Thursday, January 31, 2008

Time to do some planning: What happens if Yemen collapses?

Jane points the way to a learned article suggesting that it may be time to contemplate what happens if Yemen, which sit right on a couple of vital sea lines of communication, were to fall apart (more than now, that is) here. And she has a new favorite word we will all be using soon, "jihadization."

Keep your eyes on this one.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Latest ONI Worldwide Threat to Shipping Report (to 23 Jan 08)

The latest Worldwide Threat to Shipping Report is found
here. Highlights:
2. INDONESIA: The Indonesian government has agreed to install seven radars provided by the US in the Makassar Strait to support security efforts in the major sea lane, as of 22 Jan 08 reporting. Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono stated the installation of seven radars is meant to support ASEAN maritime defense and security. He explained that the US government is committed to helping Indonesia build its capacity to secure its waters by providing the surveillance radars. He also stated that the security of the Sea Lines of Communication in the Asia and Pacific region is a matter of vital importance to its users. The US previously providedIndonesia with five surveillance radars that were set up along the Malacca Strait to support security (ANTARA News).
3. SRI LANKA: The Sri Lankan Navy has put in place “underwater defense system” or
mines, between Kachchatheevu and Neduntheevu (Deft Island) as part of efforts to prevent Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) activities from crossing into Indian territorial waters, per 23 Jan 08 reporting. The Sri Lankan Navy asked the Indian Navy to warn Tamil Nadu fishermen against crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) for safety reasons. A copy of the message was reportedly forwarded to all concerned authorities. Local Indian fishermen raised the concern that they could not always identify the IMBL and distinguish between Indian and Sri Lankan waters. They claimed that the sea between Kachchatheevu and Neduntheevu is their “traditional” fishing ground (LM: The Hindu, Time of India).
2. SOUTH CHINA SEA: Container ship (AL MUTANABBI) reported suspicious approach
27 Nov 07 at 1430 local time, while underway in position 06:46.0N-107:50.0E, approximately 120NM North of Pulau Laut, Indonesia, per 02 Jan 08 reporting. Two small wooden boats were spotted about 4NM on the starboard side of the ship. The boats appeared to be moving on a course that would narrowly cross the vessel’s bow. The boats were blue in color, about six to eight meters long and powered by outboard motors. A total of five men were on board the two boats. One of the boats suddenly altered its course towards the portside of the vessel, and appeared to close in the on the vessel from its port bow. The ship master took evasive measures to prevent boarding, and the boats eventually moved away. The incident was reported to the
Vietnam Marine Police (ReCAAP).
6. INDONESIA: Tug (MAKMUR ABADI-I) towing barge (MAKMUR ABADI-V) hijacked, 23 Dec 07, near Bilang-Bilangan Island, off East Kalimantan coast. While sailing from Tanjung Redep, East Kalimantan, to Surabaya East Java with a cargo of crude palm oil, the tug and barge were stopped by seven men in a speedboat. The pirates were armed with sharp weapons and overpowered the skipper and crew and locked them in a cabin. The pirates repainted the tug and barge (OCEAN LINE-1) and (OCEAN LINE 2) respectively, then steered the vessels toward Labuan, Malaysia. The Indonesian Naval patrol vessel (KRI SUTEDI SENAPUTERA-878) was patrolling the Ambalat region when it chased and eventually intercepted the pirated vessels. The pirates were arrested and taken to the Tarakan naval base in East Kalimantan. From there, they would later be transferred to Surabaya to undergo a judicial process (LM: ANTARA News).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Worth Reading

I'm a day late, but don't miss Fred Fry International: Maritime Monday 95, where Fred weekly covers the waterfront of maritime news. Among other things, nice pictures of big ships if you like that sort of thing, which I do.

And Xformed does his Monday Maritime Matters 31 with the tale of a dive bomber pilot and the ship that was named in his honor.

Galrahn has thoughts on the differences that happen between planned ship design and actual ship use.

Vigilis has a submarine tale of some interest ("tank like treads?")at his site Molten Eagle.

For a change of pace, Atilla of Pillage Idiot does music here. Dit. Dit. Dit. Dah.

Arabian Sea: Canadian Navy Busts Running Rum-Runners

Reported here, a report of a coalition navy in action:

Canadian sailors patrolling the Arabian Sea in the war on terrorism ended up this week helping Pakistani authorities fight alcohol smuggling.

On Wednesday, the crew of the Halifax-based frigate HMCS Charlottetown turned over a boatload of booze smugglers to Pakistani authorities. Convictions for selling alcohol in the Muslim country can result in imprisonment and caning.
That possibility of caning is an issue for one MP:
Canadian sailors handing people over to a country where they could be caned raises serious questions, said Peter Stoffer, the New Democrat MP for Sackville-Eastern Shore.

"Alcohol is strictly forbidden in Islamic countries. They’re quite strict on that and people know what the rules are," Mr. Stoffer said. "But yet we arrested them, so they’re technically our prisoners and we wouldn’t do that to people in our own country. So I would say that Canada, before turning them over, should get the assurances that they won’t be physically beaten or caned or anything of that nature."

It’s "too late now" to extract that kind of promise from Pakistani authorities for the smugglers who were handed over Wednesday, he said.

"But I would say, in future, if that happens, that the guys should say very clearly that, ‘Look, we caught these guys doing it. We’re going to hand them over to you. Just don’t beat them up,’ " Mr. Stoffer said.

Somalia: Relief News

According to ReliefWeb, here
In the light of the expected continued deterioration of the food security situation in Somalia, WFP needs an additional 40,000 metric tons of food to feed some 1.4 million people in Somalia between January and July 2008. For the whole year, WFP plans to feed a total of 1.8 million people in Somalia including 590,000 displaced people in South Central, 905,000 vulnerable people for general food distribution in the South and 305,000 others in the North.

The French Navy will escort the last vessel loaded with food back to Mombasa once it finishes unloading at the southern Somali port of Marka. The Danish government is at a final stage in considering to take-over the French naval protection to ensure safe passage against pirates to ships carrying WFP food.
More on the Danish decision here:
The French Navy has now taken up the role of soldiers of mercy by escorting ships contracted by WFP to deliver relief supplies from the port of Mombasa to Somalia.

Lieutenant commander Philippe Le Gac is the commanding officer of the French frigate which is among two French naval vessels involved in the mission.

Lt Commander Gac is happy that his country was the first to respond to the appeal for international intervention to ensure that relief supplies reached thousands of Somalis facing starvation.

For him, the French military mission was a demonstration of how those who care for others can show compassion during moments of catastrophic experiences as is the case in Somalia.

“As a soldier, I am very happy to be involved in this humanitarian mission that has seen me and other French soldiers ensuring that the people of Somalia who urgently need relief supplies get it despite insecurity posed by pirates,” he said in a recent interview.

Lt Commander Gac said they started escorting WFP ships last November due to increased cases of piracy which threatened the delivery of relief supplies.

“Since we started this mission which is expected to end next month, we have not experienced any difficulties from pirates and we are happy about this development,” he said.
He said the French Navy contingent would continue with its mission to escort vessels carrying relief supplies to Somalia until February when they are expected to hand over to the Danish Navy.

“As a navy, we are honoured and proud to be involved in such a worthy cause. But this is not the first time we are involved in such a mission and we hope to offer our assistance in future if called upon to do so,” he said.
In 2005, an upsurge of piracy in Somali waters, including the hijacking of two ships contracted by WFP, forced the UN agency to suspend all deliveries by sea for some weeks.

Some 80 per cent of WFP food assistance for Somalia is transported by sea. Pirate attacks had threatened to cut the relief agencies main supply route, jeopardising rations for the 1.2 million people that benefited from the programme.

The future even looks brighter for humanitarian activities in the Horn of Africa country because, apart from the French Navy, more international forces have shown interest in the mission, according to Lt Commander Gac.

“Apart from the Danish Navy which has already confirmed that it would be taking over from us in February, there are other countries which have indicated that they want to be involved in this mission,” he said.

Major boost

The Somali humanitarian mission received a major boost last week when the IMO-backed proposals were adopted to allow Western naval forces protecting shipping off the coast of East Africa the right of “hot pursuit”.

The proposal will allow naval protection vessels the freedom to act against pirates off the Horn of Africa, even inside Somali territorial waters.

While the IMO Assembly ruling is not binding on the transitional Somali government, the IMO has appealed to Mogadishu to cooperate with the ruling in an effort to cut the alarming rise in the piracy off the Horn of Africa.

The resolution urges the transitional Government to allow warships or military aircraft to operate in Somali territorial waters during operations against pirates.
Good for the French and, perhaps soon, the Danes.

