley, Associated Press at The Boston Globe, 2/23/07.

UK's armed forces need increased funds: British defense analysts are warning that the country's armed forces are facing a cash crisis. While the main UK defense budget has been increasing in recent years in strict financial terms, as a proportion of the UK's gross domestic product, the budget has fallen under the Labour government. Ongoing commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as current new procurement plans — including two new aircraft carriers, 120 new Joint Combat Aircraft, and six new Destroyer ships — will put a strain on defense needs. See "UK armed forces 'face cash crisis'," Will Smale, BBC News, 2/22/07.

Canadian submarine lacks equipment for an Arctic journey: The Canadian submarine HMCS Corner Brook could be facing serious deficiencies when it travels to the Arctic this summer. For example, the Victoria-class submarine doesn't have an ice-avoidance sonar. Commander Randy Truscott says the missing sonar won't stop the operation, but it could limit how for north the Corner Brook will be able to go. Truscott continues to lobby for money to buy the equipment. Strict environmental regulations in the North are also presenting problems for Corner Brook. Truscott hopes to get an oily bilge-water separator before the trip. See "Canadian sub may head to Arctic without ice-avoidance sonar," Chris Lambie, Canadian Press, Ottawa Citizen at Canada.com, 2/22/07.

Indonesian ferry catches fire, 17 presumed dead: A fire broke out in a truck on the car deck of the passenger ferry Levina 1, hours after the ship left Indonesia's capital of Jakarta. About three hundred passengers were on board, and 275 were rescued by fishing boats, warships and helicopters. But at least 17 peope were still missing following Thursday's fire, and are presumed dead. The cause of the fire is as yet unknown. The island nation of Indonesia has been hit by a string of transportation disasters in recent months. Ferries are the cheapest and most popular form of public transportation, but safety standards are poor, leading to hundreds of deaths each year. In late December, a ferry sank in the Java Sea, killing more than 400. See "Indonesian Passenger Ferry Fire Kills 17," Irwan Firdaus, Associated Press at Guardian Unlimited, 2/22/07.

Oil transfer firm 'misled parliament': The Green Party has accused the company behind plans for ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Firth of Forth of misleading the Scottish Parliament over an oil spill. SPT Marine Services had stated that its transfer operations around the world had resulted in only four barrels of oil being spilled in the last 10 years. Now Greens have unearthed evidence of 35,000 gallons of oil being discharged into the Gulf of Mexico in 1995, after two tankers operated by SPT collided while preparing to transfer fuel oil. After being challenged, SPT Marine Services said there had been a "navigational incident" between two vessels, resulting in a spill of 850 barrels of oil. But the company stressed that the spill was not directly attributable to ship-to-ship transfers, and that all vessels used on the Forth will have double hulls. See "Forth ship-to-ship oil transfer firm admits 35,000-gallon spill," Ian Johnston, The Scotsman, 2/22/07.

Stricken whaling ship is restarted, but it still hasn't left Antarctica: The Nisshin Maru, flagship of Japan's whaling fleet, has been disabled since a fire last Thursday stopped its engines and killed a crewman, sparking concern that oil or chemicals could spill into the pristine Southern Ocean close to a major penguin colony. The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research said the crew managed to get the engine started on Thursday. But New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter said Japanese officials had made repeated claims of progress in the repairs, when it was clear the ship was dead in the water. It's possible the Japanese are embarrassed to ask for help, particularly from environmental group Greenpeace, which has offered to tow the ship. But New Zealand officials have demanded the whaling ship be moved to avoid an environmental disaster. See "New Zealand demands faster action on moving Japanese whaler away from Antarctica," Associated Press at International Herald Tribune, 2/21/07.

Signs of crew shortages seen in South Korea: Despite rapid growth in the construction of merchant ships, the Korea Shipowners' Association (KSA) admits that the country has been qualifying new sailors and engineers at a slow rate, and will soon be unable to meet the industry's growing demand for new recruits. The industry is also hampered by low wages and an unfavorable working environment. To remedy shortfalls, the KSA has called for an increase in the number of foreign sailors allowed per ship, to 11 up from the current limit of eight. However, South Korea's large shipping firms have not experienced manpower shortages. See "Shippers Want More Hiring of Foreign Sailors," Park Hyong-ki, The Korea Times, 2/21/07.

East Timor and Australia resolve Timor Sea oil and gas deposits: East Timor's parliament has passed two resolutions regarding the Greater Sunrise gas field, and the related seabed boundary agreement with Australia. There were 48 votes in favor, five against, and three abstentions. An exchange of letters between East Timor and Australia is needed before the treaty will come into force. Once ratified, the treaty will allow the development of the Greater Sunrise field, which could deliver a potential US $10 billion to East Timor over the next 20 years. Under the accord, Australia and East Timor will split the royalties from the field evenly, and delay negotiations on a permanent maritime boundary for 50 years. See "East Timor, Australia Ratify Oil, Gas Deal," AAP at RIGZONE.com, 2/20/07.

