Shipping and maritime transport news of interest for Africa

Apr 15, 2008
Author: P&S

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  • Grindrod takes full control of Cockett Marine

  • A second cruise operator for Mauritius

  • Alcan hints at a 4-year delay for Coega

  • Getting French and personal with pirates

  • Transport infrastructure holds back Africa – US trade official

  • Somalia: UN says humanitarian situation worsening faster than expected

  • Pic of the day – GEFION R


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    Grindrod takes full control of Cockett Marine

    Durban, 14 April - Grindrod Limited today (Monday) announced it has acquired the remaining 50 percent of international bunker and lubricant trader Cockett Marine Oil for an undisclosed amount. Grindrod acquired the first 50 percent of the international trader in July 2005.

    “The further acquisition supports our overall strategy,” said Brendan Mcllmurray, CEO of Grindrod Trading Services.

    Grindrod’s strategy involves diversifying the group’s interests across the logistics chain thus lessening its dependency on shipping activities. The company has frequently acquired an influential share in another business before later taking full control after a ‘feeling out’ period.

    Grindrod’s Trading Services trades currently in agricultural commodities through Atlas Trading and Shipping (previously Seaboard South Africa) and in ore and minerals through Oreport. The purchase of a half share in Cockett Marine in 2005 signalled Grindrod’s move into lubricant and bunker distribution.

    Next month the group takes delivery of two 4500t bunker barges and is having a third built as it moves into bunker supplies at Durban and Cape Town.

    Cockett Marine operates offices in the UK, Singapore, South Africa, United States, Monaco, Russia, Brazil and Panama and is one of the world's leading suppliers of bunkers and marine lubricants, supplying approximately five million tons of marine lubricants annual and has a turnover of about USD1 billion.

    Karl Beeson has been appointed as the new Managing Director with Kevin Bresnahan and Bob Russell, former directors and shareholders of Cockett Marine Oil, serving as advisors to the company.

    A second cruise operator for Mauritius

    Report by Alain Malherbe (AeroShip - Port Louis)

    Cruises operators are more and more attracted by Mauritius.

    The ‘Odyssey Ocean’, cruise ship under the ownership of the British company Foresight Ltd, will be soon based in Port Louis, declared the minister for Tourism Affairs who explained in an official statement yesterday that “initially, the ‘Odyssey Ocean’ will be used as a floating hotel and restaurant in Port-Louis”.

    Costa Cruises are already operating regional cruises using Mauritius as the departure platform. Foresight Ltd is the second cruise operator to settle down in Port Louis.

    For the Minister for Tourism, Xavier-Luc Duval, the arrival of this second cruise operator “will allow Mauritius to reinforce its image of a ‘cruising destination’”.

    The Ocean Odyssey will be in Mauritius for one season as from next month and until October when the ship will perform cruises to neighboring islands. During this time, the vessel’s operators will finalise the cruise program for the year 2009.

    In order to support Mauritius ambitions towards the cruise market, the construction of a dedicated pier for cruise ships was announced. The ministry for Tourism estimates that this quay will be operational at the beginning of the year 2009.

    The Ocean Odyssey is a four-star steamer and can accommodate 450 passengers. She has been so far involved in cruises between India and in Sri Lanka.

    Since the beginning of cruising operations by Costa in Mauritius, approximately 11,000 passengers embarked in Port Louis. For the coming season 2008-2009, Costa Marina will be replaced by the Costa Europa, the latter having a capacity of 1,773 passengers. As from December 2008, it is expected that Costa Europa will operate 14 days cruises in the region.

    According to Costa, approximately 21,000 passengers are expected to be involved in the next cruise season of the Costa Europa from Mauritius.

    Alcan hints at a 4-year delay for Coega

    Montreal – Rio Tinto Alcan says the Coega aluminium smelter may be delayed by up to four years as a result of current power shortages in South Africa.

    Chief Executive of the aluminium division of Rio Tinto Dick Evans said that personnel who had already moved to Port Elizabeth in preparation of the smelter’s start-up had been reallocated to other smelters, either in Canada or Saudi Arabia.

