Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Ship History: Big Storm Bravery

First, the setting:
On 17 December 1944, the ships of Task Force 38, seven fleet and six light carriers, eight battleships, 15 cruisers, and about 50 destroyers were operating about 300 miles east of Luzon in the Philippine Sea. The carriers had just completed three days of heavy raids against Japanese airfields, suppressing enemy aircraft during the American amphibious operations against Mindoro in the Philippines. Although the sea had been becoming rougher all day, the nearby cyclonic disturbance gave relatively little warning of its approach. On 18 December, the small but violent typhoon overtook the Task Force while many of the ships were attempting to refuel. Many of the ships were caught near the center of the storm and buffeted by extreme seas and hurricane force winds. Three destroyers, USS Hull, USS Spence, and USS Monaghan, capsized and went down with practically all hands, while a cruiser, five aircraft carriers, and three destroyers suffered serious damage. Approximately 790 officers and men were lost or killed, with another 80 injured. Fires occurred in three carriers when planes broke loose in their hangars and some 146 planes on various ships were lost or damaged beyond economical repair by fires, impact damage, or by being swept overboard. This storm inflicted more damage on the Navy than any storm since the hurricane at Apia, Samoa in 1889. In the aftermath of this deadly storm, the Pacific Fleet established new weather stations in the Caroline Islands and, as they were secured, Manila, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. In addition, new weather central offices (for coordinating data) were established at Guam and Leyte.
With the conjunction of the Republican Party convention and a hurricane inbound to Louisiana, it's good time to recall a brave man who rose to the occasion, as set out by John J. Kruzel here:
Thirty years before fighting political fires in the wake of Watergate, President Gerald R. Ford battled blazes in World War II.

U.S. Naval Historical Society documents and a newly released book, “Halsey’s Typhoon,” by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, capture the story of a young Navy Lt. Ford who saved lives by helping to put out a fire on the USS Monterey.

In December 1944, Ford, then a Navy lieutenant, was a gunnery officer on the light aircraft carrier, which was providing air cover for the second wave of the Philippines invasion as part of Adm. William Halsey’s Third Fleet.

Serving as deck officer during the ship’s midnight to 4 a.m. watch, Ford saw 40- to 70-foot waves swelling around his ship as it headed into the path of a howling typhoon.

Typhoon Cobra, as the storm was later called, rolled the Monterey 25 degrees, causing Ford to lose his footing and slide toward the edge of the deck, the sources reveal.

The two-inch steel ridge around the edge of the carrier slowed him enough so he could roll and twist into the catwalk below the deck. As he later stated, "I was lucky; I could have easily gone overboard."

At the height of the storm, 100-knot winds and towering waves rocked the Monterey and several fighter planes tore loose from their cables and collided into one another.

The collisions ignited aircraft gas tanks, and soon the hangar deck was ablaze. Because of a quirk in the Monterey’s construction, flames were sucked into the air intakes leading to the lower decks, spreading the fire inside the ship.

In a Dec. 28 New York Times commentary, Drury and Clavin remembered Ford’s actions.

Halsey had ordered Monterey’s skipper, Capt. Stuart H. Ingersoll, to abandon ship as the Monterey blazed from stem to stern, they wrote.

Ford stood near the helm, awaiting his orders.

“We can fix this,” Drury and Clavin quoted Ingersoll as saying. With a nod from his skipper, Ford donned a gas mask and led a fire brigade below. All the while, they wrote, aircraft-gas tanks exploded as hose handlers slid across the burning decks.

“Into this furnace, Ford led his men, his first order of business to carry out the dead and injured,” they wrote. “Hours later, he and his team emerged burned and exhausted, but they had put out the fire.”

After the fire, Monterey was declared unfit for service. But historical documents credit Ford’s courage for ensuring that nearly all its men survived to take part in the Battle of Okinawa.

Typhoon Cobra delivered the Navy’s worst “defeat” of World War II, capsizing three destroyers, damaging 12 more ships, destroying 150 planes, and killing 793 men, historians note.

And it nearly made a casualty of the future president.

Ford was later promoted to lieutenant commander, and he ended his Navy career in 1946 at that rank.

(This article was based in part on information obtained from the U.S. Navy's Web site, and on the book “Halsey’s Typhoon” and a Dec. 28, 2006, New York Times commentary, both by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.)
Get the book.

Fleet Admiral Nimitz letter on the typhoon here:
In the light of hindsight it is easy to see how any of several measures might have prevented this catastrophe, but it was far less easy a problem at the time for the men who were out there under the heaviest of conflicting responsibilities. The important thing is for it never to happen again; and hence, while it is impracticable herein to go into all the factors involved and the experiences undergone, some of the outstanding lessons will be discussed.
And they were.

Mr. Ford went on to become the first unelected president of the United States, but once again a steady hand was needed on the helm:
When Gerald R. Ford took the oath of office on August 9, 1974, he declared, "I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances.... This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts."
He also said: "Our constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws, not of men."

Right man, right time...

UPDATE: More on Admiral Halsey here.

Gulf of Aden Martime Security Zone

From the U.S. Maritime Administration

4. SUGGESTED CORRIDOR THROUGH THE GULF OF ADEN ALONG TRACKLINE JOINING: 12-15N 045-00E, 12-35N 045-00E, 13-35N 049-00E, 13-40N 049-00E, 14-10N 050-00E, 14-15N 050-00E, 14-35N 053-00E, 14-45N 053-00E. ***
On the map above, I have laid in (very roughly) the corridor.

UPDATE: From the Navy Times:
Things are about to get even more intense in the Gulf of Aden, already a perennial global hotspot, as U.S. and allied naval forces clamp down on piracy in the troubled waters.

U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain announced the establishment of a maritime security patrol area in the waters between the coasts of Somalia and Yemen; the area will be patrolled by allied naval forces under Combined Task Force 150.
Cmdr. Jane Campbell, public affairs officer at 5th Fleet, said the patrol area could be described roughly as a rectangular shape over the Gulf of Aden, with a constant allied naval presence. “The number will vary, but we’ll have ships on station,” she said. “This is not a long-term solution; it’s a short-term, focused operation.”

Along with surface patrols, shore-based aircraft, shipborne helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles also will keep a weather eye on the Gulf of Aden.
UPDATE: Ken Adams sends along, as he puts it, a more "refined" map:
Ken, by the way, blogs here.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Meanwhile North Korea restarts nuclear weapons program

Perhaps you missed the story -AFP: NKorea halts denuclearisation
North Korea said Tuesday it has stopped disabling its nuclear plants and will consider restoring them because the United States has failed to remove it from a terrorism blacklist.

The communist state accused the US of an "outright violation" of a six-nation nuclear disarmament deal and said work to make the plutonium-producing plants at Yongbyon unusable had halted on August 14.

"Secondly, the DPRK (North Korea) will consider soon a step to restore the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon to their original state as strongly requested by its relevant institutions," said a foreign ministry spokesman.

