Chaff Launch

Monday, August 31, 2009

MV Arctic Sea: No Straight Answers

The saga of the MV Arctic Sea continues as part of the crew is released:

Crew members of the Arctic Sea cargo ship joked that they had disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle and been fed ice cream by pirates as they returned home to their families in Arkhangelsk on Sunday.

But the 11 sailors, who were greeted by relatives as they stepped off a train from Moscow, refused to shed any light on what had happened between July 24, when their ship was purportedly seized by hijackers near Sweden, and their rescue off the western coast of Africa by the Navy on Aug. 17.

The sailors also would not discuss their subsequent two weeks in Moscow, where investigators questioned them and only allowed them to contact relatives Thursday.

“The ship was in the sea, in the Bermuda Triangle, and the pirates fed us ice cream,” a sailor said in response to reporters’ questions about the ship’s mysterious disappearance, the Life.ru news portal reported.

Asked when the crew had realized that pirates had seized the ship, a sailor said: “Immediately. It was clear from the first minute.”

Plied about life on the ship with the hijackers and being questioned in Moscow, the sailors repeatedly offered the same answer: “It wasn’t very pleasant for us,” Life.ru reported.

Four other sailors from the original crew remain on the Arctic Sea and are sailing toward Novorossiisk, authorities say.

Some of you will find the Bermuda Triangle explanation pleasing.

More posts on the Arctic Sea available by clicking on the label below.

Persian Gulf: Pirate Attack

Report of an attack on a dhow in the area between UAE and Bahrain in Ship with Indian crew attacked by pirates in the Gulf:
A traditional wooden ship with Indian crew sailing from the United Arab Emirates toward Bahrain was the target of the first act of sea piracy reported in Persian Gulf waters in years, according to details of the attack that emerged on Sunday.

The Bahraini dhow was intercepted on Friday night by another ship with an armed crew, security sources said.

The four pirates threatened the six-man Indian crew with guns and assaulted them before taking their cargo of fish and mobile phones, sources said. The crew members said they believed the pirates were Iranian, but their nationality could not be positively confirmed.

The Indian sailors were unharmed. They were released and arrived in a Bahraini port on Sunday.

The case represents the first time an act of piracy has been reported inside the Gulf since the issue of piracy again came to the forefront of international attention off the Somali coast in recent years.
UPDATE: Speaking of Iran, the Iranian Navy is making another deployment to the Arabian Sea to counteract pirates, as set out here. Meanwhile, the IRGC "navy" asserts "mission accomplished" as a result of its deployment to the Gulf of Aden:
The IRGC Navy completed its trans-regional mission to provide security for the Iranian commercial ships in the Gulf of Aden, brigadier general Ali Fadavi said in a ceremony to welcome the naval unit.

During the 107-day mission, tens of Iranian and non-Iranian ships safely sailed across the Gulf Aden and pirates never dared to approach any commercial ships, Fadavi added.

He said the IRGC used special tactics to foil the pirates'' attacks on the Iranian ships; he added the IRGC once again proved its capability in establishing security outside Iran’s geographical borders.

The general went on to say that the U.S. and European countries have failed to repel the piracy threat facing their vessels, while their advanced naval fleets are present in the region.
No, really. Protecting "tens" of ships. And allowing the sun to rise and set all at the same time. It's a wonder.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Ship History: Presidential Protection

There was a time when presidents of the United States, in order to get away from Washington, would get underway on "presidential yachts" and cruise the Potomac River.

While the story of those yachts is for another Sunday, one of the interesting aspects of having a president heading out on a yacht is providing some form of mobile protection for the presidential yacht - something akin to the escort vehicles that flank the presidential limousine but on the water.

There was a time (and more about this will appear here soon) when the U.S. Navy had high speed torpedo boats which were used to engage enemies at sea or in littoral waters and for other missions (see here). Most of the WWII PT boats were wooden hulled. Following WWII, the Navy decided to experiment with aluminum hulls and built 4 PT boats for experimental purposes.

One of these new metal hulled boats played a role in presidential protection. PT-809 vitals:
98' Aluminum Motor Torpedo Boat:
  • Laid down 27 June 1949 by the Electric Boat Co., Groton, CT
  • Launched 7 August 1950
  • Completed 9 February 1951
  • Assigned to the Potomac River Naval Command 1 November 1959 as a civil defense boat and escort for the Presidential Yacht Barbara Ann, later Honey Fitz
  • After the Presidential yachts were deposed, the Guardian was released from Presidential service and transferred to Fleet Composite Squadron SIX (VC-6), 16 December 1974. She was modified at Cambridge, MD for use in retrieving target drones in various ranges along the Virginia/Maryland/North Carolina coast. The Soviets were quite adept at recovering the drones and all of their electronic technology. It was felt that something fast like a PT boat might aid in the recovery of the drones. The Guardian was based at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base and renamed DR-1 aka Retriever. Later she was assigned to the special boat unit in support of the Navy SEALs.She was the longest serving PT-boat.
  • Placed out of service in 1988
  • Scrapped in 1990.

    Specifications:

  • Displacement 47 t.
  • Length 98'
  • Beam 26' 6"
  • Draft 5' 6"
  • Speed 40+ kts.
  • Armament: Two 40mm mounts, two 20mm mounts, one 81mm mortar and one smoke generator
  • Propulsion: Four 2,500hp Packard diesel engines, four shafts (Converted in 1959 to eight 250hp General Motors diesel engines).
  • The PT Boat served an additional function, too:
    The Guardian carried 2 16 ft fiberglass water jet boats. These boats were used to transport secret service agents and was used for water skiing by Mrs Kennedy and other guests.
    When not in use by the president the yacht and the escort PT moored at the Washington Navy Yard.
    Red arrow points to PT-809. Photo caption:
    Washington Navy Yard, District of Columbia

    View looking northwards from over the Anacostia River, March 1970.
    The Presidential Yacht Sequoia and her Secret Service protective craft, Guardian (formerly USS PT-809), are alongside the finger pier in the center. The bathyscaphe's Trieste is on display in the parking lot immediately above and between those two vessels.
    Photographed by PHC Tommy Cobb.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph.
    PT-809 served her country well and long. Give a little salute to the men who helped protect presidents - recover drones and deliver SEALS. Not too shabby for an "experiment."