Wow. Providing escorts for ships through pirate waters helps prevent piracy. Who knew? What? Everybody?
Bad on the UN for taking so long to figure it out.

Somalia: Pirates Take Oman-Owned Fishing Boat

Reported here:
Armed Somali pirates have kidnapped a fishing vessel owned by Omani company at Gara,ad coastline on Mudug region of Puntland semiautonomous on Saturday.

The ship and its crew were driven to Eyl coast of Nugal region by the hijackers.

The ship with trawl plus fish refrigerator kidnapped by unidentified six heavily armed pirates and no comments was available from the pirates seized the vessel and Oman authorities regarding on this matter.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Weekend Reading

Salamander starts a retirement age debate at Fullbore Friday

Steeljaw Scribe does a Korean War memory with a WWII vet at Flightdeck Friday.

Xformed finds a tale out of Office Space here."Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about about mission statements."

Counsul at Arms pointed the way to The Meaning of Our Victory in Iraq. UPDATE: Which ought to be read with Fred Barnes's How Bush Decided on the Surge . Lonely at the top, isn't it?

Galrahn looks at the added value of submarines in the context of Barnett here.

Lex's effort to pull chocks and go gently into Civland finds another bump or two. They have classes in "transition?" I got a fitrep and a not so hearty "Good luck."

The Glimmers at InstaPunk have a cure for modern times. I got "Magic Moments" on my MP-3 player... do you?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Missing Russian Ship - Pirate Victim?

A hypothesis set out here concerning a missing Russian bulk carrier:
Pirates may have seized the Kapitan Uskov bulk carrier that went missing in the East China Sea, head of the Far East department of the Russian trade union of sailors Nikolai Sukhanov told Interfax.

"It is possible that pirates could have attacked the ship," Sukhanov said. "The district where Kapitan Uskov went missing is one of the most dangerous in the world as to the frequency of pirate attacks. We do not rule out such a possibility," he said.

Ten years ago the Linkstar vessel flying the Cambodian flag en route from Calcutta to Singapore with a crew of 25 sailors from the Khabarovsk territory went missing in the East China Sea. Nothing has been heard of the sailors and the ship ever since.

"According to some information, the sailors could have been enslaved and sent to a plantation on the island of Sumatra," Sukhanov said.
Uskov photo from here.

Background on the situation here:
The Cambodia-registered ship transporting over 4,500 metric tons of rolled metal to Hong Kong last had radio contact on Sunday, the center said. The vessel left Russia's Far East port of Nakhodka on January 15 and failed to arrive in China's special administrative region on January 24 as planned.

Rescue officials said they had informed colleagues in Japan, China and South Korea, which are connected to the sea by straits, of the Kapitan Uskov's disappearance.

"All vessels currently in the East China Sea have also been informed of the disappearance of the Cambodian-registered ship with a Russia crew on board," the center said.

Japan said it would send searchers to an area 221 miles (355 km) west of Shanghai, from where the ship last contacted the ground services, the Far East center said.

The center said there is not yet sufficient information to explain the ship's disappearance.

The boat, with cargo capacity of 5,200 metric tons, was built in Japan in 1982. It flew a Soviet flag and was later sold to a private shipping company and registered in Cambodia.
More on location here:
Kapitan Uskov disappeared in approximately 31.40N 125.58E area
(Hat tip: Robin Storm.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Iraqi Boy Scouts get a "Good Deed" done for them

Reported here:
DHL has announced it is working with the Pacific Skyline Council, Boy Scouts of America to help raise funds for the youth of Iraq. As part of this effort, DHL will be shipping 2.5 tons of popcorn to Iraq, which will be used to raise funds for the Iraqi Scouting initiative. Iraq’s youth scouting program reemerged in 2004 through the efforts of the Green Zone Council, a volunteer group of U.S. civilian and military personnel in Iraq. Scouting promotes respect for others and the environment, diversity of cultures, goal setting, competence and confidence building and leadership skills. With the support of local scouting organizations and businesses in the U.S., the Iraqi scouting program has grown to 150,000 members, which includes Boy Scouts as well as Girl Guides, the equivalent of Girl Scouts in the U.S. DHL is donating its shipping services to transport 2.5 tons of Trail’s End popcorn to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. A long-lived fundraising tradition within scouting, the sale of the popcorn will generate as much as $25,000 for the purchase of much needed supplies for youth scouting activities across Iraq.

More on some projects for Iraqi Scouts here at the Spirit of America site, from whence the picture of the Iraqi Scouts saluting comes.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Few.

But they say it for the rest of us, too: here.

Latest ONI Worldwide Threat to Shipping Report (to 16 Jan 08)

Latest ONI Worldwide Threat to Shipping Report (to 16 Jan 08) can be found
here. Highlights:
1. COLOMBIA: Vessel transporting tourists robbed, six passengers kidnapped, 14 Jan 08, late in the afternoon shortly after landing near Nuqui. The six hostages belonged to a group of 19 people taking a boat trip on the Atrato river in the west of the country. When they stepped ashore at one point in an area known locally as Morromico, they were surrounded by 10 armed men who said that they were members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The rebels took the tourists’ money, cell phones, as well as fuel from the vessel. The six captives were then led into the jungle (AP, REUTERS, LM: Radio Netherlands Worldwide).
3. NIGERIA: Oil service vessel (LIBERTY) attacked by gunmen, 14 Jan 08, while
underway near Aker base, Bonny River. The vessel was attacked while in route to the
(MYSTRAS) platform. Eyewitness accounts said that a passing boat suddenly opened fire. Crewmembers were reportedly injured (LM: This Day, Vanguard).
MARU NO 2) boarded by protesters, 15 Jan 08 at 1700 AEDT while underway near the
intersection of the coordinates 60:00S-077:00E, approximately 360NM south of the Heard and McDonald Islands. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) states Benjamin Potts, 28, of Sydney, and Giles Lane, 35, from Britain, crew from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel (STEVE IRWIN), boarded the Japanese whaling vessel from a Zodiac boat. They reportedly intended to hand its captain a letter. SSCS stated the men were held against their will aboard the fishing vessel. The director-general Minoru Morimoto of Japan’s Institute for Cetacean Research confirmed the protestors’ detention explaining it is illegal to board another country’s vessel on the high seas. Mr Morimoto also claimed the protestors fist made attempts to
entangle the screw of the vessel using ropes and threw bottles of acid onto the decks. After the two sides could not agree how to return the protestors to their vessel, the Australian customs ship (OCEANIC VIKING) volunteered to transfer them. As of 18 Jan, the protesters were safely back onboard the (STEVE IRWIN). The standoff brought Japan's whaling fleet to a temporary standstill while officials worked out the details of the men's transfer. Glenn Inwood, a spokesman for the Japanese whaling program told the media that the whaling fleet would now
resume its operations. Paul Watson, captain of the Steve Irwin, said he would resume
aggravating the whalers, though it was unlikely members of his crew would again try to board one of the Japanese fleet. A spokeswoman for the Australian Federal Police said a full investigation would be carried out but that no charges were laid. The dispute underscored the high-stakes nature of the contest fought each year in the remote and dangerous seas at the far south of the world, thousands of miles from the possibility of regular emergency or rescue services (AP, LM: The Age, The Daily Telegraph).
And the latest ICC CCS Piracy Report (to 21 Jan 08) from here with the following highlights:
5.01.2008: 2245 LT 01:11.03N - 064:39.0W, Bahia De Robledal, Isla De Margarita, Venezuela. Five pirates armed with guns boarded a yacht. They assaulted the crew and demanded from the crew all their property. One crew was shot and injured. Incident reported to local authorities who undertook an investigation.
16.01.2008: 1345 LT: 16:58.17N - 082:24.26E, Kakinada OPL, India.
Pirates in a small craft came alongside a tug, underway, towing a barge. They stole ship's stores. Alert crew raised alarm, crew mustered and took back the stolen stores and pushed the pirates back to their craft. The pirates boarded the barge and left after 20 minutes. Local agent informed.

No more oil? Big new field off Brazil

Reported here:
A huge natural gas field has been found a short distance off Rio de Janeiro's coastline, Petrobras, Brazil's state-controlled oil company, says.

The company believes the new field, Jupiter, could match the recently discovered Tupi oil field in size.

Tupi is thought to be one of the largest fields discovered in the past 20 years.

But Petrobras officials say further work needs to be done to establish Jupiter's exact dimensions.

The new field is located just 37km (23 miles) from Tupi, some 5,100m (5,600 yards) below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, around 290km from Rio de Janeiro, Petrobras says.