US build-up in the Gulf is a response to Iran's moves: Vice Admiral Patrick Walsh, the top US Navy commander in the Mideast, said that Iran has brought its war games maneuvers into busy shipping lanes in the Straits of Hormuz over the past year. The moves have alarmed US officials, because accidental confrontation with commercial vessels could possibly boil over into war. Walsh said it is Iran's moves that have led to the recent build-up of US naval forces in the Gulf. The Straits of Hormuz are 34 miles across, but its shipping lanes are only about six miles wide. The additional US firepower has ratcheted up tensions with Iran. But Walsh said the increase aims to reassure Arab allies in the Gulf and prevent misunderstandings that could escalate into outright conflict. See "U.S. Navy buildup came after Iran moves," Jim Krane, Associated Press, The Tribune at SanLuisObispo.com, 2/20/07.

Merger of VT and BAE shipbuilding assets is imminent: VT Group and BAE Systems are about five weeks away from merging their shipbuilding assets, which will create a joint venture owned by the two companies. The move was made in response to the Ministry Of Defence's (MoD) requirement that the shipbuilding industry find ways to consolidate, in order to be better placed to win export orders in the future. BAE and VT have been working on the merger for some time. The MoD is using the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier contract as a carrot to encourage the shipbuilders to merge. The Times understands that the Treasury has now agreed to fund the carriers, which will cost between £3.6 billion and £3.9 billion. The article lists each company's current assets, and which will be combined in the merger. See "VT and BAE shipyards set for merger," David Robertson, TimesOnline, 2/19/07.

Britain will partially privatize its Coastguard: The British government has decided on a controversial partial privatization of HM Coastguard. Four consortiums are currently bidding for the contract, which is estimated to be worth between £3 billion and £5 billion. The contracts will have a term of between 20 and 30 years, and include everything from the provision of helicopters to the training of personnel and maintenance of equipment at 12 coastguard bases around the country. The contract isn't expected to come into effect until 2012. The outsourcing deal is part of a trend to transfer Britain's public services to private ownership as it seeks to cut costs and increase efficiency. See "Consortiums to splash out £5bn in UK's big Coastguard sell-off," Danny Fortson, The Independent, 2/18/07.

Fisheries experts call for end to deep-sea trawling subsidies: An international team of fisheries experts has been studying deep-sea trawling. A recent study looked at the subsidies paid to bottom trawl fleets around the world. Researchers found that the fleets receive over $152 million each year. Without these subsidies, the deep-sea fisheries industry would operate at a $50 million annual loss. The researchers are calling for an end to the subsidies. Deep-sea trawling destroys habitat, and if the fisheries can't survive without subsidies, then it is clear that they are not sustainable by any definition. See "Deep-sea trawling neither green nor profitable," Catherine Brahic, NewScientist.com, 2/17/07.

Danger lies in cleaning old ships: New tests on obsolete ships in the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet found that cleaning the old hulls causes copper, zinc, lead and other toxic metals to come off with organic materials, such as seaweed and barnacles. As a result, the US Maritime Administration has decided to initiate "a complete and thorough review" of its ship disposal program. In June, the Coast Guard ordered any ship being taken from the California Bay to Texas for disposal to have their hulls cleaned — regulators were hoping to stop the spread of invasive marine species. But after ships in the Virginia reserve fleet were cleaned, toxic metals were found in water at the Port of Richmond. On Friday, Maritime Administrator Sean Connaughton announced that no more ships will be sent out of Suisun Bay until an agreement with California's water board is reached, and that the ship-disposal process will be reviewed. No details were provided. See "Cleaning of vessels causes pollution, prompts review," Thomas Peele, ContraCostaTimes.com, 2/17/07.

Canada doesn't want LNG tankers in Head Harbour Passage: Even ahead of official hearings, Canada says it will refuse to allow liquefied natural gas tankers to pass through the Head Harbour Passage to proposed gas terminals in Maine. Head Harbour Passage is controlled by Canada, but foreign cargo ships have been allowed for decades to go through the narrow passage into Maine ports. However, the LNG supertankers, most over 900 feet long, are considered far too dangerous for the narrow passage, which often sees high tides, fast currents and fog. While Canada claims it has exclusive jurisdiction over the Head Harbour Passage, the view of the US government is that the waters are territorial and, under the United Nations' Law of the Sea Treaty, a country cannot deny foreign ships from passing through. Proposals for two LNG terminals in northeastern Maine are currently before the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is expected to take at least 18 months for review. See "Canada, U.S. on course for LNG collision," Peter Morton, Financial Post at Canada.com, 2/16/07.

