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Monday, April 30, 2012

Offshore East Africa: Deep Water Natural Gas Bonanza

Offshore reports the trend of continued success in locating gas in the deep waters off East Africa: Mozambique, Tanzania emerging as prolific deepwater gas plays. How big? Anadarko's Chairman says:
“This could be one of the most important natural gas fields discovered in the last ten years,with significant long-term benefits for Mozambique.”
Benefits? From the Offshore report:
Mozambique's government was anxious for work on the project to start, he said, both for the incoming tax revenue in the longer term and for the near-term impact on jobs creation in the area. At peak, he forecast that construction of the initial LNG plant would involve 7,000 workers, with more employment opportunities for the second train.
Following meetings with local villagers, fishermen and farmers, Anadarko has filed an application for land to build the onshore reception and process facilities. The port of Ofungi is the chosen site for the LNG plant. "The nearby city of Palma only just received electric power for the first time last year, so there is potential for this project to change the area significantly," Vardeman observed. "Also, an aircraft landing strip will be built of sufficient size to land a 747 at least." At the coastal location, materials offloading and LNG loading facilities will be constructed. The proposed beach front site is large enough to accommodate LNG carriers turning, he said, although when the tide goes out a large area of flat sand appears.
Assuming the final investment decision is taken toward the end of 2013, first gas could flow in 2018. But this is a very competitive market, Vardeman noted, "and we must convince buyers that this will be a reliable source of LNG. Also, this will be our first LNG plant, so they need to count on us to be there a long time." On the other hand, Vardeman explained, having Bharat Petroleum, Videocon, and Mitsui as partners was helpful for marketing the Area 1 gas to India and Japan. "It's an optimal location, close to India, and the distance to Japan is the same as to Europe," Vardeman said.
Oh, those horrible oil and gas companies, applying their technology in such a way as to benefit the poor of Africa.

LNG for Japan and Europe.

Another blow to the former gas monopolists in Russia.

Too bad the world is running out of energy . . . not.

Of course, there are those Somali pirates to deal with.

All illustrations credit Anadarko.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Midrats - Sunday 5pm (Eastern U.S.): Episode 121 "Front Burner: The Attack on the USS COLE"

Join us Sunday 29 April at 5pm (Eastern U.S.) for Episode 121: "Front Burner The Attack on the USS COLE" on Midrats at Blog Talk Radio:
As many are looking back at the last decade+ of war, many want to forget. Indeed, as reported by Michael Hirsh in National Journal, "The war on terror is over," one senior State Department official who works on Mideast issues told me. "Now that we have killed most of al Qaida, now that people have come to see legitimate means of expression, people who once might have gone into al Qaida see an opportunity for a legitimate Islamism."

Perhaps it is time to look back even further, before 911, to see how we got here.

Our guest this Sunday for the full hour will be Kirk Lippold, CDR USN (Ret), Commanding Officer of the USS COLE (DDG-67) at the time of her attack 12 OCT 2000 in the port of Aden, Yemen - and author of the new book, a first hand account of the attack from the Commander's perspective, Front Burner: Al Qaeda's Attack on the USS Cole.
Join us by going Episode 121: "Front Burner The Attack on the USS COLE" on Midrats at Blog Talk Radio or by listening or downloading the show from Midrats at Blog Talk Radio or from iTunes.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Naval Power: Freedom of the Seas and the Global Marketplace

Interesting speech on foreign policy given by Senator Marco Rubio at the Brookings Institution with a key section (at about 1:25) highlighted over at the Heritage Foundation: "Rubio Is Right: Naval Power Pivotal to U.S. Foreign Policy". First, a portion of the speech, via a Brookings video: The Heritage Rubio money quote:
Even in our military engagements, the lasting impact of our influence on the world is hard to ignore. Millions of people have emerged from poverty around the world in part because our Navy protects the freedom of the seas, allowing the ever-increasing flow of goods between nations.
And some Heritage analysis:
Alas, however, in recent years, the importance of a navy in U.S. foreign policy has not enjoyed the attention it should. The Obama Administration’s much-announced focus on the Pacific theater and U.S.–Chinese relations is lacking in both conviction and capabilities. The absence of a rhetorically firm, well-coordinated, and multifaceted policy toward China’s deviations from liberal economic practices and abuses of human rights has been noted elsewhere, but of material concern is the inadequate defense structure that is taking shape in the midst of strategic ambiguity and looming, indiscriminate budget cuts.

