Ports & Ships Maritime News

Apr 29, 2009
Author: Terry Hutson

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  • First View – NICOLAI MAERSK

  • What really happened on board the MAERSK ALABAMA

  • Mombasa-Uganda railway may soon be back in business

  • WHO says there is no need to restrict trade or close borders over swine flu

  • Strategic changes at Transnet Port Terminals

  • Navy plays host to NCAGS and Operation Bell Buoy

  • Pic of the day – PATRIOT


    First View – NICOLAI MAERSK

    Looking just a little the worse for wear up front (but nothing that some paint can’t fix), the 2,200-TEU container ship NICOLAI MAERSK (27,733-gt, built 2000) was in Cape Town earlier this month. Picture by Ian Shiffman

    What really happened on board the MAERSK ALABAMA

    The following report, written by someone who signs himself off as Anonymous has been identified by the editor of the website
    http://www.navyseals.com (where the article first appeared), as a person with direct contact among the US Navy Seals. In it he provides interesting and detailed insight into what happened when the MAERSK ALABAMA came under attack by Somali pirates.


    Flint, the writer of this message is a former Green Beret Captain who served three tours in Vietnam. He then spent 20 years with Arizona DPS, part of which time he was on the department SWAT team. Retired as a District Commander in Tucson, he now lives in Oklahoma. This is the account given to him by his Special Ops contacts of what the American crew went through off the coast of Somalia. Interesting stuff! For those of you who don't know, POTUS is an acronym for President of The United States.

    Your “Real” story is not exactly the way I heard it, and probably has a few political twists thrown in to stir the pot. Rather than me trying to correct it, I'll just tell you what I found out from my contacts at NSWC Norfolk and at SOCOM Tampa.

    First though, let me orient you to familiarize you with the “terrain.”

    In Africa from Djibouti at the southern end of the Red Sea eastward through the Gulf of Aden to round Cape Guardafui at the easternmost tip of Africa (also known as "The Horn of Africa") is about a 600 n.mile transit before you stand out into the Indian Ocean. That transit is comparable in distance to that from the mouth of the Mississippi at New Orleans to the tip of Florida at Key West -- except that 600 n.miles over there is infested with Somalia pirates.

    Ships turning southward at the Horn of Africa transit the SLOC (Sea Lane of Commerce) along the east coast of Somalia because of the prevailing southerly currents there. It's about 1,500 n.miles on to Mombasa, which is just south of the equator in Kenya. Comparably, that's about the transit distance from Portland Maine down the east coast of the US to Miami Florida. In other words, the ocean area being patrolled by our naval forces off the coast of Somalia is comparable to that in the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi River east to Miami then up the eastern seaboard to Maine.

    Second, let me globally orient you from our Naval Operating Base in Norfolk, VA, east across the Atlantic to North Africa, thence across the Med to Suez in Egypt, thence southward down the Red Sea to Djibouti at the Gulf of Aden, thence eastward to round Cape Guardafui at the easternmost tip of Africa, and thence southerly some 300 miles down the east cost of Somali out into the high seas of the Indian Ocean to the position of MV ALABAMA is a little more than 7,000 nm, and plus-nine time-zones ahead of EST.

    Hold that thought, in that, a C-17 transport averaging a little better than 400 kts (SOG) takes the best part of 18 hours to make that trip. In the evening darkness late Thursday night, a team of Navy SEALs from NSWC (Naval Surface Warfare Center) Norfolk parachuted from such a C-17 into the black waters (no refraction of light) of the Indian Ocean -- close-aboard to our 40,000 ton amphibious assault ship, USS BOXER (LHD 4), the flagship of our ESG (Expeditionary Strike Group) in the AOR (Area Of Responsibility, the Gulf of Aden). They not only parachuted in with all of their "equipment," they had their own inflatable boats, RHIB's (Rigid Hull, Inflatable Boats) with them for over-water transport. They went into BOXER's landing dock, debarked, and staged for the rescue -- Thursday night.

    And, let me comment on time-late: In that the SEAL's quick response -- departing ready-alert in less than 4 hours from Norfolk -- supposedly surprised POTUS's staff, whereas President Obama was miffed not to get his "cops" there before the Navy. He reportedly questioned his staff, "Will 'my' FBI people get there before the Navy does?" It took the FBI almost 12 hours to put together a team and get them packed-up -- for an "at sea" rescue. The FBI was trying to tell him that they are not practiced to do this -- Navy SEALs are. But, BHO wanted the FBI there "to help," that is, carry out the Attorney General's (his) orders to negotiate the release of Captain Phillips peacefully -- because apparently he doesn't trust GW's military to carry out his "political guidance."