Florida says cruise lines aren't responsible for doctor's mistakes: The Florida Supreme Court has decided that cruise lines aren't responsible for the negligent acts of ship's physicians. The company is protected unless it knowingly hired an incompetent or unqualified doctor. Now injured passengers can sue only the doctor — and since most doctors on cruise ships are foreign residents, often with no insurance, they are beyond the reach of US courts for all practical purposes. The major cruise lines are all based in Florida and abide by Florida's courts, so this decision will affect the majority of cruise ship passengers. It is possible the case will be brought before the US Supreme Court. See "Court rules cruise line not responsible for misdiagnosis by ship's doctor," Tom Stieghorst, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 2/16/07.

Japanese whaling ship is still drifting: The stricken Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru has been lashed between two other ships to avoid drifting into ice. It is unclear if the engines can be restarted. Although the fire, fueled partly by whale oil, has lessened in intensity, it still seems to be burning; and one crewman is still missing. The crew has managed to pump off excess water and correct the list to the ship. But the international community is on alert, for fear the ship could drift into the world's largest penguin breeding ground. Greenpeace has offered to help tow the ship to safety, although Japanese officials say they haven't been contacted. Japan says the ship poses no environmental hazards, but the country may have to abandon this season's whale hunt. While there are other whaling ships nearby, the Nisshin Maru is the only ship in the fleet able to process whale carcasses. See "Stricken Japan whaler tied to ships to clear ice," Rob Taylor, Reuters at Yahoo! News, 2/16/07.

Royal Navy aircraft carriers could be delayed: The restructuring of Britain's shipbuilding industry could delay the building of the Royal Navy's two new aircraft carriers. This warning was issued by an all-party group of MPs concerned about consolidation in the UK and Europe's arms industry. The Ministry of Defence has called for the consolidation of the shipbuilding industry, to cope with a reduction in military orders and other demand once the multi-billion pound carriers are built. Since the industry has yet to reach an agreement on the new structure, it's possible construction on the carriers will be delayed. See "New aircraft carriers face delays," Press Association at Guardian Unlimited, 2/15/07.

Japan whaling ship catches fire: A Japanese whaling ship has caught fire near Antarctica, leaving one crewmember missing and raising fears of environmental damage. The blaze on board the Nisshin Maru prompted the evacuation of most of its crew onto other ships. The vessel was carrying heavy oil and furnace oil, and was starting to list from water pumped aboard to fight the fire. Although the fire has been brought under control, and the ship does not appear to be in immediate danger of sinking, it is drifting near one of the world's largest penguin breeding grounds on the Antarctic coast. One crewman, named as 27-year-old Kazutaka Makita, was still missing almost 12 hours after the ship sent out distress signal early Thursday. The cause of the fire is still unknown, but New Zealand authorities said it had nothing to do with whaling protesters. See "Japanese Whaling Ship Afire in Antarctic," Carl Freire, The Associated Press at Examiner.com, 2/15/07.

Norway to encase sunken German WWII sub: A German submarine that was sunk off Norway at the end of World War II will be buried in special sand to protect the coastline from its cargo of toxic mercury. The U-864 submarine, which was found by the Royal Norwegian Navy in March 2003, is believed to have about 70 tons of mercury on board. Local residents had wanted the mercury removed, but Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs Dag Terje Andersen said the government was following expert recommendations to instead bury the sub in sand and stone. Scientists fear that raising the sub would risk spreading the pollution to new areas. The submarine and polluted sections nearby will be covered with a special absorbent sand, and then covered with heavier fill to prevent erosion. See "Toxic Nazi sub to be buried at sea," Associated Press at The Guarian Unlimited, 2/14/07.

Dutch firm pays Ivory Coast to settle toxic waste case: Oil trading company Trafigura Beheer, based in the Netherlands, paid $197 million to secure the release of three executives from an Ivory Coast prison and to settle claims that it had dumped toxic waste that killed at least 10 people in the West African nation. The company continues to deny wrongdoing, saying that the waste unloaded in August from the ship Probo Koala in the Ivory Coast port city of Abidjan was not toxic. But a UN report found that it contained chemicals that are lethal in high concentrations. Many are critical of the deal, as Trafigura isn't accepting liability or responsibility for the event. A British court has already agreed to hear a class action case brought against Trafigura by the law firm Leigh Day, which is seeking compensation for what it estimates are around 4,000 to 5,000 people who were injured by the waste. This case will continue. See "Dutch firm pays Ivory Coast $197 million to settle toxic waste case," Reuters, The Associated Press at International Herald Tribune, 2/14/07.

Pirates may again be gathering off Somalia's coast: Maritime officials in Kenya report that Somali pirates are beginning to gather in the town of Haradere. The area had seen several quiet months caused by turmoil surrounding an Islamist uprising and its crushing by Ethiopian-backed government troops. But in the face of the current power vacuum in central Somalia, raiders appear to be getting ready to once again hijack ships passing by the Somali coast. There were some 40 attacks on vessels in the area between March 2005 and June of last year, prompting warnings from the International Maritime Bureau. The Somali government has repeatedly appealed to east African countries to help in monitoring its territorial waters, but the response has been subdued. There are some US warships patrolling the area. See "Somali pirates resurface in the wake of fighting between rebels and government," AFP at Taipei Times, 2/13/07.