While not providing any specific details on the size of the new reserve, Petrobras said "its structure could have dimensions similar to Tupi".

Petrobras estimates Tupi contains between five and eight billion barrels of light oil.
There is more out there, too.

"Peace Dividends" and preparedness

Excellent link at Consul-At-Arms .

Human Trafficking: Dozens of Africans Drown Off Yemen Coast

Dozens of Africans Drown Off Yemen Coast:
The bodies of nearly 50 Africans trying to immigrate washed up on Yemen's shores Saturday after their boat capsized in the treacherous waters of the Gulf of Aden.

The 35 survivors told authorities in Yemen that at least 135 people, all Somalis and Ethiopians, were crammed into the rickety boat, indicating that dozens more may have lost their lives.

The search continued for more bodies along the beaches of Yemen's Abyan province, said an official on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the press.

Hundreds of Africans die every year trying to reach Yemen, many of whom drown or are killed by pirates and smugglers in the dangerous waters separating Somalia and the Arabian peninsula.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sunday Ship History*: Skyhooked

Flights of bombers from the islands of Guam and Tinian under the command of General Curtis LeMay were dropping incendiary bombs on Japan. Long range B-29s of which the Japanese had no equivalent, leading them, as is often the case with those in dire need, to innovate. Their innovation for strategic bombing against the United States took the form of balloons. Big balloons, filled with hydrogen and carrying bombs across the Pacific to attempt to strike terror among the Americans, as set out here:
The concept for the IJA balloon offensive was the brainchild of the Japanese Ninth Army Technical Research Laboratory, under Major General Sueyoshi Kusaba, with work performed by Technical Major Teiji Takada and his colleagues. The balloons were intended to make use of a great strong current of winter air that Japanese unmanned balloon flights by both the IJN and the IJA had discovered flowing at high altitude and speed over their country.

The "jet stream", as it would become known, blew at altitudes above 9.15 kilometers (30,000 feet) and could carry a large balloon across the Pacific, a distance of more than 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles), in three days. Such balloons could carry bombs to the United States and drop them there to kill people, destroy buildings, and start forest fires. The Japanese named the weapon "fusen bakudan", which literally means "balloon bombs", but which has been translated as "fire balloons". The program was formally referred to as "FU-GO" -- "fu" being a character in the Japanese phonetic alphabet, and "go" meaning "Series 2" or "Model B".(Fu-Go photo from here.)

* Building a balloon that could survive a three-day trip across the Pacific and then automatically drop its warload was technically challenging. Since a hydrogen balloon expands in the sunlight and rises, then contracts at night and falls, the Japanese engineers had to develop a battery-operated automatic control system to maintain altitude. When the balloon descended below 9 kilometers (29,500 feet), it electrically fired charges to cut loose sandbags. The sandbags were carried on a cast-aluminum four-spoked wheel, and discarded two at a time to keep the wheel balanced. Similarly, when the balloon rose above about 11.6 kilometers (38,000 feet), the altimeter activated a valve to vent hydrogen; the hydrogen was also vented if the balloon's pressure reached a critical level.

After three days, the ballast would be gone, but by that time the balloon was assumed to be over the United States. The final command of the control system fired charges to release the bombs, which were also carried on the wheel, and lit a 19.5 meter (64 foot) long fuze that hung from the balloon's equator. After 84 minutes, the fuze ignited a flash bomb that destroyed the balloon.

The balloon had to carry about 900 kilograms (1,000 pounds) of gear, which meant a hydrogen balloon with a diameter of about 10 meters (33 feet). At first, the balloons were made of conventional rubberized silk, but there was a cheaper way to make an envelope that leaked even less. An order went out for ten thousand balloons made of "washi", a paper derived from mulberry bushes that was impermeable and very tough. It was only available in squares about the size of a road map, so it was glued together in three or four laminations using paste derived from a tuber with the Japanese name of "devil's-tongue".
And thousands of balloons were dispatched:
The Japanese employed some 1,000 "Fu-Go Weapons," or balloons equipped with bombs, which they sent eastward across the Pacific. These landed in some 16 U.S. states, as well as in Alaska, Canada, and Mexico. They killed only six civilians—a mother and her five children in Lakeview, Oregon, in May 1945—and the fact that the U.S. media agreed not to report news of the bombings greatly blunted their potential psychological effect.
Eventually, someone noticed a pattern:
By early 1945, Americans were becoming aware that something strange was going on. Balloons had been sighted, explosions heard, from California to Alaska. An object that witnesses described as like a parachute descended over Thermopolis, Wyoming, followed by the explosion of a fragmentation bomb; shrapnel was found around the crater. A P-38 Lightning fighter shot a balloon down near Santa Rosa, California; another was seen over Santa Monica; and bits of washi paper were found in the streets of Los Angeles. Two paper balloons were recovered in a single day in Modoc National Forest, east of Mount Shasta. Near Medford, Oregon, a balloon bomb exploded in a blast of flame. The Navy found balloons in the ocean. Balloon envelopes and apparatus were found in Montana, Arizona, Sasketchewan, in the Northwest Territories, and in the Yukon. Eventually, an Army fighter somehow managed herd one of the balloons around in the air and force it to ground intact, where it was examined and photographed
And that captured balloon provided the Americans with an idea that came to fruition after the war. As noted in Space-Based Reconnaissance, the U.S. found itself in need of knowledge - knowledge of what was happening behind the "Iron Curtain" and in Red China:
Beginning in 1946, Army Air Forces conducted reconnaissance flights along the borders of the Soviet Union in order to determine the size, composition, and disposition of Soviet forces behind the Iron Curtain.2 The intelligence collected from these missions was limited, since the aircraft only flew on the periphery of the Soviet Union and its satellite states. Some military leaders at the time recognized that if the United States were to prevent a future surprise attack by the Soviet Union, accurate intelligence was needed before hostilities began. The U.S. leadership determined that acquiring reliable intelligence about the economic and military activities and resources of a potential foreign adversary could only be accomplished through periodic high-altitude overflights in peacetime.3

The necessity of peacetime overflights was reinforced after a series of events stunned the United States between 1947 and 1950. A Communist-controlled government assumed power in Poland in 1947. A Communist coup in Prague ended that nation’s independence in 1948, and the Soviet Union blockaded Berlin later the same year. In 1949 the Soviets surprised the United States by detonating their own nuclear device. The United States was further shocked when the Chinese Communists swept to victory in 1949 and the North Koreans launched a surprise attack on South Korea in 1950.
Now, the U.S. Navy had been working with some big balloons, doing some research into cosmic rays and other such stuff under the name "Project Skyhook":
In 1947, the U.S. Navy began Project Skyhook, which used very large unmanned plastic (polyethylene) balloons to loft research payloads of various kinds (e.g. cosmic ray research) to altitudes of up to 30 km (100000 ft). The initial prime contractor for the Navy's Skyhook balloons was the Aeronautical Division of General Mills, Inc. Skyhook eventually became a very successful program, and its balloon technology was also used by the Air Force. In fact, the name Skyhook became a synonym for large high-altitude plastic balloons, even if they were launched by other agencies under different programs.