    The flight of the FBI's passenger jet took a little less than 14 hours at 500-some knots to get to Djibouti. BOXER'S helos picked them up and transported them out to the ship. The Navy SEALs were already there, staged, and ready to act by the time POTUS's FBI arrived on board later that evening. Notably, the first request by the OSC (On Scene Commander) that early Friday morning to take them out and save Captain Phillips was denied, to wit: "No, wait until 'my' FBI people get there."

    Third, please consider a candid assessment of ability that finds that the FBI snipers had never practiced shooting from a rolling, pitching, yawing, surging, swaying, heaving platform -- and, target -- such as a ship and a lifeboat on the high seas. Navies have been doing so since Admiral Nelson who had trained "Marines" to shoot muskets from the ship's rigging -- ironically, he was killed at sea in HMS VICTORY at the Battle of Trafalgar by a French Marine rifleman that shot him from the rigging of the French ship that they were grappling alongside.

    Notably, when I was first training at USNA in 1955, the Navy was doing it with a SATU, Small Arms Training Unit, based at our Little Creek amphib base. Now, Navy SEAL's, in particular SEAL Team SIX (The "DevGru") based at NSWC (Naval Surface Warfare Center) at Little Creek do that training now, and hone their skills professionally -- daily. Shooting small arms from a ship is more of an accomplished "Art Form" than it is a practiced skill.
    When you are "in the bubble" and "in tune" with the harmonic motion you find, through practice, that you are "able to put three .308 slugs inside the head of a quarter at 100 meters, in day or night -- or, behind a camouflaged net or a thin enclosure, such as a superstructure bulkhead. Yes, we have the monocular scopes that can "see" heat -- and, draw a bead on it. SEALs are absolutely expert at it -- with the movie clips to prove it.

    Okay, now try to imagine patrolling among the boats fishing everyday out on the Grand Banks off our New England coast, and then responding to a distress call from down around the waters between Florida and the Bahamas. Three points for you to consider here: (1) Time-Distance-Speed relationships for ships on the high seas, for instance, at a 25-knot SOA (Speed Of Advance) it takes 24 hours to make good 600 n.miles — USS BAINBRIDGE did. (2) Fishermen work on the high seas, and (3) The best place to hide as a "fisherman" pirate is among other fishermen.

    Early Wednesday morning, 4/8/2009, MV ALABAMA is at sea in the IO about 300 miles off the (east) coast of Somalia en route to Mombasa Kenya. Pirates in small boat start harassing her, and threatening her with weapons. MV ALABAMA's captain sent out the distress call by radio, and ordered his Engineer to shut down the engines as well as the ship-service electrical generators -- in our lingo, "Go dark and cold." He informed his crew by radio what was happening, and ordered them to go to an out-of-the-way compartment and lock themselves in it -- from the inside. He would stay in the pilot house to "negotiate" with the pirates.

    The pirates boarded, captured the Captain, and ordered him to start the engines. He said he would order his Engineer to do so, and he called down to Engine Control on the internal communication system, but got no answer. The lead pirate ordered two of his four men to go down and find him and get the engines started.

    Inside a ship without any lights is like the definition of dark. The advantage goes to the people who work and live there. They jumped the two pirates in a dark passageway. Both pirates lost their weapons, but one managed to scramble and get away. The other they tied up, put tape over his mouth and a knife at his throat.

    Other members of the crew opened the drain cocks on the pirates’ boat and cast it adrift. It foundered and sank. The scrambling pirate made it back to the pilot house and told of his demise. The pirates took the Captain at gun point, and told him to launch one of his rescue boats (not a life boat, per se). As he was lowering the boat for them, the crew appeared with the other pirate to negotiate a trade. The crew let their hostage go too soon, and the pirates kept the captain. But, he purposefully had lowered the boat so it would jam.

