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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Offshore Drilling: New Tools for Emergency Well Capping

Industry responds to the Macondo/Gulf of Mexico well blowout with new tools to cap such a blown out well, as reported at After Macondo: Emergency Well Capping:
In the wake of the spill, the industry and the wider world has switched on to the possibility of a similar disaster occurring again. Particularly given the increasing depths at which deepwater platforms are now operating, the logistics behind capping a leaking well are mind-boggling.

As a result, a number of emergency well capping devices are concurrently in development or under construction now. Some are intended and tailored for use in particular offshore regions, while others are being offered to oil companies as a kind of global insurance policy against any future disasters.
See the home page of the Marine Well Containment Company (source of the illustration above). It is reported the system MWCC has works down to 10,000 feet. There's a video at that site that shows how the system is supposed to work.

MWCC's start up was funded by ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and ConocoPhillips. Membership today has expanded:
The MWCC member companies are now Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Apache, Anadarko, BHP Billiton, Statoil and Hess. These 10 companies operated approximately 70 percent of deepwater wells drilled in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico between 2007 through 2009.

As full disclosure, I am a former Chevron employee, looking forward to small retirement check from them in the future.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Trinidad: Sea Robbers Attack Fishermen

Reported as $32,000 in gear taken as pirates hijack fishermen :
The bandits boarded the brothers' vessel, Ganga, and stole the engine, gas and fishing gear worth $32,000.

"We just sailed off the Godineau River and was about 1,000 feet from land when we saw a white fiberglass boat with no name approaching us. There were six men on the boat with masks over their faces. The men told my brother and I to lie on the boat and they tie us up. They then started to throw everything into their boat and speed off," Nazir Hosein, 41, said.
The $32,000 dollar figure is, I believe, in Trinidad dollars and is a little less than US $5000.

Yes, it's not much, but there is a pattern.

Monday, June 27, 2011

South China Sea: Exercising Open Seas

U.S. Navy ships are participating in an exercise with the Philippine Navy as described here:
Three warships from the United States Navy (USN) are dropping anchor in the island province of Palawan on Tuesday for this year’s launching of the joint Philippines-US Naval war exercises aimed at further developing maritime security capabilities of the two nations’ naval forces.

Aside from two missile-guided destroyers – USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93) and USS Howard (DDG-83) and a diving and salvage ship USNS Safegurd (T-ARS 50), 800 US sailors are also participating in the 17th joint holding of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), a naval war games that would be held within the maritime domain of the Philippine Navy’s Naval Forces West.

These US sailors as well as their other military assets that will be participating in the CARAT with their Filipino Navy counterparts, are composed of US Navy Seabees, representatives from the US Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team (MSST), the US Navy Mobile Security Squadron, a US Navy Riverine Force and Medical Support personnel.

CARAT would be held in the nearby waters of the West Philippine Sea where tension has been mounting for weeks now due to China’s aggressiveness in asserting its territorial claim over the entire region which the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan are also claiming in whole or in part.
The U.S. and the Philippines have Mutual Defense Treaty which has come to the fore as China has been more aggressive in laying claim to large chunks of the South China Sea.

This has, in turn, caused some in the Philippines to worry about depending too heavily in the U.S. and the MDT, as set out in Aquino gov’t urged not to rely too much on US for Spratlys defense< which reads to me a little like it was written in China:
The Aquino administration has said that the Philippines can invoke its 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the U.S. to defend its territorial claim in the Spratlys. The government said modern military equipment would be purchased in the US. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin even asked for US navy ships’ deployment in the South China Sea to check Chinese aggression.

The US Embassy in Manila, however, stopped short of promising direct military support amid assurances that the Philippines remained a “strategic ally” and that both countries would continue “to consult and work with each other on all issues including the South China Sea and Spratlys Islands.”

Instead of committing specific military support to defend the Philippines’ claim, the American envoy called for “restraint” in the territorial row.

Tuazon pointed out while American policy on the Spratlys issue has always served its own interests and not the Philippines’, Filipino officials continued to have an “intractable belief” that the country’s national interests would be best enhanced by its special ties with the US.

He noted that the Unclos, approved in 1994, has not yet been ratified by the US. Washington, he said, has been particularly opposed to the provision in the convention pertaining to the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for being unfavorable “to American economic and security interests.”

China, according to Tuazon, will continue to adhere to its foreign policy in ensuring a peaceful environment conducive for steering an economy now considered as the second largest in the world with a global projection that will require a modern maritime and defense system.

“Even as it says it will use military means only as a last resort to defend its territorial claims, China cannot afford a war in the South China Sea at this time. War will not favor China’s growing trade and investments in Southeast Asia,” Tuazon said.

This was the reason why China had backed joint seismic and oil exploration of the waters of the Spratlys and reiterated for bilateral diplomatic talks with other claimant-countries.

Philippine government policy makers have been “ill-informed” in presuming that the country’s territorial claims, even if guided by economic objectives, must be pursued under the protection of the US, Tuazon said.

“The spontaneous choice of invoking the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty) and the purchase of modern arms vis-à-vis allegations of Chinese aggression reveal that unseen hands – both within the Aquino Cabinet and the military institutions – are exerting yet again a strong influence in determining the country’s foreign policy track when negotiation should be the priority,” he added.

“The only winners in a war scenario are arms suppliers – and these are aplenty in the US. They are not just lurking – they have the capability to provoke profit-oriented wars,” he said.

Tuazon questioned whether the territorial dispute might be used to justify huge budgets for the Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization, the purchase of military supplies, and the keeping of the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, even if there have been moves in the Philippine Congress to submit it for review or abolish it.

“Is this not therefore playing into the hands of war hawks in the Pentagon to use America’s numerous defense treaties with the Philippines and other countries in East Asia in increasing and realigning its security forces toward the strategic encirclement of China? Can’t this actually be the bigger source of tension and conflict in the South China Sea?” Tuazon asked.
For those unfamiliar with Palawan, it was the site of a horrific slaughter of World War II when American POWs were killed after having been captured in the defense of the Philippines.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Couple of Weeks Worth of Anti-Shipping Activity

As found at the ASAM port of Maritime Safety Information (activity near Somalia in reddish hue):
Date of Occurrence: 06/18/2011 Reference Number: 2011-300 Geographical Subregion: 24 Geographical Location: 10° 17' 18" N 64° 43' 06" W Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: CARGO SHIP Description: PUERTO LA CRUZ, VENEZUELA: Master onboard an anchored general cargo vessel noticed a speed boat approaching the vessel. He ordered the duty crew to investigate. Later, one AB entered the bridge in a frightened state and reported that robbers had boarded the vessel and taken hostage the second duty watchman at knife point and had stolen ship stores. Alarm raised and crew mustered. Port control and CSO informed.

Date of Occurrence: 06/18/2011 Reference Number: 2011-299 Geographical Subregion: 63 Geographical Location: 8° 29' 00" N 76° 40' 00" E Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: CHEMICAL TANKER Description: AROUND 15 MILES OFF TRIVANDRUM, INDIA: Master onboard a chemical tanker underway noticed a white hulled skiff around three miles ahead. The skiff was noticed to increase speed and approach the vessel at high speed. Vessel increased speed, altered course, sounded alarm and took anti-piracy measures. The skiff continued to chase the vessel for around 10 minutes before stopping. Master reported five to six persons in the boat and also reported noticing some guns in the boat. The skiff was later heard to have attacked another tanker.

Date of Occurrence: 06/18/2011 Reference Number: 2011-298 Geographical Subregion: 63 Geographical Location: 8° 37' 00" N 76° 26' 00" E Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: CHEMICAL TANKER Description: AROUND 30 MILES OFF TRIVANDRUM, INDIA: Pirates in a skiff chased a chemical tanker underway. The vessel enforced anti-piracy preventive measures, sent SSAS alert. Later a naval helicopter arrived at location.

Date of Occurrence: 06/17/2011 Reference Number: 2011-301 Geographical Subregion: 24 Geographical Location: 6° 49' 18" N 58° 10' 12" W Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: CONTAINER SHIP Description: GEORGETOWN INNER ANCHORAGE, GUYANA: Four robbers armed with knives boarded an anchored container ship. They took the bosun as hostage and stole ship's properties and escaped. The alarm raised and crew mustered. Authorties informed.