At low level immediately after launch, the lifting gas (hydrogen or helium) in Skyhook balloons formed a small bubble at the top of the envelope, giving the whole balloon a rather "limp" look. At the lower air pressure at higher altitudes, the gas expanded and eventually filled the whole envelope, which could reach diameters of more than 30 m (100 ft) in some balloon models.
Photo caption:
In the late 1940s, Project Skyhook balloons provided a stable vehicle for long duration observations at altitudes in excess of 100,000 feet. Balloons, long used for collecting meteorological data, now offered the opportunity of collecting highly specialized information and photographs. This photograph shows Skyhook Ballon 93 leaving the deck of the USS Norton Sound AV-11 on March 31, 1949. (U.S. Navy Photo RELEASED - 11/7/2003)
But the key to these balloons was a device, based on that regulating mechanism from the Japanese fire bomb balloons that regulated their altitude, as set out here:
The unique ballast control devices on the balloons, the real breakthrough that made their trans-Pacific range possible, were studied by US balloon designers in the postwar period and helped provide the inspiration for more advanced systems that would be applied to US high-altitude "constant-level" balloon projects.
Well, one man's science project becomes another man's reconnaissance tool, and before the development of the U-2, having a balloon carrying sensors or cameras over forbidden territory to gather information seemed like a dandy idea. And so, other projects began, such as Project Mogul:
Project MOGUL was first conceived by Dr. Maurice Ewing of Columbia University, NY, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, MA. Dr. Ewing had conducted considerable research for the Navy during World War II, studying, among other things, the "sound channel" in the ocean. He proved that explosions could be heard thousands of miles away with underwater microphones placed at a predetermined depth within the sound channel. He theorized that since sound waves generated by explosions could be carried by currents deep within the ocean, they might be similarly transmitted within a sound channel in the upper atmosphere. The military application of this theory was the long-range detection of sound waves generated by Soviet nuclear detonations and the acoustical signatures of ballistic missiles as they traversed the upper atmosphere.
Project MOGUL initially focused on three areas of technology: (1) an expendable microphone, capable of detecting, at long range, low-frequency sound transmissions generated by explosions and missiles; (2) a means of telemetering these sounds to a ground or airborne receiver; and (3) a system from which to suspend the microphone and telemetering device in the upper atmosphere for an extended period of time. To meet these criteria, contracts were awarded by AMC to Columbia University (AMC contract no. W28499-ac-82) for the acoustical equipment, and to New York University (NYU) for the development of constant-level balloons (AMC contract no. W28-099-ac- 241). After the initial contracts were awarded, Project MOGUL branched out into many areas related to the geophysical properties of the upper atmosphere, including radiowave propagation, radar propagation, ionospheric physics, solar physics, terrestrial magnetism, meteorological physics, and weather forecasting.
MOGUL never really got off the ground, though there are allegations that it was a classified MOGUL balloon that sparked the famous Roswell, New Mexico report of a "flying saucer crash" -
Based on the above, it appeared likely that the debris found by the rancher and was subsequently identified as a "flying disc" by personnel from Roswell AAF was, with a great degree of certainty, MOGUL flight no. 4, launched on June 4, 1947.
This, as will be discussed later, is not the last UFO situation attributed to the various balloon projects which all got tagged as "Skyhook."

The Air Force and the Navy were out there ballooning. The Navy was launching balloons off ships including escort carriers and USS Norton Sound (AV-11).

The Air Force was launching from airfields and other locations, but essentially using Skyhook balloons under a series of different project names:
In July 1950, Charles B. Moore of General Mills had conducted four test flights of Skyhook-type balloons with a camera payload. To the U.S. Air Force he presented the concept of camera-equipped balloons, which could float across the Soviet Union using strong winds (the "jet stream") at very high altitude, above the reach of Soviet air defences. In November 1950, the USAF officially began the development of a balloon reconnaissance system under secret project MX-1594 Gopher.

Design goal for Project Gopher was a balloon, which could carry a 225 kg (500 lb) payload gondola to 21000 m (70000 ft), and remain there at constant altitude for at least 16 days. Originally it had been hoped that Gopher could conduct the first operational missions by the end of 1951, but this proved to be far too optimistic. A series of test flights in 1952 was only partially successful, mainly because of continuing problems during balloon launch and with payload reliability. Because the USAF was dissatisfied with General Mills' progress, the balloon production contract was terminated in August 1952, and further balloons were ordered from Winzen Research. Project Gopher was a top secret project, but the balloon test flights could obviously not be hidden from the public. Therefore all test flights were officially part of Project Moby Dick (MX-1498), the USAF's unclassified research balloon project. Moby Dick had been started around the same time as Gopher, and used Skyhook balloons to measure global high-altitude wind patterns. Gopher's camera gondolas, which could parachute to earth anywhere after a test flight, were accordingly labeled as Air Force property (together with a fire hazard warning to discourage potential souvenir hunters).
n July 1953, the USAF finally decided to develop Gopher into the WS-119L operational balloon reconnaissance system, codenamed Grandson. In spring 1955, WS-119L was finally ready for operational training, and the program's code name was changed again, to Grayback. Between May and October that year, more than a hundred WS-119L balloons were launched under operation "Moby Dick Hi" (as usual, the Moby Dick name was used as cover). Although only 11 successful mid-air recoveries were made in 33 attempts, WS-119L was considered ready for use at the end of 1955. President Eisenhower gave approval to begin the overflights in January 1956, but had the flight altitude of the balloons limited to 16800 m (55000 ft). This was reportedly done, because the higher-flying Lockheed U-2 aircraft was under development at that time, and the Soviets should get no unnecessary motivation to develop new very high-altitude interceptor aircraft and missiles before the U-2 had begun its overflight program.

The USAF had set up WS-119L launch sites at five locations in Scotland, Norway, Germany (2) and Turkey. An official statement was issued, saying that scientific Moby Dick balloons would be launched on extended flights in the northern hemisphere. To support this cover story, a total of 30 research balloons were launched from January to July 1956 from Hawaii, Okinawa and Alaska under operation White Cloud. The code name for the WS-119L reconnaissance flights was Genetrix. Operational WS-119L payloads had a tracking beacon, which was activated at a preset time several days after launch. This time was calculated to occur after the balloon had exited Soviet or Chinese air space, but before it sank too low because of loss of gas and ballast depletion (the gondola was automatically cut free if the balloon descended below 30000 ft). The tracking beacons were needed by the recovery teams to locate the balloons.

Between 10 January and 6 February, a total of 448 balloons were launched, and resulted in 44 successful camera gondola recoveries. Of the about 380 balloons, which actually reached Soviet airspace, more than 300 were either shot down or came down prematurely because of malfunctions or ballast depletion. The balance of the unsuccessful balloons reached the recovery zones, but couldn't be retrieved for various reasons. The end of the Genetrix flights was caused by the relatively low rate of success as well as the increasing political problems caused by the overflights. The Soviets eventually displayed captured gondolas to the public, explaining that they contained reconnaissance cameras and no meteorological equipment.

The Genetrix photos covered only a small part (8%) of the Soviet and Chinese land mass. Because of the balloons' drift pattern, particularly interesting areas in high latitudes were not covered at all. Nevertheless, Genetrix was not considered a complete failure. The high-altitude camera system made photos of excellent quality, and the WS-119L mid-air-retrieval principle would be used several years later for the retrieval of film capsules from the United States' first photo-reconnaissance satellites.
The balloons might carry cameras such as the DMQ-1:
Gopher's AN/DMQ-1 payload consisted of a gondola with the reconnaissance camera system. The main camera had two angled lenses at the bottom of the gondola, and took pictures at fixed intervals (6.25 minutes in the 66CT, 12.5 minutes in the 128TT). A second camera took wide-angle panoramic photos to determine the general geographical location of the balloon. A small photoelectric cell at the bottom of the gondola automatically shut down the cameras when it became too dark for useful photos. To recover the gondola, it was cut loose either automatically after a predefined time, or by radio command when a suitable recovery area had been reached. The gondola package then descended under a parachute. In balloon and camera test flights, the gondola would land on the ground, but in operational reconnaissance missions, it would be caught and hauled in in mid-air by specially converted C-119F cargo aircraft. There was also an ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) payload package, designated AN/DMQ-2, but its development was not completed in time, and it would therefore never be used operationally.
Confused yet? Now, remember that many of these projects were classified. And remember that the balloons would change shape as they rose through the atmosphere (the balloon expanding as the outside air pressure dropped and, at twilight, because of their altitude, they would reflect and refract sunlight long after sunset at ground level, giving the appearance of being lit from within). There seems to be evidence that one "Skyhook" launch may have cost the life of a pilot who was chasing what was a UFO:
A classified US Air Force project was based from CCAFB (Clinton County Air Force Base), known as Operation Skyhook. Skyhook involved the launch of huge observation balloons for upper atmosphere research. In January 1948 an F-51 Mustang was dispatched from Indiana to intercept an unidentified flying object detected on radar. The UFO was in fact a USAF Skyhook balloon launched from CCAFB. The pilot died in a crash while attempting to intercept the 73 ft diameter balloon. His death instigated a furor of UFO investigations and heightened civilian interest in the UFO phenomena.
And some truly incredible science fiction movies like Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, in which the good guy scientist actually runs a project called --you got it-- Skyhook!

An alleged "insiders" history of the "classified" Skyhook programs can be found here, asserting that the UFO "cover story" was suggested by the CIA to help conceal the real mission of some of the flights:
All this intrigue came to a head when the CIA suddenly showed up at our office and at launches. UFO reports peaked in 1952, as our local Skyhook activity increased from ninety-two hours the previous year to 694 hours aloft. Moreover, launches from the Moby Dick West Coast sites were commencing. Eventually they, along with additional sites in Missouri and Georgia, contributed 640 flights.

The CIA requested that we not identify most of those sharply increasing Skyhook reports. The strategy was to generate a UFO outbreak over the USA extending to the USSR when our WS-119L Skyhooks arrived there. Ironically, the ploy initially worked, since the Soviet Air Force could not intercept the first wave. They allowed their public to play our UFO game. The strategy ended after a few leaking Skyhooks were shot down and the payloads were exhibited, along with protests, to President Eisenhower.

