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Ports & Ships Maritime News

21 June 2011
Author: Terry Hutson

Bringing you shipping, freight, trade and transport related news of interest for Africa since 2002

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Hamburg Süd’s 7,100-TEU container ship SANTA ISABEL (85,676-gt, built 2010) arriving in the port of Durban. Picture by Trevor Jones

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SAS ISANDLWANA exercises ‘Right of Entry’ to Richards Bay

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SAS Isandlwana arriving in Simon’s Town. Picture by Bob Johnston

The South African frigate SAS Isandlwana (F146) exercised its traditional ‘right of entry’ through the streets of Richards Bay at the weekend while also marking ‘World Hydrography Day’ for the Zululand port and town.

In attendance was Flag Officer Fleet Rear Admiral Philip Schoultz who said that Richards Bay would see more of the navy in the near future, following the cabinet’s recognition of the need for maritime security along the country’s eastern coastline. “They have tasked the navy to develop a maritime security strategy for this area,” he said at a concert given by the navy band on Friday evening.

Royal Navy Minesweeper completes tour of duty off Libya

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HMS Brocklesby. Picture Royal Navy

HMS BROCKLESBY, a Hunt class minehunter, or Mine Countermeasures Vessel (MCMV) to use the modern parlance, has completed her tour of duty in the Mediterranean during which she spent three months patrolling off the coast of Libya and the port of Misrata in particular, where she helped keep the port entrance channels clear of mines.

HMS Brocklesby set the tone early in the mission by blowing up a mine laid by pro-government forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. This was to clear the way for the aid ship RED STAR I to enter the port in safety with humanitarian cargo. Since then her task, together with the Dutch ship Haarlem and Belgian Narcis, has been more routine while continuing to keep a constant mine countermeasures presence in the sea off Misrata.

HMS Brocklesby has been replaced by another Royal Navy minehunter, HMS BANGOR.

Chinese aircraft carrier taking shape

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Chinese Navy aircraft carrier under construction

Reconstruction of the ex-Soviet aircraft carrier VARYAG and her conversion into a modern aircraft carrier for the Chinese People’s Army Navy (PLAN) is fast taking shape as can be seen from the accompanying photograph.

The chief of staff of China’s army, General Chen Bingde told the Chinese Xin Jing News that “It is under construction. I will tell you more details after the work is done.” This was the first confirmation by a Chinese official that the warship, bought from the Ukrainians nearly 10 years ago, was to be rebuilt as a working aircraft carrier.

The ship will have a flight deck of 302 metres, longer than that of the French FS CHARLES DE GAULLE (261.5m) or the Royal Navy’s INVINCIBLE (194m). Reports say that the ship is to be renamed SHI LANG after the Chinese admiral who conquered Taiwan in 1688. Because of political sensitivities, there are suggestions from both the navy and from Beijing that suggest instead the name SAK DENG-BING in honour of a navy general from Qing Dynasty times.

In addition to the ship, China has been quietly developing its own carrier-type aircraft and selected pilots have been undergoing training in the Ukraine since 2008. A new surface to air missile system has also been developed for the ship.

Varyag was originally designed for use by the Soviet Navy but never saw service, being left derelict in a Ukraine shipyard until the Chinese showed interest, saying they wanted to turn the ship into a floating casino. On that pretext Varyag was acquired and towed to China in 2002.

See our related report The not so surprising Chinese aircraft carrier as well as our report in January this year which mentioned the Chinese J-15 carrier aircraft Refit of former Soviet aircraft carrier VARYAG by Chinese nears completion

Russia and France sign contract for two Mistral class assault landing ships

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Russia has sign procurement contracts with France for the supply of two Mistral class assault landing ships.

The two ships will be built at the French shipyards at DCNS with assistance being provided by Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation. An additional two ships of the same class will be built later at the Russian shipyard, under French licence. Supplementary agreements are still being discussed regarding technology transfer, delivery of certain disputable equipment and the addition to the ships of Russian designed and built weapons.

The agreement by France to build and sell the ships and naval technology to Russia has been criticised by other western nations, but didn’t prevent the deal from going through.

Each ship will be equipped with 16 helicopters and can accommodate up to 450 marines and 59 land vehicles, including 13 tanks. In addition the amphibious vessels, which have a hard edge in addition to their publicised humanitarian role, can carry four landing boats or alternately two fast hovercraft type vessels. The ships require a crew of 160 including 20 officers.