China's new iron ore port aims to be cleaner: When completed, Caofeidian, 136 miles southeast of Beijing, will boast a world-class steel mill, berths to unload coal, crude oil and liquefied natural gas, strategic oil reserve tanks, a petrochemical complex, a refinery, a cogeneration plant, a man-made harbor and a five-star hotel. For now, Caofeidian only has iron ore unloading facilities, a welcome arch spanning the causeway to the mainland, a breakwater and a small hotel with a seafood restaurant. But Wang Junguo, Caofeidian office director for the Communist Party Committee of the nearby city of Tangshan, said he is confident that this time the planners will manage to achieve economic development without worsening pollution. "The plan is not to emit pollution, or waste water," he said. A natural deep channel will allow large ships to deliver iron ore efficiently to mills in northeastern China. A railroad will link to the Datong-Qinhuangdao line, China's most-heavily used route for coal, coke, iron ore and steel. And the industrial zone's modern, energy efficient facilities will allow China to shut down ageing, polluting steel mills and other plants in surrounding Hebei Province. See "With new port, China aims for cleaner development," Lucy Hornby, Reuters, 2/13/07.

Canadian Coast Guard is chronically disorganized: Canada's auditor general believes the country's Coast Guard is a chronically disorganized institution that wastes millions of dollars on botched repairs and fails to live up to its duties year after year. One of the Coast Guard's main duties is maritime security, with C$27 million (US $23 million, €17.66 million) invested in the agency since the September 11, 2001, attacks. But Auditor General Sheila Fraser's team was unable to say for certain whether all the money was actually going toward that purpose. The Coast Guard also provides research vessels to the Fisheries Department to study fish stocks. And yet, for years the Department has been forced to live with incomplete surveys because of maintenance problems with the ships. Aging vessels have also become a major problem for the service. Fraser's report to Parliament recommended the Coast Guard establish priorities, set clear achievable goals, allocate sufficient and appropriate resources, and hold managers accountable for results. See "Fraser: Coast Guard mired in management problems," Juliet O'Neill, CanWest News Service, The Windsor Star, Canada.com, 2/13/07.

Anti-whalers boycott Japan's meeting: A special meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) called by Japan has been boycotted by nearly half of the membership. Just 35 of the commission's 72 nations have turned up for the meeting, which Japan hoped would ease the standoff between pro- and anti-whaling members. Tokyo wants a moratorium on commercial whaling to be lifted and the IWC to focus instead on whale management. The IWC introduced a ban on commercial whaling in 1986, but a year later Japan began exploiting a clause in the moratorium that allows it to hunt some whales every year for so-called "scientific research." It is then permitted to sell the meat on the open market. The meeting opened as Japan's whaling fleet continued to clash with anti-whaling activists in the Southern Ocean. Yesterday a protest ship belonging to the group Sea Shepherd collided with a Japanese whale whaling ship. Each side blamed the other for the collision. See "Dozens of nations skip whaling meeting," Associated Press at International Herald Tribune, 2/13/07.

Oregon considers rules on shipbreaking: Oregon has introduced a bill that would make it the first state in the US to require that shipbreaking be performed in a closed dry dock. This way, if any toxic materials spill out, it can be cleaned up without getting into the water. Old ships are often loaded with toxins, such as asbestos, PCBs, lead and chrome-based paints. Most of the world's obsolete ships are dismantled in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China, where environmental laws are less strict. But old US government-owned ships are still scrapped in the US, because of a law that prohibits the export of toxic materials. Oregon's proposed bill was created when a Virginia shipbreaking company tried to find a site on the West Coast to dispose of ships in California's Suisun Bay. There is a company in California that is qualified to bid on scrapping the old "Ghost Fleet" ships, but because California's environmental regulations are so strict, they can't compete with companies on the East and Gulf coasts. Oregon's proposed bill would help level the playing field in the US. See "Oregon may mandate onshore shipbreaking," Jeff Barnard, Associated Press at ContraCostaTimes.com, 2/12/07.

Electronic tags will be used to track sea life: Researchers are planning a worldwide effort to track the movement of sea creatures tagged with tiny electronic devices. Sea life ranging from salmon to whales, turtles to sharks, will be tagged so they can then be tracked as they swim past arrays of sensors placed at critical locations in the oceans. Following pilot testing in the north Pacific, the system will expand to the Atlantic, Arctic, Mediterranean and Gulf of Mexico. The goal is to eventually have 5,000 ocean receivers arranged in 60 lines worldwide, capable of tracking up to 1 million animals at the same time. The Ocean Tracking Network will allow scientists to better understand animal movements and behavior changes that occur due to global warming. That will help in managing fisheries both for conservation and business. Headquarters for the project will be at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. See "Scientists To Microchip Fish To Track Movements," David Ljunggren, Reuters at ABC News, 2/12/07.

