Thursday, June 24, 2010

Other Shores - July 2010

Container traffic had double-digit growth in the first quarter and probably will grow 5 percent this year. Some firms sharply increased prices on certain routes. China loaded up on oil in the three months ending in April, with tanker demand exhibiting a 42 percent growth. But the recession with its ship lay-ups and slower steaming reduced the number of ship accidents last year by almost 20 percent.

Maersk established a system that enables shippers to get priority containers last-minute-loaded onto ships that already have full loads. The cost will be dynamically determined depending on space available and market demand.

The Chinese coal ship Shen Neng 1 strayed off course and onto an Australian coral reef. The government acted as expected, exhibiting poor judgment and an anti-shipping attitude. All concerned were delighted when the Chinese tug De Da towed the bulker north for repairs.

Six ships carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza strip were legally denied access by the Israeli Navy. One ship was boarded by commandos, they were attacked, and nine protesters were killed in the subsequent melee.

Thin Places and Hard Knocks

Ships collided and allided: Off Wanderlaar, Belgium, the reefer Sierra Leone collided with the combined chemical/oil tanker Sten Moster. The collision punctured the reefer’s bulbous bow and left a garden hose-like stream of water spurting upwards. In the Singapore Straits, the bulker Wally rammed the port side of the tanker Bunga Kelana 3 and several thousand tons of oil escaped. Much of it later ended on Malaysian beaches although Singaporean authorities had pumped skimmed oil into empty tanks of the tanker. The collision occurred in spite of a traffic-separation scheme, a mandatory vessel-reporting scheme, a vessel traffic information system, a differential GPS system to provide ultra-precise location information, and the compulsory Automatic Identification System.

Ships ran aground: Engine failure caused the 2001-built geared bulker Sluisgracht to run aground on the Carolus bank in the Netherlands’ Westerscheldt. It was freed later that day by the tugs Multratug 10, Union 6, Union Emerald, and Union Topaz, with the coastguard’s Barend Biesheuvel standing by. Far away, the container ship Pacific Flores ran aground on the Columbia River near Kalama, Washington due to a steering failure. No details are available as to what tugs freed her.

Fire and explosion took a toll: Traffic through the Panama Canal was disrupted when the coal-laden bulker Atlantic Hero failed to live up to its name. An engineroom explosion and subsequent loss of power caused it to hit the Bridge of the Americas across the Canal and then slew aground. It took two days to reopen the Canal.

Other bad things happened: The cargo vessel Najaden was passing under Rotterdam’s Caland Bridge when it was lowered. The bridge messed up the electronics and other equipment atop the wheelhouse and bent the ship’s funnel backwards.

Humans got hurt: At Harwich on the UK, a dockworker was killed and another seriously injured when a cradle carried by a crane collapsed, trapping them between cargo (possibly turbine propellers) and the crane.

Humans got help: The four-person crew of the yacht Octagon were taken off by the chemical tanker MTM Princess after the yacht lost steering and started taking on water 300 miles west of Spain. The rescue was triggered by an EPIRB and DSC signals and was coordinated by that old rescue standby, Falmouth Radio in the UK. As ice conditions deteriorated, aircraft from the US Coast Guard in Alaska kept checking on Russia’s North Pole 37 Station, asking if it needed help. Each time, the Russian scientists replied that they were OK and icebreaker Rossiya was en route to pick them up. Even when the icebreaker was parked next to the station’s buildings, the crew of a C-130 asked if help was needed.

After surviving a tropical cyclone, the small cargo ship Dubai Moon got in trouble off the Horn of Africa when its cargo of used vehicles shifted and the ship took on an extreme list. HMS Chatham, about 175 miles away, heard its distress call and made best speed to the rescue in Force 10 winds and extremely high seas. Meanwhile the ship was drifting towards Abd Al Kuri Island, narrowly evading it but getting into shallow waters where HMS Chatham couldn’t go. Finally, the weather abated enough so the Lynx helicopter of the Type 22 frigate took off 23 seamen in an operation that lasted over three hours as the Dubai Moon rolled up to 40 degrees. Later, its master explained, “Normally we operate close to the cost but we had to go far out to sea to avoid the pirates. That meant we could not find shelter from the storm.”