    Friday, August 28, 2009

    Somali Pirates: Video of Pirate Shooting at Navy Helicopter


    Stil Photo from here. Caption:
    090826-N-0000F-003 U.S. 5th FLEET AOR (Aug. 26, 2009) Somali pirates aboard Motor Vessel (M/V) Win Far fire upon a U.S. Navy SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the Scorpions of Light Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HSL) 49. The Helicopter, embarked aboard the cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), was conducting a surveillance mission near the anchored M/V Win Far south of Garacad, Somalia. The video, from Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR), shows the pirates firing a large caliber weapon at the helicopter. No rounds struck the Sea Hawk and no one was injured. (U.S. Navy Photo from Video/Released) Link to video clip on FLICKR U.S. Navy Gallery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnavynvns/3862516548/


    A comment I posted over on the USNI blog:
    Actually, I’m surprised that this hasn’t happened before.

    Here are a couple of scenarios:

    (1) Some idiot pirate got tired of waiting for ransom and waiting in general and took a “I’m bored” potshot at the helo, knowing that with 30 or so hostages on the captured vessel the helo was unlikely to respond; or

    (2) The pirate master minds have decided they really want a full out war with the U.S. Navy and brought out a heavier weapon to the hostage ship and decided to start the war now – just before the end of the monsoon winds and the beginning of prime pirate weather and a chance to grab more ships for ransom. A war that they cannot win and in which the U.S. has more that little blue skiffs full of AK-47s to play with

    Somehow, with a lucrative business operation, I tend to think #2 is less likely than #1. So, without more intel to the contrary, I’m going with my “idiot pirate” thought.

    On the other hand, if it happens again ...

    Thursday, August 27, 2009

    Somali Pirates: U.S. Navy Helicopter Shot at by Pirates

    An escalation or an act of frustration? In either case, foolish.

    NavCent press release:
    Yesterday, at approximately 8:00 a.m. local time, Somali Pirates aboard Motor Vessel (M/V) Win Far, fired what appeared to be a large caliber weapon at a U.S. Navy SH-60B Helicopter from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 49, embarked aboard USS Chancellorsville (CG 62).

    No rounds of ammunition struck the SH-60B. The SH-60 crew did not return fire. No personnel injuries resulted from the incident.

    Win Far is a Taiwanese-flagged vessel that was pirated April 6, 2009, and over the past 135 days it has been used as a “mother ship” to conduct other known pirate attacks, most notably the U.S. flagged Maersk-Alabama in April 2009.

    The helicopter was conducting a routine surveillance flight of M/V Win Far currently held at anchorage by Somali pirates south of Garacad, Somalia when the incident occurred.

    During the flight, aircrew observed activity, but could not ascertain they were fired upon until their return to Chancellorsville and review of Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) video, which recorded the incident. The helicopter was approximately 3,000 yards from Win Far when it was fired upon.

    More than 30 crewmembers remain as hostages aboard the pirated vessel M/V Win Far.
    Photo captions:
    Aug. 26, 2009) Somali pirates aboard the Motor Vessel (M/V) Win Far fired on a U.S. Navy SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the Scorpions of Helicopter anti-Submarine Squadron light (HSL 49). The helicopter, embarked aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), was conducting a surveillance mission near the anchored M/V Win Far south of Garacad, Somalia. No rounds struck the helicopter and no one was injured.


    UPDATE: Anti-pirate activity:

    Gulf of Aden piracy heats up
    :
    MV Southern Cross sent a distress signal yesterday saying it was under attack by gunmen in a skiff 80 n-miles south of Al-Mukkala, an Operation Atalanta statement said.

    Norway’s frigate HNOMS Fridtjof Nansen received the distress call and travelled to the area while a South Korean helicopter from Combined Task Force 151 also arrived at the scene. The pirates broke off their attack.

    Later yesterday, a skiff was boarded by the German frigate FGS Bremen, part of the EU NAVFOR patrol. Weapons were thrown overboard before the boarding.

    The 4,900dwt Southern Cross was en route to Fujairah in the UAE.
    Pirate skiff disarmed in EU-Japanese action:
    In the morning of 22 August, a Japanese maritime patrol aircraft detected and reported a suspect skiff in the Gulf of Aden, some 80 nm east off Aden. The aircraft observed 7 persons on board, a ladder and large amounts of fuel. The skiff was approximately 5 nm away from passing merchant vessels. The Norwegian EU NAVFOR warship HNOMS Fridtjof Nansen reacted immediately and set course to the suspect skiff, launching her two fast rhibs to prepare for boarding. The Netherlands EUNAVFOR warship HNLMS Evertsen immediately launched her helicopter to close and follow the skiff until arrival of the Norwegian fast rhibs.

    When the first skiff tried to get away, HNLMS Evertsen’s helicopter fired warning shots to stop the skiff. On observing the shots the skiff stopped and was subsequently boarded by Fridtjof Nansen’s boarding team. Due to lack of positive evidence of a pirate attack the skiff and its crew were finally released. The discovered ladders, rifles and rocket propelled grenades were seized and disposed of.


    UPDATE: More thoughts here (read the comments, too).

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009

    MV Arctic Sea: It just keeps going and going

    This will drive the conspiracy theorists crazy: Russia to seek help probing Arctic Sea mystery:
    Russian authorities said Wednesday they will run the investigation into the alleged Arctic Sea hijacking but will ask other nations to help solve the mystery of the cargo ship's bizarre voyage.

    The Maltese-flagged freighter headed to Russia under a navy escort on Wednesday.

    The Arctic Sea seemed to vanish after sailing from Finland on July 21 with a Russian crew and a load of timber. A Russian warship intercepted the freighter last week in the Atlantic and eight suspected hijackers are jailed in Moscow, facing charges of kidnapping and piracy.

    Sparse information has led to speculation the ship could have been carrying sensitive cargo.

    The Foreign Ministry said an initial search conducted shortly after the ship was intercepted revealed no suspicious cargo.
    ***
    In a statement on its Web site, the Investigative Committee said a Russian court had formally impounded the Arctic Sea and Russia plans to ask authorities in Sweden, Finland, Malta and other nations to "conduct investigative actions" in the case.

    The agency also defended the treatment of 11 Arctic Sea crew members, calling them victims but demanding they remain in Moscow for further questioning.
    Any volunteers?

    UPDATE: With a hat tip to Fred Fry: Lloyd's List offers up some interesting info:
    However, further more detailed searches are due take place before the all-clear is declared definitive. Meanwhile, reports suggest that crew complicity in the affair will be one avenue of inquiry.

    The announcement came after consistent speculation that the ship was actually laden with a secret cargo of some kind, with drugs, nuclear materials and missiles bound for Iran among the candidates mentioned.