The US says the North must accept strict procedures to verify the declaration it made in June of its nuclear activities before it can be taken off the blacklist, which blocks US economic aid.
Real analysis at

Pyongyang plays a wild card
The timing of Pyongyang's announcement that North Korea intends to resume its development of nuclear warheads was either uncannily brilliant, or incredibly dumb.

Coming in the midst of the Democratic national convention in Denver, the statement from the North Korean Foreign Ministry had American officials talking, but was barely noted after a brief flurry of reports that the North had "suspended" the dismantlement of its nuclear program.

So much for that televised image of the blowing-up of the cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear complex two months ago. And so much for the pronouncements that North Korea had moved on to the "next stage" of the nuclear agreement of February 2007, and would soon be ready to get rid of its whole nuclear program.

North Korea can go about reversing the perceived progress engendered in recent months and then present Bush with a full-blown nuclear crisis before he steps down near in January.

Then it will be up to Bush's successor to decide whether he's willing to go through a serious escalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula while also attempting to make good on promises to get out of Iraq. It's just possible that Obama's first gesture as president would be to strike North Korea's name off the terror list in a show of dedication to the peace process - and a slight at Bush for having been so stubborn.

Whatever happens, though, North Korea is not going to submit to a process of "verification" of what it's doing just appease the American perception of what's meant by its promises to go "non-nuclear". As the North Korean Foreign Ministry statement noted, the North is not about to yield to the "brigandish demand" of the Americans and submit to a "house search" like those that American troops conduct in Iraq.

The frankness of North Korea's refusal of an acceptable "verification protocol" would appear to fly in the face of all the sweet talk between Hill and North Korea's nuclear envoy, Kim Kye-gwan. It's always possible, however, that North Korea is engaging in an enormous bluff - and is not actually intent on rebuilding nuclear warheads.
Read the whole thing...

"Scholars" (I call B.S.) question Palin credentials

The key to this report -Scholars question Palin credentials- lies in the update:
Update: After reading this article, the McCain campaign issued the following statement: "The authors quote four scholars attacking Gov. Palin's fitness for the office of Vice President. Among them, David Kennedy is a maxed out Obama donor, Joel Goldstein is also an Obama donor, and Doris Kearns Goodwin has donated exclusively to Democrats this cycle. Finally, Matthew Dallek is a former speech writer for Dick Gephardt. This is not a story about scholars questioning Governor Palin's credentials so much as partisan Democrats who would find a reason to disqualify or discount any nominee put forward by Senator McCain."
I, uh, question their objectivity. And common sense.

UPDATE: The "scholars" in question stated, among other things:
... Joel Goldstein, a St. Louis University law professor and scholar of the vice presidency. “Being governor of a small state for less than two years is not consistent with the normal criteria for determining who’s of presidential caliber,” said Goldstein.

“I think she is the most inexperienced person on a major-party ticket in modern history,” said presidential historian Matthew Dallek.

That includes Spiro T. Agnew, Richard Nixon’s first vice president, who was governor of a medium-sized state, Maryland, for two years, and before that, executive of suburban Baltimore County, the expansive jurisdiction that borders and exceeds in population the city of Baltimore.

I guess Jon Edwards, whose political expertise at the time he became Sen. Kerry's running mate included almost 6 years in the Senate, without any other elective office history or any experience in executive matters whatsoever even as the mayor of a town of 9,000 or as governor of a state, was overlooked for some reason.

Somali Pirates: Another Malaysian tanker taken in Gulf of Aden

Somali pirates have nabbed another ship in the Gulf of Aden - a sister ship to a tanker grabbed earlier- as set out here:
Pirates have hijacked a tanker and its 41 crew members off Yemen's coast in the Gulf of Aden, the owner said Saturday.

It was the second tanker owned by MISC Berhard to be hijacked in the gulf in the last 10 days, and maritime officials said Somali pirates are believed to be behind both attacks. There have been eight hijackings in the gulf since July 20.

In the latest, MT Bunga Melati 5, laden with 30,000 metric tons of petrochemicals, was heading to Singapore from Yanbu in Saudi Arabia when it was attacked late Friday, MISC said.

The ship, which has 36 Malaysian and five Filipino crew members, was sailing within a security corridor patrolled by a multinational force when it was seized, the company said.

"The vessel attempted evasive maneuvering before being overpowered by the hijackers. The coalition forces within the vicinity were alerted but were unable to prevent the hijacking as safety of the crew onboard is of priority," MISC said in a statement.
Ship photo is of MISC tanker Bunga Melati 4.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Probably the Best Vote Prediction Device Ever


U.S. Aid ships offload in Republic of Georgia

Coast Guard Cutter Dallas and USS McFaul (DDG-74) offload in port of Batumi, as set out here:
"The crew of Dallas really wants these goods to make a difference in the lives of the Georgian people," said Capt. Robert Wagner, commanding officer of Dallas. "When we received the order to deliver these supplies, the men and women of this ship responded quickly at every turn."

USS McFaul (DDG 74) arrived in Batumi Aug. 24 delivering 155,000 pounds of aid to Georgia. USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC 20) is scheduled to deploy for Georgia at the end of the month with more supplies. U.S. Navy C-9, C-40 and C-130 aircraft have flown tens of thousands of hygiene kits and more than 30 tons of meals ready-to-eat into the country during the past week.

Photo captions: top to bottom
BATUMI, Georgia (Aug. 27, 2008) The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Dallas (WHEC 716) sits in port shortly before the off-load of more than 76,000 pounds of humanitarian assistance supplies to be given to the people of Georgia has finished. The humanitarian supplies are brought in response to the request of the government of the Republic of Georgia. Dallas is part of Combined Task Force 367; the maritime element of the U.S. humanitarian assistance mission to Georgia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Eddie Harrison/Released)
SOUDA BAY, Crete (Aug. 20, 2008) Bottled water is loaded aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul (DDG 74). Nearly 55 tons of supplies were loaded as part of the humanitarian assistance for the Republic of Georgia following the conflict between Russian and Georgian forces. The assistance will aid in alleviating human suffering in the Republic of Georgia. (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Farley/Released)

Somalia: Indian Navy to Provide Food Escort?

Indian Navy awaits government nod to escort ships to Somalia:
The Indian Navy is awaiting the government’s nod to provide escort to ships carrying life-saving assistance to Somalia under the aegis of the United Nations, a senior naval official said.“The navy’s request to protect the UN shipments from pirates is with the government. The Indian Navy is ready and keen to provide its assistance in the UN food programme as it will enhance our credentials as a professional navy in the region,” the senior navy official told IANS Thursday.

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) is responding to urgent humanitarian needs in Somalia. Over 2.4 million Somalis rely on food aid, of which 80 percent arrives by sea.

Food supplies are urgently needed in Somalia but danger posed by pirates has made delivery difficult by land and sea routes. In July the WFP had appealed to naval powers to help protect its ships carrying life-saving assistance from pirate attacks, saying that as many as two million Somalis could go hungry without this essential help.