Gray Fleets

The world responded to the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in different ways. A Russian team of submarine and torpedo experts found the report by an American/Australian/ British/Swedish team that the warship was sunk by a heavy North Korean torpedo to be unconvincing, but offered no alternative explanations. South Korea vainly asked China to send a crew of inspectors to check out the sunken corvette. Instead, the Chinese Navy leaked intelligence information to two American Internet sites. In essence, the Chinese believed that an American-positioned mine sank the corvette, perhaps in some sort of a friendly-fire incident. The mine may have been a limpet mine placed on the hull by American divers as part of a campaign to influence public opinion. Or it may have been a Mk60 CAPTOR-type mine that inadvertently rose from the seabed when it “heard” the corvette pass overhead. As partial proof, the Chinese also questioned why the commander of US Forces Korea attended the funeral of a South Korean navy diver who was killed during the search for survivors. The Chinese also questioned why US Navy divers (“SEALS” in the language of the Chinese report) from the salvage ship USNS Salvor didn’t dive although their Korean counterparts did.

The destroyer HMS Dauntless joined her sister HMS Daring in the Royal Navy fleet but both still don’t have functional primary weapons that use the French-built anti-aircraft missile ASTER. It keeps failing tests.

A vigorous 19-year-old US Navy sailor set a world’s record for the most pull-ups in a 24-hour period when he managed 3,376 pull-ups using both reverse and overhand grips. It took him 2-3 weeks to recover before he resumed training for concept 2 rowing, where he already owns a world record in his age group (100,000 meters in 6 hours, 6 minutes, 0 seconds, set last November).

The US Navy is carefully selecting women candidates for manning its submarines. One selectee is an ROTC graduate of the University of Washington who has commanded an ROTC battalion and headed a team that trained members of two teams that crewed 44-foot racing yachts. She said, “I hung out with jocks at high school and I have four younger brothers so I know how they operate a bit.” Another selectee and her twin sister recently graduated from the US Naval Academy. The sister is going to flight school and hopes to be an astronaut.

The US Navy is missing four of its Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV) after completion of training exercises to locate mines on the ocean floor off Virginia. Navy-trained dolphins and sea lions may be used to search for the usually ultra-reliable 7.5-inch-diameter REMUS 100 bots.

The US Navy is reopening bidding for California cities that might like to acquire the WW II-vintage battleship USS Iowa as a war memorial. Los Angeles might apply if it can find waterfront space at San Pedro.

As Indian officials expressed delight with progress being made in converting the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov into what will soon to be India’s INS Vikramaditya, the US Secretary of Defense and a top admiral said that aircraft carriers would soon become obsolete because of China’s development of anti-ship missiles specifically designed to target carriers. One such weapon is based on the DF21/CSS-5 medium-range ballistic missile.
Russia agreed to help Ukraine finish construction of a missile cruiser. The Slava-class cruiser Admiral Lobov (now Ukraina) was launched in 1984 but, due to economic problems, work stopped in the late 80’s when 95 percent complete. Russia has three Slava-class cruisers in service and each carries sixteen supersonic SS-N-12 Sandbox anti-ship missiles

White Fleets

At the Norwegian port of Edfjord, an engineroom fire on the cruise ship Deutschland at a pier forced evacuation of 607 people, including 364 passengers. The ship is the “star” of the German TV Show “Das Traumschiff,” a show about a world traveling cruise ship. And the Italian-flagged Vistamar was detained at Belfast until numerous faults were fixed.

One cruise company was hard-hit when its Zenith and 1,140 passengers were unable to start a week-long cruise of Greek Islands when strikers closed the port of Piraeus for 24 hours. (Greek seamen have been protesting government plans to lift restrictions on vessels with foreign crews docking in Greece and cruising between its islands.) Also affected by the quickie strike were at least thirty ferries and five other cruise ships. A month later, same Zenith, same destinations only the vessel started from Malta instead of Piraeus and the company warned if the situation continued, it would not travel to Greece again.

