Chaff Launch

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

PIRATES TRIED TO BOARD JAPANESE TANKER IN SINGAPORE STRAIT

PIRATES TRIED TO BOARD JAPANESE TANKER IN SINGAPORE STRAIT
A Japanese oil tanker escaped an attack by armed pirates in the Singapore Strait near Indonesia`s Karimun Islands, the International Maritime Bureau`s Piracy Reporting Center said Wednesday.

"Pirates in seven small wooden fishing boats surrounded the huge, football-field sized oil tanker and a group of them from one boat tried to board the tanker around 4:15 p.m. Tuesday," the Kuala Lumpur-based center`s regional head Noel Choong told Kyodo News.

The 150,000-ton tanker Yohteisan was traveling eastbound in heavy rain and poor visibility.

Choong said the captain of the Panamanian-registered tanker managed to shake the pirates off by increasing speed and crew members were on standby to hose the pirates off.

150,000-tons is a big ship.
The 150,000-ton "Yohteisan," the size of a football field, was on an eastbound journey in heavy rain and poor visibility when the incident occurred, another maritime official said.
(source). The ship:

(from this shipping line, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd., Tokyo)

Here's more:
"Another maritime official said tankers the size of the Yohteisan would be ideal for militants to use to block choke points in the narrow Malacca Strait or in the Singapore Strait.

That scenario has been advanced several times recently."
from here. And
The Singapore and Indonesian coast guards have been alerted, said Abhyankar.

The watchdog has repeatedly warned of a "potential human and environmental catastrophe" if an oil tanker is hijacked in the strategic sea lane.

The narrow strait between Malaysia and Indonesia, with Singapore at its southern entrance, links trading and oil centres in the Middle East, Asia and Europe, with over 50,000 commercial vessels travelling the 805-km (500-mile) channel between the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the Malaysian peninsula to Singapore each year.
(source)

Update:
The three nations (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia) last year began coordinated patrols in the strait, which is one of the world's top piracy blackspots.

But with the recent increase in attacks, Malaysia has announced it will also place armed and uniformed police officers on board tugboats and barges plying the waterway.

Malaysia has, however, rejected suggestions that the United States or other foreign navies be allowed to help patrol the strait.
(Source: here)

In the "things that are curious" category: Pirates
(1) taking on a big ship
(2) in bad weather
(3) with 7 small boats

Good thing the crew was alert.

Update: If this keeps up, the international pressure on the nations bordering the Strait is going to get even more intense. As noted before, Japan receives about 90% of its oil through these waters.

Update2 : In a comment to another post, CDR Salamander wrote: "150,000-ton at flank speed; how do you stop it once it turns your way? If you are toddling around a 7kts and she turns prior to her 5,000yd CPA to port? Oh, lets be nice and say he is only going 20kts (sneaky fellow is he). Being simple men, lets round things down to a 20kt average combined closure speed when he turns prior to CPA (he then goes to flank and you respond by a turn to starboard and hit the juice....but you are on a LHD, not a nuke and it takes awhile to speed up). Using our handy "6 minute rule", you have about 7.5 minutes to react there shipmate. Mmmmm. Its the mid-watch. It takes 45 seconds for Seaman Farmer and the OOD LTJG PilotWashout to realize what is going on, and 15 seconds for brain-mouth-helm to do anything (oh, and don't forget to tell the Skipper-oh there he is, in his undies yelling his head off). Lets say you are in the Babara Mandral, um I mean Bab-El-Mandab Straits …."

He raises some excellent points, though they may require some translation for non-ship familiar types (hereinafter "landlubbers").

As I understand his comment, he is expressing concern over bad things that could happen if "bad guys" were to seize control of a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) like the Yohteisan. He notes that a ship with that much mass presents difficulties to someone who wanders in its way.

If you are on another ship - perhaps a smaller warship, how would you try to stop the VLCC if it headed toward you or toward some ship that you were trying to protect? The second issue concerns whether you will be able to get your own ship out of the way is the VLCC suddenly was pointed at you... Suppose you are operating in a restricted sea lane (meaning a narrow area in which your maneuvering is restricted by the presence of navigation hazards, other ships or the like).

Due to some calculations, you determine that the VLCC, if it maintains its present course and speed, will pass harmlessly 5000 yards (2.5 nautical miles) off your port (left) side at its Closest Point of Approach (CPA). You are traveling at 7 knots (about 9 mph). The VLCC does something drastic, however, and does not maintain its safe course or speed. Instead, it increases speed (though it might take a while) and turns toward your intended path, so that the CPA now calculates to be a collision with you.

Now, there are people on watch on your ship, who might take a few minutes to realize that the VLCC has altered its course and speed. Given the distances and speed involved, you have about 7.5 minutes to do something to get out of the VLCC's way from the time the VLCC first makes its move (under the nautical rule of thumb that the distance a ship travels in 6 minutes (in nautical miles) is equal to the Ship's Speed (in knots) divided by 10 (the "6 minute rule"). Thus, if the closing speed is 20 knots, then in 6 minutes, the ships will close to within 1/2 mile of each other. That additional 1/2 mile will take 1.5 minutes. Thus, move to collision total time= 7.5 minutes).

Ships are not sports cars, and once the situation is developing, it will take some time for the ship to be able to react (which depends on the type of ship involved). Given the built-in human delays, mechanical delays, and all the other problems inherent in a crisis (such as effective communication -the "brain-mouth-helm" issue refers to the Officer of the Deck (OOD) (person on watch in charge of driving the ship at that moment having to figure out what's happening, formulate a plan to alter the situation and effectively announce that plan to the sailor who has the helm (ship steering wheel) so that the plan can be implemented by the sailor turning the wheel in the right direction). And remember that you are in restricted waters, so you might not be able to simply turn and "run away" in just any direction (in fact, in some cases the best course may be to turn toward the VLCC ...).

In addition, the situation may actually become complicated by the sudden arrival of your ship's commanding officer on the bridge as he tries to come to grips with the situation and formulate his own plan to get his ship out of the way of the VLCC. And matters can get really bad if you happen to be in, say, the narrow strait of Bab-el-Mandab, which has been catagorized as a "chokepoint":
Bab-el- Mandab
Location: Djibouti/Eritrea/Yemen; connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea
Oil Flows (2000E): 3.2-3.3 million bbl/d
Destination of Oil Exports: Europe, United States, Asia
Concerns/Background: Closure of the Bab el-Mandab could keep tankers from the Persian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal/Sumed Pipeline complex, diverting them around the southern tip of Africa (the Cape of Good Hope). This would add greatly to transit time and cost, and effectively tie up spare tanker capacity. The Bab el-Mandab could be bypassed (for northbound oil traffic by utilizing the East-West oil pipeline, which traverses Saudi Arabia and has a capacity of about 4.8 million bbl/d. However, southbound oil traffic would still be blocked. In addition, closure of the Bab el-Mandab would effectively block non-oil shipping from using the Suez Canal, except for limited trade within the Red Sea region.

Security remains a major concern of foreign firms doing business in the region, particularly after the French-flagged tanker Limburg was attacked off the coast of Yemen by terrorists in October 2002...
Source

The net effect of not being alert and making bad decsions could result, as I was taught very long ago, "in a collision at sea that could ruin your whole day." And, in the right place, at the wrong time, the days of lots of other folks, too.

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