    Rio Tinto was meanwhile having discussions with the South African government to find an amicable solution rather than take a legalistic view of the situation, said Evans.

    Getting French and personal with pirates

    From Bob Couttie’s Maritime Accident Casebook

    By Bob Couttie

    For France, the taking of the 850 tonne luxury yacht Le Ponant by the highly organised ‘Somali marines’ pirate gang was a matter of national pride. In a part of the world where France had had a powerful presence for centuries, it was an insult, it was personal on a national scale, it was an insult.

    The Somali Marines, one of four such groups, is a loose collection of well-armed, well-disciplined, well-financed fishermen-cum-pirates equipped with-state-of-the-art communications equipment. They are unsullied by fundamentalist Islamic politics, they want the cash with a reputation for politeness towards their involuntary guests.

    Some 25 piracy incidents have been credited to them in the past year. While their ability to seize ships gets a lot of attention their real strength is organisation. Once a ship is seized a logistic chain ensures that those aboard can hunker down during extended ransom negotiations with supplies of food, water and cigarettes for a long period, and replacement pirates put on board to allow the other pirates some rest and recreation.

    It's an expensive business but the rewards of the warlords who finance the operations are high. The warlords themselves risk little since they demand reimbursement from the pirates for any losses, like the skiffs sunk during the Danica White incident in 2007.

    The difficulties and dangers of dealing with warlords is well presented in Blackhawk Down, an incident that still haunts the American psyche when dealing with the madness that is Somalia today. You can't do much to a people that have nothing and who are already hurting desperately. Calls not to pay ransom are little more than bluster, and often politically hypocritical. One seafarer, at least, has been executed to make the point, and one wonders how many seafarers' deaths would be acceptable.

    Refusal to pay doesn't work, the kidnappers will simply move on to another target, perhaps after executing the ship's crew. Put it like this, if a thug puts a gun to your face and demands your wallet, will he stop robbing people if you refuse to give it over?

    Of course not. He'll shoot you and move on. What will work is to identify and target the pirate's shore-base and act forcefully. Whatever one thinks of the European and American empires of the 19th and early 20th century, they did provide the conditions under which pirates bases could be unilaterally attacked effectively. In today's political economic and diplomatic climate such actions are rare. In that sense, the French action in Somalia is a throwback to the 19th century, the era in which, it could be argued, the French are most comfortable. It would appear the old ways are the best ways.

    When Le Ponant was taken on 4 April, Gendarmerie counter-terrorism units were sent to Djibouti, about 1,000 kilometres away. Djibouti is also the headquarters of the 13th Demi-Brigade of the Foreign Legion, an organisation with a deservedly fearsome reputation and a deeply embedded institutional experience in the region.

    While details of what happened next are likely to remain hazy, it is likely that a decision was made at the Elysee Palace by President Nicolas Sarkozy at a fairly early stage.

    One can construct a likely scenario. The frigate Le Commandant Bouan with a Canadian helicopter from HMCS Charlottetown tracked the yacht and built an intelligence assessment as the yacht finally anchors off the port of Eyl. Meanwhile, French government personnel and the yacht owners, CMA-CGM confer. Public announcements are made that paying a ransom cannot be discounted. The largely notional Puntland government is brought into play to provide at least a veneer of an invitation for forceful intervention to legitimise the action.

    On Friday, 11th April, the ransom, a modest USD2m is paid and the pirates release the hostages and leave the yacht. With the hostages now safe, the armed intervention begins. There are conflicting accounts of what happened during that

    Now, happy, the pirates were tracked by French attack helicopters back to the fishing village of Jaliban. Realising they'd be trailed, several of the pirates tried to make a run for it in a vehicle which was disabled by a sniper and its occupants arrested. Part of the ransom was recovered and what were described as several 'interesting bags' were recovered. Six out of 12 pirates were captured. While French officials deny anyone was killed in the operation, eyewitnesses claim that three people died and eight were wounded in rocket attacks from the helicopter.