    With the rescue boat jammed, the pirates jumped over to a lifeboat and released it as the captain jumped in the water. They fired at him, made him stop, and grabbed him out of the water. Now, as night falls in the vastness of the Indian Ocean, we have the classic "Mexican" standoff, to wit: A life-boat that is just that, a life-boat adrift without any means of propulsion except oars and paddles; and, a huge (by comparison) Motor Vessel Container Ship adrift with a crew that is not going to leave their captain behind. The pirates are enclosed under its shelter-covering, holding the captain as their hostage. The crew is hunkered down in their ship waiting for the "posse" to arrive.

    After receiving MV ALABAMA'S distress call, USS BAINBRIDGE (DDG 96) was dispatched by the ESG commander to respond to ALABAMA's distress call. At best sustainable speed, she arrived on scene the day after -- that is, in the dark of that early Thursday morning. As BAINBRIDGE quietly and slowly, at darkened-ship without any lights to give her away, arrived on scene, please consider a recorded interview with the Chief Engineer of MV ALABAMA describing BAINBRIDGE's arrival. He said it was something else "... to see the Navy slide in there like a greyhound!" He then said as she slipped in closer he could see the "Stars and Stripes" flying from her masthead. He got choked up saying it was the "...proudest moment of my life."

    Phew! Let that sink in.

    Earlier in the day, one of the US Navy's Maritime Patrol Aircraft, a fixed wing P3C, flew over to recon the scene. They dropped a buoy with a radio to the pirates so that the Navy's interpreter could talk with the pirates. When BAINBRIDGE arrived, the pirates thought the radio to be a beaconing device, and threw it overboard. They wanted a satellite telephone so that they could call home for help. Remember now, they are fishermen, not "Rocket Scientists," in that, they don't know that we can intercept the phone transmission also.

    MV ALABAMA provided them with a satellite phone. They called home back to "somebody" in Eyl Somalia (so that we now know where you live) to come out and get them. The "somebody" in Eyl said they would be out right away with other hostages, like 54 of them from other countries, and that they would be coming out in two of their pirated ships. Right -- and, the tooth fairy will let you have sex with her. Yea, in paradise. The "somebody" in Eyl just chalked up four more expendables as overhead for "the cost of operation."

    Anyway, ESG will continue to "watch" Eyl for any ships standing out.

    The Navy SEAL team, SEAL TEAM SIX, from NSWC briefed the OSC (Commander Castellano, CO BAINBRIDGE) on how they could rescue the captain from the life boat with swimmers -- "Combat Swimmers," per se. That plan was denied by POTUS because it put the captain in danger -- and, involved killing the pirates.

    The FBI negotiators arrived on scene, and talked the pirates into sending their wounded man over for treatment Saturday morning. Later that afternoon, the SEAL's sent over their RHIB with food and water to recon the life boat but the pirates shot at it. They could have taken them out then (from being fired upon) but were denied again being told that the captain was not in "imminent danger." The FBI negotiators calmed the situation by informing the pirates of threatening weather as they could see storm clouds closing from the horizon, and offered to tow the life boat. The pirates agreed, and BAINBRIDGE took them under tow in their wake at 30 metres -- exactly 30 metres, which is exactly the distance the SEALs practice their shooting skills.

    With the lifeboat under tow, riding comfortably bow-down on BAINBRIDGE's wake-wave ("rooster tail"), had a 17-second period of harmonic motion, and at the end of every half-period (8.5 seconds) was steady on. The light-enhanced (infra-red heat) monocular scopes on the SEAL's .308 caliber Mark 11 Mod 0 H&K suppressor-fitted sniper rifles easily imaged their target very clearly. Pirates in a life boat at 30-metres could be compared to fish in a barrel. All that was necessary was to take out the plexiglass window so that it would not deflect the trajectory of the high velocity .308 round. So, a sniper (one of four) with a wad-cutter round (a flaxen sabot) would take out the window a split second before the kill-shot -- no change in sight-picture, just the window blowing out, clean.

    Now, here's the part BHO's "whiz kids" knew as well as the Navy hierarchy, including CO BAINBRIDGE and CO SEAL TEAM SIX. It's the law in Article 19 of Appendix L in the "Convention of the High Seas" that the Commanding Officer of a US Ship on the high seas is obligated to respond to distress signals from any flagged ship (US or otherwise), and protect the life and property thereof when deemed to be in IMMINENT DANGER. So, in the final analysis, it would be Captain Castellano’s call as to "Imminent Danger," and that he alone was obligated (duty bound) to act accordingly.