“We cannot claim to be a power with global impact if we do not take up responsibilities. We are ready to protect the ships passing through the Mozambique Channel (between Madagascar and South east Africa) which is plagued by piracy,” the official added.
Good for India, which owns the world's fifth largest navy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another linkage of terrorism and sea piracy

From the Global Terrorism Analysis, Terrorism Monitor section of The Jamestown Foundation, a piece by John C.K. Daly, Terrorism and Piracy: The Dual Threat to Maritime Shipping
Whether motivated by ideology or simple greed, neither maritime terrorism nor piracy is likely to be solved soon. On April 26 a jihadist website posted its "Jihad Press Opinion: Maritime Terrorism Is Strategic Necessity," which commented:

"The Crusader-Zionist campaign has nothing left besides roaming the sea. For more than a year, one after the other, armed battalions off the beaches of Yemen have started to hunt commercial [vessels], tourism [vessels], and oil tankers. In the current phase, it has become a necessity to the mujahideen in conducting a global campaign to restore the Islamic Caliphate and to rule the world through it. The next step is to control the sea and ports, starting with those surrounding the Arabian Peninsula… It becomes necessary to develop the battle to include the sea, and as the mujahideen have managed to form martyrs’ brigades on the ground, the sea remains the next strategic step toward ruling the world and restoring the Islamic Caliphate. The beaches of Yemen are considered the links between the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The latter overlooks the Strait of Bab al-Mandab in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. This region represents a strategic point to expel the enemy from the most important pillars of its battle. If it is unable to protect itself in this strategic region, then it cannot protect itself on the ground and its naval bases under the blows of the mujahideen” (hanein.info, April 30; see also Terrorism Focus, May 13).
See here for link of Somali pirates to insurgent Islamic extremist forces.

Gulf of Aden: Martime Security Patrol

Press release from Commander, Naval Forces Central Command/Combined Maritime Forces here:
The Commander, U.S. Naval Central Command has directed the establishment of a Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) in the Gulf of Aden. A force of Coalition Navy warships will patrol the area, and aircraft will fly in the airspace above.

Commodore Bob Davidson (Canadian Navy), commander Combined Task Force 150, will command naval forces in the patrol area.

The MSPA is being established in support of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) ongoing efforts. Coalition actions will give the IMO time to work international preventative efforts that will ultimately lead to a long-term solution.

Coalition ships are in the area as part of our continual presence in this region. While they have conducted routine operations in the area in the past, the establishment of the MSPA will focus the efforts to counter destabilizing activities in the region and improve security while long-term initiatives mature.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Shipping limits through the Bosphorus

Interesting read on U.S. intentions with respect to the Black Sea at Oktay Eksi: United States scratches the Montreux Convention itch.

I won't comment on his conjecture about what reasons other than Georgia the U.S. might want access to the Black Sea for, but it should be noted:
The Montreux Convention limits the total weight of a single warship that countries not bordering the Black Sea can deploy to 15,000 tons. Country’s bound by the agreement can deploy warships totaling a maximum of 45,000 tons.
So, if you wonder why we are sending destroyers and a Coast Guard cutter...now you know.

UPDATE: More on the Montreux Convention here and here.

Reading Suggestions

Silly things the political class say: CDR Salamander: Did VA invade MD?

Fred Fry is back with Maritime Monday 124 (yes, I know it says "Monday" but, as I have said before, you can read it all week and it full of choice maritime materials). Fred covers, among much other stuff, the recent shipment of wine from France by sailship. Too green for words...

Senator Joe Biden's plagarism and lying explained for a new generation:
The sheer number and extent of Biden's fibs, distortions, and plagiarisms struck many observers at the time as worrisome, to say the least.

Sea Robbers of the Med

Reported in Yachting Month Pirate attack in French waters:
Armed pirates boarded a £20 million charter yacht in the Med and robbed passengers and crew of more than £100,000 in cash.
By the way, you can charter Tiara for your own adventures - see here:
Luxury sailing yacht Tiara provides five luxurious staterooms offering maximum yacht charter accommodation for 12 guests. The owner’s ‘apartment’ carries over two different levels and features a superb study and a lobby. The full beam master also features a large marble bathroom and a king sized bed. There are four further spacious guest stateroom cabins; two of which also have Pullman bunk berths. Tiara has large and separate crew accommodation for up to 12.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The fossil fuel known as natural gas and a real dodo

Unlike some people, you might like to know more about natual gas.

And, if you wonder why this might be of interest, see here, where the Speaker of the House demonstrates why she deserves yet another EagleSpeak Dodo Award.


Somalia: Pirates' Mother Ship?

NPR does a nice job here with a discussion of the pirates of Somalia plying their trade in the Gulf of Aden:
The International Maritime Bureau, a Malaysia-based agency which tracks piracy world-wide, says the some pirates appear to be using "mother ships," to bring their speed-boat crews out into the sea lanes where they can attack.
The United Nations passed a resolution in June authorizing "all necessary means" to repress piracy in the region, allowing foreign warships to enter Somalia's territorial waters in pursuit of pirates. The resolution acknowledged that Somalia has no power to interdict pirates or patrol its own coast. In fact, the country has not had a central government with any significant power since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
But shipping companies and piracy experts say that so far, the nations that have the military power to take action under the U.N. mandate, haven't done so. "The U.N. Resolution has done nothing to prevent these attacks," says Pottengal Mukundan, the director of Commercial Crime Services for the International Chamber of Commerce.
There is a coalition naval force in the region, composed of ships from the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, Germany and Pakistan, which is reportedly tracking the hijacked vessels. But Mukundan says that once a vessel has been taken, it's too late for military action that would further endanger the crew.
UPDATE: ICC Commercial Crime Service Warning:
Gulf of Aden

To all ships transiting the Gulf of Aden

Within the last 48 hours four ships have been attacked and hijacked by armed pirates in the vicinity 13 / 14 degrees north and 046 / 051 degrees east. All ships are strongly advised to maintain a strict visual and radar watch.

Early detection will allow ships to take measures to prevent boarding and request for assistance.

All attacks and suspicious sightings should be reported to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre,
Tel: +603 2031 0014 (24 hours)
Email: imbkl@icc-ccs.org

Intelligence sources revealed that there are now two suspicious trawlers in the Gulf of Aden believed to be pirate mother vessels looking to attack ships with the intent to hijack.

The description of the suspected trawlers - long white, Russian made stern trawlers with names "BURUM OCEAN or ARENA or ATHENA". One of the trawlers is believed to be operating at approximately 60 NM NE of Bossasso, Somalia in the Gulf of Aden.

All ships are strongly advised to maintain a strict 24 hours visual and radar watch while transiting these waters and report any attacks or suspicious boats including the trawlers named above to the 24 hour IMB PRC. Tel: +603 2031 0014 / +603 2078 5763 email: piracy@icc-ccs.org
The "Barum Ocean" is pictured above. A picture of what may be the "Arena" or "Athena" is shown below:

Coast Guard Cutter Dallas Joins USS McFaul in delivering aid to Georgia

Reported as Second U.S. aid ship bound for Georgia passes Turkish straits:
The Coast Guard cutter Dallas entered the Dardanelles; as a giant crane unloaded 55 tons of aid from the USS McFaul for refugees in Batumi, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of another port, Poti, where Russian troops are still present.