    Bizarrely, a statement from Russia’s foreign ministry suggested that when the vessel was interdicted on August 17, the master claimed that the ship is actually the North Korean-owned Chongdin-2 and was actually en route from Havana to Sierra Leone. Pyongyang has apparently dismissed the idea.

    The closest match to that name on the Lloyd’s Marine Intelligence Unit database is Chon Ji 2, which is 1979-built, 3,870 dwt and North Korea-flagged. Its International Maritime Organisation number is 8988129. Arctic Sea is Malta-flag, 1991-built, 4,706 dwt and bears the IMO number 8912792.

    “The North Korean side clarified the situation and told us that at the moment the suspect ship was intercepted, the aforementioned North Korean ship could not be found at those co-ordinates as it was in an Angolan port,” the ministry said.

    Philippines: Suspected Gun Runner Captain Pleads "Not My Fault"

    Remember the report of a gun running ship in the Philippines? See here. And now, an update reported as British captain of arms ship seeks gov't protection :
    Somewhere in Bataan – The fugitive British captain of a cargo vessel seized by authorities for smuggling assault rifles worth P100 million into the country last week asked the government for protection, saying the syndicate behind the arms shipment is threatening him and his family.

    Bruce Jones, 49, said he is willing to disclose what he knows about arms smuggling during an interview with the Manila Bulletin in forested areas between Zambales and Bataan.
    ***
    “I am not a terrorist and not capable of doing that,” he said.

    Married to a Filipina and staying in the country for the last 14 years, Jones said he was a victim of the incident, adding that he has documents to support that the guns were legally acquired from P.T. Pindad with address at JI. Jend. Gatot Subroto, 517 Bandung, Indonesia.

    “In fact, when they loaded the 20 wooden crates of guns into my ship, these were even supervised and guarded by around 50 policemen or soldiers from Indonesia. So I presumed it was all legally acquired,” he said.

    He said he was instructed by his employer to deliver the guns to La Plata Trading, Inc. with office address at 14th floor, BDO Building, Paseo de Roxas, Makatiy City and was told that the cargo had been cleared by the Philippine National Police.

    According to Jones, a total of 20 wooden crates full of guns were loaded into the ship from Indonesia. He said 19 of the boxes contained assault rifles and only one box contained 9mm pistols.

    Authorities identified the rifles as Israeli-made Galils. However, a check by the Bulletin showed they were actually SSI-VI Pindad, made in Indonesia by a licensee of Fabrique National of Belgium. The guns are also of a different caliber than Galil.

    When authorities seized the cargo vessel, only five wooden crates were intact and the 15 boxes of guns had been slipped out by the syndicate, he claimed.

    He recalled that while in the high seas, he was instructed several times by the unidentified ship owner to slow down and delay his time of arrival in the Port of Batangas Port for unknown reasons.

    “I had then felt that something is unusual. Worse, three of our tanks, containing 37 tons each, had been filled with water so I suggested to my boss to have a dry dock and repair in Subic,” Jones said.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009

    Russia says nothing suspicious found on MV Arctic Sea

    Russia says nothing suspicious found on Arctic Sea:
    Russia said on Tuesday nothing suspicious was found on board the Arctic Sea ship, whose seizure by suspected pirates off the coast of Europe this month sparked a media storm.

    Media reports had speculated that the ship had a secret cargo of arms or even nuclear materials, saying a ship carrying timber in some of the world's best policed seas would be an unlikely target for pirates.

    "The initial inspection of the ship did not uncover any suspicious cargo," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
    In a separate statement, the Mafia reports that organized crime is not a problem, either.

    UPDATE: Someone didn't get the email: Russia's top investigator said it is possible a freighter embroiled in a high-seas mystery was carrying more than just timber, the Interfax news agency reported Tuesday.

    More here.

    The Russians are probably being honest, but it sure feels like "Nothing to see here, move along."

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    Monday Reading

    Fred Fry gets a double hit with

    ‘Rescued’ Cargo Ship ARCTIC SEA Hijacked by the Russian Navy?

    and
    Maritime Monday 176 with a slew of great links and pictures from the old Liberty ship John W. Brown.

    Liberty ships? See here.

    Maggie meets a hero.

    Progress on removing detainees from Gitmo? Well, no one else wants them either...

    TIgerhawk seeks perfection.

    A bad day at sea has an unusual ending.

    Sunday, August 23, 2009

    Sunday Ship History: Half-Hitch

    In wartime, a picture can save lives - and provide a little humor. One famous Navy cartoon from WWII was drawn by the artist who also brought us "Dennis the Menace: Hank Ketcham, creator of "Half Hitch".

    Ketcham was an Navy Photographers Mate who brought cartoonist skill learned working for Walter Lantz and Disney to drawing war bond and other posters and - eventually - inventing a small sailor "Half-Hitch" who roamed the Navy with wide-eyed innocence - sorta.

    Half Hitch was revived in the 1970's - his hair style reflects the era.

    Not a lot of deep meaning - just a salute to former sailor, now gone - who brought a little humor to the workplace.

    MV Arctic Sea: Blame the Piracy on .... Israel

    Okay, let's review - a couple of weeks ago a Maltese-flagged, Finnish-owned, Russian-crewed timber ship was allegedly boarded by pirates posing as Swedish police off the coast of Sweden.

    The boarders destroyed certain communications equipment.

    Despite this assault, the ship did not report the alleged attack immediately - and continued on its voyage from Finland, supposedly headed for Algeria. At the beginning of the transit south through the English Channel, the vessel reported in to English authorities, then disappeared from the grid.

    Well, "disappeared" except that after the fact, the Maltese government now says the ship was never really "missing" and its location was being withheld to protect the crew.

    For reasons best known to the Russians and, by the way, increasing the level of conspiracy theories, the Russian Navy dispatched a small task force out through the Strait of Gibraltar to look for the "missing" ship.

    Reports surfaced that the ship had recently been modified - with the removal of a bulkhead to allow for a larger closed in compartment. Conspiracy theorists speculated about the use of the compartment for transport of nuclear technology, missiles or, in jest, space alien technology (okay, that was me).

    Well, eventually the ship reappeared, in international waters off the west African coast, a couple of hundred miles off Cape Verde. A Russian destroyer dropped by, picked up the crew and, reportedly, some pirates - took the captives to Cape Verde, loaded them on a Russian aircraft and took them off to ... Russia, where they are all, crew and "pirates" still being held.