Thus, complex interplay of Moby Dick, WS-119L, and UFO reports defined the unique role of our Blue Book office in that era. Since top-secret WS-119L was not declassified until more than thirty years later, that intrigue can only now be addressed.

Although initial phases of WS-119L were launched from Europe and Turkey, a final phase, WS-461L, was launched from the Pacific. There was a direct parallel to Moby Dick, where unclassified Project White Cloud launched Pacific flights to obtain trajectory data for WS-461L. In the April 1994 issue of Omni magazine, a retired airman proclaimed solid proof of UFO activity. He had glimpsed logs from the European NATO Command Center for 1958. They reported UFOs coming out of the USSR at 100,000 foot altitudes. That nicely described WS-461L flights cruising in from the Pacific Ocean launches.
Skyhook derivations continued into Project GENETRIX:
By far, the most significant use of balloon reconnaissance during the Cold War was Project GENETRIX. The program had its origins in a 1951 study by the RAND corporation, and in December 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave approval for the U.S. Air Force to launch 516 camera-carrying balloons over Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China.

GENETRIX proved a disaster in several regards. Only 34 balloons—about 7% of the total—survived and produced usable, useful images. Worse than the poor return ratio was the public-relations opportunity that the project provided to the communist bloc, which protested U.S. spying and used information on GENETRIX for propaganda purposes.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials called on the air force to halt GENETRIX, which it did in February 1956. At the time, the CIA was planning the launch of U-2 overflights, and they feared that GENETRIX would turn Eisenhower against the concept of overflights. Additionally, they were concerned that the program might negatively affect an effort by the Free Europe Committee, a CIA front based in West Germany, to drop propaganda leaflets over Eastern Europe.

The failure of GENETRIX concealed several successes. The images of the Soviet Union it did produce provided the best available record between World War II and the advent of the U-2 reconnaissance plane and later satellites. Additionally, the high-flying balloons, which averaged an altitude of 45,800 feet (13,960 m), provided data on wind currents that helped scientists determine the best flight paths for the U-2.

Finally, the most curious benefit of GENETRIX was the fact that a steel bar that secured the envelope, cameras, and ballasting equipment happened to measure 2.99 feet (91 cm)—exactly the same size as the wavelength of Soviet radar known as TOKEN to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) forces. Because it resonated when TOKEN pulses hit it, the bar helped NATO radar operators locate previously unknown radar installations. This, too, aided the U-2 project.
The Navy continued to launch experimental balloons:
Ten-million cubic foot "Winzen" research balloon on the carrier's flight deck just prior to launching, during Operation "Skyhook", Refly "B", 30 January 1960.
The balloon carried scientific devices to measure and record primary cosmic rays at 18-to-22 miles altitude. (Caption to the topmost photo of the carrier Valley Forge)
Several images of such launches are available at the ONR website here.

Project Churchy, a 1953 program funded by ONR, included the launch of 13 Skyhook balloons from the flight deck of the Navy´s seaplane tender, USS Currituck AV 7 near the Galapogos Islands. The balloons collected valuable cosmic ray and meteorological data. (U.S. Navy - 11/7/2003)
With the possible exception of that unlucky F-51 pilot, these Skyhook balloon flights didn't result in any deaths and may have saved the lives of some of the follow-on U-2 pilots.

So offer up a salute to the Skyhookers!

I should note that balloon borne research continues, as set out here:
A new NASA project will use more than 40 high altitude balloons to return new scientific insights about Earth's Van Allen Belts. The type of radiation in the belts can be hazardous to astronauts, orbiting satellites and aircraft flying in high altitude polar routes.

The new mission is called the Balloon Array for Radiation-belt Relativistic Electron Losses, or BARREL, and its principal investigator is Robyn Millan of Dartmouth. BARREL will fly in 2013 and 2014, and will provide answers to how and where the Van Allen Belts periodically drain into Earth's upper atmosphere. BARREL will fly in conjunction with NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes satellites, due to launch in 2011.

*Monday edition

Monday Reading -also good for the whole week!

Fred has a lot of stuff over at Fred Fry International: Maritime Monday 94, but my Monday favorite is some beer logic apparently being applied to the centerpiece of an inflatable pool...God must love fools and drunks...

And Xformed has a nice write up about CDR Dealy here, for those of you who might be interested in a non-Bill Clinton down the throat shot...

Lex has a nice bit on why it pays to be neighborly.

Salamander updates Stolen Valor. And, yes, kids, it has been interesting to see the "crazed Irag/Afghan vet" rise up to replace the old (very old) crazed Vietnam vet" canard. Do not go gentle...UPDATE: Iowahawk looks at troubled vets, showing a mastery of small sample research just like the NYT. See also here. I personally have heard there is a high divorce rate among his veteran sample. UPDATE2: Spook86 hops on, too, here.

Chap sends us off to a -egad- "liberal" group think site and points to a comment from a LTC Bateman responding to some a$$hat dubbed MQ that rivals Kipling's poem about Tommy Atkins...

Sunday Ship History,,,,delayed

Sunday Ship History for January 20 will be instead posted on Monday, Jan 21.

Because I got busy.

Have a nice day.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Port Security: Protecting Tankers

Good summary of the publicly released version of a recent GAO report covering port protection of tankers (oil, LPG and LNG) from MarineLog:
U. S. energy needs rest heavily on ship-based imports. Tankers bring 55 percent of the nation's crude oil supply, as well as liquefied gases and refined products like jet fuel. This supply chain is potentially vulnerable in many places here and abroad, as borne out by several successful overseas attacks on ships and facilities.

GAO's review addressed (1) the types of threats to tankers and the potential consequences of a successful attack, (2) measures taken to protect tankers and challenges federal agencies face in making these actions effective, and (3) plans in place for responding to a successful attack and potential challenges stakeholders face in responding.

GAO's review spanned several foreign and domestic ports, and multiple steps to analyze data and gather opinions from agencies and stakeholders.

The supply chain faces three main types of threats--suicide attacks such as explosive-laden boats, "standoff" attacks with weapons launched from a distance, and armed assaults.

Highly combustible commodities such as liquefied gases have the potential to catch fire or, in a more unlikely scenario, explode, posing a threat to public safety. Attacks could also have environmental consequences, and attacks that disrupt the supply chain could have a severe economic impact.
Domestically, units of the Coast Guard, the lead federal agency for maritime security, report insufficient resources to meet its own self imposed security standards, such as escorting ships carrying liquefied natural gas.

Some units' workloads are likely to grow as new liquefied natural gas facilities are added. Coast Guard headquarters has not developed plans for shifting resources among units.

Multiple attack response plans are in place to address an attack, but stakeholders face three main challenges in making them work.

First, plans for responding to a spill and to a terrorist threat are generally separate from each other, and ports have rarely exercised these plans simultaneously to see if they work effectively together.

Second, ports generally lack plans for dealing with economic issues, such as prioritizing the movement of vessels after a port reopens. The President's maritime security strategy calls for such plans.

Third, some ports report difficulty in securing response resources to carry out planned actions.

Federal port security grants have generally been directed at preventing attacks, not responding to them, but a more comprehensive risk-based approach is being developed.
GAO report (pdf format) here. Same report covered in a more hysterical manner ("Doomed, doomed, I say")-and with a large factual error- here, covering particular concerns over a planned LNG facility:
The report is likely to raise more questions about a proposed $800-million LNG terminal in the Port of Long Beach, which Sound Energy Solutions, a Mitsubishi/ConocoPhillips subsidiary, wants to build on 25 acres of Pier T.

The proposal was shelved by port officials in early 2007 following a wave of protest from community groups and elected leaders concerned the facility would be a magnet for terrorists.

LNG, if released into the air and ignited at a very precise air-gas mixture, is capable of exploding, although the risk of such an incident is minute.
Contrary to the article, LNG will not explode (unless, I suppose, you manage to heat the entirety of an LNG tank on a ship while also stopping any overpressure vents), it may burn, but it will not explode. See here. But see for yourself, FERC reports: (1)ABS report (pdf):
Although LNG vapors can explode (i.e., create large overpressures) if ignited within a confined space, such as a building or structure, there is no evidence suggesting that LNG is explosive when ignited in unconfined open areas. Experiments to determine whether unconfined methane-air mixtures will explode have been conducted and, to date, have been negative.
; (2) Sandia Lab report (pdf) here.