This has been the first U.S. humanitarian mission via the sea to Georgia since the start of the conflict on Aug. 8, when Russia sent forces into Georgia to repel an attack on the Moscow-backed separatist region of South Ossetia that Tbilisi had started the day before.

U.S. Navy officials were met by Georgian officials, including Defense Minister David Kezerashvili.

Kezerashvili said that "the population of Georgia will feel more safe from today from the Russian aggression." "They will feel safe not because the destroyer is here but because they will feel they are not alone facing the Russian aggression," he was quoted by the AP as saying.

The McFaul is also outfitted with an array of weaponry, including Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can carry both conventional or nuclear warheads, and a sophisticated radar system. For security reasons the Navy does not say if ships are carrying nuclear weapons, but they usually do not.

The command ship USS Mount Whitney is due to follow the two U.S. warships carrying relief supplies to Georgia. The U.S. has already delivered some aid by military cargo plane but is now shipping in beds and food for the displaced.

NATO-member Turkey has authorized the three U.S. ships to sail through the Turkish straits into the Black Sea.
UPDATE: How the emergency supplies got on Dallas:
Souda Bay, Crete, Greece (Aug 21, 2008) -- Coast Guard personnel load humanitarian assistance supplies aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Dallas. The supplies are destined for the Republic of Georgia following the conflict between Russian and Georgian forces. The assistance will aid in alleviating human suffering in the Republic of Georgia.
U.S. Navy photo/Paul Farley

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Ship History: Monitor Ships

After the revolutionary USS Monitor introduced the gun turret to the world, navies around the world adopted designs similar if not identical to that "cheese box on a raft" for use as coastal protection ships. See here.

After several years, variations began to appear, including the breastwork monitor:
A ‘Monitor’ is an ironclad vessel, with gun turrets and a low freeboard presenting a reduced target to the enemy guns such that the deck is washed by the waves. A ‘Breastwork Monitor’ has an extra deck that raises the turrets. It marked the beginning of the central superstructure of modern warship design, as well as the end of sail power on battleships.
As seen in a nearby picture, USS Monitor was a pretty basic design. The next step is shown in the form of HMS Ceberus:
Purpose-built in 1870 to protect Melbourne gold, and for 30 years the flagship of Australia’s largest colonial navy. The first British warship to be powered purely by steam; the first ship in the world to mount rotating gun turrets on a central superstructure; its heavy iron superstructure and light iron hull represent a radical departure from wooden warships. The Cerberus’ primary heritage significance is as a unique example of an important early stage in the technological development of the modern battleship. Its design utilised cutting edge developments in metallurgy, steam power, gun turrets, and low freeboard (‘Monitor’) design.
There a couple of pictures of Cerebus nearby, one made at her completion and a more recent photo of her serving as a breakwater off Australia's Half Moon Bay in which the rings for her turrets are more clearly seen.

From the recreation to the right you can seen the beginnings of modern battleships - the raised gun mounts with clearance for the large guns to turn to targets while protecting the gun crews.

From the Ceberus sprang other designs, including HMS Devastation the following description of which makes clear the distinction between the role of the "monitor ships" and true battleships:
Devastation was a breastwork monitor, built to attack enemy coasts and harbours; because of her very low freeboard, she lacked the seaworthiness needed to fight on the high seas; her decks would be swept by water and spray, interfering with the working of her guns
Compare Ceberus to more modern U.S. designs like USS Monterey (BM-2) shown nearby -
Monterey is true monitor, built for coastal defense and shore bombardment - a purpose for which she and some of her sister ships fulfilled during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Monitor style ships were active during World War I, as noted here:
In the 20th century the term 'monitor' was revived for shallow-draft armoured shore bombardment vessels, particularly those of the British Royal Navy: the Lord Clive class monitors carried guns firing heavier shells than any other warship ever has.
More on the Clive class here:
Three of the ships, HMS General Wolfe, Lord Clive and Prince Eugene, were to be converted to take the BL 18 inch guns that had originally been allocated to HMS Furious. The guns were fixed, firing to starboard, in a large housing amidships with control for elevation only, the ship being turned to effect traverse. The enormous rounds and charges were transported to the gunhouse on a light railway fixed to the main deck. Work was completed on two of the ships but the end of World War I intervened before Prince Eugene was finished. Both of the converted ships saw action. The original 12 inch turret was left in place to maintain stability.
General Wolfe fired on a railway bridge at Snaeskerke, four miles (6 km) south of Ostend, Belgium, on 28 September 1918. The range of 36,000 yards (33 km) made this the greatest range at which a Royal Navy vessel has ever engaged an enemy target using guns. Lord Clive fired a mere four rounds with the replacement gun at enemy targets.
More on this 18" gun system here.

World War II also saw monitor style warships - as a primarily Royal Navy concept- with the development of the Roberts class. The primary use of these ships was naval gunfire support.

With the end of WWII, the time of the monitor ships also passed, though there can be made some argument that the low freeboard arsenal ship was direct descendant of the original "monitor" idea...

Obama: Vets "veterans are seven times more likely to be homeless" - really?

Senator Obama visited Raleigh and held a "town hall meeting" as recounted here. Of course, these event touch on matter the campaigns feel are important - including, apparently, homeless veterans:
The final query of the evening came from a disabled American veteran who lives in a homeless shelter with 200 other men, half of which are veterans. The veteran also cited his troubles in getting his disability compensation. Obama stepped off the stage and shook the veterans hands, thanking him for his service to our country. Obama said veterans are seven times more likely to be homeless because they do not have enough help transitioning back to civilian life. He said we must start screening all soldiers upon discharge for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, the two signature Iraq war injuries, and offer immediate care. He also said there is zero tolerance for homeless veterans and advocated for housing assistance, job training, substance abuse help, and better mental health services before thanking the enthusiastic crowd and saying good night.
As it happens, I have been doing some research on homeless veterans and I question Senator Obama's "seven times" contention. In fact, I can't figure out where it comes from.

First, as with any statistic, the question must be asked to what group is he comparing "homeless veterans" with in order to generate his statistic. Or, in other words, "Seven times more likely than what other group?"

Senator Obama did not cite a source. However, according to a study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness: Vital Mission Ending Homelessness Among Veterans (hereafter "Homeless Report"):
Veterans make up a disproportionate share of homeless people. They represent roughly 26 percent of homeless people, but only 11 percent of the civilian population 18 years and older. This is true despite the fact that veterans are better educated, more likely to be employed, and have a lower poverty rate than the general population.
From CNN Homeless veterans face new battle for survival:
Jacobo is one of an increasing number of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who come home to life on the street. The Department of Veterans Affairs is fighting to find them homes.