    As indicated above, speculation continues about what, exactly, happened with the MV Arctic Sea.

    The latest report is that the Israeli Mossad was involved: Did Israel hijack Russian ship to stop Iran arms shipment?:
    The mystery surrounding the hijacking of a Russian freighter in July has taken a new twist with reports claiming the pirates were acting in league with the Israeli Mossad secret service in order to halt a shipment of modern weapon systems hidden on board and destined for Iran.
    ***
    The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported over the weekend that the vessel Arctic Sea had been carrying x-55 cruise missiles and S300 anti-aircraft rockets hidden in secret compartments among its cargo of timber and sawdust.
    ***
    The eight alleged hijackers originally claimed to be environmentalists when they boarded the ship in the Baltic Sea in Swedish waters on July 24.
    ***
    But Dmitri Rogozin, Russian ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said that allegations that the Arctic Sea had been smuggling weapons was "fantasy" and "ridiculous."

    The Russian newspaper Pravda's website reported that the ship had been smuggling cruise missiles to Iran on a well-worn path via Algeria, but a "power that has relations with Ukraine" had prevented this.

    The Novaya Gazeta reported that the hijackers had been operating on behalf of the Mossad. It also reported that the motive for the visit to Moscow by President Shimon Peres the day after the Russians recaptured the vessel had been an urgent request to his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev to refrain from supplying Iran with weapons.

    Israeli officials dismissed the reports as "classical conspiracy theories," but defense experts noted that Israel has a record of hijacking foreign vessels bearing arms to its enemies.
    ***
    Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, did not rule out Israel covert action against Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear arms, but seriously suspected Israel would take action against Russian ships.

    "It seems that it's full of mystery since everything surrounding Russia is mysterious. And if it's mysterious they dump it on Israel," Brom told The Media Line.

    Brom, a retired senior intelligence officer, added he did not believe it could enhance the Mossad's image since it appeared to be a failed hijacking.
    More here.

    UPDATE: One of the "pirates" is a dead man?:
    What now seems increasingly likely, though, is that the truth will never come out. Crew members have told Russian news reporters that they have been told not to disclose "state secrets", while well-informed Russian marine journalists have said they are now wary of commenting further on the case. And the explanations proffered by the alleged pirates have raised more questions than they answer. When quizzed on Russian state TV last week, Mr Lunev said he was working with an ecological group, who approached the Arctic Sea for help when their own inflatable ran out of petrol. But when asked what the group's name was, he answered: "I don't know. It was some private organisation."

    Even the suspects' extensive tattoos - normally a reliable guide to identifying different sub-tribes of the Russian Mafia - have caused bafflement. "It is clear they are not our criminals, said Alexander Sidorov, the author of Russian Criminal Tattoos book, after examining TV footage.
    So, naturally, Mossad.
    (end update)

    Me, I'm spreading the "space alien" theory.

    If you'd like,you can revisit all my posts on the MV Arctic Sea by clicking on the label "MV Arctic Sea."

    Saturday, August 22, 2009

    Philippines: Gun Runners

    Gun running into the Philippines in anticipation of an election or for other terrorism? A ship is discovered with a cargo of guns gets reported on here. Note that the government agents really had to work hard to discover the gun:
    Philippine authorities have seized 54 high-powered rifles worth P25 million from a foreign vessel off the coast of Mariveles, Bataan, thwarting a smuggling operation possibly related to the 2010 elections, a senior Customs intelligence official said Friday.

    Fernandino Tuason, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) chief, said his office had received information some politicians had “ordered” the shipment of the Israeli-type Galil assault rifles from an international gun-running syndicate as part of their preparations for next year’s polls.

    15 empty crates

    Customs commissioner Napoleon Morales said the guns were concealed in four wooden crates placed inside the cargo hold.

    He said another crate contained slings, magazines and bayonets for some of the firearms.

    Morales said they also found 15 empty wooden crates on the cargo ship, prompting them to suspect that the alleged smugglers had already unloaded most of the contraband, possibly at sea.

    He said he also got information that a yacht was seen ferrying “something from the ship” a few hours before the vessel was raided by agents of the Bureau of Customs and Philippine Coast Guard around 4 p.m. Thursday.

    “We are closely coordinating with the Coast Guard as we try to recover the yacht which was seen loading some cargoes from the ship,” he said.

    “We already have names, some are candidates, others are supporters,” Tuason, speaking in Filipino, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview. “I cannot give you their names because we are still verifying. Once we have verified we will issue a press release.”

    “The election season is fast coming. It’s highly probable that this [shipment] is election-related,” he said.
    ***
    “We do not discount the possibility that the guns could be used in a destabilization plot against the government and for terrorist activities,” he added.

    He said they were also checking the identities of the Filipino contacts of the crew members of MV Captain Ufuk, the Panamanian-registered cargo vessel which tried to bring in the firearms through the Port of Mariveles.

    According to Tuason, the ship’s 13 Georgian crew members and its South African captain could be part of a big-time international syndicate behind gun running in Asia and Africa.

    He said: “Transnational crimes such as this do not involve ordinary persons. The suspects could be members of a big group of gun runners.”

    Although Galils are usually made in Israel, the ones seized from the Panamanian ship were all made in Indonesia, Tuason said.
    ***
    The crew members were all cooperative and calm during the search of the ship, he added.

    Tuason said the ship did not have any cargo aside from the crates containing the firearms.
    Actually the last sentence is not quite true. It also had a cargo of 15 empty crates.

    How do you like your elections?

    More on the Galil here

    Saturday Reading

    Sit down with a cup of coffee and enjoy these readings:

    From InstaPunk: Rants are cool.

    From In From the Cold: The Real Scandal.

    From the U.S. Naval Institute Blog, an audacious project on the Solomons Campaign of WWII: (in chronological order of appearance)

    1. Prelude to the Series;
    2. Geographical and Political Background;
    3. Status of the United States Fleet and Plans After Midway;
    4. WATCHTOWER - Why Guadalcanal?;
    5. Guadalcanal 7-9 August 1942; Assault and Lodgment;
    6. Execution at Savo Island;
    7. Unleashing the Assassin's Mace;
    8. The Battle of the Eastern Solomons;
    9. The Battle of Cape Esperance
    10. More to follow




    Friday, August 21, 2009

    MV Arctic Sea Update

    Not much time to post until later, but Fred Fry left a nice comment on a prior post, which summarizes nicely the current mess involving the mysterious MV Arctic Sea:

    The ship appears to be headed straight to Russia:

    -------------
    Russia said that the ship would proceed to Novorossiiski on the Black Sea for inspection.