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Novaship Namibia, a member of the Walvis Bay Corridor Group, recently facilitated a consignment of 735 vehicles through the Port of Walvis Bay, setting a new record for the most vehicles handled by the port at one time.

The consignment originated from North West Continent, the United Kingdom, with approximately 5% of the vehicles destined for Botswana, 15% for Zambia and 80% for Zimbabwe. The consignment was shipped by NMT Line with the use of a Ro-Ro car carrier vessel and reached Walvis Bay within 16 days, from Sheerness in the UK.

“NMT Line with our stevedores, Messrs Namibia Stevedoring Services and Namport together have prepared proper and efficient standard operating procedures to promote discharge productivity and minimise port stay of such Ro-Ro vessels to reduce costs,” said the Director of Novaship Namibia, Willie Prosser.

“NMT Line operates a monthly dedicated liner service to Walvis Bay from POL – Antwerp, Bremerhaven and Sheerness on Liner out basis. The Novaship staff team and Namibia Stevedoring Services discharge vehicles from the vessel and hand all units over to Namport after landing on the quayside for safe delivery to secure storage facilities,” he explained.

A spokesman for the Walvis Bay Corridors said the Walvis Bay corridors are becoming prominent alternatives for importers and exporters of vehicles in the region.

“This clearly implies a more efficient and effective service position to the region’s importers and exporters using Walvis Bay. In addition, [it offers] a faster, congestion free and pilferage free transit to and from the region.”

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Berth 16 at port of Mombasa

After a long delay dredging of the port of Mombasa is set to get underway, reports Gichiri Ndua, Kenya Ports Authority MD.

Ndua said at a media conference that the dredging should commence later this month and would take 18 months to complete. At the same time work on building a new cargo berth, No.19 will also get underway.

The cost of the two projects is expected to be in excess of Ksh10 billion (US$110m), with dredging absorbing slightly more than half of this. The MD said the port would be dredged to a depth of 15 metres in the main channels with 12.5m alongside at the container terminal.

He said the dredging would enable larger ships to make use of Mombasa, which would redress the recent loss of transhipment cargo to Dar es Salaam.

? However, the managing director of Maersk Line in East Africa, Rolf Nielsen said that while larger container ships were being introduced on the East African service, port investment ought to be made not to avoid congestion but to prepare for the future of container shipping. The ports should therefore keep investing and expanding to accommodate the larger vessels coming into the services.

The dredging is being undertaken by van Oord Dredging which already has one dredger in Mombasa. Construction of berth 19 is to be undertaken by a Chinese firm, China Roads and Bridge Corporation. – source Business Daily

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London-Nairobi — The growth of piracy off the coast of Somalia from an occasional nuisance to shipping into a multi-million-dollar criminal enterprise has another, often deliberately overlooked cost: the worsening violence meted out to thousands of captured crew members.

“There definitely has been a change, and we don't know why,” Pottengal Mukundan, Director of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), told a June meeting on the subject in London.

“It may be to do with the fact that there is now a different kind of people looking after the captives. These are just gangs of thugs; they have never been to sea and they have no empathy with the seafarers,” said Mukundan.

Statistics from 2010 (taken from The Human Cost of Somali Piracy, unless otherwise indicated) illustrate the scale of piracy's expansion in the western Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden:

4,000-plus seafarers attacked with firearms, including rocket propelled grenades.

400 piracy attacks, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

1,016 crew members taken hostage (up from a worldwide 188 in 2006 - IMB).

Over 400 hostages were used as human shields.

Five months was the average duration of captivity.

US$111m paid in ransoms (UNODC report: The illicit financial flows linked to piracy off the coast of Somalia).

Until recently, Somali pirates were known for treating their captives well. But now, according to The Human Cost of Somali Piracy, a report published this month by Oceans Beyond Piracy, hostages are severely beaten, dragged underwater, have had wires tightened round their genitals, and have undergone elaborate mock executions.

“Both successful and unsuccessful attacks expose seafarers to dangerous experiences, with the potential for long-term physical and psychological trauma,” said the report.

Crew members who seek refuge in a ‘citadel’, or safe room, might spend several terrifying days locked in a confined space while attackers fire heavy weapons at the door, light fires under the ventilators, or even use welding equipment to try to break through the walls.

After the initial distress of being chased and shot at during an attack, hostages endure beatings, confinement and torture at the hands of their captors.

“We have found strong evidence that over a third of the seafarers that were held in 2010 were abused, and the trend is looking more ominous this year,” said Kaija Hurlburt, who wrote the report.