Veterans make up almost a quarter of the homeless population in the United States. The government says there are as many as 200,000 homeless veterans; the majority served in the Vietnam War. Some served in Korea or even World War II. About 2,000 served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Let's see, 200,000 less 2000 (Iraq/Iran vets)= 198,000. Let's guess that the number of Korean War and WWII vets on the streets is pretty slim (due to their ages) - say 3,000. That leaves 195,000 "homeless veterans" who "served in the "Vietnam War."

Now, there was "serving in Vietnam" and "Vietnam era service." Vietnam era service meant that you could have served in the U.S. or Germany or Japan or somewhere else (but not Vietnam) for your entire military hitch sometime during the Vietnam War.

There also was "in country" Vietnam service, also subdivided into serving as a front line soldier or service as support personnel. There was Vietnam service on ships off Vietnam, and service as a pilot or air crewman flying over Vietnam.

It is not clear from the research how many of the homeless "Vietnam veterans" are in country veterans, but it does make a difference in certain percentages.

The US Census Bureau (2004) reports there are 8.2 million "Vietnam Era Veterans". Of these 2.59 million are reported to have served "in country".

195,000/8.2 million= .0237 or 2.4% of the "Vietnam Era" veterans who are homeless.

195,000/2.59 million= .075 or 7.5% of the "Vietnam in country service" veterans who are homeless.

Total population of homeless persons: 740,000 (includes children)(as noted in a footnote to the Homeless Report: "If children were taken out of the 744,313 total, veterans would make up a larger percentage of the homeless population. This suggests that 26 percent is a conservative estimate. Either way, this estimate falls within the bounds of past research. Rosenheck (1994) reviewed research studies and found that between 29 and 49 percent of homeless men are veterans.")

If the U.S. population is 300,000,000 people and 740,000 are homeless, then the percentage of the homeless population compared to the general population is about .25%.

(740,000/300,000,000= .0025). If you take out the veteran homeless, there are 547,600 non veteran homeless and 267,000,000 non veteran total population -assuming 11% veterans). In other words, about .2% of the non-veteran population is homeless.

If veteran's represent 11% of the U.S. population, then there should be about 33,000,000 veterans. If the veteran population matched the .2% general population then there should be (.002 x 33,000,000)approximately 66,000 homeless veterans. Instead, the data indicates about 3 times that number are veterans. While that is high, it is not anywhere near the 7 times number mentioned by Senator Obama.

Perhaps my math is bad...if it is, please let me know.

And, by the way, the issue of homelessness for veterans seems to be closely connected to substance abuse and mental illness...
The VA reports that 45 percent of homeless
veterans suffer from mental illness, including many who report high rates of post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD)...
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 70 percent of homeless veterans suffer from substance abuse problems, with considerable overlap between mental illness and substance use disorders.16 Although these overall rates of mental illness and substance abuse are similar to other homeless adult males, some research suggests there is more alcohol dependence and abuse among homeless veterans than homeless nonveterans. Persons with substance abuse problems may have trouble maintaining employment and meeting their
monthly housing costs.
I wonder if any cross studies have been performed on the number of homeless veterans who were tossed out of the service for substance abuse? In other words, how many of these homeless vets have discharges of less than honorable or purely adminsitrative because they were not good performers in the service either? And I wonder what checking was done to verify actual veteran status?

Latest ONI Worldwide Threats to Shipping Report (to 20 August 2008)

Latest ONI Worldwide Threats to Shipping Report (to 20 August 2008)cna be found
here. Highlights:
1. GULF OF ADEN: UKMTO releases flash security alert for the Gulf of Aden, 21 Aug 08. There is extremely high activity in the Gulf of Aden over the past few days with three vessels have been taken and two attacked. Two vessels have been taken this morning on 21 Aug 08. It is strongly advised that vessels transit the region maintaining 35-40NM off the Yemen coast and keep clear of the area bounded by 12:40N-046:40E south of the Somali Coast and from 14:30N-53:00E south to Socotra (remaining at the very least 50nm from the island). It must be pointed out though the last incident with the Chemical Tanker (IRENE) has taken place north of the northern attack line and UKMTO is monitoring this closely. CTF 150 continues to patrol its region (UKMTO).