By contrast, China’s military spending steadily increases. This is particularly concerning when one considers Chinese intimidation in the region. And now, China appears complicit in materially destabilizing the region’s security; evidence points to continued Chinese assistance in North Korea’s efforts to build a successful long-range missile program.

Gulf of Guinea Pirates: Driving Up Freight Rates

West Africa Piracy 2012 (to date) - IMB Map
Platts reports an increase in shipping rates from Europe to West Africa due to piracy issues - at Piracy fears push NWE-WAF clean freight above NWE-US Atlantic Coast:
Clean freight rates for cargoes loading in Northwest Europe and discharging in West Africa are higher than for cargoes discharging in the US Atlantic Coast, Platts data shows, with shipping sources saying Thursday this is due to fears of piracy.***
The technical explanation has do to with the need to spend more time steaming farther off shore to limit piracy risks that rise with anchoring inshore.

Monday, April 23, 2012

"Stirring up the South China Sea"

A new analysis of the problems of the South China Sea - a frequent topic here and on Midrats - is available from the International Crisis Group with its release of "Stirring up the South China Sea (I)" as its press release indicates:
China is one of its own worst enemies in the South China Sea, as its local governments and agencies struggle for power and money, inflaming tensions with its neighbours, illustrated by Beijing’s latest standoff with the Philippines.

Stirring up the South China Sea , the latest report by the International Crisis Group, exposes the domestic political and economic contradictions undermining China’s efforts to restore relations with its neighbours, as the U.S. expands its influence in the energy-rich and strategically important South China Sea. Beijing must ensure that the eleven ministerial-level agencies involved, and in particular the law enforcement agencies, respect one coherent maritime policy and end confusion over what constitutes Chinese territorial waters.
The site includes an executive summary and the full report in pdf format.

U.S. Coast Guard and Navy Team with Merchant Vessel to Rescue Fishermen with Burning Boat Problem

From the U.S. Coast Guard media center, "Ten fishermen rescued from burning ship in Pacific":
APRA HARBOR, Guam – The Coast Guard, U.S. Navy and Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue partners, coordinated in the rescue of 10 crewmembers forced to abandon ship due to a shipboard fire 700 miles west of Guam Saturday.

Coast Guard Sector Guam watchstanders received an initial alert from an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon from the Hsin Man Chun, a 70-foot Taiwanese fishing vessel, at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Watchstanders then received a call from rescue coordination center Taipei, China reporting that a sister ship of the Hsin Man Chun received a radio call indicating the crew was planning to abandon ship.

A Navy P-3 Orion long-range search aircraft from Patrol Squadron 1 stationed at Kadena Air Base, Japan, overflew the vessel and reported eight crewmembers in a life raft and two more on the bridge of the burning vessel. The P-3 crew deployed two life rafts to assist the crewmembers that remained behind. They passed the location of the distressed crewmembers to the Semirio, a Marshallese flagged bulk carrier diverted to the area by the Coast Guard.

The Semirio was only 40 miles away from the distressed vessel and was asked to assist. Once on scene, the 950-foot bulk carrier launched a small boat and successfully rescued all 10 crewmembers. The Semirio is one of many foreign flagged vessels operating in the Pacific that voluntarily participate in the AMVER System.

Very nice coordinated effort. BZ to all involved!

Images are U.S. Navy photos from DVIDS.

Somali Pirates: South Africa Joins the Game

Reported as South African Navy helps catch pirates:
In the end, it seems clear that a loud message has gone out that SANDF forces, as part of SADC armed forces, will not allow illegal activities within SADC waters,” the Navy said in a statement. “It is also clear that the Tripartite agreement between South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania, and the subsequent deployment of SADC forces to safeguard our sea lanes, is paying off dividends in ensuring the safety of our seafarers and their precious cargoes. To the sailors and air crew of the SAS Drakensberg, the operational planners of Chief of Joint Operations and all others involved; we salute your valiant efforts!”