Chokepoints again

This time from the Jakarta Post, here:
n a report this month on six key world oil transit chokepoints, including the Hormuz strait and the Malacca and Singapore straits, the U.S.' Energy Information Administration noted that around half the world's oil was moved by tankers on fixed maritime routes and often had to pass through a number of narrow channels, either straits or canals.

"The blockage of a chokepoint can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs," the EIA said. "In addition, chokepoints leave oil tankers vulnerable to theft, terrorist attacks, and political unrest in the form of wars or hostilities and shipping accidents which can lead to disastrous oil spills."
Direct shot to the EIA report here. I've linked to it before, but somethings are worth repeating.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cheap gasoline in Venezuela --but at a cost

Even the Guardian knows that there ain't no such thing as a free lunch and reports it here:
So while oil-importing nations appeal for relief (George Bush called in vain this week on Saudi Arabia to increase its output so as to bear down on prices), major exporters such as Venezuela bask in their immunity from the petroinflationary pain. Venezuela has the seventh-largest oil reserves in the world, and petrol is lavishly subsidised.

"If it gives us nothing else, at least the government lets us have our own petrol this cheap," said Padron, 44, revving her engine. "It may be crazy and have no logic, but I'm not complaining. Nobody is."

That is the problem. The subsidy warps the economy, drains government coffers, rips off the poor, pollutes the air and paralyses cities with traffic jams. Yet it is hugely popular and the government dares not end the insanity.

The phenomenon is common to oil producers such as Burma, Indonesia, Iran and Nigeria: their people feel cheap petrol is a birthright and tend to revolt if the price rises.

The era of $100 barrels has magnified the distortion, because governments are obliged to forfeit windfall revenues to divert ever-greater quantities of oil to domestic markets.

"It is difficult to go from this system to something more rational," said Mark Weisbrot, an economist with the Washington-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research. "People think they know how cheap the oil is, and that it is theirs. It is very deep in the culture."

Venezuela, a major oil producer which introduced the subsidy as a populist measure in the 1940s, is probably the most extreme case of a gas-guzzling dream becoming a policy nightmare.

A lack of rigs and other problems has reduced the output of the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, just as domestic consumption has soared to 780,000 barrels a day. The subsidy costs the government around £4.5bn annually. It also encourages a brisk trade in contraband petrol across the Colombian border, where prices are higher.

A consumer boom has doubled the number of cars on Venezuela's roads, with 500,000 sold last year alone. "None of the advertisements talk about fuel efficiency," said Daniel Guerra, the manager of a Ferrari dealership in Caracas. "People have been spoiled for so long with the subsidy that when it comes time for a reality check they don't understand."

As a result, streets are filled with new SUVs, including Humvees, as well as wheezing 70s-era sedans, aggravating smog and gridlock.

Some economists call the subsidy "Hood Robin", because it steals from the poor and gives to the rich by favouring relatively wealthy car owners above the poor who rely on public transport.

President Hugo Chávez railed against it last year, going so far as to label the inequity "disgusting". He also chided western countries for consuming so much oil and depleting a non-renewable resource. The self-styled revolutionary socialist, however, has not followed through on his promise to raise prices at home.
Oil rig shortage? Sure, those greedy capitalist oil guys are leery of the big V:
Faced with a declining rig fleet in a tight global market for oil services, Venezuela is preparing a fresh licensing round to attract new drilling equipment and renew contracts for those on the ground, industry executives say.

But Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PVZ.YY) is increasingly slow about paying its contractors and insists on paying in a local currency that is difficult to convert into dollars, dampening interest in projects with the state oil firm.

PdVSA is still looking to hire a rig for the offshore Mariscal Sucre gas project, where the company first hoped to start drilling in mid-2006. Meantime, foreign operators are neck-deep in a contract overhaul, delaying some work at privately run fields until at least the second half of the year.

Contrary to PdVSA's intentions, industry watchers expect drilling activity to slow down this year, denting the country's production capacity at a time of rising costs at the state firm.

"I don't think you'll see a lot of new capital deployed down there by the operators, nor the service companies," Halliburton (KRY) Chief Financial Officer Christopher Gaut said in a Thursday web cast.

Halliburton provides drilling and waste management services to oil companies in Venezuela. Gaut said currency restrictions are a "constant struggle," and described other Latin American oil producers Brazil, Argentina and Mexico as better markets for growth.

This environment could jeopardize PdVSA's long-term plans to double production by 2012.

"PdVSA is running around trying to make sure rigs don't leave the country," said one industry executive. "We've got a downward trend since July that they are starting to notice."

Venezuela's oil rig fleet peaked at 76 in mid-2006, the highest number in operation since 1998, according to data by Baker Hughes, an oil services firm. Since last July, 13 oil have gone out of service, two last month. Active natural gas rigs also fell to 10 from 12 over the period.
President Hugo Chavez's socialist policies are partly to blame for declining activity. Last year, PdVSA forced service companies to include good works, such as building schools and clinics in impoverished oil production zones, as requirements for new contracts. The increased costs contributed to a number of null and void bidding rounds last year.

"There are no win-win deals out there," said an executive at a drilling company.
Even more so since there was a threat to "nationalize" rigs operated by outside oil firms:
Venezuela's threats to "nationalize" 18 oil rigs currently operated by outside firms sent a shock wave through the local oil services industry at a time these services are in high demand around the globe.

Executives at drilling firms said foreign rig operators could easily try and move equipment to other markets if the business environment worsens, hurting the country's ability to produce oil.

At the same time, Venezuela may be forced to lean on foreign oil service firms to keep the oil flowing until it follows through on plans to begin assembling rigs in country to help spawn a domestic oil services industry.

That means Venezuela may exempt from its nationalization drive some oil service company activities on which the country depends.

"This is something that took us all by surprise," said an executive at a U.S. firm that has several rigs operating in Venezuela. "Rigs will move to other contracts elsewhere in the world."

The International Energy Agency claims Venezuelan output has fallen to 2.35 million barrels a day, a million barrels a day less than what PdVSA claims it is producing. Ironically, Ramirez's comments come at a time PdVSA is putting together a tender for up to 70 rigs, a plan observers said was not feasible even before Ramirez's rhetoric over the weekend.

"This is obviously impossible. There aren't that many rigs available in the whole world," said another Venezuela-based drilling executive.
Of course, dwindling oil production hasn't slowed Chavez's profligate military spending:
The top U.S. military officer said on Thursday he was concerned by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's purchases of military equipment, saying they could harm efforts to build greater stability in Latin America.
A former head of the U.S. Navy who took on the top U.S. military post October, Mullen mentioned both high-performance planes and submarines as items of particular concern.

"To the degree that those capabilities come into theater, they certainly are of great concern not just to Colombia... but to the region and in fact very much to the United States," he told reporters in Bogota.

Venezuela purchased 24 Sukhoi fighter jets and 100,000 Kalashnikov AK-103 assault rifles from Russia in 2006 and has talked about purchasing submarines, equipment Chavez says is needed to protect Venezuela from any "imperialist" attack.
I bet he sleeps with a night light, too, to keep the "imperialists" away.

New site of interest: Maritime Terrorism Research Center

Akiva Lorenz of the Maritime Terrorism Research Center has opened up a new site MarineTerrorism.com.

Some of you will remember that I have linked to a couple of his papers, here and here.

News you probably haven't heard

What happens when oil and gas (natural, not gasoline) prices go up? Why, the awl bidness (oil business) gets busy:

Offshore Rig Utilization
Drill Barge 90.9% (10/11)
Drillship 86.1% (31/36)
Inland Barge 100.0% (4/4)
Jackup 89.6% (328/366)
Semisub 84.0% (131/156)
Submersible 33.3% (2/6)
Tender 76.0% (19/25)
Total 86.9% (525/604)

Worldwide Offshore Rig Utilization
Below are the overall rig utilization statistics for the entire competitive rig fleet. Utilization numbers are based on a snapshot rig count. Only competitive rigs are included. Last updated 1/11/2008
Current Month Ago 6 Months Ago 1 Year Ago
Rigs Working 519 511 517 498
Total Rigs 602 601 591 583
Utilization 86.2% 85.0% 87.5% 85.4%

(source) That's the submersible rig Richmond over there, owned by Atwood Oceanics, Inc.. Currently in the shipyard, but when she comes out, you can operate her for somewhere around $36,000/$41,000. Per day.