Date of Occurrence: 06/15/2011 Reference Number: 2011-292 Geographical Subregion: 61 Geographical Location: 9° 18' 00" N 51° 15' 00" E Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: CARGO SHIP Description: AROUND 26 MILES OFF THE COAST OF SOMALIA: Four pirates in a skiff chased and fired upon a general cargo ship underway. One pirate managed to board the vessel but had to jump overboard after the crew successfully confronted him. All crew safe.

Date of Occurrence: 06/14/2011 Reference Number: 2011-297 Geographical Subregion: 57 Geographical Location: 5° 52' 00" N 2° 36' 00" E Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: CHEMICAL TANKER Description: COTONOU ANCHORAGE, BENIN: Armed robbers boarded and hijacked an anchored chemical tanker. They forced the captain to sail the vessel to an unknown location. The pirates stole ship's properties and left the vessel.

Date of Occurrence: 06/13/2011 Reference Number: 2011-291 Geographical Subregion: 24 Geographical Location: 10° 18' 30" N 75° 32' 36" W Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: BULK CARRIER Description: CARTAGENA TANKER ANCHORAGE, COLOMBIA: Duty AB onboard a bulk carrier at anchor spotted robbers trying to gain access via the hawse pipe. The AB alerted other crew members who rushed forward resulting in the robbers aborting the attempt and moving away. Later as the AB moved aft during his rounds he observed barefoot marks on the deck and noticed that the ship's stores were stolen.

Date of Occurrence: 06/12/2011 Reference Number: 2011-294 Geographical Subregion: 56 Geographical Location: 30° 42' 18" N 32° 20' 39" E Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: CONTAINER SHIP Description: SUEZ CANAL ANCHORAGE, EGYPT: Robbers boarded and stole ship property from an anchored container vessel. The incident was reported to the local authorities who managed to track down the robbers and reclaim the stolen property.

Date of Occurrence: 06/12/2011 Reference Number: 2011-290 Geographical Subregion: 62 Geographical Location: 12° 33' 00" N 61° 46' 00" E Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: BULK CARRIER Description: AROUND 420 MILES EAST OF SOCOTRA ISLAND: Four pirates in a skiff chased and fired upon a bulk carrier underway. The skiff closed to around five meters from the ship. Effective anti-piracy measures including fire hoses and electric wire around vessel prevented the pirates from gaining access.

Date of Occurrence: 06/11/2011 Reference Number: 2011-286 Geographical Subregion: 62 Geographical Location: 12° 17' 00" N 61° 27' 00" E Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: BULK CARRIER Description: AROUND 400 MILES EAST OF SOCOTRA: Four pirates in a skiff approached and fired upon a bulk carrier underway. Onboard security team fired warning shots resulting in the pirates moving away.

Not a Somali Pirate!
Date of Occurrence: 06/11/2011 Reference Number: 2011-287 Geographical Subregion: 62 Geographical Location: 12° 19' 00" N 61° 30' 00" E Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: CHEMICAL TANKER Description: AROUND 405 MILES EAST OF SOCOTRA: Four pirates in a skiff chased a chemical tanker underway. Weapons sighted in the skiff but not used. Security team onboard fired warning shots and the skiff moved away.

Date of Occurrence: 06/11/2011 Reference Number: 2011-288 Geographical Subregion: 62 Geographical Location: 13° 42' 06" N 42° 35' 48" E Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: TANKER Description: 40 MILES NORTH OF ASSAB, ERITREA, RED SEA: Five pirates in a skiff chased a tanker underway. Small arms and ladder observed in the skiff. All crew except master and OOW were mustered at safe point. Security guard onboard fired warning shots and pirates moved away.

Date of Occurrence: 06/11/2011 Reference Number: 2011-295 Geographical Subregion: 62 Geographical Location: 12° 10' 00" N 61° 45' 00" E Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: BULK CARRIER Description: ARABIAN SEA: Bulk carrier (EMPEROR) was fired upon by one skiff with four pirates onboard 11 June at 0315 UTC while underway in position 12-10N 061-45E, approximately 426NM southeast of Socotra Island, Yemen. Onboard security team fired warning shots and the pirates aborted the attack. (IMB, UKMTO)

Date of Occurrence: 06/11/2011 Reference Number: 2011-289 Geographical Subregion: 62 Geographical Location: 13° 29' 00" N 42° 43' 00" E Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: TANKER Description: AROUND 27 MILES NORTH OF ASSAB, ERITREA, RED SEA: While underway the duty officer onboard a tanker spotted a skiff on radar. When the skiff approached closer, seven pirates were observed in the skiff. The pirates could not board the vessel due to high freeboard. Later the skiff moved away.

Date of Occurrence: 06/11/2011 Reference Number: 2011-296 Geographical Subregion: 62 Geographical Location: 13° 32' 00" N 42° 41' 00" E Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: TANKER Description: RED SEA: Chemical/oil products tanker (EMMA VICTORY) experienced an attempted boarding 11 June at 0451 UTC while underway in position 13-32N 042-41E, approximately 31NM northwest of Assab, Eritrea. Vessel spotted five skiffs but was only attacked by one. Skiff attempted to put on a ladder on the vessel, but could not due to razor wire and evasive maneuvers. (UKMTO, Operator, Commercial Sources)

Date of Occurrence: 06/10/2011 Reference Number: 2011-285 Geographical Subregion: 62 Geographical Location: 13° 29' 00" N 42° 37' 00" E Aggressor: PIRATES Victim: BULK CARRIER Description: AROUND 30 MILES NORTH OF ASSAB, ERITREA, RED SEA: Six pirates in one skiff chased and fired upon a bulk carrier underway. Vessel took all anti-piracy measueres and contacted the coalition forces resulting in the pirates aborting the attempt.
A couple more from IMB's Live Piracy Report:
23.06.2011: 0531 LT: Posn: 05:52S – 013:24.72E, Matadi anchorage, Democratic Republic of Congo. Robbers boarded and stole ship stores from an anchored refrigerated cargo vessel on three occasions between 0500lt and 0740lt. Duty crew spotted the robbers and raised the alarm on each occasion resulting in the robbers jumping overboard and escaping in a waiting boat. No response received from port authority when called on VHF.

23.06.2011: 0240 LT: Posn: 7:11.5S – 112:43.5E, Surabaya anchorage, Indonesia.
Robbers boarded an anchored bulk carrier from the stern as the duty crew was taking routine rounds forward. They stole ship's stores and escaped. When the duty crew reached the stern, he found ship's stores missing and raised the alarm. Port control and local agents informed.

18.06.2011: 0210 LT: Posn: 05:51.9S – 013:2.57E, Boma anchorage, Dem. Rep. of Congo.
A vigilant deck watchman onboard an anchored refrigerated cargo vessel noticed a robber with a long knife hiding on the forecastle deck. The robber jumped overboard when the deck watchman illuminated the area with his flashlight. Nothing reported stolen.

16.06.2011: 0800 UTC: Posn: 13:43.8N – 042:56.8E, around 42nm NxE of Assab, Eritrea, Red Sea. A skiff with five pirates approached a general cargo ship underway at a speed of 25 knots. As the skiff closed a pirate with a gun was observed. When the skiff closed to 100 meters the onboard armed security team fired warning shots resulting in the skiff moving away.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Australia Looks North and Thinks Defense

Reported as Australia Plans Deploying Assault Ships to Protect its NW Shelf Oil and Gas Assets:
Australia is looking to boost its military power in the northwest to protect its booming offshore oil and gas sector and counter new challenges from China and the Indian Ocean, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said on Wednesday.


Carnarvon Basin OIl Field Off Western Australia Map from Oil and Gas Journal
The shift, being considered in a defence posture review, could see new amphibious assault ships and the planned Joint Strike Fighters based across Australia’s sprawling north and western coastlines, where resource companies have invested billions in offshore oil and gas projects.

The posture review would also consider strategic challenges from the Indian Ocean rim and reflect the growth of military power in the Asia Pacific, although Smith said the shift was not focused on China’s rising muscle.

“We are confident China will emerge as … a responsible stakeholder. As the Chinese would say, into a harmonious environment. We are confident of that,” Smith said. “There is more than one country in the Asia Pacific.”
RAN Hobart Class Destroyer

The United States, Australia’s top strategic ally, also plans to increase its Asia Pacific presence. Smith said Australia’s review would complement a similar review under way in Washington.
***
Australia is considering building up to 12 new long-range submarines and has committed $7.6 billion for three powerful air warfare destroyers, due in service from 2015.