The former commandant of Jamaica’s Island Constabulary Force fled the island after being charged with sexual assault on a minor. The vehicle of escape was the cruise ship Carnival Liberty. Police boarded the vessel with an arrest in mind but the naughty one grabbed a lifejacket and jumped overboard. He was quickly captured and, somewhat ironically, his attorney then claimed his client had fled because he didn’t trust the Jamaican justice system!

While a young couple were on a cruise on the Paradise, a baby girl was born while off San Diego . Both mother and child needed medical attention so a Coast Guard small boat took them ashore.

Those That Go Back and Forth

Third-World ferries continued to sink and kill humans. In Bangladesh, an overloaded river ferry capsized in bad weather and at least twelve died and others were missing. Many were school children. In Mozambique, a ferry carrying 82 Somali nationals capsized and nine died while another forty were missing. The ferry Camilla was overloaded with fuel barrels and more than 140 passengers when it sank on the Amazon River near Peru’s border with Columbia and twelve died while dozens were missing.

As the Manly ferry Collaroy approached Sydney’s Circular Quay two young Irish tourists stripped to their shorts and jumped overboard. Climbing out at the famed Opera House, they were met by multiple policemen and later paid $200 fines.

A woman arrived at Holyhead on a ferry from Dublin with €26,000 in €500 bills in her bra. She claimed she had sold a business in Ireland but could provide no proof. The UK Border Agency kept the money since it suspected it was the product of criminal activity. The money will be returned if/when the woman can prove to a court that it came from a legitimate source.

In Western Australia at the builder’s yard in Henderson, strong winds ripped a newbuild $100 million trimaran ferry from its moorings and tugs were needed. The 102-meter ferry can carry 1,165 passengers and hit a top speed of 39 knots.

The Swedish ferry company Stena RoRo will remove midbody sections from the 2006-built Stena Trader and the 2007-built Stena Traveller before they go on a five-year charter with the Canadian Maritimes ferry company Atlantic Marine, replacing the popular but aging Caribou and Joseph and Clara Smallwood by mid-summer next year.

Stena Line will build the world’s largest ferry. At 62,200 tons, the Stena Brittanica, however, will be far smaller than the biggest cruise ship, the Oasis of the Seas at 225,282 tons.

Legal Matters

Both the chief engineer and the operator of the chemical tanker Chem Faros pleaded guilty of violating the US’s Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and making false statements, and the company was fined $850,000. He gets sentenced later. And the Turkish owner of the combined chemical and oil tanker Kerim was fined $725,000 by a US court on two charges of failing to maintain an oil record book. Several members of the crew had tipped-off federal authorities when they boarded the ship at Tampa. The tanker has since been renamed Chem Pegasus.

Illegal Imports

A Royal Navy gang tried to smuggle £2 million-worth of cocaine into the UK on the destroyer HMS Manchester. A female sailor had picked up the stash in Columbia and it was found in the linings of her clothing in a locker upon arrival at Plymouth. And two Spanish men were sentenced to 12 years in jail for trying to smuggle 33 kg of cocaine (street value €8 million) into the UK on the cruise ship Black Watch in March.

The Nigerian Customs Service seized the foreign fishing trawler Felistar for smuggling contraband into the country. The contraband consisted of 300 cartons of frozen chicken, 1,600 cartons of baron (?) wine, apples, used clothing, second-hand refrigerators, hides and skins, rice, and more. The trawler had been refitted for smuggling.


In the Mediterranean, Greenpeace activists from the that group’s Arctic Sunrise were dropping sandbags into purse-seine nets to allow tuna to escape when a French fisherman from the French tuna-catcher Jean-Marie Christian VI angrily drove a harpoon into the thigh of an English activist. He required surgery in a Malta hospital. The fishermen have only 15 days on the high seas each year to catch tuna.

In Australia, the Russian master of Greenpeace’s Esperanza was fined $8,000 on three charges arising from a 36-hour blockade of the Hay Point coal terminal although charges against Greenpeace were dropped.

Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, will decline to carry containers with any fish that Greenpeace had declared to be a member of an at-risk species. Included will be New Zealand orange roughy, the Patagonian toothfish (aka Chilean sea bass), shark, whale, and canned tuna. (Fresh tuna usually travels by air.)