Of course, you might have also not heard about this:
McMoRan Exploration Co. (NYSE: MMR) today announced its
second successful well at the Flatrock field located on OCS 310 at South Marsh Island Block 212 in ten feet of water.
The Flatrock No. 2 (“B” location) delineation well, which commenced drilling on October 7,
2007, is located approximately one mile northwest of the Flatrock discovery well. The well has been drilled to 15,400 feet and log-while-drilling tools have indicated three resistive zones in the Rob-L section approximating 198 net feet over a combined approximate 315 foot gross interval. These zones will be evaluated with wireline logs. The well will be deepened to a proposed total depth of 18,100 feet to evaluate additional targets in the Rob-L and Operc sections.
McMoRan also today updated the status of the Flatrock No. 3 (“D” location) delineation
well. The No. 3 well commenced drilling on November 5, 2007 and has been drilled to 14,800 feet. The well has a proposed total depth of 18,800 feet and is targeting Rob-L and Operc sands
approximately 3,000 feet south of the discovery well.
As previously reported, the Flatrock No. 1 (“A” location) discovery well was drilled to a
total depth of 18,400 feet in August 2007. Wireline and log-while-drilling porosity logs confirmed that the well encountered eight zones totaling 260 net feet of hydrocarbon bearing sands over a combined 637 foot gross interval, including five zones in the Rob-L section and three zones in the Operc section. A production test was performed in October 2007 in the Operc section and indicated a gross flow rate of approximately 71 million cubic feet of natural gas per day (MMcf/d) and 739 barrels of condensate, approximately 14 MMcfe/d net to McMoRan. First production from the discovery well is expected to commence in the first quarter of 2008 using the Tiger Shoal facilities in the immediate area.

McMoRan is also involved with a way cool LNG concept, the Main Pass Energy Hub, as set out here:

We believe that a natural gas terminal at Main Pass has numerous potential advantages over other LNG sites including:

  • Existing facilities that provide timing, construction and operating cost advantages over undeveloped locations.
  • Cavern storage capacity of 28 Bcf of natural gas within the two-mile diameter salt dome at the location.
  • Close proximity to shipping channels.
  • Access to an existing pipeline system and potential to develop other pipeline interconnects that would facilitate the receipt and distribution of natural gas to U.S. gas markets.
  • Possible security and safety advantages because of its offshore location in relatively deep water.
  • The potential ability to handle a fleet of new LNG supertankers, which may have limited access to existing U.S. ports.
Very good video explaining the concept here.

And all so you won't be freezing in the dark while you wait for those nuclear power plants to be approved by every NIMBY in the U.S. (good luck with that).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Latest ONI Worldwide Threats to Shipping Report (to 9 Jan 08)

Latest ONI Worldwide Threats to Shipping Report (to 9 Jan 08) is here. Highlights:
1. NIGERIA: A leading Nigerian militant group said on 10 Jan 08 that it sponsored "freelance freedom fighters" who shot at six oil industry ships on 09 Jan 08, and threatened a bigger attack. In an email to the media, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta Somalian waters : The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre has received 31 actual and attempted attacks in 2007. Many more attacks may have gone unreported. Some pirates are dangerous and would fire their automatic weapons at ships to stop them. Occasionally, they would use their RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) launchers at ships. Pirates are believed to be using “mother vessels” to launch attacks at very far distance from coast. These “mother vessel” is able to proceed to very far out to sea to launch smaller boats to attack and hijack passing ships. Eastern and Northeastern coasts are high risk areas for attacks and hijackings. Vessels not making scheduled calls to ports in Somalia should keep as far away as possible from the Somali coast, ideally more than 200 nautical miles. Mariners are also advised to report any suspicious boats to the Centre.(MEND) said it sponsored gunmen who shot at six oil industry vessels in the Bonny River channel, in which two people were injured. "MEND will be supporting these small independent groups to harass and sabotage the oil industry at will," the group said. MEND is an umbrella organization for several heavily-armed militias in the Niger Delta, an impoverished region of mangrove-lined creeks and swamp which is home to all of Nigeria's oil reserves. Violence against oil companies in Africa's top producer has been on the rise since September, when peace talks with rebels broke down after the arrest of a prominent militia leader (REUTERS).
1. SIERRA LEONE/GUINEA: Chemical tanker boarded, robbed 16 Dec 07 at 2115 UTC,
while underway in position 08:48.5N-013:57.0W, 40NM off the coast from the Sierra Leone
and Guinea border. The vessel was boarded by eight pirates in military fatigues carrying AK-47s and robbed the crew of various items. The pirates departed with all crew safe (Operator,
2. NIGERIA: M/V (BOURBON) fired upon 09 Jan 08 while underway in the Bonny River.
Police stated gunmen suspected to be militants attacked a vessel operated by an oil service
company, InterOil, in Nigeria's oil producing Niger Delta region, wounding three crew members.
A Southern Rivers state police spokesperson told journalists that the ship was attacked 09 Jan 08 as it sailed from Onne port in the state capital on its way to Gabon. Crewmembers were shot by gunmen who rode in speedboats and fired indiscriminately at the vessel. The victims were
reportedly taken to a hospital in nearby Bonny for treatment (LM: Panapress).
3. NIGERIA: Bulk carrier reported attempted boarding 04 Jan 08 at 1740 UTC in position
06:16.2N-003:22.7E, 7.5M off Lagos anchorage. Four armed robbers in a small rubber boat
attempted to board the vessel using a grappling hook. The duty crew raised the alarm and the
crew mustered. The robbers escaped. Nothing was stolen. The Master tried to report the
incident to the port control but did not receive a response (IMB).
4. NIGERIA: Bulk Carrier boarded, 31 Dec 07 at 0340 UTC, Berth no. 20, Apapa, Lagos.
Two armed robbers boarded the vessel during cargo operations using a long stick with a hook.
Two more robbers remained in a speedboat. The duty watch keeper spotted them and raised the
alarm. Armed police arrived on the scene and tried to stop the robbers but the robbers resisted.
The police opened fire and one robber was injured. The robbers jumped overboard and escaped.
There were no injuries to crew and nothing was stolen (IMB).
5. NIGERIA: Passenger Vessel attacked, passenger killed 30 Dec 07 in the early hours,
Bonny Channels. The vessel was traveling from Bonny Island to Port Harcourt, when it was
approached by pirates who attempted to force it to stop mid-sea, but failed as the boat driver
refused to stop. The action of the boat driver reportedly angered the pirates who opened fire with their automatic weapons on the boat and in the process, killed one of the passengers. Details of the attack are still unclear (LM: This Day).
6. NIGERIA: Chemical tanker boarded, robbed 28 Dec 07 at 0100 UTC in position 06:20N-
003:20E, Lagos anchorage. Armed robbers boarded the vessel during STS operations. With the
crew involved in cargo operations, anti-piracy watches maintained only one crewmember
forward and one aft. The robbers held the aft anti-piracy watch at knifepoint and severely beat him. The crewmember’s hands and legs were tied up. The robbers stole the ship’s stores and equipment and escaped in a waiting boat. The injured crewmember received first aid treatment onboard. Attempts to contact port control agents for help were futile (IMB).
7. NIGERIA: Offshore Supply Vessel attacked, crewmembers injured 26 Dec 07 near
Bonny. It was reported that two speedboats with an unknown number of assailants mounted an
attack against the vessel. The Nigerian Navy was notified and diverted a nearby patrol boat.
The boat arrived on scene and exchanged fire with the assailants, who all fled. Three crewmen
were injured during the incident. Preliminary reporting indicates their injuries were not life
threatening (USCG, LM: Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Afriquenligne).
8. NIGERIA: Bulk carrier boarded 24 Dec 07 at 0310 UTC, berth no. 20, Apapa, Lagos.
Four robbers boarded the vessel from a boat. They held one crew at knifepoint while they tried
to open the bosun store. The second duty officer, while on routine security rounds noticed the
robbers and alerted the crew. The robbers escaped. Witnesses estimated that there were 20
robbers operating out of two boats. Nothing was stolen (IMB).
9. NIGERIA: Product tanker boarded, robbed 21 Dec 07 at 0100 UTC in position 06:16.1N-
003:18.3E, Lagos anchorage. Two robbers armed with knives boarded the vessel from the port
quarter, while the duty watch keeper was on the starboard side. The robbers held the watch
keeper at knifepoint and threatened him. The robbers stole his personal belongings. The second watch keeper noticed the robbers and informed the duty officer. The alarm was raised and crew alerted. The robbers jumped overboard and escaped in a small wooden boat (IMB).
10. NIGERIA: Oil Industry Barge destroyed, bystanders killed 19 Dec 07, Okrika. Nigerian gunmen attacked the vessel, a jetty and a government building, briefly capturing 18 Filipino crew and fighting with troops. The attacks were reportedly in retaliation for an army incursion into Okrika on 10 Dec 07, but this could not be confirmed. Officials said the gunmen had been trying to hijack the vessel when troops opened fire, causing them to flee in their speedboats. The 18 Filipino’s were rescued by the troops after the militants blew up the vessel with dynamite. The gunmen also set fire to the jetty operated by the state oil company before attacking the Okrika local government headquarters. A man and a woman were killed in the crossfire and the gunmen torched several vehicles, but no troops or attackers were killed (REUTERS).
4. SRI LANKA: Sea battle between LTTE and Sri Lankan Navy 26 Dec 07 at 0800 local
time, near Delft Island off the coast of Jaffna. Naval troops supported by the Air Force
reportedly foiled a LTTE boat movement destroying several LTTE boats. Twelve Fast Attack
Craft’s (FAC) of the Navy was supported by MI-24 gunship helicopters and Kfir fighter jets to
launch an attack on the movement of 16 Tiger boats. One FAC reportedly sustained heavy
damage during the sea battle. Search operations were conducted in the evening for 12
missing sailors that were onboard the damaged FAC. The Navy believes that it was a LTTE logistics movement from Vedithalthivu to Delft Island. The rebels claimed on Tamilnet.com
that they had sunk a Navy FAC and damaged two naval boats during the sea battle, with no
report of any causalities. The military did not give its own casualty figures. Analysts say both sides often exaggerate enemy losses and underestimate their own, and that it is rarely possible to verify their figures (BBC, LM: Channelnewsasia.com, dailynews.lk).
hijacked, 23 Dec 07, near Bilang-Bilangan Island, off East Kalimantan coast. While sailing from Tanjung Redep, East Kalimantan, to Surabaya East Java with a cargo of crude palm oil, the tug and barge were stopped by seven men in a speedboat. The pirates were armed with sharp
weapons and overpowered the skipper and crew and locked them in a cabin. The pirates
repainted the tug and barge (OCEAN LINE-1) and (OCEAN LINE 2) respectively, then steered
the vessels toward Labuan, Malaysia. The Indonesian Naval patrol vessel (KRI SUTEDI
SENAPUTERA-878) was patrolling the Ambalat region when it chased and eventually
intercepted the pirated vessels. The pirates were arrested and taken to the Tarakan naval base in East Kalimantan. From there, they would later be transferred to Surabaya to undergo a judicial process (LM: ANTARA News).