Psychological pressure

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Two kinds of pirate motherships – the captured Arab dhow….

The seafarers themselves are not the only ones to suffer. To put more pressure on shipping companies to pay up quickly, pirates sometimes called families and threatened to kill their loved ones if ransom was not delivered soon. “There have been cases where the hostage has been forced to call his family, and is beaten while his family listens on the phone,” said Hurlburt, who added that both hostages and families are kept in the dark during negotiations. “It is clear that seafarers and their families suffer stress at every point along the way, from the moment their ship enters pirate-infested waters,” she said.

“The risks encountered in the course of their work would be unacceptable in most industries,” the report said.

With more than 3,000 seafarers taken hostage by Somali pirates since 2008 and hundreds currently in captivity, the situation was a “humanitarian crisis”, according to International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) spokesman Simon Bennett. “The crisis really has spiralled out of control.”

The pirates are also using new tactics such as turning hijacked boats into ‘motherships’ from which to launch more attacks in which captive crew members are forced to take part.

No longer restrained by the size of their boats or their sailing capabilities, these pirates are limited only by the amount of fuel they can get. Somali pirates are now carrying out attacks over 1,000 nautical miles away from Somalia.

Shipping companies are often silent about what happens to hostage crews, said Andrew Palmer of Idarat Maritime, which advises shipowners and the burgeoning shipping insurance industry. Palmer told IRIN that companies made their employees sign confidentiality agreements promising not to talk about their experiences at sea. Disclosure was not in the companies' interests, he said, because of the risk of mutiny.

While some seafarers now refuse to sail in waters off Somalia, others feel they have no choice, “because their families, and in some cases entire villages, rely on their incomes,” Hurlburt said in her report.

The industry has been forced to respond to the crisis given what Bennett called “horrible frustration and despair” at the new developments in hostage treatment.

But the increasing tendency to employ armed security guards aboard ships has its drawbacks, according to Wing Commander Paddy O'Kennedy, spokesman for the European Union Naval Force Somalia.

“If someone who's particularly good at a war game on the X-box decides he'd be good in a security company you're going to get cowboys out there,” he said, noting that some security teams had fired on fishermen they had mistaken for pirates.

In 2009, several countries with coastlines on the pirate-infested waters adopted a code of conduct to tackle piracy which committed them to facilitate “proper care, treatment, and repatriation for seafarers, fishermen, other shipboard personnel and passengers subject to piracy or armed robbery against ships, particularly those who have been subjected to violence.”

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or another kind of mothership, the highjacked freighter or tanker

"Wrong nationality"

But, according to UNODC spokesman Wayne Miller, signatories have not lived up to this obligation, on the grounds that the affected hostages came from non-signatory states.

“The majority of the seafarers have got the wrong nationality,” said ICS spokesman Bennett. “Most of the crews held hostage have been Filipino and Indian, not American and European. As a consequence, it doesn't quite generate the same media interest,” or incentive for military intervention.

“At a time when both financial and military resources are extremely stretched, Western governments, at least, appear to have concluded that this unacceptable situation can somehow be tolerated,” wrote the ICS in its ‘Key Issues of 2011’ statement.

Experts point to options for collective action. Navies could remotely disable hijacked vessels, said Bennett. Authorities could collect evidence following an attack for use in prosecuting pirates, according to the IMB. If enough evidence existed to support assault charges in addition to piracy, those charges could be made, said Miller.

And countries could pledge more resources towards taking pirates to court. Ninety percent of pirates captured by international navies were released because no jurisdiction was prepared to prosecute them, according to the UN Security Council. Kenya cancelled an agreement with the European Union to prosecute suspected pirates, worried about shouldering too much of the financial burden of detaining and trying them.

Others think legal action is only part of the answer. “Prosecution of pirates cannot solve the problem,” said Andrew Mwangura, director of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme. “We need to address the root cause of piracy and to come up with land-based anti-piracy measures.”

“We need to keep pushing this,” said O'Kennedy. “We need to make sure that the welfare of these sailors is at the forefront of people's minds.”

O'Kennedy said he thinks about the 412 people being held today, and what they're being subjected to in captivity. He wonders how Naja Johansen of Denmark, just 13 years old, is coping as a pirate hostage. She has been held for more than three months.

“It's heartbreaking stuff,” he said. - IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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Last week (Wednesday 15 June) we invited your views on several important issues that were being raised in that day’s news reports – see those HERE - use your Back Button to return to this page. Here’s one response.