F-35A
Australia is also aiming to buy 100 Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, to complement the fleet of

F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets, currently based in Queensland, New South Wales and the remote Northern Territory.

The boom resource state of Western Australia has a major navy base near the capital Perth, and is home to the country’s elite Special Air Service forces, but there are no major military bases in the state’s north, facing Asia.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Somali Pirates: Freed Ship Now Sinking Off Oman

Released by pirates, out of fuel and now, the Egyptian merchant ship MV Suez is sinking:
The Panama flagged Egyptian merchant ship MV Suez has started sinking about 80miles off Oman's southern port of Salalah, Kutaiba Al Hatmy, Corporate Communications Manager at the Salalah Port Services, told Gulf News on Monday.

"The crew were transferred to Pakistan naval frigate PNS Babur before MV Suez began tilting," the Salalah Port Services official said.

He said that there was no further news from the owners of the shi, Red Sea Navigation Co, who seemed to have abandoned the 17,300 DWT vessel.

He informed that efforts to send a tug boat, Hasik, from Salalah did not work out after MV Suez, released by Somali pirates after ten-month in captivity, ran out of fuel on its way to the Omani port in the south.

All 22 crew abandoned MV Suez on Sunday evening and boarded the Pakistani naval frigate PNS Babur from where they were due to be picked by F-22P class frigate PNS Zulfiquar.
The escort duties fell to the Pakistani Navy after some sort of disagreement with an Indian naval vessel. See here:
The diplomatic squabble over the “brush-off” between an Indian and a Pakistani warship in the Indian Ocean this week — with both countries lodging protests against each other — appears to have been triggered by the actions of an unsure Indian government that possibly reacted to shrill news TV reports.

The unseemly row has the potential of becoming an irritant in the upcoming foreign secretary level talks.

India pulled the INS Godavari, which was in the region on a routine international anti-piracy mission, off its regular duty to the aid of the MV Suez, which had six Indian crew on board, leading to a mid-ocean scrap with the Pakistani PNS Babur, with the two warships brushing past each other.

Pictures and videos of the encounter — which have been shared with Pakistan — show that Babur was deliberately tailing the Godavari so close that it brushed past the Indian warship’s aft. As the Pakistani warship — which was described by government sources as a “history-sheeter” with two earlier incidents of risky behaviour at sea — tangled with the INS Godavari, its crew shouted anti-India slogans.
Pakistan assert the Indian naval vessel was at fault and have filed their own protest.

I have not yet seen the videos allegedly passed to Pakistan by the Indians.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Israel's Blockade of Gaza and the Battle of Media Coverage

So, in another effort to gain media coverage both sympathetic to the population of Gaza and, of course, for themselves, members of Code Pink are apparently setting out on a mission with the intent to demand protection from the U.S. government (meaning the U.S. Navy) as they attempt to force the well-known Israeli sea blockade of Gaza.

Let's start with this - Code Pink stages pro-Gaza rally at State Dept. (highlighting and blue comments are mine):
The American ship Audacity of Hope, part of the Freedom Flotilla II, will depart from Greece with 50 passengers in late June headed for Gaza. In total, the flotilla will include roughly ten boats carrying 1,000 passengers, and will set sail on June 25. They are billing their voyage as a sequel to the Freedom Flotilla, which was intercepted by Israeli authorities on its way to Gaza last May in an incident that resulted in nine deaths.

Code Pink staged a small press conference on Thursday morning outside the State Department's C Street entrance that featured speeches by Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who will be a passenger on the flotilla, former CIA analyst and passenger Ray McGovern , activist and flotilla passenger Missy Lane, Palestinian-American lawyer Noura Erekat, and Gazan activist Amer Shurrab.[Got to get those names spelled correctly - it's all about them]

This year's flotilla occurs in a drastically altered atmosphere as compared to last year's. The Israelis have eased restrictions on some goods and Egypt has opened up the Rafah Crossing. Regardless, the activists at the State Department stressed that the people of Gaza still live under harsh conditions and need international advocacy.[This trip is totally unnecessary but we still want the publicity]

Benjamin, naturally dressed all in pink, said she is hoping that the American presence aboard the flotilla will lessen the risk of a violent encounter with the Israel Defense Forces, and called on the State Department to express its support. [Oh Bulls***, Ms. Benjamin is really hoping for a media rich "confrontation" with the IDF - otherwise, why bother?]

"We, as Americans, who are going on the boat that is a U.S. flag ship, that is carrying U.S. passengers...this is the time for our State Department to come forward and say ‘we recognize our responsibility to U.S. citizens and we will put pressure on the Israeli government to make sure that no harm comes to our citizens,'" she said.[Last time I looked, the U.S. government has virtually no responsibility to do anything for citizens who are stupid enough to put themselves in harm's way intentionally or bail them out once they are deep into it. I'd be more impressed if the "flotilla" was sailing into Somali pirate waters to protest the treatment of women in Somalia. More impressed, but not any more inclined to suggest that the U.S. government do a damn thing about it.]
Just a reminder, it's my view that Israel has a perfectly legal right to blockade Gaza under the conditions that exist between the Gazans and Israel.

In support of my view, I offer some information on blockades from part of an earlier post:
There is that the magic word "blockade."

As you may recall, Israel has interdicted ships attempting to carry supplies into Gaza. As noted in an earlier post, this seems to be a legal blockade of Gaza. There is an interesting piece by a Israeli legal scholar Ruth Lapidoth, The Legal Basis of Israel's Naval Blockade of Gaza, which lays out the argument that the blockade of Gaza is perfectly legal under international law.The piece cites the San Remo Manual as setting out the appropriate rules for parties to an armed conflict:
SECTION II : METHODS OF WARFARE
Blockade
93. A blockade shall be declared and notified to all belligerents and neutral States. 94. The declaration shall specify the commencement, duration, location, and extent of the blockade and the period within which vessels of neutral States may leave the blockaded coastline. 95. A blockade must be effective. The question whether a blockade is effective is a question of fact. 96. The force maintaining the blockade may be stationed at a distance determined by military requirements.97. A blockade may be enforced and maintained by a combination of legitimate methods and means of warfare provided this combination does not result in acts inconsistent with the rules set out in this document. 98. Merchant vessels believed on reasonable grounds to be breaching a blockade may be captured. Merchant vessels which, after prior warning, clearly resist capture may be attacked. 99. A blockade must not bar access to the ports and coasts of neutral States. 100. A blockade must be applied impartially to the vessels of all States. 101. The cessation, temporary lifting, re-establishment, extension or other alteration of a blockade must be declared and notified as in paragraphs 93 and 94. 102. The declaration or establishment of a blockade is prohibited if: (a) it has the sole purpose of starving the civilian population or denying it other objects essential for its survival; or(b) the damage to the civilian population is, or may be expected to be, excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade. 103. If the civilian population of the blockaded territory is inadequately provided with food and other objects essential for its survival, the blockading party must provide for free passage of such foodstuffs and other essential supplies, subject to: (a) the right to prescribe the technical arrangements, including search, under which such passage is permitted; and(b) the condition that the distribution of such supplies shall be made under the local supervision of a Protecting Power or a humanitarian organization which offers guarantees of impartiality, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. 104. The blockading belligerent shall allow the passage of medical supplies for the civilian population or for the wounded and sick members of armed forces, subject to the right to prescribe technical arrangements, including search, under which such passage is permitted.
Professor Lapidoth finds that these rules applied to a blockade of Gaza.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Brazil: Now Fighting RIver Pirates

The Guardian reports Brazil creating anti-pirate force after spate of attacks on Amazon riverboats:
Authorities in the Brazilian Amazon are to create an anti-piracy taskforce following a spate of attacks on riverboats in the northern state of Pará.

The rapid-response unit was unveiled by officials after an attack in which 11 heavily armed thieves stormed a passenger boat heading for the state capital, Belém.

Joao Bosco Rodrigues, head of Pará's specialist police divisions, said the unit was "another instrument to combat and prevent" the actions of pirates in the Amazon region. "This group will be there to react to any kind of demand on our rivers," he said.

Witnesses to the latest attack said that thieves in small motorboats approached the passenger vessel, firing into the air, on Tuesday afternoon.