And highlights from the ICC Commercial Crime Services Weekly Piracy Report (to 14 Jan 08):
10.01.2008: 2155 LT: 01:05.6N-103:34.5E: Phillip Channel, Singapore Straits.
At a distance of one nm, a small craft, with its searchlight on, started impeding the safe passage of a tanker underway. The vessel altered course to manoeuvre clear of the craft. At the same time, the crew noticed another, unlit, small craft near midships on the portside. The tanker enforced preventive measures and informed Singapore VTIS, who broadcast a security message to all ships in the area. A navy patrol boat arrived on the scene and patrolled the area. VTIS assured the tanker master that his vessel was being monitored continuously.
Warning notes:
- Bangladesh : Sixty two incidents have been reported since January 2006. Pirates are targeting ships preparing to anchor. Most attacks reported at Chittagong anchorages and approaches. Although the number of attacks has fallen recently, the area is still listed as very high risk.

- Indonesia : Balongan, Balikpapan, Belawan. Generally be vigilant in other areas. Many attacks may have gone unreported.
- Lagos (Nigeria) : Pirates are violent and have attacked and robbed vessels/kidnapped crews along the coast and river, at anchorages and ports. A total of 42 incidents have been reported in Nigeria since 08.01.2007. Twenty five attacks alone for Lagos and seven for Bonny River. Generally be vigilant in other areas in Nigeria.
- Somalian waters : The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre has received 31 actual and attempted attacks in 2007. Many more attacks may have gone unreported. Some pirates are dangerous and would fire their automatic weapons at ships to stop them. Occasionally, they would use their RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) launchers at ships. Pirates are believed to be using “mother vessels” to launch attacks at very far distance from coast. These “mother vessel” is able to proceed to very far out to sea to launch smaller boats to attack and hijack passing ships. Eastern and Northeastern coasts are high risk areas for attacks and hijackings. Vessels not making scheduled calls to ports in Somalia should keep as far away as possible from the Somali coast, ideally more than 200 nautical miles. Mariners are also advised to report any suspicious boats to the Centre.

Capturing real live pirates and how they whine

Well done Op-Ed on the hypocrisy of the anti-whaling "Sea Shepherds found here. You may remember the Sea Shepherds as a couple of ships and their crew who have taken to ramming whaling ships in order to protect whales, thus placing human life somewhere below their list of important things than whales. The news occasionally runs a piece on one of the more flamboyant Shepherds, who has called himself a "pirate" and has been known to fly the "Jolly Roger" on his ship. See here and here.
So now, the OP-Ed writer calls them out:
Usually the first to tout endless negotiations and appeasement when matters of our own or our allies'national defence are on the line, the Red-Greens are calling upon the New Zealand government to immediately send armed warships to Antarctica, apparently to intimidate the crew of a Japanese whaling vessel who were acting in self-defence when they detained two militant whaling protesters whom even the radical Greenpeace have explicitly distanced themselves from.

The group in question are known as Sea Shepherd. They were not there protesting with banners or placing themselves between the whaling vessel and the whales. No, Sea Shepherd were there initiating force, and endangering human life and limb. The two detained men forcibly boarded the Japanese whaling vessel, the Yushin Maru, after attempting to entangle the propellers of the vessel using ropes, and throwing bottles of acid onto the decks. Frankly they were lucky not to be shot or harpooned on sight. A captain of a vessel, especially in a notoriously dangerous environment, would have every moral right to use lethal force to ensure the safety of himself, his crew and his vessel. The captain of the Yushin Maru showed compassion and restraint in merely detaining the men.

Greens spokesthing Metiria Turei says, "The latest events in Antarctica are unprecedented and may well escalate to a situation where lives are put in direct danger." What the breathlessly arrogant woman is failing to recognise is that lives were in danger! The lives of the crew of the Japanese vessel. But now, with the detention of the two eco-terrorists from Sea Shepherd, those lives are safe (provided the terrorists are kept under close guard). At any rate, what pray tell does she think sending an armed New Zealand warship to "observe" would do to de-escalate the situation? Bloodthirsty hypocrisy of the highest degree.

The fact is that the victims here were the crew of the Yushin Maru—they were attacked and boarded by extremists with less regard for human life than animal. And yet the captain and crew of the Yushin Maru acted compassionately and with regard for even the lowest forms of human life.
Make no mistake, these Shepherd fools are pirates:
There is little sympathy from an Australian maritime law expert for two activists being held on board a Japanese whaling vessel in the Southern Ocean.

The Australian and Briton from the Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin illegally boarded the Yushin Marun No2 last night.

Professor Sam Bateman says the men committed an act of piracy and the Japanese have every right to detain them.
Of course, the whining of the Sea Shepherds has begun, including some incredible quotes from "Captain" Watson:
Japan's whaling fleet in the Antarctic halted its operations Wednesday and scrambled to arrange the turnover of two activists who boarded one of its harpoon ships after a tense, high-seas chase, accusing the Sea Shepherd conservation group of piracy.

The captain of the activists' ship, meanwhile, told The Associated Press the two were "hostages" and vowed to continue to harass the fleet.

"We will only accept an unconditional release," Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson told the AP by satellite phone from the anti-whaling ship Steve Irwin. He said he wanted action immediately.

"We're going to chase them until they stop their hunt," Watson said. "As long as we're chasing them, they're not killing any whales."

The Japanese Fisheries Agency said it told the anti-whaling group to pick up the two activists, who boarded a harpoon ship on Tuesday to deliver a protest letter. The agency said its only demand was that the Sea Shepherd promise not to mount any attacks during the rendezvous.

Watson, however, said Japan was also demanding the group end its harassment of the whaling fleet as a condition of securing the pair's freedom.
But Watson said Japan was demanding Sea Shepherd stop harassing, filming or photographing the whalers, and that the transfer of the pair be conducted by small boat, 10 nautical miles from the Yushin Maru.

"I find it very strange that people who are holding hostages are calling us the pirates," Watson said.
More baloney from Watson here:
"When you hold hostages and make demands, that is the definition of a terrorist organisation, and that is the way they are acting," Captain Watson said.

"We are not going to cease and desist from interfering in their illegal whaling activities as a condition."
I reckon Watson does know "terrorism" when he practices -er- sees it...

Watson is lucky his men aren't dangling from a yardarm...

UPDATE: I note that the Sea Shepherds have been calling themselves "pirates" (of compassion) for some time.