2. GULF OF ADEN: IMB issues piracy warning to vessels in the Gulf of Aden, 19 Aug 08. The IMB has issued a fresh piracy warning to all vessels sailing in the Gulf of Aden. In addition to the most recent activity, there have been four further hijackings since the beginning of June. Three additional vessels have also been fired upon since that time. IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan stated, “The situation in this region is grave. We are seeing at least one attack every couple of weeks. These pirates are not afraid to use significant firepower in attempts to bring vessels under their control. Unless further action is taken, seafarers remain in serious danger whilst navigating the GOA. In all reported instances, vessels have been approached by speedboats containing men armed with machine guns and RPG launchers. In their attempts to slow down and board the vessels, the pirates have opened fire against the unarmed merchant ships. It is understood that coalition warships have intervened and helped prevent two of the attacks. This is in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1816 (2008) that allows states cooperating with Somalia to enter its territorial waters in order to repress acts of piracy and armed robber “by all necessary means”. Mr. Mukundan continued, “Whilst the intervention of coalition navies has helped in isolated cases, it is by no means a long-term solution. It is clear that the threat or presence of coalition navies has done little to stem the tide of attacks in this region.” The IMB advises that Master maintain strict 24-hour piracy watches and be especially wary of any approaching smaller crafts. The IMB urges the reporting of all actual or attempted attacks, as well as any suspicious vessel movements, to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre. ONI COMMENT: Shortly after this reporting was released, the (BUNGA MELATI DUA) was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden. Three more vessels, including the (IRENE were hijacked on 21 Aug 08 in the eastern Gulf of Aden as well (IMB, ONI).
1. SOMALIA: Tug (YENAGOA OCEAN) hijacked 4 Aug 08, 0300 local time, near
Bosasso. The vessel traveled to an unknown destination. Pirates are reportedly demanding 1 million USD. The vessel had a crew of nine Nigerians (Operator, IMB, LM: thisday.com).
2. GULF OF ADEN: Cargo ship hijacked 21 Aug 08 at 0945 UTC while underway in
position 12:57.9N- 048:56.7E, 107NM south of Al Mukalla, Yemen. No further information (Operator, IMB).
3. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk cargo reported suspicious approach 21 Aug 08 at 0920 local
time/0620 UTC, while underway in position 13:15.8N-048:52.8E, approximately 50NM off the Yemen coast. The vessel detected two boats. The first boat was of dark grey without a superstructure and several people on board, and the second boat (a little further away from the first boat) white in color. Both of them were detected from five to ten degrees off the port side at a radar distance of 1.5 miles. The first boat crossed the vessel’s bow from port to starboard. The vessel took evasive maneuvers, altering to the starboard side. The dark grey boat was reportedly
attempting to follow the vessel. The speed of the suspected boat was 7.5kts. Then the vessel inverted the course to 90 degrees for 15 minutes and the suspected boat moved away. The vessel then altered its course to 180 degrees for 30 minutes. At 1020 local time the vessel resumed its initial course of 257 degrees and proceeded with a speed of 15 kts following another vessel at a distance of 8.5 miles from the bow (Operator, IMB).
4. GULF OF ADEN: Chemical tanker (IRENE) hijacked 21 Aug 08 at 0358 UTC, while underway in position 14:26.42N–049:56.46E, 45NM east of Al Mukalla, Yemen. The vessel is transporting approximately 10,000 mt of chemical / flammable cargo. There are 19 crewmembers onboard, two Russians, one Croatian, and 16 Filipinos (Operator, IMB, REUTERS).
5. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk cargo hijacked 21 Aug 08 at 0223 UTC, while underway in
position 13:49.3N–050:23.9E, approximately 82NM southeast of Al Mukalla, Yemen. The vessel was fired upon and boarded, no further information (Operator, IMB).
6. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk cargo reported suspicious approach 20 Aug 08 while underway in position 13:37N-050:11E, 79NM southeast of Al Mukalla, Yemen (UKMTO).
7. GULF OF ADEN: Chemical tanker (BUNGA MELATI DUA) hijacked 19 Aug 08, 1730 local time while underway in position 12:45.2N–047:57.7E, 123NM southwest of Mukulla, Yemen. There are 39 crewmembers onboard the vessel, traveling from Indonesia to Rotterdam with a cargo of crude palm oil. No direct contact has been made with the captain of the ship (Operator, IMB, BBC).
8. GULF OF ADEN: Cargo vessel (THOR STAR) hijacked 12 Aug 08 at 1418 UTC while underway in position 13:07.35N-050:10.75E, 75NM northwest of Caluula. A Yemeni naval official reportedly stated that the ship sent out a distress signal after coming under heavy fire from armed pirates about 100 miles off the Yemen coast. The ship is believed to have been en route from Southeast Asia with a cargo of timber. The vessel has a crew of 28 Thai nationals (Operator, UKMTO, IMB, TW).
9. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk carrier (GEM OF KILAKARAI) fired upon 8 Aug 08 at 0515 UTC (Operator) 0345 UTC (IMB) while underway in position 13:11N–049:55E, 85NM northwest of Caluula. Pirates in two white speedboats, armed with guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers chased and fired small arms. They fired an RPG at the vessel; however, the RPG did not detonate. The master contacted the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre for assistance. The USS PELELIU was reportedly ten miles away when the attack occurred and responded by sending three helicopters to the scene. Upon seeing the warship, the pirate boats moved away. The warship sent a team to dispose of the RPG found on the bridge wing. No reported injuries
(Operator, UKMTO, IMB, LM: cargonewsasia.com, military.com).
10. GULF OF ADEN: Bulk carrier (STELLA MARIS) hijacked 20 Jul 08 at 0430 local
time/0011 UTC while underway in position 13:16N-050:02E, approximately 87NM northwest of Caluula, Somalia. The vessel was enroute Suez when UKMTO Dubai was alerted via INMARSAT that pirates were onboard, repeated three times before the line went dead. No returned calls were answered. The ships operators were alerted and at the same time a SSAS message was received by the operators and forwarded to UKMTO. According to Puntland presidential advisor Bile Mohamoud Qabowsade, there were 38 heavily armed pirates that stormed the ship while sailing in international waters. Hared Ise Umar, the District Commissioner of Caluula, stated that the hijackers sailed the vessel close to Caluula and indicated he expected the vessel to sail to Eyl (Operator, UKMTO, IMB, AFP, LM: hornafrik.com).

Somalia: A couple of failed pirate attacks

Well, the headline says Pirates try but fail in attempts to hijack two ships of Somalian coast, but the real story lies in having a response force nearby:
Bureau spokesman Noel Choong said pirates in two speedboats first attacked a Japanese-operated ship with a crew of 20 in the Gulf of Aden as it was heading to the Middle East from Singapore.

He says the Japanese ship managed to outrun the pirates in an hour-long chase and that none of its crew was injured.

A Liberian cargo ship in the area was attacked about three hours later in the same manner.

The ship's captain called the piracy centre in Kuala Lumpur, which alerted a naval patrol force in the area and a military aircraft sent to the scene managed to scare off the pirates.

The military aircraft was part of the multinational naval force currently deployed in the area. Choong declined to give details about the type of aircraft used or to which country it belonged.
I can't believe there isn't a emergency radio channel that merchant captains can't use to immediately tell the "naval force" they're in trouble.

And, where are the drones patrolling the skies along the sea lanes?

Somali Piracy Linked to Islamic Radicals

Is there a link between the pirates of Somalia and the Islamist radicals fighting the interim government of Somalia? One is claimed here:
An explosion of piracy this month off the coast of Somalia is funding a growing insurgency onshore as the hijackers funnel hefty ransom payments to Islamist rebels, a maritime official said on Sunday.
The spike in attacks at sea has coincided with a rise in assaults on land by radical al-Shabaab insurgents, including the capture on Friday of Somalia's strategic southern port Kismayu.

The United States say al-Shabaab is a terrorist group with close ties to al Qaeda. Experts say some of the businessmen and warlords who command the pirates are also funding the rebels.

"The entire Somali coastline is now under control of the Islamists," Andrew Mwangura, head of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, told Reuters in an interview.

"According to our information, the money they make from piracy and ransoms goes to support al-Shabaab activities onshore."
Of course, there is this Newsweek piece that asserts that the Islamists, when temporarily in control of Somalia, halted piracy:
The U.S. War on Terror has produced yet another unintended consequence. Two years ago piracy in the Horn of Africa was almost stamped out. The Islamists who took over Mogadishu and parts of Somalia in 2006 defeated several militias involved in piracy and warned others that they'd face punishment under a harsh version of Sharia. This tactic worked: "During the summer of 2006 there were no attacks [on ships] at all," says Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB.
But the Bush administration—which had tried to block the Islamists' rise by supporting a rival warlord faction—suspected Somalia's new leaders of sheltering Qaeda operatives. So Washington backed neighboring Ethiopia when it invaded in December 2006. The Ethiopians ousted the Islamists in short order and installed a U.N.-backed transitional government. But this only plunged Somalia into anarchy once more. Today the government can't even control the capital, let alone the country.

Whereas the Islamists managed to enforce a period of relative calm, now dozens of militias are battling for power once more. The pirates, some backed by warlords affiliated with the transitional government, have exploited the chaos.
The real trick is spotting the pirates before they strike. The Gulf of Aden, which separates the Horn of Africa from the Arabian Peninsula, is crowded with small fishing boats and motorized cargo dhows that provide easy cover. The buccaneers typically disguise themselves, pile aboard a large dhow and then sail up to 240km out to sea in search of slow-moving, low-hulled prey. Having spotted a target, they launch two or three motorized skiffs, use ropes and grappling hooks to climb aboard, and subdue the crew, using automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. Former hostages report that the bandits mix the modern and the medieval. They've been known to slaughter goats to roast on captured ships and spend much of their time chewing the narcotic leaf khat. But they also use GPS devices, satellite phones and spies in nearby ports such as Dubai and Djibouti to find their victims.
Power and money. And a lot of water.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Maritime Security: Human Smuggler Boat Caught by Recreational Boater

Reported at The Log.com:
At 9:30 a.m., the Coast Guard received a VHF radio report from a recreational boater about a vessel severely overloaded with passengers, making way about 18 miles off Point Loma.