Once aboard, the men reportedly threatened to execute some of the estimated 140 adult and child passengers.

"They humiliated everybody," passenger Artur Cesar told the local Diário do Pará newspaper. "They put guns to the children's heads and even said they would cut the fingers off those who didn't hand over their rings. There were pistols, revolvers – lots of weapons."
As we've seen in the past, it is necessary to jump on such problems quickly.


Amazon river boat photo from here by Gail Gillis, 2001.

Somali Pirates: Armed Guards on Merchant Ships - Things Lawyers Worry About

Barney Fife - Shipboard Security Expert?
Armed Guards on Merchant Ships - Things Lawyers Worry About as set out at Shiptalk in Dangerous Waters in which a lawyer parades nightmare scenarios and worries about potential liability of his clients:
He concludes by recognising the possible need for armed guards, but stresses that owners and masters to ensure that they are legally protected. A very difficult balancing act.
It's all about control and accountability. You know - having someone to arrest or sue.

Meanwhile in the West Philippine Sea, China deploys ship to disputed islands

From the Manila Times: China deploys ship to disputed islands and Filipinos protest:
China on Thursday said that it had sent a maritime patrol vessel to disputed islands and surrounding waters of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) but insisted that it remains committed to peace in the region despite tensions with its neighbors.

Beijing had pledged that it would not resort to force to resolve lingering maritime territorial rows over the contested islands and waters, after the Philippines this week sought help from the United States and Vietnam staged live-fire military exercises in contrasting moves to assert their claims to the territories.
****
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia have competing claims to the Spratlys.

Beijing and Hanoi are at odds over the Paracels.

The area has commercial shipping lanes that are vital for global trade.

Tensions between China and other rival claimants escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines and Vietnam in particular expressing alarm at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by China in the disputed islands and waters.

A day before Beijing deployed the Haixun 31 to the West Philippine Sea, Manila announced that it had removed foreign markers in the Spratlys in an apparent muscle-flexing of its own.

The Philippine Navy on Wednesday said that it took out the markers, whose ownerships it did not establish, in May this year.

On Thursday, it called the removal of the markers a form of active defense on the part of the Philippines.

Rear Admiral Alexander Pama, Navy flag officer-in-command, said that they have responsibilities to protect the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

The Philippine Navy, together with the Philippine Coast Guard, according to Pama, would continue patrolling the contested islands round the clock.

A good deal of background at China: "The Cow's Tongue" and the links therein.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Heh. Hail to the TROTUS!

From an evil genius at Castle Argghhh!!! The reason unemployment is so high -- according to TROTUS*

The evil ATM Dalek:

Somali Pirates: Captive Ship Burns. Pirates "Rescue" Hostages

MV Orna
Reported as "Somali Pirates Rescue Crew as Ship Burns", which really doesn't tell the tale, because both the ship and the crew were being held captive by the pirates. At any rate, the facts:
Somali pirates say they have evacuated 19 crew members from a hijacked ship that caught fire Wednesday.

The Panama-flagged cargo ship MV Orna caught fire in the pirate stronghold of Harardhere, on Somalia's Indian Ocean coast.

VOA's Somali service talked to a regional piracy expert, Andrew Mwangura, who says the ship was still on fire Thursday afternoon local time.

A pirate said he and his colleagues were trying to put out the fire. No cause had been determined.

The ship's crew remains held by the pirates.
This will raise some interesting questions about whether the ship owner's insurance (if there is insurance) covers the ship alone or the crew as far as any ransom goes, whether the ship owner has coverage for a burning ship not within his custody and control and what the pirates will do with the hulk of a burned out cargo ship (if it comes to that)?

Original report of MV Orna's capture here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"What is NATO for?"

If you missed our last Midrats show, "Episode 75: From NATO and Russia; with questions" featuring CAPT Thomas Fedyszyn, (Ph.D.), USN (Ret.) - Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and Chair of the Europe-Russia Studies, you really ought to go listen to it (or download it from that site or iTunes for listening later), because it ties in nicely with this piece from Foreign Policy, "What is NATO for?" - By Paul Miller:
What is NATO for? Not for fighting wars. It proved in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya that NATO is not an effective fighting alliance. The wars it fights are fought by committee: or, worse, by bureaucracy. They are clumsy, inefficient, and violate the unity of command, one of the basic principles of war-fighting. Kosovo ended when the Kosovo Liberation Army began to make progress in ground combat and President Clinton appeared to be rethinking his no-ground-forces rule. Afghanistan has only turned around (barely) since the United States effectively re-Americanized the war starting in 2009 (Americans did not make up a majority of international military forces in Afghanistan until then). And Libya is likely to remain stalemated until NATO changes its approach or the United States takes over.
As noted in the piece, the U.S. spends a lot of money on defense and some portion of that is to allow us to defend our NATO allies under Article 5.

Our guest on the Midrats show argues that Article 5 (which requires all NATO nations to come to the defense of any NATO member that comes under attack) ought to be done away with while NATO shifts its mission - something about whether it makes sense for us to commit to "we will fight to the death of the last American for Estonian boundaries."

Some of us question whether or not NATO is needed at all - having successfully completed its mission, let's fold its flag and move on.

More at CDR Salamander's place where he has some nice graphics on European defense spending liberated from The Economist:
They end up with a phrase right off the front porch.
... why should outsiders bother to protect countries that won’t take their own defence seriously?
As I tried to pose in a question on the show, after 60+ years, haven't the European countries of post war activity grown economically sound enough to shoulder more of the financial burden of providing the military cover that allows parts of the world to be made safe for democracy?

Mr. Miller and Dr. Fedyszyn sort of reach the same point - let NATO morph into what is good at, but let's take a hard look at what Article 5 costs the U.S. in terms of the military benefits we get out of it.

UPDATE: This kind of highlights one of the issues addressed during the radio show about how slow the NATO decision processes can be:
"Nato decisions are very slow and very complicated. Nato send aircraft for reconnaissance, they take a picture, they take time to analyse the picture, then take time to take the decision to send the fighter to attack the target. Then the target moved.
Deliberate is okay unless you are the guy on the ground getting his ass shot off.

Things to Read

Richard Clarke: China's Cyberassault on America - WSJ.com:
Senior U.S. officials know well that the government of China is systematically attacking the computer networks of the U.S. government and American corporations. Beijing is successfully stealing research and development, software source code, manufacturing know-how and government plans. In a global competition among knowledge-based economies, Chinese cyberoperations are eroding America's advantage.
***
In 2009, this newspaper reported that the control systems for the U.S. electric power grid had been hacked and secret openings created so that the attacker could get back in with ease. Far from denying the story, President Obama publicly stated that "cyber intruders have probed our electrical grid."

There is no money to steal on the electrical grid, nor is there any intelligence value that would justify cyber espionage: The only point to penetrating the grid's controls is to counter American military superiority by threatening to damage the underpinning of the U.S. economy. Chinese military strategists have written about how in this way a nation like China could gain an equal footing with the militarily superior United States.
Spengler's Zombie Economy:
Nobody has taken any risks, so there is no risk to liquidate. There isn't much money to make, either. Welcome to the monetary equivalent of the Night of the Living Dead.
From Investors Business Daily Big Corn Eats the GOP, where the Republicans won't kill the ethanol monster that eats $6billion+ in tax payer money to enrich a few in a program that ought to shot, hung, electrocuted and have a stake driven through its heart:
Ending this madness should be a no-brainer. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find another public policy that has so utterly and completely failed to live up to any of its promises . . .

Expanding ethanol use was supposed to lead to greater energy independence. But oil imports have climbed right along with the sevenfold increase in ethanol production.

It was supposed to help the environment. But various studies have found that it does little, if anything, to reduce smog or greenhouse gas emissions.

It was supposed to keep gasoline prices down. Anyone filling up these days can see how well that's worked out.