A trilateral agreement was signed by South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania in February this year, allowing the three countries the right to, among other things, patrol, search, arrest, seize and undertake hot pursuit operations on any maritime crime suspect. In accordance with the trilateral agreement, this allows the SA Navy to patrol as far as Tanzania.
UPDATE: An earlier report of Tanzania protecting its valuable gas fields and arresting pirates:
"The pirates arrested in Tanzania were in close communication with a mother ship that has seven more pirates. A Spanish vessel has managed to arrest the pirates on this mother ship and they are being brought to Tanzania today for custody."

Mgawe said the mother ship used by the pirates was formerly a Sri Lankan fishing vessel with six crew members on board.

"The Tanzanian navy has been conducting regular patrols to ensure Somali pirates do not enter our territorial waters from deep seas to carry out attacks," he said.

UPDATE2: EUNAVFOR report on the rescue of the crew of the pirated "mother ship" from here:
Happy Sri Lankan fishermen wave as they depart Spanish ship on Tanzanian patrol ship (EUNAVFOR photo)
On Wednesday 18 April, EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Spanish warship, ESPS Infanta Elena rescued 6 Sri Lankan fishermen and their fishing vessel from 7 suspected pirates. The fishing vessel had been in the hands of suspect pirates since November 2011 and was reportedly being used as a mother-ship to launch attacks against merchant shipping in the region.

At sunset on 18 April, 50 miles off the coast of Tanzania, ESPS Infanta Elena identified the pirated vessel and after closing its position, the Spanish boarding team went on board. Once there, they identified the 7 suspected Somali pirates and 6 Sri Lankan crew. The men received much needed medical care and were provided food and water. Earlier the same day, 5 suspect pirates had been arrested by Tanzanian maritime forces when their attack skiff, believed to have been operated from the Sri Lankan vessel, beached on the Tanzanian coast.

The tired, but very relieved Sri Lankan fishermen were handed over to Tanzanian maritime forces close to Dar Es Salaam on 21 April and the European Union, via its delegation in Tanzania helped to ensure that the crew could quickly make contact with their families. Arrangements are now being made to fly the fishermen home to Sri Lanka.

As there is currently no agreement on the transfer of suspect pirates between the European Union and Tanzania, the suspect pirates were released by ESPS Infanta Elena to the Somali coast on Monday 23 April. With the on-going negotiations with the Tanzanian authorities, it is hoped that a transfer agreement will be in place in the near future.
There is a slight disconnect on the fate of the pirates on the mother ship.

Somali Pirates: Fishing Vessel Hijacked Off Yemen

NATO Shipping Center reports at NSC | All Alerts:
21/04/2012 22:35:34 Location: [035] GOA - ARABIAN SEA 17 nm south of RAS FARTAK 15 20 N 052 12E Latitude: 15 20 N Longitude: 052 12 E Alert Details: At 1700 UTC / 21 APR 12 / a fishing vessel was hijacked by pirates in position 15 20 N 052 12E 17 nm south of Ras Fartak.
I guess the pirates needed a new mother ship.

Tough on the fishermen, though.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Discussion Points: "If I wanted America to fail"

Here's the note from the YouTube site:
The environmental agenda has been infected by extremism—it's become an economic suicide pact. And we're here to challenge it. On Earth Day, visit

Israel Interdicts Suspected Weapon Carrying Ship

The Jerusalem Post reports "IDF boards ship allegedly smuggling arms to Gaza", the IDF being the Israel Defense Force. The ship being identified as a Liberian-flagged ship named HS Beethoven:
Commandos from the navy’s Flotilla 13 unit boarded a cargo ship, the HS Beethoven, in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday night on suspicion it was trying to smuggle weapons to the Gaza Strip. The ship, which was flying a Liberian flag, was intercepted by Israel Navy vessels approximately 260 km. from Israel’s coast. Commandos boarded the ship with the captain’s consent and began searching cargo containers for arms.
It appears from the body of the article that the headline is misleading. The vessel might be suspected of attempted smuggling of weapons, but it is not "allegedly smuggling" such items until such weapons are found aboard the ship, which it appears, as of the time the report, had not happened, though I suspect that an intelligence source put the alert out on this vessel.