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) patrol boats, and the Coast Guard Cutter Haddock converged on the scene to find 20 suspected illegal immigrants crammed aboard the 20-foot skiff, La Estrella.

The suspects were turned over to CBP marine interdiction agents for further processing. La Estrella was towed by the cutter back to Coast Guard Station San Diego, where it remains impounded.

“This is a good example of how a vigilant boater can directly contribute to the protection of our homeland,” said Capt Tom Farris, commander of Coast Guard Sector San Diego. “We appreciate the assistance and invite the help of America’s boating public to assist the Coast Guard in keeping our waterways safe and secure.”

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Somalia: Pirates add Iranian, Japanese tankers to their swag

Somali pirates are on a tear in the Gulf of Aden, adding a couple of more tankers to their growing captured inventory, as set out here:
An Iranian and a Japanese tanker have been reportedly hijacked by pirates off Somalia's coast while sailing through the Gulf of Aden.

The two tankers were hijacked Thursday morning between 10 am (0200GMT) and 11am (0300GMT) in the Gulf of Aden bringing to six the number of ships seized in the region in the past month, AFP quoted a maritime watchdog as saying.

"The Iranian and Japanese ships have been attacked by pirates off the Somali coast and have been successfully hijacked by the pirates," Noel Choong, head of the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre said.

"We have notified the US-led coalition naval forces but we are unable to release the names of the vessels or give further details of the vessels as it's still an ongoing operation," he said.

"We call on the United Nations to take urgent steps to stop this menace as they are the only ones who can do it."
UPDATE: SOmali pirates have added a German cargo ship to their bag, as set out here:
Later in the day, a German-operated cargo ship, flying the Antigua and Barbuda flag, was hijacked in the vicinity, he said. No details about the crew were available.
He said the piracy center in Kuala Lumpur received a distress call about the German hijacking from a passing ship.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Somalia: Pirates seize Malaysian tanker

Pirates seize Malaysian tanker off Somalia's coast:
A global maritime watchdog says pirates have seized a Malaysian tanker with more than 20 crew in the Gulf of Eden off the coast of Somalia.

Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, says the center picked up a distress signal late Tuesday and immediately notified Western naval ships patrolling the area.

Choong said Wednesday that a warship has been sent to intercept the tanker, which is currently heading toward Somalia territorial waters, adding that this marked the fourth hijacking in Somalia within a month.

UPDATE: More information flows in - a reportthat the latest capture is a "palm oil tanker:
The Bunga Melati Dua, with a crew of 39, was headed toward Rotterdam in the Netherlands from Indonesia when it was seized in the Gulf of Aden yesterday, MISC said in a statement. The ship's crew included 29 Malaysians and 10 Filipinos and it was hijacked at 10:09 p.m. Kuala Lumpur time, the statement said.
Photo from here. Ship owner website.

UPDATE2: Canadian frigate, enroute to World Food Program escort duties, passes near previously captured ships:
Within the past five days, HMCS Ville de Quebec came within about 25 kilometres of two small bulk carriers that had been seized by Somalian pirates.

"On our radar . . . we had two vessels that we knew had been taken by pirates," Cmdr. Chris Dickinson, the warship’s captain, said Tuesday in a telephone interview from the frigate, which is docked in Mombasa, Kenya.

"So the threat is real. It’s almost eerie coming down that coast and seeing a radar contact with a name on it . . . and knowing that those vessels are held by pirates."

The Canadian warship is under orders to stay away from vessels that have already been seized by pirates.

"The crew’s lives are in danger, and ransoms (of millions of dollars) are being demanded from the companies who own them," Cmdr. Dickinson said.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Another reason to go Taliban hunting...

As reported by Bill Roggio: Taliban suicide bomber strike at Pakistani hospital, kills 29:
A Taliban suicide bomber killed 29 Pakistanis and wounded 35 in an attack at the Emergency Ward of District Headquarters Hospital.

Most of those killed were family members visiting the body of a man murdered by the Taliban in a bazaar earlier that day. "The people had gathered around his dead body when the bomber blew himself up," the Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Five policemen were also killed in the attack.

The Taliban have taken credit for the hospital suicide bombing. An unnamed Taliban spokesman "accepted the responsibility for the blast and warned to carry out more such explosions if operations in Swat and Bajaur were not halted," the Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
Let the Taliban take all the credit they want...

+ =

Political Playground Games

Having been locked away in a secluded room all day I was only able to hear occasional news highlights, which, of course, were full of this high level rhetoric from Senator Obama:
"One of the things that we have to change in this country is the idea that people can't disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism. I have never suggested that Sen. McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition. I have not suggested it because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America's national interest. Now, it's time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same. . . ."
Of course, as so well set out here, that just a mind trick:
Of course, if Obama were to accuse McCain of picking his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition, everyone would laugh, because it obviously is not true. By contrast, there is quite a bit of evidence that Obama has placed political expediency above national security ...

In politics one often hears the charge of hypocrisy: My opponent criticizes me for X, but he has done Y, which is just as bad or worse. Obama's argument here, though, is roughly opposite in form. He concedes that McCain is above reproach on this particular subject and therefore demands that McCain treat him as if he were beyond reproach. Obama's acknowledgment of a McCain virtue is well and good, but it does not mitigate or excuse his own shortcoming.
In short, long on talk, short on proof. In fact, the proof we can find seems to support Senator McCain's observations. Which is , I guess, why tricks are needed.

What next? A return to speeches like the one allegedly used by George Smathers against Claude Pepper in 1950?
"Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper before his marriage habitually practiced celibacy."

CDR Salamander's "Must Read" Post

Interested in U.S. Naval strategy? Then you've got to read this.

Disaster Relief --- from Ships

The U.S. Maritime Administration has struck a deal with the Transportation Command to provide ships for "humanitarian emergencies" - as set out in this MARAD
press release
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration announced today that it has signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense’s United States Transportation Command to use National Defense Reserve Fleet (RRF) ships, particularly DOT’s Ready Reserve Force, to support government response to civil emergencies at home, as well as for defense sealift and humanitarian response overseas.