    Krasnoshtan says that it will be interesting to see who pays Stora Enso the insurance compensation for the cargo if the ship ends up in Russia.

    “If the ship continues to Russia without stopping in Algeria first, it could be possible that suspicions of a secret cargo might be true.”
    -------------

    Also the crew is being held in the same prison as the hijackers. How odd is that? No red carpet treatment here:
    -------------
    The crew members were not allowed to go home on Thursday: like the hijackers they were taken to the Lefortovo remand prison for questioning.
    -------------
    and:
    -------------
    Vazir Fazylov, the father of seaman Dmitri Fazylov was surprised that his son was not even allowed to call home. “Nobody is saying anything. We’re just watching TV. This is stupid.”
    -------------

    Source:
    source
    Thanks, Fred!

    Fred's homepage is here.

    UPDATE: Rumors continue to fly, but one that sort of sounds "more better" than others involves a charge that the "attackers" were former crew members possibly helped by some current crew members at some point in the ship's travels - which may make sense of the current crew being held along with the "pirates" . . .


    Less convincing is the suggestion that the alleged modifications to the vessel were for the return voyage ...

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    MV Arctic Sea: Yet More Mystery as Report Says Ship Carried Super Secret Cargo

    Secrets apparently not being what they used to be, a report has surfaced that the nominally timber carrying Finnish owned, Maltese registered, Russian manned MV Arctic Sea was not just an old, tired timber carrying ship, but a converted into something else to be a carrier of a very mysterious cargo installed in a Russian shipyard behind a bulkhead that had to be removed to make space for it. Or something.

    NY Times and Reuters have the claims under the headline Hijackers Threatened to Blow Up Mystery Ship :
    The official version of events was questioned by Yulia Latynina, a leading Russian opposition journalist and commentator.

    "The Arctic Sea was carrying something, not timber and not from Finland, that necessitated some major work on the ship," she wrote in the Moscow Times newspaper on Wednesday.

    During two weeks of repair works in the Russian port of Kaliningrad just before the voyage, the ship's bulkhead was dismantled so something very large could be loaded, she wrote.

    "To put it plainly: The Arctic Sea was carrying some sort of anti-aircraft or nuclear contraption intended for a nice, peaceful country like Syria, and they were caught with it," she said.
    Much as I want to apply Occam's razor to this issue, there are some compelling facts that could sustain a good conspiracy theory - such as the Russian navy being sent in some degree of force to find a ship in which, as near as I can tell, their legal interest ought to be hovering around zero. That the crew was Russian might make the Russian moves were undertaken under - as odd as it is to say about the Russians - "humanitarian" grounds. and, of course, once the pirates were found on the high seas instead of, say, Spanish waters, then the Russians had the legal right to take action. The current law probably most applicable to this "high seas" situation is UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, Part VII, :
    Article 105. Seizure of a pirate ship or aircraft

    On the high seas, or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State, every State may seize a pirate ship or aircraft, or a ship or aircraft taken by piracy and under the control of pirates, and arrest the persons and seize the property on board. The courts of the State which carried out the seizure may decide upon the penalties to be imposed, and may also determine the action to be taken with regard to the ships, aircraft or property, subject to the rights of third parties acting in good faith.
    Which, of course, points out how convenient it was that the putative pirates managed to have the ship sailed to clearly international waters where the Russians could act without incurring the wrath of sovereign states that lined the ship's path to where it was boarded.

    Not that there is anything suspicious in that. Much.

    Some experts note that it likely the alleged boarders are/were Russian mafia and that it is extremely unlikely we will ever be in a position to chat with them. And, there is always the possibility that they may attempt an escape, the sort of escape from which dead men tell no tales.

    I have the feeling that this little ship will be making news for some time to come.

    And I repeat my warnings about ships that can drop off the radar.

    But, please, use the comment section to join in the fun of guessing what that bulkhead had to be moved for. First prize is free access to this blog for a year.

    This site has compiled some guesses already.

    To relive the exciting story of MV Arctic Sea, clicking on the label "MV Arctic Sea" ought to capture most of my posts on the topic.

    UPDATE: Cargo suggestions: anti-aircraft missiles.
    A raft of suggestions and more in the comments here. Not much nautical knowledge, though.

    UPDATE2: More -uh- clarity from The Moscow Times with some interesting analysis:
    The lumber’s value has been put at $1.8 million, a sum that hardly justifies an attack that would amount to the most blatant act of sea banditry in European waters in centuries.

    Yet the official version of what transpired is fraught with inconsistencies, prompting observers to suggest that Russian authorities are trying to cover up a smuggling or trafficking operation.

    When Swedish police first said the ship had been hijacked near the island of Gotland on July 24, they cited the crew as saying masked men had bound and beat them before fleeing in a high-speed boat.

    Yet Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said Monday that the same hijackers — four Estonians, two Latvians and two Russians — were found on the ship off West Africa and they surrendered without a shot being fired.

    One possible explanation for this contradiction is a statement issued by the European Commission last Friday that said the ship had “supposedly” been attacked twice, the first time off the Swedish coast and then off the Portuguese coast.

    Reached by telephone Wednesday, a commission spokesman refused to elaborate on the statement.
    ***
    Also, Malta’s Maritime Authority acknowledged Tuesday that the ship “had never really disappeared,” seemingly confirming a claim by Moscow’s NATO representative Dmitry Rogozin that disinformation “was used intentionally in order not to hamper the military’s work.”

    Speaking by telephone from Brussels, a NATO spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the Western alliance had used its tracking system to assist Moscow in finding the ship.

    Yet Finnish police said Wednesday that contact with the Arctic Sea was in fact lost for some time. “We did not have full track of the ship for the whole time, but a while before the Russian operation took place we were following one that we strongly suspected to be it,” police spokesman Jan-Olof Nyholm said by telephone from Helsinki.
    Of course, the best part, an indication the ship was acting "strangely in the waters off Sweden:
    Further complicating the picture are Swedish media reports suggesting that the Arctic Sea was hiding a second, smaller vessel while sailing off Sweden’s east coast.

    Data from an automatic vessel tracking system showed that the Arctic Sea’s crew constantly tried to hide one side of the ship from being visible to other ships in the vicinity, the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, citing a Swedish coast guard official, reported on its web site Wednesday.