US Navy may deploy anti-terrorism dolphins: The US Navy wants to increase security at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, on the Puget Sound close to Seattle, Washington. The Navy feels the base is potentially vulnerable to attack by terrorist swimmers and scuba divers. One option the Navy is considering is deploying sea lions and dolphins trained at the San Diego-based Marine Mammal Program. When one of these dolphins detects a person in the water, it drops a beacon; this tells the human interception team where to find the suspicious swimmer. If a trained sea lion finds a rogue swimmer, it can clamp a special cuff around the person's leg. Some are concerned that sea mammals won't provide a reliable defense system. The animals are also not used to the cooler water of Puget Sound. The Navy is seeking public comment for an Environmental Impact Statement it's preparing on the proposal. The Navy is also considering using human interception teams, and remote-controlled machines. See "Navy could deploy dolphins, sea lions to Seattle-area Navy base," Thomas Watkins, Associated Press at SanLuisObispo.com, 2/12/07.

Migrants finally allowed to step onto land: Up to 400 African and Asian migrants began disembarking in northern Mauritania on Monday from a battered freighter intercepted by the Spanish coastguard more than a week ago. The migrants were handed into Spanish police custody after Mauritania and Spain reached a deal following prolonged diplomatic wrangling over responsibility for the migrants found stranded on the Marine 1 freighter off the West African coast. Mauritanian and Spanish health personnel had set up a makeshift treatment center in the port of Nouadhibou to assist the migrants, some of whom were reported to be suffering from diarrhea and sea sickness. After identity checks, the migrants were to be escorted by Spanish police officers to planes which would either repatriate them to their countries of origin, or fly them to Spanish territory where their immigration status would be decided. See "Migrant ship docks on Mauritania," BBC News, 2/12/07.

Erika oil spill trial opens in France: A trial into one of France's worst environmental disasters begins on Monday. The case follows the sinking of the Erika, a Maltese-registered tanker that broke in two and sank in heavy seas in the Bay of Biscay on December 12, 1999. Its 26 crew members were taken to safety by helicopter, but its fuel cargo started showing up on shore almost two weeks later, killing between 60,000 and 300,000 birds. Fifteen organizations and individuals have been charged over the spill, which poured 20,000 tonnes of oil into the sea, polluted 250 miles of coastline and caused damage of more than $1.30 billion (1 billion euros). Besides oil giant Total and two of its subsidiaries, the ship's Indian captain, its management company, four French maritime officials and the Italian maritime certification company RINA, which classified the ship as safe, are also on trial. With the approach of France's presidential elections in April and May, the case has assumed political overtones amid an increased focus on environmental issues and climate change. See "Total on trial over 1999 French oil disaster," James Mackenzie, Reuters, 2/11/07.

International rules allow CO2 storage under the seabed: Storage of carbon dioxide under the seabed will be allowed starting on February 10. The new international rules, agreed upon in November, amend the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972 (London Protocol). The new rules will permit industrialists to capture heat-trapping gases from big emitters such as coal-fired power plants or steel mills and entomb them offshore; this should slow global warming, while allowing continued use of fossil fuels. Environmental group Greenpeace believes the new rules don't seriously consider objections, "such as who will be responsible for leaks, who will oversee the storage, who will clean up." Carbon dioxide is not toxic but can lead to acidification of sea water, and heavy concentrations above ground can displace air and so asphyxiate animals and plants. See "Greenhouse gas ocean burial can start Feb 10," Alister Doyle, Reuters, 2/9/07.

Whalers and protesters save a pair lost in the Antarctic: Japanese whalers and a group of self-styled environmental "pirates" called a truce to save the lives of two activists who spent seven hours adrift in the freezing waters of the Southern Ocean. A dinghy carrying the two campaigners for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society became lost in fog during a violent confrontation with the Nisshin Maru, a Japanese factory ship that is hunting 1,000 whales in the name of scientific research. It was the latest incident in an increasingly dangerous struggle that is being fought in the waters of the Antarctic. Sea Shepherd dinghies tried to bolt metal plates over outlets in the hull of the Japanese ship, to prevent the outflow of the blood of butchered whales. Two sailors were injured after being struck or splashed by canisters of butyric acid. See "Anti-whaling protesters rescued from Antarctic waters," Barbara McMahon, Guardian Unlimited, 2/9/07.