UPDATE: Report now is that no weapons found on vessel. See here.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Midrats Sunday, 5pm (Eastern): Episode 120 - "The Navy's Pacific Problem"

Join CDR Salamander and me for Episode 120: "The Navy's Pacific Problem" at Midrats on Blog Talk Radio, Sunday, 22Apr 2, 5pm (Eastern U.S.):
Throughout out nation's history in the Pacific and more recently, the Indian Ocean, there have been a few cornerstone challenges that remain regardless of technology, strategy, or geopolitics; the tyranny of distance and the reality of square miles. The large open ocean, and the challenge of bases and resupply.

Both theaters are defined by their ocean, and no power can impact events these areas without a strong naval presence. In an environment of shrinking budgets, a fleet with a paucity of auxiliaries, and a future fleet that will have as a major portion of units a shallow water, limited mission, short range, LCS with a high reliance on base support - are we building a navy to meet strategic requirements, or are we trying to find a strategy to meet the fleet we are building?

Our guest for the full hour will be Robert Haddick, Managing Editor of Small Wars Journal. He writes the "This Week at War" column for Foreign Policy Magazine that covers current military developments, defense strategy, emerging threats, Pentagon planning, service doctrine, and related topics. We will use his article, "The Navy's Pacific Problem", as a reference point for the show's discussion.

Haddick was a U.S. Marine Corps officer, served in the 3rd and 23rd Marine Regiments, and deployed to Asia and Africa. He has advised the State Department and the National Intelligence Council on strategy and irregular warfare issues.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Somali Pirates: Cyberwar and simple spy craft?

Interesting article in National Defense by Michael Frodl, "Pirates Exploiting Cybersecurity Weaknesses in Maritime Industry":
Sea pirate tool?
The increasingly common hacking attacks on government and private computer networks are now being perpetrated on companies and organizations involved in the burgeoning private maritime security industry.

It appears that ship owners and shippers are mostly oblivious to even the most elementary rules of not only cybersecurity, but more importantly, of information security.

They should be paying more attention to this issue. Somali pirates and their confederates, especially their foreign bankrollers, are increasingly surfing the Web for loose information that can help them with targeting vulnerable and valuable ships. They are hiring experts who know how to break into the “secure” computers of ship owners and shippers and obtain information that is not being shared with the public, including blueprints to ships and the insurance they carry.

It is not enough to protect networked computers with technological fixes such as firewalls, tripwires and passwords. They can only provide so much security. One also has to train staff to not give away vital information to strangers in person or over the phone, or by just throwing out revealing documents without shredding them first.

... the smarter pirates have avoided giving away early clues of their intent. Guided by a ship’s Automated Information System, they zero in on a specific prize, go out at the last minute, pile on to her deck and hijack her so fast that the modern naval warships on the prowl and their fast response helicopter-borne sharpshooters can’t show up in time.

The last hijacking of 2011 was precisely this sort of operation. The Enrico Ievoli was carrying caustic soda from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, and was targeted in a premeditated way. Her itinerary, cargo and crew, location, and the fact that she didn’t have armed guards were all known in advance by her Somali attackers, thanks to help from the Italian mafia, which commissioned the hijacking. She was grabbed practically under the noses of the foreign navies patrolling and assuring the security of the Gulf of Aden corridor.
Read the whole thing.

Loose lips (and computers) can result in captured ships.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Drug Submarines: Coast Guard, partner agencies interdict 5th Western Caribbean drug sub

Good news from the Coasties -Coast Guard, partner agencies interdict 5th Western Caribbean drug sub:
A sinking self-propelled semi-submersible vessel was interdicted in the Western Caribbean Sea March 30, 2012 by the crews of the Coast Guard Cutter Decisive, Coast Guard Cutter Pea Island, Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S), and the Honduran Navy. The cutter Pea Island and Decisive's pursuit boatcrews interdicted the SPSS and detained four suspected smugglers. The SPSS sank during the interdiction in thousands of feet of water. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
The crews of the Coast Guard Cutter Decisive, Coast Guard Cutter Pea Island, Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S), and the Honduran Navy interdicted a drug smuggling, self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) vessel in the Western Caribbean Sea March 30.