What it has done is raise food prices. As demand for corn goes up, so does its price, along with the price of every other food that relies on corn. The Congressional Budget Office calculated that up to 15% of the rise in food prices from 2007-2008 was due to the increased use of ethanol.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sea Lines of Communication or Sea Lanes

Back in the beginning days of this blog, I had a couple of posts about "sea lanes" and their importance. For example, from 2005, there was a post cleverly titled "Sea Lanes". I wrote then:
I keep posting about sea lanes. What are these things? Sea lanes are trade routes - almost like highways in the sea, where due to geography, ocean going vessels follow certain paths to avoid islands, shallows and other impediments to their travel. They are also generally the most efficient routes to get from Point A to Point B - as close to straight line travel as a ship can accomplish given the number of obstacles in its path.
Since then, there have been hundreds of posts here in which I refer to either "sea lanes" or "sea lines of communication" (see, e.g. Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs)). There can be a difference between the two terms, since SLOC can have a military meaning that I have generally ignored here.

However, what is important to know about sea lanes or SLOCs is that they exist and that they are a major reason that nations interested in international commerce have navies - to keep the sea lanes open. In discussing maritime security, keeping sea lanes open is a major topic.

We hear a lot about how many things travel by sea. From crude oil to grain to large screen TVs to cars and much more, cheaper shipping has allowed the entire world to benefit from global product distribution (see here and here). Where do these products travel? Sea lanes. An excellent example of these sea lanes is shown on this Naval War College slide (which I have borrowed without shame):

There it is, a picture of world commerce. Those are not war ships wending their way across oceans, those are merchant ships moving the goods that make the world go. You might note that there are places where the traffic converges to pass through narrow areas. These are referred to as "chokepoints", "Chokepoints are narrow channels along widely used global sea routes . . ."

Large ships sail on rigid schedules, carrying parts from Japan to the U.S. or to Europe in such a reliable manner that warehouse costs are reduced by planning for "just in time" deliveries of products.

So, when there is a disruption in the smooth flow of goods, say from the recent earthquake in Japan, there are ripple effects that impact more than the Japanese part manufacturers.

A similar effect is caused by things that interfere with sea lanes. These might be something like a catastrophe that strikes a chokepoint like a closure of the Suez Canal.

Taking the map above, I added some blue arrows to point at a few chokepoints, like the Suez Canal, Strait of Malacca, Strait of Hormuz, Strait of Bab el-Mandab, Strait of Gibraltar, and the general area of straits leading from the Caribbean into the Gulf of Mexico (see below).


Want to look at Caribbean chokepoints? I added some destroyer images to make the point - most of the oil imported into the U.S. by ship has to pass through these straits. In turn, these straits need to be protected if our economy is to work.


Finally, let me again refer to an older post about the Somali pirates and how cleverly they've been in moving out into the major sea lanes of the Indian Ocean area as they ply their trade. See Where the Somali Pirates Operate and Why where I put up this consolidated image of the Indian Ocean sea lanes and pirates strikes:

While there seem to be logistical limits on the Somali pirates as to the number of captive ships and hostages they can host at any given time and this limits their impact on the sea lane flow of commerce, they are certainly well-versed in the exploitation of the known sea lanes. Even this relatively minor bump in the flow of traffic, though, has been enough to get 20 or more naval vessels from many different countries out into the Indian Ocean attempting to thwart interference by the pirates of these vital sea lanes.

The greater lesson of the Somali pirates is how relatively easy it may be to cause trouble on sea lanes or at chokepoints and why it is vital to have in place assets to counter any such attempted trouble making.

We have now reviewed sea lanes, sea lines of communication and choke points and their importance to the global flow of commerce on the highway of the sea.

I suppose we also have covered why we, a nation dependent on maritime commerce, have a Navy and a Coast Guard out there keeping the sea lanes open. As noted here:
70% of the world is water, 80% of the world lives on or near the coastline and 90% of our commerce sails across it. Any disruption in that chain caused by instability has a direct impact on American quality of life.

Somali Pirates: The Ships and Crews They Hold

A nice list compiled at SomaliaReport: Weekly Piracy Report which reports 21 ships and 460 hostages remaining in pirate hands.

Baloney at the Navy Top: "We use too much fossil fuel"

I wish people would get it straight, despite what the Secretary of the Navy said at the 2011 Current Strategy Forum Focuses on Energy, U.S. National Security,
"We use too much fossil fuel . . .", thus,
. . .Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, described energy as the main vulnerability to U.S. national security in his keynote address.
No!   No!   No!

The problem is not that we use too much fossil fuel, the problem is that we have allowed ourselves to become dependent on imported fossil fuel, despite sitting on the world's largest deposits of "fossil fuels."

It is the importation of foreign oil that is a strategic issue, not their use. It's the long lines of commerce that bring oil to our shore that are vulnerable.

Lines that we can control or eliminate.

We import 51% of our oil, with 51% of that from the Western Hemisphere (thanks Canada (23.3%), Venezuela (10.7%)  and Mexico (9.2%)). Only 17% of our oil comes from the Persian Gulf states. What would it take to make it a national strategic priority to replace that 17% with domestic supplies? And then reduce the flow from Venezuela?




The solution is not all that exotic. Instead of looking for "alternative" fuels as our primary energy sources, the emphasis should be on developing our known internal energy resources so that we eliminate the energy "vulnerability" identified by Mr. Mabus as soon as possible.Then we can chase windmills and solar fields and the like.

It seems, however, that developing our own resources seems not to be the politically "in" thing right now, so we continue to squander money on half-baked projects that may actually be doing worse damage to both man and the environment than fossil fuels.For example, we continue to convert corn to ethanol despite knowing that it is both not as "green" as its proponents suggest and is helping to create food shortages that may stir civic strife in countries used to getting cheaper food. That strife I mentioned? Get ready for more humanitarian interventions and civil wars as this goes on.

In the mean time, as set out here, look at these charts based on the Congressional Research Service (which you can view or download here):



When we claim we're "hostages" to foreign energy, we're just being stupid. Politically correct, but stupid.

You want jet fuel (which also powers gas turbine war ships)? Try our vast amounts of oil shale:
How large is this resource? In the Piceance Basin, an area of 1,100 square miles, the oil shale is over 1 million barrels per acre, or roughly 750 billion barrels of recoverable oil. If you extend outward to Wyoming and to Utah, it is 1.3 trillion. This is why you hear shale next to trillions, not billions or millions, of barrels. The Air Force in the 1970s looked at shale, tested it, and found that it was a superior liquid for jet fuel. Roughly 65 percent of the oil shale is liquid, which could go into jet fuel. The J-8 engine can take shale oil as premium jet fuel.
Expensive? How much does it cost to have to defend sea lanes through which our imported oil flows? How many awful governments do we have to prop up to keep the foreign oil flowing. It's not the oil that's to blame, it's the lack of internal development of our known resources. It's not working to get a realistic balance of all the costs involved in our use of energy.

Natural gas - another fossil fuel - we have more than we ever thought. Some of this "new" gas is due to the development of horizontal fracking and horizontal drilling. Is there some reason why U.S. Navy trucks and cars don't run on natural gas?

Don't think it's safe to do horizontal fracking? Imagine if we put as much money into making it safer as we waste trying to convert switchgrass to ethanol. That may all work in some future, but the other supplies are here now and ready.

Coal -The EIA says:
The United States is home to the largest recoverable reserves of coal in the world. In fact, we have enough coal to last more than 200 years, based on current consumption levels. Coal is produced in 25 States spread across three coal-producing regions, but approximately 72% of current production originates in just five States: Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Montana.

Right now we export coal in addition to our internal use. But we can convert coal to oil. South Africa does. China does. At one time, Barrack Obama thought we should, too:
For decades, scientists have known how to convert coal into a liquid that can be refined into gasoline or diesel fuel. But everyone thought the process was too expensive to be practical.
The lone exception was South Africa, a one-time pariah state that had huge reserves of coal and, thanks to anti-apartheid sanctions, limited access to foreign oil. Sasol Ltd., a partly state-owned company, built several coal-to-liquids plants, including the ones at Secunda, and became the world's leading purveyor of coal-to-liquids technology.
Now, oil prices are above $70 a barrel, and Sasol has emerged as the key player at the center of the world's latest alternative-energy boom.
China is building a coal-to-oil plant costing several billion dollars in Inner Mongolia and may add as many as 27 facilities -- including some with Sasol's help -- over the next several years, according to a recent tally by Credit Suisse.
In the U.S., the Defense Department is studying coal-to-oil technology as a way to reduce the American military's dependence on Middle Eastern crude oil. And the National Coal Council, an industry association, is pushing for government incentives to help generate some 2.6 million barrels of liquid fuel a day from coal by 2025. That would satisfy some 10 percent of America's expected oil demand that year. The plan would require 475 million tons of coal a year, which represents more than 40 percent of current annual U.S. production. Industry officials believe America's coal reserves are big enough to allow for the extra production.
Coal-to-liquids "is not going to replace oil," says Lean Strauss, a Sasol executive who directs the company's overseas energy business. "But it's an important substitute. It is one of the solutions to energy security."
In June, two senators from coal-producing states, Barack Obama of Illinois and Jim Bunning of Kentucky, introduced a bill to offer loan guarantees and tax incentives for U.S. coal-to-liquid plants.
It amazes me that the what used to be "can do" leadership in this country has become a bunch of "true believers" in what is provable nonsense.