    More Piracy Off Europe? I don't think so

    Business Week asks the question: "Piracy in Northern Seas: A New Trend?", based on the misadventures of the MV Arctic Sea:
    A mysterious hijacking in the Baltic Sea has European authorities concerned about the spread of piracy into the Northern Hemisphere
    I don't think European authorities should be losing much sleep over concerns that the Baltic or North Atlantic or even the Mediterranean are about to become like the waters off Somalia.

    Somalia offers pirates a situation non-existent in northern waters- a failed state right on a couple of major sea lanes. Upon grabbing a ship, the pirates, under threat of executing the ship's crew, can run for the safety of Somali waters where they have support from shore bases.

    European waters, by contrast, abound with traffic control lanes, positive ship check in points, coast guards, police and effective military forces. There are no safe haven areas for a captured ship to be taken while ransom negotiations are worked through.

    Indeed, one of the unanswered questions concerning Arctic Sea's alleged hijackers has to do with where, exactly, were they headed? Arriving off the coast of Africa doesn't mean safety - most African states are not the uncivilized jumble of Somalia - there are coast guards and military forces to contend with.

    Perhaps a well oiled criminal enterprise could "sneak" ships into some West African port, but ... it would be very hard. In his post on Phantom Ships, Daniel Sekulich, author of Terror on the Seas offers up the saga of a 1999 "mystery ship" wandering from Russia through the Med, off Africa and, finally, to India- where the tale did not end well for the hijackers. Daniel's tale points out that the marine community was on the trail of the ship as soon as it became apparent something was amiss.

    There are many factors that would militate against there being a "trend" in piracy off Europe. Of greater concern to the maritime security world is what appeared to be the ability of the ship to slip off the grid - which, as discussed here might have some serious national security ramifications.

    It is, perhaps, some comfort to hear from some authorities that they had a bead on Arctic Sea all the time (see here) - which eases the security issues a little.

    But a trend in Euro piracy? Based on a one-off event?

    I don't think so.

    Hurricane BILL

    Now a Category 4 Hurricane and headed for some major shipping lanes - and Bermuda, see
    Hurricane BILL

    Somali Pirates: Expect more attacks as weather improves

    As mentioned before, as monsoon winds die down off Somalia, expect an increase in pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off eastern Somalia - or, as noted here;
    The calm August seas last year led to a series of hijackings -- including that of a behemoth Saudi oil tanker -- that spread fears of major disruptions to world shipping and spurred foreign naval powers into sending warships.

    "The weather conditions have been the main reason" for the recent dip in attacks, Hans Tino Hansen, managing director of Denmark-based Risk Intelligence, told AFP.

    "Another reason but of less importance is the success of the naval forces in repelling the few attacks that have been conducted in the Gulf of Aden," he added.

    The pirates themselves had the bit between their teeth, with sea conditions already more propicious to boarding their prey from small skiffs in the Gulf of Aden and storms starting to recede in the Indian Ocean.

    "We are definitely set on capturing more ships and gaining more cash. I only made 9,000 dollars last year and I was banking on more," Ahmed Mohamed Abdi, a pirate from the central town of Harardhere, told AFP.

    "Foreign countries are still fishing illegally and no-one is blaming them, but when we try to recover something for the losses in marine wealth, we are accused of being bad boys," he lamented.
    Well, Ahmed, there are those shooting at ships that have nothing to do with fishing while they are in international waters and holding hostages things that hurt your image. You know, by making you a pirate, instead of a coast guard.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009

    MV Arctic Sea: Not a Clear Case of Piracy According to the Finns

    It appeared that the mystery of the MV Arctic Sea was all neatly (sort of) wrapped up by the Russian assertion that their Navy had "rescued" the crew and taken eight "pirates" into custody. See here.

    Now, however, Lloyd's List reports a wrinkle in the Russian story:
    A SENIOR Finnish policeman involved in the Arctic Sea case has apparently cast doubt on the Russian ministry of defence line that the general cargoship was the victim of a hijack.

    Jan-Olof Nyholm, detective superintendent at Finland’s Centralkriminalpolisen, in an interview with Sweden’s TT news agency, revealed: “We have had an idea where it was heading for some time, but for tactical reasons we have not been able to comment on it. It was a case of aggravated criminal extortion and there was a very real threat to life and limb.”


    Asked directly whether the Russian-owned ship had at any time been totally lost, he answered ambiguously: “Perhaps not as terribly lost as many may have believed.”
    ***
    A statement on the official website of the Finnish police is notably circumspect. It confirms that an investigation into attempted extortion is taking place and that the police have been unable to comment openly for unspecified tactical reasons.


    But the barb comes with the injection of a decided note of caution: “The authorities have not been able to confirm the alleged hijacking, and the connection between the alleged incident and the later events has not been established yet.”

    The article goes on to point out several oddities in the stories that reportedly have been told by the crew. I guess it's not over.
    "Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!"
    Really, you can't make this stuff up.

    UPDATE: More here, with more questions than answers:
    Experts and officials across Europe said the saga of the missing 98-meter (320-foot) freighter was perplexing.

    "The whole thing has been sniffy from start to finish," said David Osler, a maritime journalist at Lloyd's List in London.

    Mikhail Voitenko, the editor of the online Maritime Bulletin-Sovfracht, said he had spoken with some of the Arctic Sea's sailors and was more puzzled than ever.

    The Iraqi Navy

    Worth a look - DJ Elliott, a retired U.S. Navy intel type, has a blog post on the Iraqi Navy and some speculation about its future.

    The Iraqis have to protect their oil export facilities.

    MV Arctic Sea: Pirates Arrested

    If this report holds up a lot of people will be proven wrong (including me) about the adventures of MV Arctic Sea - but the Russian Navy has announced the arrest of eight pirates allegedly involved in the hijacking of the ship. As reported by the Telegraph: Russian navy arrests eight "pirates" who seized the cargo ship Arctic Sea:
    Eight 'pirates' of Russian, Latvian and Estonian nationality have been arrested for the hijacking of the cargo ship Arctic Sea in Swedish waters.

    Following the arrests, which took place on board the ship, Anatoly Serdyukov, the Russian defence minister, has given more details of events surrounding the mystery vessel and its diversion to west Africa by the hijackers.

    "These people, after claiming that their boat was not working, boarded the Arctic Sea and using the threat of arms, demanded that the crew follow all of their orders without condition," he said.

    "Then the Arctic Sea moved on to an African route indicated by the aggressors to after turning off navigation equipment."