Cutter Pea Island
SPSS vessels are used regularly to transport illegal narcotics in the Eastern Pacific, and this interdiction is only the fifth Coast Guard interdiction of an SPSS in the Caribbean. The Coast Guard’s first interdiction of a drug smuggling, SPSS vessel in the Western Caribbean Sea happened July 13, 2011:

A Coast Guard Air Station Miami aircrew, working in the Caribbean in support of JIATF-S Operation Martillio, spotted a suspicious vessel and notified 7th Coast Guard District watchstanders of the location.

Cutter Decisive
The cutter Pea Island and Decisive diverted to the given position. The cutter Pea Island and Decisive's pursuit boatcrews interdicted the SPSS and detained four suspected smugglers. The SPSS sank during the interdiction in thousands of feet of water.

"Medium endurance cutters like the Decisive are built for multi-week offshore patrols including operations requiring enhanced communications, and helicopter and pursuit boat operations," said Capt. Brendan McPherson, 7thCoast Guard District chief of enforcement. "When combined with patrol boats like the Pea Island, which has superior speed and flexibility, it helps us and our partners to provide the Coast Guard's unique blend of military capability, law enforcement authority, and lifesaving expertise wherever needed to protect American interests."

Built in the jungles and remote areas of South America, the typical SPSS is less than 100 feet in length, with four or five crewmembers, and carries up to 10 metric tons of illicit cargo for distances up to 5,000 miles. Drug traffickers design SPSS vessels to be difficult to spot and to rapidly sink when they detect law enforcement, thereby making contraband recovery difficult.

The U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, Customs and Border Protection, and partner nation aircraft and vessel crews work together to conduct counter drug patrols in the Caribbean Sea.

The Decisive is a 210-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Pascagoula, Miss.

The Pea Island is a 110-foot patrol boat homeported in Key West, Fla.

Somali Pirates: Spanish Navy Ship Takes Out a Mother Ship (with a little help from friends)

Reported at as "Spanish Warship Reina Sofia Rescues Innocent Somali Crew Held Hostage By Pirates":

On Saturday 14 April Spanish warship ESPS Reina Sofia, who is now operating as part of the EU's counter-piracy mission, Operation Atalanta, stopped a Yemeni dhow that was suspected of carrying armed Somali pirates. The French Air Force Awacs E3F, FS Dixmude and her helicopters, as well as an Australian Maritime Patrol and Reconnaisance Aircraft (MPRA) contributed to this operation. As a result they were able to successfully release 4 innocent Somali crewmen who were being held as hostages onboard.

Spanish Marines boarded the dhow that was believed to have been used as a mother ship and related to several pirate attacks in the area. After transferring the 20 men from the dhow to Reina Sofia, four of the men were quickly identified as innocent Somali crewmembers and they are now being cared for by the Spanish crew. Two Yemeni crew had reportedly already been let go by the suspect pirates after the dhow was pirated in late March.

As a result of her actions, Reina Sofia took out the threat of 16 pirates and their use of the dhow as a mother ship to attack merchant shipping in the Indian Ocean. The dhow and the Somali crew can now return safely to the homeport in Yemen.

As neither the crew of the dhow, nor the master of the attacked merchant vessel filed a complaint, the 16 suspected pirates will be released.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Somali Pirates Go "Mother Ship" Hunting, Grab Yemeni Fishing Boat

Reported as "Yemeni fishing vessel seized by Somali pirates in Arab Sea"
Somali pirates hijacked a Yemeni fishing vessel in the pirate-infested waters of the Arab Sea, Yemen's Interior Ministry said Monday.