Korean researchers develop a better oil spill absorbent: A South Korean research team has developed a material that can clean oil from the surface of water four or five times better than the current method. The material is made of fibers from the Kapok tree, which is found throughout Southeast Asia. Dr. Chung Byung-yeoup, a senior researcher at the state-run Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, said the oil can be squeezed out of the material easily, and both the oil and the fibers can be used again; the fibers can be reused up to seven times. The non-woven fabrics currently used to clean spills can't be reused, and must be disposed of by burning, which can lead to secondary pollution. See "Sponge ball better absorbs oil spills," Kim Yoon-mi, The Korea Herald, 2/9/07.

New missiles from North Korea might be hidden in cargo ships: A recent report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) says that North Korea has developed a submarine- or ship-mounted ballistic missile system with a range of about 1,500 to 2,500 miles. The CRS is a research unit of the US Congress. The report also said that North Korea has transformed ordinary cargo ships to launch the missiles. The ballistic missiles must be launched vertically from a submarine, and North Korea's Romeo-level submarine is too small to launch the new 12-meter missile. But the new missiles can be carried in a launch pad that looks like an ordinary cargo container, and be fired by raising the container upright. A cargo ship would easily conceal a missile. It has not been confirmed if North Korea has developed a new, larger submarine to launch the missile. See "Experts Worry N. Korea May Hide Missiles in Cargo Ships," Digital Chosun Ilbo, 2/8/07.

BP oil tankers have more problems: Several problems, including structural ones, have been found in the fleet of double-hull tankers which started carrying North Slope crude oil to West Coast refineries in the summer of 2004. In spring 2005, cracks were discovered in the rudders of two of the ships. And in December, 16-ton anchors broke off two of the ships as they crossed the Gulf of Alaska with loads of oil. Now, one of the stout metal posts used to secure mooring and tug ropes popped off a tanker, and tests found that dozens more on three of the four ships were defective. The ships' operator is Alaska Tanker Co. of Beaverton, Oregon; the ships carry oil exclusively for BP. Anil Mathur, president of the tanker company, believes the ships are fundamentally safe. The problems may have originated in the shipyard that built the tankers, General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego, California. See "Fresh problems surface on BP tankers," The Associated Press at International Herald Tribune, 2/8/07.

French presidential hopeful backs aircraft carriers: Last March, Britain and France signed a deal to construct three aircraft carriers, with France agreeing to pay for design work. Last month, the La Tribune business daily reported France could drop plans for a second carrier as part of sweeping cuts to defense spending. But French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has said he would stick to a plan to build a second aircraft carrier if he is elected in May. Sarkozy is currently the interior minister, and is leading opinion polls for the presidential election. See "Sarkozy backs second French aircraft carrier plan," Reuters, 2/7/07.

2007 Smart Gear Competition announced: The third annual WWF Smart Gear Competition is being launched today. WWF created the Smart Gear Competition because bycatch is the leading threat to many endangered whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sea birds and non-target fish around the world. Entries will be judged on whether they are innovative, practical, and cost-effective, whether they reduce bycatch of any species, and make an important contribution to conservation. The competition is open to eligible entrants from any background, including fishermen, professional gear manufacturers, teachers, students, engineers, scientists and backyard inventors. Completed entries must be submitted by July 31, 2007. For more information, see the Smart Gear Competition web site.

Migrant vessel remains stranded at sea: Spain and Mauritania are still arguing about the fate of hundreds of African and Asian migrants currently floating in the ship Marine 1 off the West African coast. The vessel broke down in international waters and was rescued by a Spanish ship, which tried to tow it to the nearest port, in line with maritime rules. But Mauritania denies responsibility. Estimates on the number and nationalities of migrants vary as no one has boarded the ship. Spain estimates there are about 200 migrants, mostly from Pakistan. Mauritania's Red Crescent believes there are 400 people on board, mostly from the Indian region of Kashmir. The migrants are said to be healthy, and the Red Crescent has sent them food. See "Migrant boat left stranded off West Africa," Andrew Hay, Reuters, 2/6/07.

Soviet-era submarine sinks near Denmark: A Soviet-era submarine being towed to a museum in Thailand has sunk near Denmark. The Whiskey class sub was being tugged from a Polish shipyard. It began taking on water about 34 miles from the Danish coast, and the tugboat crew had to disconnect the towing cable as the boat sank. There were no people, arms or fuel on board, and the vessel does not pose an environmental hazard. However, because the submarine sank in a busy area, it represents a potential obstacle to navigation, and authorities have promised to salvage it. More than 200 diesel electric submarines of Project 613 (Whiskey class) were built in the Soviet Union between 1949 and 1957, based on German Type XXI submarines. See "Soviet-era submarine museum sinks," Associated Press at Chicago Sun-Times, 2/6/07.