    "Eight people - not members of the crew - have been detained," he said.

    The suspects, who boarded the ship in Swedish waters, include four Estonian citizens, two Latvians and two Russian nationals.
    ***
    European and Russian maritime experts had speculated that that the ship's hijacking was not connected with an official manifest of timber and could be linked to an illegal cargo, such as arms, drugs or even nuclear materials, carried without the knowledge of crew or the ship's owners.
    Well, it is an explanation.

    I doubt it will end the speculation, though.

    Whether there be pirates or not, the MV Arctic Sea sailed into history and legend over the past couple of weeks.

    Me? I'm looking for Occam's razor . . .

    UPDATE: BBC report.

    Monday, August 17, 2009

    MV Arctic Sea "Found" and "Crew Rescued?"

    Mail Online says Missing cargo ship Arctic Sea found and crew rescued following pirates' 1million ransom demand:
    It is believed the freighter had been tracked for several days by the Russian navy, with assistance from Nato.

    Yesterday, Russian defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov said the crew were 'alive, healthy and not under armed guard'.

    He went on: 'Debriefing is under way to clarify all aspects of the disappearance and loss of signal from this vessel.

    'In the coming hours we will explain what happened with it, why communications with it were lost, why it changed its itinerary.'

    Secrecy surrounding the recovery of the vessel has added to the mystery of its fate.

    Theories include a Russian mafia or business dispute, hijacking by pirates, or the stowing of a highly valuable 'hidden cargo' on board.
    Telegraph Online is a little clearer: "Mystery as missing cargo ship Arctic Sea found without hijackers":
    The missing cargo ship Arctic Sea and its crew have been found by a Russian warship off west Africa, but mystery still surrounds its disappearance as it was not under the control of armed hijackers or pirates.


    As I noted here, I smell insurance fraud. Unsuccessful insurance fraud.

    Other posts on MV Arctic Sea can be found by clicking on the label MV Arctic Sea.

    Monday Reading

    UPDATE: On a Monday, for a change, I manage to link to Fred Fry's Maritime Monday 175 which is chock full of delicious nautical tidbits - and photos from a shipyard in Trinidad and Tobago's Port of Spain.

    I have no idea whether this breaks the law, but it surely has trouble passing the "smell test" from The Skeptical Bureaucrat: What's a Little Lobbying Between Friends? - pointing out a government website that sure looks like it's taking a political position.

    Pinch notes some irony - from government officials.

    Sha Na Na today. Yes, it shows my age and Betsy's, too. The rest of you can look up Sha Na Na on Google.

    A writing contest at Small Wars Journal. I could use the money . . . entries due by 10 November 09, so you've still got time. To lose to me.

    A tug boat driver who will looking for a new line of work (and a change of underwear)at Towmasters.

    Somali Pirates: Attacks and Mother Ship Warnings

    Somali pirate activity reported:
    MSC(HOA):

    16/08/2009 15.18 UTC

    Pirate Attack

    Somali Basin (0617.1N,05441.2E)

    ---WARNING WARNING WARNING---

    At 161340 UTC a merchant vessel is currently under attack by 2 skiffs and a Mother Boat in position 0617.1N 05441.2E .

    Mother Boat is white and about 50 metres in length

    It is recommended that all vessels not making scheduled calls to ports in Somalia, Kenya or Tanzania keep as far from the Somali coast as possible. MSCHOA now advise that vessels should consider maintaining a distance of more than 600 nautical miles from the coastline and when routing north/south consider keeping East of 60E Longitude until East of the Seychelles.

    All vessels transiting the area and not able to keep 600 nm off the Somali coast are advised not to approach closer than 100 nm from the position given in this report and maintain maximum CPA with any ship acting suspiciously.

    While navigating in the region vessels are urged to operate at a heightened state of readiness, maintaining strict 24 hour anti-piracy visual and radar watches, actively implement recommended anti-piracy measures and regularly report their position/course/speed to UKMTO.

    ***

    15/08/2009 11.52 UTC

    Suspect Vessel

    Somali Basin (06-32N,052-18E)

    ---WARNING WARNING WARNING---

    WIN FAR 161 - POSITION UPDATE:

    At position 06 32N 052 18E (17th AUG 0720 UTC) the FV WIN FAR 161 has been spotted. There are strong indications, that the fishing vessel has already conducted an unsuccessful pirate attack on 16thAUG.

    All vessels are advised to avoid WIN FAR 161. The vessel is white in color and about 50mtrs long.

    ***

    It is recommended that all vessels not making scheduled calls to ports in Somalia, Kenya or Tanzania keep as far from the Somali coast as possible. MSCHOA now advise that vessels should consider maintaining a distance of more than 600 nautical miles from the coastline and when routing north/south consider keeping East of 60E Longitude until East of the Seychelles.

    All vessels transiting the area and not able to keep 600 nm off the Somali coast are advised not to approach closer than 100 nm from the position given in this report and maintain maximum CPA with any ship acting suspiciously.

    While navigating in the region vessels are urged to operate at a heightened state of readiness, maintaining strict 24 hour anti-piracy visual and radar watches, actively implement recommended anti-piracy measures and regularly report their position/course/speed to UKMTO.


    Yellow area reflects my understanding of position of reported attack. It could be off the mark.

    Offshore wind info from here. Might be a lessening in monsoon winds as winds are mixed offshore:

    Sunday Ship History: The Lighthouse Joke

    This story makes the internet rounds every few years and was even part of a commercial:
    Believe it or not...this is the transcript of an actual radio conversation between a US naval ship and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October 1995. The Radio conversation was released by the Chief of Naval Operations on Oct. 10, 1995.

    US Ship: Please divert your course 0.5 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.

    CND reply: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.

    US Ship: This is the Captain of a US Navy Ship. I say again, divert your course.

    CND reply: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course!

    US Ship: THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS CORAL SEA*, WE ARE A LARGE WARSHIP OF THE US NAVY. DIVERT YOUR COURSE NOW!!

    CND reply: This is a lighthouse. Your call.




    As noted here:
    *Note: USS Coral Sea (CV 43) was decommissioned and scrapped 2 July 1993. Other ships' names appearing have been USS Missouri (BB 63) which was decommissioned on 31 March 1992 and USS Nimitz (CVN 68) which is an active ship.
    And there is no current USS Montana.

    Snopes says the tale dates back to at least 1939.

    There is also a report the story was repeated as a "This is no bull-" by a director of national intelligence here.