    Got the picture?

    After medically attending to the wounded pirate and feeding him, come first light (from the east) on Easter Sunday morning and the pirates saw they were being towed further out to sea (instead of westward toward land), the wounded pirate demanded to be returned to the lifeboat. There would be NO more negotiations -- and, the four Navy SEAL snipers "in the bubble" went "Unlock." The pirate holding Captain Philips raised the gun to his head, and IMMINENT DANGER was so observed and noted in the Log as CO BAINBRIDGE gave the classic order: WEAPONS RELEASED! I can hear the echo in my earpiece now, "On my count (from 8.5 seconds), 3, 2, 1, !" POP, BANG! Out went the window, followed by three simultaneous shots. - source http://www.navyseals.com

    Mombasa-Uganda railway may soon be back in business

    The railway line between the Kenyan port of Mombasa and neighbouring Uganda may soon be returned to service after rioters tore up sections near Nairobi as a protest against the occupation by Uganda of an island in Lake Victoria.

    It required a visit by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga at the weekend to help calm angry youths who had earlier torn up the tracks and were preventing Rift Valley Railway (RVR) repair crews from undertaking repair operations.

    The railway carries about 10 percent of Uganda’s import and export cargo to and from the port at Mombasa. Reports indicate that more than 180 rail wagons have been left stranded in Nairobi.

    The line was damaged about two weeks ago when rioting youth protested what they claimed was an Ugandan occupation of the island of Migingo. The Kenyan prime minister managed to convince the rioters that uprooting the railway would not restore the island to Kenyan sovereignty. He said he was meeting with the Ugandan president in Kampala about the issue.

    Kenya and Uganda have agreed to undertake a survey of the disputed island and will discuss its findings later in May.

    A spokesperson for Rift Valley Railway said the company had again suffered losses amounting to millions because of the latest upheaval – in January 2008 sections of rail in the Nairobi townships were similarly torn up, which prevented all rail traffic for several weeks.

    WHO says there is no need to restrict trade or close borders over swine flu

    Geneva (BuaNews-Xinhua) - Amid the rapid spread of swine flu in some countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday raised its pandemic alert level from Phase 3 to Phase 4, warning of a significant increase in the risk of a pandemic.

    Following the advice and guidance of an emergency committee, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan decided to raise the alert level from the current Phase 3 to Phase 4, a WHO official told the media via a teleconference.

    A raise to Phase 4 means the swine flu virus can cause sustained human-to-human transmission and “community-level outbreaks,” indicating a significant increase in the pandemic risk, according to the WHO's six-phase alert system for a possible pandemic.

    But raising the alert level does not necessarily mean a pandemic is considered inevitable, Dr Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's temporary assistant Director-General for Health Security and the Environment told reporters via a web press conference.

    The new virus strain, a subtype of A/H1N1, has not been detected in swine or humans before. With little or no resistance from the human immune system, the strain has the ability to aggressively attack the body and become deadly.

    According to the director-general, containment is not feasible at this time and instead efforts should be focused on mitigation.

    “Either closing borders or restricting trade would have very little effect of stopping the movement of the influenza strain but it would cause a great deal of disruption for countries,” said Dr Fukuda.

    However, Dr Fukuda urged people experiencing flu-like symptoms to delay travel and seek immediate medical attention.

    In its third and last recommendation, the WHO chief considered that production of seasonal influenza vaccine should continue at this time, subject to re-evaluation as the situation evolves.

    As there are a number of parties involved, the WHO will facilitate the process needed to develop a vaccine effective against the A/H1N1 virus.

    In Mexico, there have been 1,614 suspected cases of swine flu, including as many as 149 deaths. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday noted that the deaths in Mexico were of particular concern because those who died were “young and healthy adults.”

    On Monday, the WHO said there were 40 confirmed cases of the swine flu across several states in the US - California 7 cases, Kansas 2 cases, New York 28 cases, Ohio 1 case, and Texas 2 cases. No deaths have been reported.

    Suspected or confirmed cases of swine flu were also reported in Scotland, Canada, New Zealand, Israel, France, Spain and Brazil.

    According to a statement from Ms Chan, “The decision (to raise the alert level) was based primarily on epidemiological data demonstrating human-to-human transmission and the ability of the virus to cause community-level outbreaks.”