Canadian coast guard's MIMS project has problems: Canada's Auditor General will give a report to Parliament next week that describes serious problems with a computer project at the coast guard. The project is held up as a key example of the agency's failure to manage large projects. The Maintenance Information Mangement System (MIMS) project was designed to link coast guard ships with shore facilities by computer, using proven off-the-shelf hardware and software. Previously, the coast guard didn't even have a paper-based system. Like many technology projects, MIMS project managers often underestimated technical requirements, training costs, and resistance to new technology among personnel. MIMS was launched in 1997 with a budget of $7.9 million, and a completion date of 2000. But now, the system is expected to be almost 12 years behind schedule, with a total cost of $20 million. Coast guard spokesman Dave Faulkner said, "We remain absolutely confident that once we roll it out that it will deliver significant benefits back to the coast guard." See "Fraser to highlight botched coast guard project," Dean Beeby, CP at Canoe Network, 2/6/07.

Bush's budget short on port security funds: The Bush administration's proposed budget asks Congress to put $210 million into port security, $178 million of which is to be used for new technology for radiation portal monitors to scan ships for radioactive material. The budget request also includes $15 million for the Secure Freight Initiative. But Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities, believes the administration is falling short of its obligation under the Security and Accountability for Every Port Act. Signed by President Bush last year, the SAFE Port Act establishes an annual allowance of up to $400 million for port security. Port authorities across the nation could be facing funding shortages this year. Security requirements will get first priority, possibly forcing ports to defer infrastructure or other projects. A spokesman from the Department of Homeland Security said the administration expects Congress will probably raise the proposed amount. See "Port Leaders Say Bush Budget Short on Security Funds," Fred Lucas, Crosswalk.com, 2/6/07.

Captain of the Ethan Allen is indicted: The captain of a tour boat that capsized on Lake George, New York, killing 20 elderly tourists, was charged Monday along with a cruise company with not having enough crew members aboard. The charge is a misdemeanor punishable by no more than 15 days in jail and a $250 fine. Some survivors of the tragedy were disappointed by the outcome, but the prosecutor in the case said there was insufficient evidence to support more serious charges. Captain Richard Paris and Shoreline Cruises were indicted in connection with the capsizing of the Ethan Allen on Oct. 2, 2005. The tourists aboard were spilled into the chilly water of Lake George during a cruise to see the autumn foliage. Paris was the only crew member aboard. State law required at least two crew members for the 47 passengers. See "Operators of boat charged in 20 deaths," Ronald J. Jansen, The Detroit News, 2/6/07.

Chinese research ship detected in Japan's economic zone: A Japanese Coast Guard patrol vessel detected a Chinese research ship Sunday morning within Japan's exclusive economic zone. The civilian ship Dongfangfong No. 2 was seen operating off a group of islands claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing. The ship ignored repeated warnings by the coast guard that it halt what appeared to be a maritime survey. Japan's Foreign Ministry issued a strongly worded protest to China. The vessel left the zone Sunday night heading west. See "Japan warns China over maritime survey near disputed island," Associated Press at The Star Online, 2/5/07.

Bush unveils 2008 defense budget: The Bush administration has submitted a defense budget for 2008 that includes a huge increase in military spending. In all, President Bush wants $623.1 billion for the military in 2008 - $141.7 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and other anti-terrorism efforts, plus $481.4 billion for expenses unrelated to the wars. The plan calls for a reduction of more than 9,000 sailors and airmen, bringing the Navy's total manpower down to 328,400 by October 2008 — that's 37,500 fewer than in 2005. But the budget calls for seven new ships, including nearly $3 billion to begin construction of a new aircraft carrier, and $2.5 billion for work on an attack submarine. The budget also includes $910 million for three additional littoral combat ships. See "Bush proposes huge increase in military spending," Dale Eisman, The Virginian-Pilot at HamptonRoads.com, 2/5/07.

Migrants' boat barred from Mauritania: A boat carrying about 200 migrants, most believed to be from Pakistan, was rescued by a Spanish vessel on Saturday after it broke down off the coast of West Africa. The Spanish vessel originally planned to tow the migrant boat to the nearest safe port in Senegal, but the Senegalese government said it was not equipped to help the migrants. The boat is now waiting in international waters off the Mauritanian coast. While Mauritania has agreed in theory to help in the repatriation of migrants, government spokesman Babah Sidi Abdallah suggested this group of migrants was coming from an untenable origin. He said that Mauritania "is not involved with this boat or its occupants, and has refused to give permission for the boat to land." The European Union has been patrolling waters along the African coast to try to stem illegal immigration. See "Mauritania refuses to receive boat of migrants intercepted by Spanish authorities," Associated Press at BostonHerald.com, 2/5/07.

Water scarcity may get tankers shipping drinking water: Among the changes predicted by scientists studying global warming is water scarcity, which could impact between 1.1 and 3.2 billion people. Daniel Zimmer, executive director of the World Water Council in Marseille, said there was a real prospect that tankers could one day shuttle fresh water between countries. But he saw it only being feasible for essential supplies of fresh drinking water, not for low grade agricultural water where the cost of freight would outweigh the benefits. And shipping water may not provide a long-term answer for water scarcity. Exporting water by sea is already happening between France and Algeria and Turkey and Israel, and London's Thames Water has already investigated bringing water supplies by tanker from Scotland and Norway to solve emergency shortages due to drought. Bill Box, spokesman for Intertanko, believes single-hulled oil tankers, which must stop transporting oil by 2015, could be used for water. See "Tankers may ship water to parched cities of future," Stefano Ambrogi, Reuters at Scientific American.com, 2/2/07.