I expect better from those who are concerned with our national security and especially from those tasked with maritime security, who should be arguing for reducing our energy sealines of communication through developing all of our resources, and not just those in favor with one administration or another.

It's not fossil fuel, but why are we not developing and encouraging the use of nuclear power?
Because Harry Reid says "no" to a viable storage location for spent fuel in his state?

You want to get people working? Get them working on this - developing our fossil fuels, nuclear power and, yes, alternatives.

Once weaned from imported oil, we can use our internal supplies as we develop the "alternative energy" sources.

While being less vulnerable in the process.

Or I guess we could rig sails and fly kites. Or build triremes. All the while sitting on huge energy reserves.

UPDATE: I probably should have caught this before, but here's hint at Secretary Mabus's agenda in which it is revealed he wants to use Navy money to drive the move to "renewable fuels":
The Navy’s goal is to shift half its energy usage from fossil fuels to renewable sources by 2020. Critics have cast doubts on these plans, and have questioned the Navy’s assumptions about the future cost of biofuels. Other experts have pointed out that the military, which accounts for less than 2 percent of all U.S. fossil fuel demand, cannot on its own drive the renewable energy market until the United States adopts a national strategy that would generate greater economies of scale.

Mabus disagrees. “I think the military can lead on that,” he told reporters April 27. “The  Navy can be a market … I’m absolutely convinced we can do i
t.”
Count me as one of those critics . . .

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Private Ship Security Team held in Eritrea freed

In a recent post I noted the plight of some private security force team members that were arrested and held in Eritrea (see A Not-So-Fine Mess: Anti-Pirate Security Guards Imprisoned in Eritrea).

These men have now been released, though as noted in the article British men held in Eritrea freed, there are a whole lot of unanswered questions about this episode:
Four British men held on spying and terrorism charges in the Horn of Africa state of Eritrea have been freed after five months in captivity.

The two ex-Marine guards and two civilian crew members, working for an anti-piracy security firm, were expected to land at Heathrow airport late tonight.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fearless Navy Bloggers Take to the Air: Episode 75 "From NATO and Russia with questions"

Shortly after Secretary of Defense Gates vented some frustration with NATO and some of its members, we will be diving into the NATO world when on Midrats (BlogTalkRadio) on Sunday, June 12, at 5pm we present Episode 75 "From NATO and Russia with questions":
At a time when already small NATO defense budgets shrink while it is actively engaged in two combat operations decades after the Soviet treat faded into history - what is NATO and where does it stand? Is NATO "transforming" - and if so in to what?

From the ashes of the former Soviet Union - Russia and its near abroad are starting to re-establish their identity - what are the implications?

Join Sal from the blog "CDR Salamander" and me with our guest for the full hour, CAPT Thomas Fedyszyn, (Ph.D.), USN (Ret.) - Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and Chair of the Europe-Russia Studies Group.
It may get lively.

Join us here or download the show later from BlogTalkRadio or iTunes.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

A Not-So-Fine Mess: Anti-Pirate Security Guards Imprisoned in Eritrea

Eritrea
As noted before in these posts, the laws governing private armed security guards that are employed to deter the Somali pirates (who are often joined by nationals of other countries) are fraught with pitfalls for the unwary or the unlucky.

A special concern has been the importation of weapons into countries with a strong anti-import of weapons bias. In recent months, we have seen reports of security teams dumping their weapons at sea rather than go through the possible troubles of port/nation driven laws. See Somali Pirates: Security Firms Dump Weapons to Comply with Law, for example.

The Security Team
Now a small team of British private security guards (one is an Australian with dual citizenship) is in prison in Eritrea under some serious charges, as reported here:
They work for Protection Vessels International (PVI), a company which works to protect ships from piracy.

In a statement, the Eritrean government claims "all the British nationals in detention" have "fully admitted they have committed a crime".

It says the men regret trying to escape from the port of Massawa, where there was an apparent dispute about payment for fuel and supplies.

But more seriously, it says the men "bear accountability" for "acts of invasion, organising terrorism and espionage".

The ministry also states the British government should be held accountable for issuing a permit "that was used as a cover for the criminals who committed acts of invasion and sabotage".
A somewhat more radical view of the charges against the team comes from Foreign Policy Journal:
In early February of this year, 2011, a six man squad of British mercenaries were caught red handed in the midst of preparing an attempt to assassinate the top leadership of the Eritrean government in the port city of Massawa on the Red Sea.

Of the six, four were apprehended and two managed to escape, abandoning their mates while blazing out of Massawa Bay into the Red Sea in an inflatable speed boat, never to be seen again by Eritrean eyes.

A search of the vessel they arrived on uncovered a cache of tools of the assassin’s trade. Included was a small arsenal of automatic weapons, a sophisticated satellite communications system, state of the art electronic target range finders, and most damning, several sniper rifles.

All of those arrested have since been confirmed as employees of a British “security” firm akin to the notorious US company Blackwater/Xe. At least two of the four are former British Special Forces. As in the case of Raymond Davis, the CIA killer caught in the act in Pakistan, the British Foreign Office has been claiming Geneva Convention protections for these gun thugs all but confirming their being on an official mission for the British Government.
As noted in the articles, the British government has not been able to meet with the captives. Their employer, however, has offered up an apology:
A security firm whose bungled mission in the Horn of Africa led to four British men being captured in Eritrea, and held without consular access for more than six months, has issued an unreserved apology in an attempt to hasten their release.

The men, two of whom are former Royal Marines, disappeared on Christmas Eve hours after their ship was intercepted by the Eritrean navy after an unscheduled stop at a port in Massawa. They were sent back to the mainland and put in jail. All were contractors working for the Hatfield-based security firm Protection Vessels International (PVI).

Yesterday the company said it “deeply regretted” the situation, issuing “an unreserved apology for any wrongdoing”. Eritrean television showed footage of the four men being paraded as well as shots of arms and equipment including rifles, handguns, GPS devices, bullet-proof vests, and satellite phones seized from the vessel.

The incident occurred on 23 December after the Sea Scorpion, one of the PVI ships on assignment in the Horn of Africa, suffered an equipment failure and was instructed to approach Massawa in an attempt to refuel.

Equipped with weapon systems including sniper rifles, the boat is understood to have stopped at the offshore island of Romia, where some of its contents and personnel were unloaded. The ship was intercepted as it tried to leave Massawa, and the men – three of whom are named as Adrian Troy, Christopher Alan Collison and Alun Sims – were taken away.
From here, the Eritrean government press release about these men (yes, it's long):
Crimes of the British Institution PVI and its members in Eritrea
Christopher Alan Collison, is a British national who claims to have been working as facilitator of Protection Vessels International (PVI) in Djibouti. Concealing his real identity, he requested an entry Visa from the Eritrean Embassy in Djibouti on 13 December 2010 for visiting Eritrea disguised as a tourist. Accordingly, he was granted the entry Visa, and arrived at Asmara International Airport on 17 December 2010.


The following day, 18 December 2010, Collison left for Massawa hiring a taxi with plate number ER-2-02315. And on 19 December 2010, he got in touch with Finan Shipping and Port Services Corporation requesting that it serve as an agent to facilitate in supplying a tourist vessel with food stuff and fuel. He informed the corporation that the vessel departed from the UK and was passing through Egypt en-route to Djibouti, and that it had run out of supplies. On the basis of Collison’s fabricated account, a boat called SEA SCORPION, along with two speed boats called RED and GRAY RIBS, arrived in Massawa Port carrying 6 British ‘sailors’.