    For the record, I have known some stubborn captains, but . . .
    and the Navy denies it, too.

    Saturday, August 15, 2009

    MV Arctic Sea: The Mystery Continues

    Spiegel Online has a nice round up of everything that is unknown about the MV Arctic Sea at Pirates, Mercenaries Or Smugglers?: Missing Russian Ship Reportedly Spotted. This includes a report of an unconfirmed ransom demand for the ship and another report of a second attack on this ship:
    The German business daily reports that the ship was apparently hijacked, and that a ransom of around $1.5 million has been asked for. However, these reports remain unconfirmed. Meanwhile a spokesperson for Antonio Tajani, the European commissioner for transport, told news agencies that the ship had actually been the victim of two attacks -- one off the coast of Sweden, and another off the coast of Portugal. But, he said, it seemed as though the attacks had nothing to do with "traditional piracy" or "armed attacks on the high seas."
    For those of you interested in seeing older reports posted as this story has unfolded (oldest post last), you can visit the links here, here, here, here, here and here.

    And, if there aren't enough unknowns, the "found" reports may be premature - according to the Russians as set out here:

    The Arctic Sea, which disappeared with a 15-strong Russian crew on board more than two weeks ago, was spotted about 520 miles off the Cape Verde islands yesterday, according to French officials.

    But today Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported that it was still unconfirmed whether the sighted ship was the Arctic Sea.

    More here:
    According to the Itar-Tass news agency in Russia Alexander Karpushin, the country's ambassador in Cape Verde, had been unable to clarify the situation.

    He told the Vesti news channel: “I met with the country’s authorities, in particular with the chief of the general staff of Cape Verde’s armed forces, who did not confirm the information that the ship had been detected.”

    The Russian maritime website, Sovfrakht, also reported the ship's tracking system was broadcasting signals from the Bay of Biscay at 8.30am today.
    The Bay of Biscay? As you can see from the map, there is a distance between "somewhere off Cape Verde" and "in the Bay of Biscay."

    I'd pay attention to where the Russian Navy is heading.

    Let the fun continue.

    UPDATE: A report that there was a ransom demand:
    A Finnish police officer told the AFP news agency on Saturday that a demand had been made in connection with the Arctic Sea, a 4,000 tonne Finnish-owned cargo ship.

    Detective chief superintendent Jan Nyholm said: "Yes, it is true that there has been a demand for ransom, which is money.

    "The demand has been made to the company which owns the ship, Solchart Management in Finland."

    Markku Ranta-Aho of Finland's National Bureau of Investigation told national YLE radio that the demand was addressed to the Finland-based company that owns the Arctic Sea, but would not give further details or say where the ship might be located.
    UPDATE2: Videos of interest:
    Ransom demand:

    Ship may not be valuable, crew is:
    A good question How on earth has the 'Arctic Sea' vanished?. And some more thoughts on this mess as a Warning Shot.

    Gasoline prices


    Gasoline prices up over 60% - Chart of the Day:
    So while gasoline prices are currently well below the record high levels of 2007, this recent rally has brought prices to a level well above what was witnessed from 1984-2004 ñ a two decade span of relative energy price stability.
    Why are gas prices increasing? WSJ says it's due to the possibility of increased consumer demand:
    Oil prices are jumping on the hopes of an accelerated economic recovery.

    The kindling for that flame came from the U.S. Federal Reserve, which talked about the U.S. economy “leveling out.” It was fueled further by euro-zone economic data, as Germany and France are growing again (and a 0.3% growth rate is almost boom-time for those two).
    But, as the article notes, this may be "irrational exuberance" -
    Never mind that crude oil inventories in the U.S. are still growing (what summer driving season?) or that retail sales are still falling.
    One way to curb your enthusiasm - looking into the future:
    According to NSWA, by the end of President Obama’s current term in office (2012), restrictions put in place will likely reduce future oil output by 1.32 million b/d (15.4 percent) and natural gas by 8.9 percent annually. By 2019, restrictions and new taxes could have reduced the federal take from oil and gas production by more than $118 billion, or about 4 times the expected yield of the new taxes. By 2030, these proposed policies will have the effect of lowering oil production in the United States by over 3 million b/d (approximately 28 percent) and natural gas by 30 percent.
    Also, by 2030 the cumulative reduction in federal tax take from the oil and natural gas industry could be more than $780 billion, under current administration policies.

    “The decreased production that will result from the proposed tax increases will have a catastrophic effect upon the American consumer since less domestic oil means higher prices,” said Dewey Bartlett, Jr., chairman of the National Stripper Well Association. “The OPEC leadership will have almost exclusive control over the world-wide pricing of crude oil as well as all products refined from crude oil such as gasoline, jet fuel and diesel fuel. Each of the thirtyplus states that have oil and natural gas production will experience a sharp decrease in tax revenues and significant job losses. A vital domestic industry that today helps fuel our national
    economy will become an insignificant creator of American jobs much like the shipbuilding, electronics and clothing industries. The consequences of the demise of our domestic oil and natural gas industry are beyond imagination.”
    Lower tax revenue in a time of growing deficit spending, higher fuel costs and an increase in dependence on foreign crude - what a change!

    Of course, if the current administration believes that all of the dire warnings of the NSWA chairman will come to pass but the result of higher oil prices will be to unleash a huge increase in demand for alternative fuels, more fuel efficient cars, more green technology - all of which would lead to a decrease in domestic oil consumption and a resultant "energy independence" from OPEC as demand for overseas oil goes down, the result of which will eventually be an increase in tax revenue and more green jobs, then, well, in the long run these tax increases may make some sort of sense. As in "forcing change" from above - by raising energy prices so high that alternatives make economic sense. In effect, "taxing" Americans into going green.

    From an environmental view, however, it seems to me that the administration would have to be very naive to believe that global warming, if it exists, would be reduced by reducing U.S. consumption of crude oil. Dumping onto the market large amounts of oil that the U.S. isn't using simply means a lowering of crude oil prices for the rest of the world, and encourages other countries to replace the U.S. as a consumer. The worldwide demand for oil will not decrease. Indeed, with lower prices, there may be more development in countries without the U.S. standards for air and water quality and there may be an increase in "greenhouse gasses" as a result of the U.S. going "green." The law of unintended consequences may rear its ugly head yet again for this Administration.

    On the other hand, there are only about 2 years before the next presidential election cycle kicks in, 6 months before Congressional campaigns start - and short term pain at the pump may cause the American people to vote a different vision of the future into place.