You have asked for comment or views on the responses to the International Investors Conference. I include SARS because of the poor skills involving immigration laws and restrictions on access to small ports.

Mr Tsietsi Mokhele invited the business sector to invest in the ship building and repairs industry in the country. Coastal cities were also urged to put money into the maritime sector, with the aim of boosting regional integration. Speaking at the same platform, Transnet chief executive Brain Molefe said they would partner with the private sector to meet their strategic objectives.

A reliable ship’s master sets a good course in all seas. My perception is that Transnet, Transnet National Ports Authority, the Ports of Capetown, Durban etc, fishing harbours, SARS and others seem neither to be listening, reading, or capable of acting on behalf of a vital maritime industry sorely crying out for a good course. Is it because their senior staff have been too busy getting involved in eloquent agendas for politicians in this new era, rather than being allowed to develop the full range of vital port business opportunities themselves?

We have read and listened to the well prepared papers of the esteemed SAMSA CEO, supported by the Transnet CEO and these presentations sounded exciting and promising to conference guests, but once this conference was over, are those papers then placed in a ledger or are they passed back to their marketing departments for circulation among the next level for action? Is there a time frame accountability set for feed-back demanded from port managers?

There are a number of harbours countrywide that if allowed to talk, act and innovate with private business enterprise for investment opportunities, would be able to create and ensure security for vast numbers of regular jobs, earning vast sums of foreign income, and not just be a corridor for inland container traffic, vehicle exports or petroleum products.

Harbours act as a spine to the tourist industry; they provide a back bone to a vibrant survivable fishing fleet; they cater to the oil and gas industry; and they provide reliable repair facilities for the shipping trade, even if it is with very old dry docks, floating docks and ship yards.

Again, Mr Mokhele and Mr Molefe acknowledge this to the supportive and attentive conference guests, but then why is there no real action by their appropriate teams of Director Generals?

Yes, Transnet did authorize the ports to issue a national tender request about 14 months ago for invitations to manage their ship repair industry facilities. This looked promising in the eyes of industry, politicians and strategic planners, but this tender, notwithstanding having initial flaws, lacked vital information for a business assessment and seems to have passed its own sell-by date with costly implications involved.

Possibly this tender was mired in intricacies not thought through at the time, with the result that the appointed officials now seem unable to resolve which route to go within the mixture of government policy, private enterprise agendas, demands, fairness and openness.

However, one wonders if the National Port Regulator ever considered challenging Ports Policy to partner with the private industry, rather than simply accepting tendering for offers of short term period leases by rental returns of the infrastructure. These infrastructure improvements upgraded by lessees, on renewal, are liable to be offered by lease to other contenders. Is private enterprise business really necessary for effective business sustainability in a shipping world where port capital equipment is built to operate for lengthy time spans? With respect, why no statements for accountability from the National Port Regulator?

I am quite certain the South African Chamber of Commerce with business interests in our coastal cities would welcome this opportunity to become actively involved in this sector. As they once were in 1880 when the new Harbour Board was first elected to give guidance to port officials.

Port Operators and management should be reminded that their responsibility is to both the Minister of Transport, their employer Transnet and on behalf of the City wherein they work.

Who owns the Port?

We read of the need for beautiful passenger terminals. Why? They don’t in themselves create long term jobs or income for the South African coffers – it’s new MULTI PURPOSE berths that are needed. But costly passenger terminals are an emotive glamour expression offering feel good marketing tools which port tour operators believe will bring some form of smile to agitated and impatient senior business leaders in the private industry, or score bunny points from certain city councils or the local Chamber of Commerce sailing in thick fog.

What about the Port Officials accepting the challenge of their CEO’s and taking firm decisions to achieve their goals and not just passing up the line yearly strategic option documents that look good and can be resurfaced again at next year’s conference or the year after.

What a pleasure it would be if accountability measured against financial rewards earned for actions achieved were applied within the marine industry and were applicable to the port managers and his/her senior of the ports who would then have to actually identify and implement time decisions as requested by or through the various Chambers of Commerce.

Capt Bill Shewell
Retired Port Manager and Harbour Master
Cape Town

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The Singapore tug HAKO FAITHFUL (1763-gt, built 2009) leaves port with its tow of an accommodation and workshop barge named OTTO 2 following on behind. The tug had put into Durban for bunkers and supplies, and no doubt the opportunity of a little R&R ashore for the crew. Picture by Trevor Jones Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The accommodation and workshop barge OTTO 2 leaves Durban behind the tug Hako Faithful. Picture by Trevor Jones

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