During their stay in Massawa Port until 23 December 2010, Collison and the 6 sailors disguised as tourists claimed to have carried out repair work on one of the speed boats called GRAY RIBS, while loading the boat with whatever food and fuel supplies. After conducting discussion on ways of securing payment either in cash or bank account for the services rendered by the Finan Shipping and Port Services, they produced a document confirming payment made by a British bank and informed them that the sum has been sent through the Western Union. As the Finan Corporation needed confirmation of the payment made through the Bank of Eritrea on the one hand and due to the fact that those institutions that provide clearance had their office hours closed on the other, it was decided that both sides arrange a reschedule for 7:00 a.m. next morning. However, that same evening at 19:30 p.m., the 6 sailors and Collison himself who entered the country after acquiring a tourist visa made an attempt to flee Massawa on the speed boat RED RIB turning off lights and without securing any legal clearance whatsoever. After having traveled a distance of almost 3 nautical miles, they were given warning shots by members of the Eritrean Naval Force to stop immediately. Thereafter, while the SEA SCORPION KN252 carrying 4 sailors heeded the call, the RED RIB speed boat with 3 sailors fled.


As for SEA SCORPION, it was brought under control. Following intensive search conducted on the sailors, GPS and computers found in the boat, a number of still and moving pictures, as well as information messages were obtained that confirmed the violation of Eritrea’s land and maritime sovereignty. On the basis of the information thus acquired, a search was conducted on the Eritrean Island of Romia, where a number of light weapons fitted with silencers, telescopes and distance-monitoring sailing equipments were secured. Moreover, night vision binoculars equipped with a GPS together with poison-tipped bullets, bullet-proof vests, radios, as well as V-SAT satellite telephones were seized during the search. The Island of Romia (16o24’N and 40o 05’E) is an Eritrean island located 30 nautical miles inside sovereign Eritrean territorial waters.


All the British nationals in detention fully admitted that they “have committed a crime in having illegally and repeatedly entered sovereign Eritrean Island as well as violating the country’s territorial waters bearing armaments, in addition to attempting to escape from Massawa”. And in doing so, they expressed regret for their actions. Besides, they have repeatedly and strongly pleaded for amnesty for their criminal acts. As for Collison, the PVI representative in Djibouti who had legally acquired entry Visa to Eritrea disguised as a tourist, admitted that he had committed a crime through posing himself as a tourist and trying to escape from Massawa illegally by boat.


Outcome of the Investigation
Concerning PROTECTION VESSELS INTERNATIONAL (PVI)


The (PVI) is one of the many emerging armed forces claiming to be engaged in anti-piracy activities. It is an organization mainly based in the UK and owned by a British national named Domenic Mee, a former member of the British Naval Force. He claims to have more than 200-strong employees, the majority of whom are themselves former members of the British Navy. Besides, some are civil seamen.


PVI owns the following 4 ships and an unspecified large number of speed boats:
1. AL 345 with Tel. number 0088-1621-467138 flying the British flag
2. AM 230 with Tel. number 0088-1621-467431 flying the British flag
3. DM 234 with Tel. number 0088-1621-467138 flying the British flag
4. KN 252 (SEA SCORPION) flying the Egyptian flag


While the 3 PVI ships carry the British flag, KN 252 SEA SCORPION operates with the Egyptian flag. When it was seized while entering Massawa Port and later on trying to escape, it was flying the Egyptian flag. Even though the argument on the part of the accused who claim that “it was bought not long ago and that the transfer of ownership has not yet been finalized” deserves some consideration, the fact that resort was deliberately made to such a scheme nonetheless represents a deliberate cover-up in view of the fact that a vessel entering Eritrean territorial waters with an Egyptian flag is regarded as being more acceptable and logical.


It is on record that PVI bought SEA SCORPION in Alexandria, Egypt, on 07/2010 and that it underwent repair and test in the Egyptian port of Hurgada; it entered Port Sudan on 11/10/2010, in addition to taking about a month to have a new generator installed in it, thus subsequently embarking on conducting activities from its permanent headquarters, i.e. (17o N to 18o N) in mid-November 2010, and pursuing its routine work in the Red Sea international waterways. This has been confirmed by documents secured and testimonies obtained from the accused parties. (17o N to 18o N) are coordinates that stretch from Bab Adem (50 km South of Marsa Teklai) to Ras Kesar.


Crimes committed by PVI against sovereign Eritrean territorial waters and islands


1. On 22/11/2010 an unknown number of PVI members entered the Island of Romia (16o24’N and 40o 05’E), located 30 nautical miles inside Eritrea through the RED RIB speed boat. The crew conducted intensive surveillance, during which they took video footage of the entire island. Moreover, 2 PVI members entered the island with a view to identifying a suitable spot for anchor, the vegetation of the island and possible sites for cover, as well as prospects of potable water sources. All relevant information they acquired was transmitted via radio, and the footage they compiled in the process is documented as evidence.


2. The PVI members moved the speed boat named GRAY RIB closer to Romia Island through tagging it by the SEA SCORPION and RED RIB boats on 25/11/2010. (The film shots the group compiled are documented as evidence.)


3. The documents obtained from the group have ascertained that the commanding officer of PVI, Domenic Mee, docked closer to Romia Island on 26/11/2010 through the ship SEA SCORPION and the speed boat RED RIB along with an unspecified number of armed members and other support personnel.


4. On 30/11/2010 a 10-member armed group and other support staff headed by Domenic Mee, commanding officer of PVI, along with the ship SEA SCORPION and the speed boat RED RIB invaded the sovereign Eritrean Island of Romia staging strategic military movements and in possession of various types of weapons, thus staying there for a number of days. Such activities were confirmed by the still and moving pictures they took on 30/11/2010. What’s more, even though they did not admit their invasion of the island openly, the accused themselves do not deny having stayed there.


Red arrow points to Eritrea
5. The PVI carried out repeated acts of espionage and intelligence work on Harmil Island (16o31’N and 40o 51’E) which is located 31.38 nautical miles inside Eritrean territorial waters through its ship AL-345 and the speed boat RED RIB. In an electronic mail he addressed to members of the SEA SCORPION dated 12/12/2010, Domenic Mee, relayed information concerning the outcome of the spying activities undertaken and his observations about the island. He also sent out information that the speed boat RED RIB was spotted by members of the Eritrean Security Guard, in addition to the fact that their AL-345 ship made a speedy escape thereafter. Domenic Mee further warned the SEA SCORPION staff to strictly avoid passing through Harmil Island during their journey to Massawa, in view of the fact that RED RID was spotted by members of the Eritrean Security Guard near Harmil Island on a previous occasion, and that it should not be identified as being an integral part of the SEA SCORPION ship. He further warned the crew of the need to exercise caution taking into account the possibility that members of the Eritrean Security Guard are likely to possess communication facilities. These acts conclusively prove that the PVI has carried out acts of espionage on sovereign Eritrean territorial waters and islands. (The necessary documents along with concrete evidence are available.)


6. On 19/12/2010, 17 armed members of the PVI and 4 support staff entered Romia Island through KN-252 SEA SCORPION and RED RIB, 4 armed British nationals, namely Pinington Henry, Moorhead Paul, Montgomery Robert, and Ternbul Mark headed to international waters on 20/12/2010 from Romia Island through the RED RIB speed boat.


7. 6 other Britons who are members of PVI departed from Romia Island on 20/12/2010 mounting two speed boats on the SEA SCORPION disguised as tourists and under the pretension of loading food stuff and fuel supplies. In due coarse, they arrived in Massawa on 21/12/2010 after having exercised maximum caution against the possibility of being spotted by Eritrean Security Guards by traveling through yet unfamiliar sea routes between the Isratu and Dihil Islands.


8. In total, 11 seamen (8 Britons and 3 Egyptians) kept themselves in hiding at Romia Island from 19/12/2010 to 23/12/2010 and in the possession of an unknown number of military hardware, big package boxes and various equipments, as well as communication facilities. These seamen were given directives to keep guard in twos and to reply: “We are tourists keen to observe sharks” upon inquiry. Hence, this conclusively proves that the PVI institution has been making use of the Eritrean Island of Romia as its military base and arms depot.