Napoli accident highlights safety standards: A Commons motion has been signed by eight Labour MPs expressing concern over safety standards of UK-flagged ships. The motion was prompted by the recent grounding of the MSC Napoli off Lyme bay. It was abandoned because holes appeared on either side of the vessel. The vessel was flagged by the UK, it also grounded in 2001, and the ship's owner has already been blacklisted by the UK maritime unions. An investigation on BBC One South West's Inside Out program pointed out the long-standing concerns of shipping unions about the company. The Commons motion called on the government to take steps to improve safety and working conditions on such vessels, and also expressed regret at the environmental damage the Napoli caused. See "MPs voicing concerns over Napoli," BBC News, 2/2/07.

Oil barge burns for hours on Mississippi: Crews extinguished a burning barge Friday, hours after it struck a railroad bridge, erupted into flames and drifted for miles down the Mississippi River, apparently spilling oil. The river remained closed to traffic while officials determined whether more fire could break out. The barge, which was carrying crude oil, broke away from three others after hitting the bridge in Vicksburg on Thursday. Coast Guard and environmental officials flew over the area Friday to determine the scope of the spill. The barge are operated by Florida Marine Transporters Inc., based in Mandeville, Louisiana. No injuries were reported. See "Crude Oil barges hit Mississippi River bridge and catch fire," Associated Press at SignOnSanDiego.com, 2/2/07.

Old oil platforms are getting a new lease on life: Old oil platforms in the Gulf Coast are set to have their drilling rigs switched out by windmills. The turbines are bound for an area about ten miles off the coast of Galveston, Texas, where Wind Energy Systems Technology (WEST) will build the first offshore wind farm in the US. Average wind speed in the area is exceptionally high, and it blows hardest during the hottest hours of the day, when demand for power is at its peak and electricity prices are highest. This makes the location a prime spot in the country for wind power. A test turbine is scheduled to be in operation this summer; the rest should be spinning by late 2008. Another 50 or so could follow by 2010 if demand warrants. See "Inherit the Wind," John Geoghegan, Wired Magazine, February 2007.

Supermarket chain bans monkfish: Supermarket chain Asda will stop selling monkfish to protect sea stocks. The company said it was worried about the destructive impact of some catching methods. The ban will come into effect by February 19. Asda also called on restaurants to follow its lead by dropping monkfish from their menus. Environmental group Greenpeace welcomed the store giants' action. Spokesman Oliver Knowles said, "With significant amounts of monkfish coming from the beam trawl fishery, Asda's decision to stop selling this species is a significant step." See "Monkfish taken off menu at Asda," BBC News, 2/1/07.

Rising costs plague US shipyards: Some fear that US shipyards may have to lay off workers if the Navy's pace of new projects doesn't speed up. And Navy leaders and military analysts have warned that if Congress doesn't boost the Pentagon's shipbuilding budget, the Navy won't be able to meet its growing list of commitments. But the Navy is battling cost overruns on current ship procurement programs. The Navy blames shipbuilders for busting budgets, while shipbuilders point a finger at the Navy for frequent design changes and a lack of steady work that forces them to boost costs. A 2006 study by the RAND Corp. showed shipbuilding costs over a 40-year period had risen 7 percent to 11 percent a year, far outpacing the rate of inflation. The cost for the do-it-all DDG-1000 destroyer has swelled to $3.6 billion. But even the no-frills LCS program has had budget problems: the Navy ordered work to stop on one of the ships while it investigates cost overruns. See "Rising costs sock shipbuilding, as local yard fears layoffs," Steve Liewer, SignOnSanDiego.com, 2/1/07.

Oil a hazard 18 years after Alaska tanker spill: Eighteen years after the Exxon Valdez ran around in Alaska, remnants of its eleven million-gallon spill can still be found in Prince William Sound. And a new federal study says it's still a hazard to sea otters, sea ducks and shorebirds. Researchers say the 85 tons of remaining oil is dissipating by only about four percent each year. And it's declining even more slowly in the Gulf of Alaska. At that rate, the report says, spilled oil may still be found under the surface of some beaches for decades. The findings are set to appear in the next edition of the journal of the American Chemical Society. Exxon Mobil Corp. spokesman Mark Boudreaux said the company's Valdez team was reviewing the report. An earlier statement from Exxon said that more than 350 independent studies have found no evidence of significant long-term impact from the spill. See "Exxon Valdez oil persists off Alaska coast," Associated Press at MSNBC.com, 2/1/07.

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