The agreement, signed by Maritime Administrator Sean T. Connaughton and General Norton A. Schwartz, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, formalizes using the ships in ways that have been tested under emergency conditions. During the hurricane season of 2005, RRF ships in Beaumont, Texas, provided the template for one use of the ships: emergency vehicles were driven on board two RRF ships berthed in Beaumont, where they were sheltered from Hurricane Rita, and were thus ready to respond to local emergencies when the storm was over. Other RRF ships provided food and shelter for recovery workers and first responders on the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

Since its inception in 1976, the primary purpose of the RRF is to provide the U.S. Transportation Command with strategic sealift support for combatant commanders. The 44 ships of the RRF are owned by the Maritime Administration, crewed by civilian merchant mariners, and managed by commercial U.S. companies. The new agreement details the procedures the agencies will use for civil contingencies and national disasters such as the safe storage of emergency vehicles, providing fuel for local emergency services, or berthing and feeding of first responders.
This idea is not a new one. It has previously been discussed here, here. Also worth visiting is Professor Whitehurst's site here, which features his papers on "Hurricane Relief from the Sea."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Coasties Need Modern Icebreakers for "New" Arctic Realities

The U.S. Coast Guard has two big, new polar ice breakers. Well, they were new about 30 years ago... and the new realities of the push into the newly accessible, potentially rich Arctic (see here) has the Coasties pointing out they need new ice breakers now!
The National Academy of Sciences, the Coast Guard and others have warned over the past several years that the United States’ two 30-year-old heavy icebreakers, the Polar Sea and Polar Star, and one smaller ice-breaking ship devoted mainly to science, the Healy, are grossly inadequate. Also, the Polar Star is out of service.
Adm. Thad W. Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, who toured Alaska’s Arctic shores two weeks ago with the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, said that whatever mix of natural and human factors is causing the ice retreats, the Arctic is clearly opening to commerce — and potential conflict and hazards — like never before.

“All I know is, there is water where it didn’t used to be, and I’m responsible for dealing with that,” Admiral Allen said in a recent interview. Given the 8 or 10 years it would take to build even one icebreaker, he added, “I think we’re at a crisis point on making a decision.”
Ice breakers ain't cheap and need a long lead time, as some of us who were around when the current ships were built recall.

Time to get a move on - Congress needs to put money into the Coast Guard, and the Coast Guard needs to spend it smartly.

Once Again: The Drug Runner Semi-Submersible Threat

For some time, we've been following the increasing use of submarines and semi-submersibles by drug smugglers (a problem not limited to the Americas -see here involving Spain).

Now, a recent article in Air & Space Power Journal by Admiral James Stavridis titled Semi-submersibles: An Emerging Threat in the Americas is raising the issue again, as evidenced by a report from the Boston Globe.

Admiral Stavridis offers some interesting information:
One key mission of U.S. Southern Command is to help our law enforcement partners interdict large shipments of drugs – primarily cocaine – in the transit zone between the Andean ridge of South America and our country. Most of this moves at least a major part of its long journey by sea. Traditionally, illicit traffickers have hidden large shipments of drugs in commercial maritime cargo and fishing vessels. When law enforcement placed a squeeze on those modes, traffickers simply shifted to hundreds of “go fast” boats to support movement of their valuable cargo, often successfully intermingling with local traffic during peak recreational boating times.

Now there is a new approach – and it is a smart, effective innovation. The latest turn of the wheel seems to be low profile, relatively small (60-80 feet); semi-submerged “submarines” that skim just below the surface and carry tons of cocaine. After seeing just a few in 2006, we are now finding dozens both at sea and under construction

In ever-increasing numbers, these stealthy, pod-like vessels depart expeditionary shipyards nested deep in the dense jungles and estuaries of the Andes region of Latin America. Carefully ballasted and well camouflaged, they ride so low in the water that they are nearly impossible to detect visually or by radar at any range greater than 3,000 yards. Loaded to capacity with tons of drugs they plod steadily and generally unobserved at less than ten knots toward designated drop-off points, depositing their payloads of sorrow and death–translating into thousands of deaths in the USA-- for further transit to global consumer markets.
Semi-submersible, low-profile vessels transport drugs for profit, and they do so effectively. It does not take a great leap to imagine what danger awaits us if drug traffickers choose to link trafficking routes and methods with another -- perhaps even more profitable -- payload. In simple terms, if drug cartels can ship up to ten tons of cocaine in a semi-submersible, they can clearly ship or “rent space” to a terrorist organization for a weapon of mass destruction or a high-profile terrorist.
According to the Globe article:
So far this year, the Coast Guard says it has encountered at least 27 such vessels headed toward the southern and western United States, more than in the previous six years combined, while far more are believed to have gone undetected, according to US military and law enforcement officials.

The growing number and increased sophistication of the vessels, officially designated "self-propelled semi-submersibles," has set off alarms at the highest levels of the US military and the federal Department of Homeland Security. Counterterrorism officials fear that what drug runners now use to deliver cocaine, terrorists could one day use to sneak personnel or massive weapons into the United States.
More here from The Economist:
Now it seems the traffickers have perfected the design and manufacture of semi-submersible craft (although they look like submarines, they don't fully submerge). In 2006, American officials say they detected only three; now they are spotting an average of ten a month.

Of those, only one in ten is intercepted. Many sail up the Pacific coast, often far out to sea. With enough cargo space to carry two to five tonnes of cocaine, they also carry large fuel tanks, giving them a range of 2,000 miles (3,200km). They are typically made of fibreglass, powered by a 300/350hp diesel engine and manned by a crew of four. They normally unload their cargo onto fast power boats for the final leg to shore. None has been sighted unloading at ports or beaches.

Congress recently has begun to act to do something about this problem, as set out here:
Drug smugglers who ship tons of cocaine in on handmade subs are about to get the U.S. Coast Guard treatment. Because of a loophole in U.S. maritime law, the orange navy can't stop unflagged ships in international waters, meaning that these little subs and semisubmersibles can float legally right up to our waters. But new legislation OK'd this week in the House and set for consideration in the Senate will let federal authorities stop unflagged vessels in international waters. It's an antiterrorism and antidrug issue that came to Washington's attention when handmade drug subs loaded with 12 tons of coke started showing up. From 2001 to 2007, 23 incidents involving the vessels occurred. This year, there have been 29, and the Coast Guard speculates that the vessels are responsible for moving 32 percent of all cocaine between Colombia and the United States.
Senator Lautenberg's press release on the proposed bill here. Senator Joe Biden has his own bill as set out here:
In recent years, drug trafficking organizations have started using Self-Propelled Semi-Submersible watercraft (SPSSs) to transport large amounts of cocaine from Colombia to Central America, Mexico, and ultimately the United States. SPSSs are similar to submarines in that they can operate with a significant portion of their hull below the waterline, which makes them hard to detect. When the vessel operators realize they have been spotted by law enforcement, they can open a valve and scuttle the SPSSs by quickly flooding the watercraft. As a result, the SPSSs and any drugs on board quickly sink to an unrecoverable depth. The 3 to 4 man crew then jumps overboard. Since no narcotics are recovered, they avoid prosecution and law enforcement can only rescue them and return them to land.

The "anti-drug war" crowd is, not surprisingly, scoffing at the proposals, as seen here:
This is the kind of legislation that makes drug lords cough up their caviar with laughter. They're building submarines in the f@#king jungle. They'll dig a tunnel from Bogota to Brooklyn if they have to and I really don’t understand why Joe Biden is even bothering to pretend they give a damn about anything he does. Give us a break, seriously.
It might be nice if the Congress would pony up with more dollars for the Coast Guard so they can fund new ships, aircraft (I wonder if blimps might be good for anti-SPSS patrols?) and other tools to fight this threat.