    Whatever information is drawn from the captured pirates, the issue will be how to act upon it. Putting the pirates themselves on trial is probably not a viable option, given the situation in Somalia, and expecting the Puntland government to capture or kill the warlords who finance these ventures is expecting too much.

    The French action has certainly torn a hole in the traditional invulnerability of the Somali Marines, it may need a couple more such actions to make the point. The challenge will be to turn that success into a long-term gain. Part of that may involve leveraging the traditional rivalries between the four main pirate groups in Somalia.

    Cutting the umbilical cord between the pirates and the warlords who finance them must be a part of any long term strategy. Giving some form of economic independence and opportunity to those communities most subject to the warlords, and defending them from the warlord wrath, must be part of that strategy. Many of the pirates are young and savvy, yet without hope in a pseudo-nation that offers them little. Pirates are not stupid. A taller order will be to tackle the clan loyalties on which the warlords depend, and which is an essential part of Somali culture, and its curse.

    Warlords are the centres of gravity of this system, they cannot, as a class, be removed, but can be replaced, if the political and military will is there to do so. It was said of Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, by an American politician, “He's a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch”, we have to replace the existing warlords with our sons of bitches.

    Maritime Accident Casebook was created by Bob Couttie in June 2006. It quickly established itself as an authoritative, credible source, popular among both seafarers and maritime accident investigators. It is a voluntary, free resource for seafarers and those who train them and support are always welcome.

    Transport infrastructure holds back Africa – US trade official

    Cape Town, 14 April – The lack of transport infrastructure in Africa has the effect of denying the world’s poorest continent of the full economic benefits of a preferential trade agreement with the United States.

    So says Florizelle Liser, an assistant US Trade Representative for Africa, who was speaking at a US-Africa trade and transport forum being held in Cape Town.

    Liser referred to the benefits provided by the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which was designed to provide 39 qualifying African states duty-free access for over 1500 selected items in the multi-trillion dollar American market. AGOA is scheduled to end in 2015 unless renewed by a new US administration.

    Liser identified high uncompetitive transportation costs to the United States as a major obstacle common to all participants and beneficiaries to AGOA. Inadequate road and rail links constrained products from farm to the ports and markets in the US, she said. There is also a lack of air and maritime services to the USA. Liser quoted that whereas it used to take 21 days to ship clothing apparel from West African ports to the US east coast it now took between 38 and 46 days to complete the shipping.

    UN says humanitarian situation worsening faster than expected

    11 April 2008 –The humanitarian situation in Somalia is deteriorating faster than expected, owing to an unusually harsh dry season, rising insecurity and soaring inflation rates, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

    The UN has revised upwards the number of those living in a state of humanitarian emergency from 315,000 to 425,000, and the number of newly displaced people from 705,000 to 745,000.

    The total number of those needing assistance in the country is estimated to be around 1.8 million, but that figure could increase to 2 million once current assessments are concluded, OCHA said in a news release.

    Somalia has experienced an extremely dry season from January to March with high temperatures and unusually dry winds. The dry conditions have also affected other countries in the region, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea and parts of Kenya.

    In addition, the country – like many others – has witnessed a dramatic increase in food prices over the past year. The prices of locally produced maize and sorghum have increased by 300 to 400 per cent, while imported foods such as rice and vegetable oil have increased by some 150 per cent. At the same time, the Somali shilling has depreciated by 65 per cent.

    Along with the dry weather and rise in food prices, there has also been a diarrhoea outbreak in the Sanaag region, which has claimed seven lives among the 300 cases recorded since 10 March.

    Meanwhile, further clashes were reported last week between Ethiopian/Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces and anti-Government elements in many parts of south-central Somalia.

    Deteriorating security in recent months has made it more difficult for aid workers to assist those in need in the strife-torn East African nation, which has not had a functioning government since 1991. - UN News Centre

    Pic of the day – GEFION R

    Click on image to enlarge – with some browsers click twice

    The dredger GEFION R at work in Cape Town harbour. Picture by Robert Ravensberg

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