9. On 23/12/2010, the six British nationals who infiltrated into Massawa under the guise of getting food stuff and fuel and the one who entered under the pretext of a tourist possessing visa from Djibouti escaped from Massawa Port at night through speed boats, i.e. SEA SCORPION and RED RIBS turning off lights and leaving behind a legal permit and visa. After a journey of 3 nautical miles, the SEA SCORPION along with the currently detained 4 British seamen was captured following a warning shot fired by members of the Naval Force, while the RED RIB speed boat along with 3 seamen managed to escape to the Romia Island where it disappeared taking with it 8 British and 3 Egyptians, as well as loading up military hardware and equipments from the island. (Names of those who escaped from Massawa and Romia Island along with their arms are documented)


10. Members of the Eritrean Naval Force confirmed that on 24/12/2010, an unidentified mother-ship carrying a boat was conducting surveillance activities from 9:00 a.m. to 16:00 p.m. along a distance of 5 nautical miles north-west of Romia Island. It is indisputable that the intention of the ship was to follow up the overall situation of the SEA SCORPION and the detained PVI members, in addition to removing the remaining military hardware in Romia Island.


11. During surveillance activities undertaken by members of the Eritrean Naval Force in Romia Island on 24/12/2010, military hardware packed in 8 big boxes was discovered that comprises 18 different types of snipers along with lenses and silencer devices, 8 guns, 10 radios for communication, 10 bulletproof vests, 7 helmets, 1,700 bullets of various types, including poison-tipped ones, 2 GPS equipped with infrared night vision and daylight binoculars. (Details of the discovered weapons and devices are documented)


12. On 24/12/2010 at 8:58 p.m. the commander of SEA SCORPION, Copral Alun Edward Sims, while in detention sent e-mail to the operations commander, Mark Cowell, informing him to transfer the armed men and military hardware in Romia Island to international territorial waters. On top of providing information that such elements were those who intentionally committed the crimes, this e-mail was sent with a view to covering up evidence.


13. On 24/12/2010 at 9:44 p.m. PVI Operations Commander Mark Cowell sent an e-mail to Alun Edward Sims while in detention ordering him to delete all e-mail messages whenever he got the chance to do so. His message is documented as evidence. In accordance with such an order, Alun Edward Sims deleted the hard disk of the computer in the ship. To restore the deleted hard disk was to some extent a time-consuming process. This act of annulling evidence was resorted to in fear that they would entail accountability for the crimes committed.


14. The PVI Institution infiltrated into the Eritrean territorial waters and islands via the ship SEA SCORPION from 22/11/2010 to 23/12/2010 carrying a number of boxes with military hardware, equipments and communication devices. (Documents attesting to these acts are available).


The pretexts PVI applied to commit the aforementioned crimes


1. ‘Anti-piracy’ pretext


Although the detained members and the discovered documents reveal that the institution provides ‘anti-piracy’ service in Red Sea international waters 17°N to 18°E, no act of piracy whatsoever occurred in the aforementioned part of the Red Sea (north of Dahlak Island).


When PVI deployed its members in the Red Sea international waters 17°N to 18°E in November 2010 under the guise of fighting piracy, it immediately resorted to infiltrating 30 nautical miles deep into sovereign Eritrean territorial waters on 22/12/2010 through a speed boat tagged RED RIBS. Following the exploration of the Romia Island, it used it as a safe haven for hiding its military hardware and equipments, as well as the docking of damaged boats and the base for armed members during the period between the end of November to 23 December 2010. This act has already been confirmed by the document and material evidences already seized. Such an act is tantamount to invasion and violation of sovereign Eritrean territory, thus having no correlation to all so-called piracy and anti-piracy activities.


2. Pretext under tourist cover


At a time when members of the PVI approached the Finan Shipping and Port Services Corporation via their facilitating agent in Djibouti, Christopher Alan Collison, they requested that he serve as a facilitating agent for obtaining food stuff and fuel from the Massawa Port that would be used by tourists who crossed to Djibouti via Egypt originating from the UK. Besides, the PVI agent who traveled from Djibouti to Eritrea to facilitate the issue of the institution, approached the Eritrean Embassy in Djibouti and requested for a tourist visa. The discovered documentary evidence also proved that the armed members of the institutions who remained in hiding in Romia Island along with their weapons were informed by the institution to appear as “tourists keen to observe sharks” in a bid to cover up their true identity.


3. Pretext under the guise of loading food stuff and fuel supply


Loading food stuff and fuel supply was a ploy employed by PVI members to enter Massawa, which in itself constitutes a pretext. And this in view of the fact that if at all the PVI really provides anti-piracy service, it has ample opportunity to secure food stuff and supplementary fuel supply from the big commercial ships to which it provides so-called service within the periphery of international waters and without wasting extra fuel. However, putting aside such opportunity, the institution used the loading of food and fuel as a guise for engaging in other missions. After undertaking surveillance and intelligence work in Harmil Island through its ship and speed boats, it deployed and hid armed members along with military hardware in the sovereign Eritrean Island of Romia. Entering Massawa originating from the Island through the sea route which was not familiar at all to any ship or boat before, constitutes a continuation of its acts of espionage, sabotage as well as surveillance activities, and not for the simple reason of obtaining food stuff and fuel supply. Moreover, if at all the PVI was in real need of food stuff and fuel from Massawa Port, it would have had no problem whatsoever to obtain entrance permit through the usual practice of revealing its true identity, the number of its members as well as weapons in its possession to the Eritrean authorities. However, it made futile attempts to enter the country under a number of aggressive pretexts, simply because its intention and mission objective were in essence hostile.


4. Legal accountability of PVI and its members


1. PVI committed acts of invasion against sovereign Eritrean territorial waters and islands from November to December 2010 through deploying a number of armed members along with various military hardware in Romia Island using KN252 SEA SCORPION and 2 speed boats. In doing so, the institution repeatedly used the Island as a base and safe haven of its armed members and arms depot. As a result of such acts of invasion, Domenic Mee and his institution, as well as the 4 detained individuals, including the 22 PVI members that escaped who repeatedly infiltrated into sovereign Eritrean territorial waters and islands are to be held accountable for the act.


2. On 19/12/2010, 21 members of the PVI (including those 4 detained) infiltrated and deployed different types of weapons, poison-tipped bullets, bulletproof vests, radio transmitters and infrared night-vision binoculars in the sovereign Eritrean Island of Romia. There is high possibility that such military hardware is intended for perpetrating acts of terrorism and sabotage. Hence, the members are accountable for infiltrating into the sovereign Eritrean Island of Romia and stashing weaponry, besides orchestrating futile acts of espionage and terrorism.


3. The head of PVI is to be held accountable for undertaking spying activities through RED RIB speed motor boat and AL-345 ship over the work of the Eritrean Naval Force in the sovereign Eritrean Island of Harmil and its environs.


4. The head of PVI and the detained members are to be held accountable for the criminal act of escaping from Massawa without fulfilling the necessary clearance obligations in violation of the nation’s maritime law, in addition to disappearing by speed boats carrying 11 armed members and unidentified number of weaponry from Romia Island.


5. Those who escaped from Massawa and managed to take out 11 armed members along with military hardware in Romia Island are to be held accountable for organizing acts of terrorism and sabotage, as well as concealing evidences. (Their names are documented).


6. All those members of the PVI who infiltrated into sovereign Eritrean territory through SEA SCORPION ship and participated in acts of invasion, organizing terrorism and espionage bear accountability for the aforementioned criminal deeds. (Details concerning the names of all the individuals are documented)


7. Christopher Alan Collison who managed to obtain tourist visa and arrived in the country through Asmara International Airport, but tried to escape illegally without clearance and together with those accused of attempting to run away from Massawa on 23/12/2010 and thus subsequently apprehended following the warning shot are to be held accountable for acts of espionage and violation of the nation’s immigration laws.


8. The British government is equally to be held accountable for issuing permit that was used as a cover for the criminals who committed acts of invasion and espionage, as well as organizing terrorist acts and sabotage, in addition to possession of weaponry in sovereign Eritrean territorial waters and islands in gross violation of international law.


The detailed information thus presented is in full conformity with the volume of evidences acquired, as well as the testimony of the PVI members presently under detention. In any case, the legal proceedings connected with this matter have not yet been finalized. The issue of those who managed to escape and the military hardware and equipments they took with them is also to be viewed within the framework of subsequent legal process.


Ministry of Foreign Affairs
7 June 2011
Asmara

Not good.

Photos from Eritrean government.