In Japan, the New Zealand skipper of the Sea Shepherd’s trimaran Ady Gil went on trial after being indicted on five charges (trespassing, obstruction of business, property destruction, violation of a weapons law, and assault). He pleaded guilty to the first four charges but denied the assault charge. He faces up to 15 years in jail. (A Japanese whaler collided with the Ady Gil, cutting off its bow so that it later sank. Its skipper boarded the whaler, intending to make a citizen’s arrest of its skipper and present him with a bill for loss of the Ady Gil. Instead, the whaler took the Kiwi back to Japan, where he was arrested.)

Off New York the clam-dredger ESS Pursuit hauled up ten WW I shells containing liquid mustard gas. One broke open as it was being returned overboard and two fisherman needed hospitalization for blistering and other problems. The other fishermen and the FV were isolated and then decontaminated while what to do with its 504,000-pound catch of clams was being considered.

Several Americans outfitted a tugboat to scoop some of the floating trash caught in the North Pacific Gyre, a Texas-sized eddy between California and Hawaii.
Canada’s leading authority on arctic shipping stated that the Northwest Passage would not become a Panama Canal in his youngish lifetime. He added that the Northwest Passage was a destination, not a transit route that makes business sense.

Nasties and Territorial Imperatives

The total number of pirate attacks was up 150 percent but actual hijackings were down 25 percent as resistance to being hijacked increased sharply. About 600 pirates are being held by a growing number of cooperating nations. Successful prosecutions are relatively easy to achieve although where to house prisoners is a problem. In Kenya, there is confidence that 106 Somalis will be sentenced while in the US a pirate pleaded guilty to seizing a ship (the Maersk Alabama) and kidnapping its master (Capt. Richard Phillips) and will face a minimum of 27 years in jail. A Yemeni court was far tougher; it sentenced six Somali pirates to death by shooting and jailed six others to ten years for hi-jacking a Yemeni tanker last year and killing two of its crew.

After failure of shoreside negotiations by five pirates with a Somali mediator, the ten-man crew of the North Korea-flagged cargo ship Rim regained control of their ship from the five remaining pirates even though another hi-jacked ship, the Voc Victoria Daisy, gave chase for some time until scared off by a helicopter from the Spanish frigate Victoria. It is unclear whether the five pirates were killed but the warship’s medics treated some wounded. The freed Rim was in such poor condition that it wasn’t able to proceed very far before its machinery quit. Dutch technicians tried to get it going again but it was decided to abandon the Rim and let it drift, probably taking on enough water in the prevailing rough conditions to sink. However, many continued to exhibit curiosity about why the Yemeni and Libyan governments had been so solicitous about the North Korean ship’s fate.

About fifty troops from Puntland, a semi-autonomous part of Somalia, stormed and retook the QSM Dubai after the ship’s master was shot and killed by seven pirates. They were arrested. The destroyer USS Cole (remember her?) was standing by at a distance and later supplied medical help to two injured officers.

Odd Bits

In 1941, a US navy sailor lost his wallet at a commercial Chicago school to which he had been sent for training in hydraulics. Recently, it was found, dusty but intact after 69 years, complete with his social security card and family photos including some of his girlfriend who was killed in a car crash three years after they were married. The Singapore-registered tugboat Asta and the barge Callista were hi-jacked in the South China Sea off Malaysia. The pirates took the vessels into Philippine waters to be sold with new names but both were seized by the police of a remote island. Then that nation’s anti-smuggling agency claimed ownership of the craft because they had entered Philippine waters without paying customs duties! (The owner does have recourse to courts to have the decision reversed.)

On the Mississippi River near St Louis, a small towboat was sucked under its barge by a strong current. Its crew of one swallowed a good deal of river water as he traveled under the full length of the barge but the life vest he was wearing no doubt helped him survive. Two sets of willing hands pulled him out as soon as he popped to the surface.


Last November, two Dutch divers were working on an underwater memorial in Aruba when a digital camera in a water-tight housing floated away. Six months later, the camera was found on a beach at Key West, Florida. The finder tried the camera, it worked, and it was soon evident that a sea turtle had played with the floating camera or had tried to eat it. In the process, it turned the camera on and incidentally photographed itself. The video can be found on YouTube.

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