    As further information becomes available, the WHO may decide to either revert to Phase 3 or raise the level of alert to another phase, she said.

    A raise to Phase 5 would indicate that a pandemic is imminent.

    Strategic changes at Transnet Port Terminals

    Durban, 28 April 2009 – Transnet has announced the appointment of Mr Mark Gregg-Macdonald, former Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) Chief Financial Officer since 2001, as the new Transnet Group Executive for Freight Corridors.

    Gregg-Macdonald’s position at TPT has been filled with the appointment of former Transnet Pipelines Chief Financial Officer, Sharla Pillay.

    Both appointments took place on 1 April 2009.

    In his new role as Transnet Group Executive for Freight Corridors, Gregg-Macdonald’s job will be to assist in aligning the various Transnet freight corridors across the company’s five operating divisions. The Group’s corridor focus includes integrated management of the supply chain including customer interfaces, operations and capital expenditure.

    Priority corridors identified as responsible for the bulk of the group’s revenue and representing the best growth opportunities include: Natcor which connects the Port of Durban with Gauteng, Capecor which connects the port of Cape Town with Gauteng, Richards Bay which connects Richards Bay with Gauteng, Sishen-Saldanha which runs between the iron more mines at Sishen and the dry bulk terminal at Saldanha.

    He will report directly to the Transnet Group Chief Operating Officer with a team of Corridor General Managers reporting directly to him.

    As the new Chief Financial Officer at TPT, Sharla Pillay, who joined TPT in 2003 before a number of promotions saw her rise to her former position at Transnet Pipelines, will head up the Port Terminals finance departments for 14 business units (terminals) in six of the country’s ports.

    Navy plays host to NCAGS and Operation Bell Buoy

    The South African Navy last week played host for the first time to representatives of a number of different navies participating in Operation Bell Buoy, which was staged simultaneously at Cape Town and Durban.

    The exercise, which forms part of the Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping programme, or NCAGS, is conducted mainly by reserve officers from the participating navies and is designed to help bridge the gap between available naval forces and merchant shipping. As with several similar international exercises, Operation Bell Buoy is fully global in nature and is held annually in different centres around the world. The exercises assist operational naval forces in managing risk factors involving merchant and fishing shipping at sea from acts of terrorism and other threats.

    The Cape Town exercise was officially opened on 21 April at the Simon’s Town Maritime Training Centre by Flag Officer Fleet, Rear Admiral RW Higgs, while the Durban exercise, held in the bunker on the Bluff was under the command of Lt Cmdr Janet McDougal of the Canadian Navy, assisted by Captain Peter Louwrens of the SAN.

    From the practical side of the exercise, Operation Bell Buoy gathered information concerning ships in South African ports and those at sea along the coastline. A number of roll-play exercises were held involving possible scenarios of ships under terrorist attack or threat in port, with others subject to possible piracy at sea off Southern Africa. Participants also practised the boarding of ships in port (with the permission of their owners) which helped bring an awareness of the exercise to the merchant seafarers.

    The exercise also involved quite a lot of technology including the use of electronic ship tracking systems, not unlike the commercial AIS-type systems now in common use.

    Pic of the day – PATRIOT

    After reading our report in yesterday’s News Bulletin concerning the highjacking of the bulker PATRIOT (19,795-gt, built 2002), Australian reader Chris Gee sent the above picture of the ship taken a few weeks ago outside the West Australian port of Fremantle. Mr Gee writes:

    “I just read the report of the sad and latest pirate attack on a vessel named PATRIOT, 2002/19,795grt. This vessel recently spent a long period at Fremantle waiting on cargo and would appear to have been hijacked either on her way to or from the destination the Fremantle-loaded cargo was intended for, Yemen.

    “The PATRIOT arrived at Fremantle anchorage from Singapore on 25 February 2009 but due to cargo issues and berth congestion did not berth to load her cargo of wheat till 7 April 2009, departing on 9 April 2009 for Yemen.

    “The attached photo was taken at Fremantle on 6 April when the PATRIOT entered the inner harbour for bunkers and surveys prior to going to the Kwinana load berth in the outer harbour. I thought it might be of interest. Let’s hope that all onboard will be safe and released soon.” Picture and report by Chris Gee

    Don’t forget to send us your news and press releases for inclusion in the News Bulletins. Shipping related pictures submitted by readers are always welcome – please email to info@ports.co.za

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