"The vessel owned by Yemeni fisherman Ahmed Nasser ... has reported a crew of nine Yemeni fishermen on it," the ministry said in a statement on its website. It provided no further information on the condition of the crew.
Well, it being Yemeni and all, you know that it wasn't taken for the big ransom it would bring.

The pirates use such vessels to extend their attack range. UPDATE: In the "sorta related" news category, there is an odd report that a pirate haven was attacked by "aircraft" of unknown origin, as seen at SOMALIA: War planes strike Somalia’s Bari region, 2 fisher men wounded:
At least two Somali fishermen were wounded in the old coastal district of Gumbah, which is 200km east of Bosasso, the capital of Bari region in the semi-autonomous state of Puntland, RBC Radio reports. The strike which occurred on midnight of Monday targeted boats on the coast of the district wounding two people, Gure Ali Daad who is the permanent secretary of the district commissioner told RBC Radio by phone. “The air strike begun late on the night about 1.00 p.m (local time), two planes targeted fisher men returning from the coast. Two fishermen were injured.” Gure Ali Daad said. “We heard at least two bombardments, we could not identify where the planes from, because they had no lights.” He added. Mr. Daad denied that his district hosted the pirates operating in Puntland coastal districts where they usually hold ships and receive ransom money.
Interesting. Odd, but interesting. More in this AFP report:
Last month the European Union authorised its navies to strike Somali pirate equipment on land, with a mandate for warships or helicopters to fire at fuel barrels, boats, trucks or other equipment stowed away on beaches. However, it was not possible to establish which nation the aircraft belonged to, and the EU force have not yet said they have ever launched such an attack. A spokesman for Atalanta, the EU anti-piracy mission, said it was "not involved whatsoever" and declined comment on who might be behind the strike. The United States also operates unmanned drones flying over the Horn of Africa nation, and have reportedly struck suspected Al-Qaeda allied fighters in southern Somalia.

North Korea: "Deal? What deal?"

The world's most irrational regime reneges on food for moritorium deal, as reported by the BBC at North Korea 'not bound by US nuclear deal':
North Korea says it is no longer bound by a moratorium on missile and nuclear tests agreed with the US in February in return for food aid.

The statement on Tuesday came after the UN Security Council condemned North Korea's failed rocket launch, seen by many as a test of missile technology.

North Korea dismissed the UN criticism and said the US had failed to honour its part of the deal.
As Gomer used to say, "Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!"


Monday, April 16, 2012

Iran Media Hype: "US uses piracy as excuse to control energy passage: Iran Navy official"

Iranian Aircraft Carrier "The Bob"
In the world of information warfare, the Iranians follow the old Avis slogan of "We Try Harder!" Hype is the polite word for most of their efforts.

Here's the latest gem from Iran's PressTV (all the misspellings are PressTV's, the highlight is mine): "US uses piracy as excuse to control energy passage: Iran Navy official":
The issue of piracy has provided the US with a pretext to maintain its presence in the strategic region of the Gulf of Aden and Bab al-Mandab Strait, Captain Khordad Hakimi told reporters on Sunday, IRNA reported.

Given the fact that some 65 and 35 percent of energy demanded by Europe and the US respectively passes through this region, the United States finds it necessary to compete for controlling and dominating the flow of energy, he added.

The commander also pointed out that the US has equipped pirates with weapons and satellite information to justify its presence in the region and thus control the flow of energy.

According to captain Hakimi, more than 20 countries have dispatched their naval forces to the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, but only Iran, India and Russia carry out independent missions while others work as joint maritime forces led by the US.
Now, let me turn the tables. Let me re-write parts of the "story" placing Iran as the subject:
An American Navy official says Iran uses the issue of piracy in the Gulf of Aden as a pretext to maintain presence in the region with the aim of controlling the flow of energy.

The issue of piracy has provided Iran with a pretext to maintain its presence in the strategic region of the Gulf of Aden and Bab al-Mandab Strait, Captain I.M. Nobody told reporters on Sunday, USNOTNEWS reported.

Given the fact that some 80 percent of energy shipped by Iran passes through this region and is vital to the Iranian economy, Iran asserts it necessary to compete for controlling and dominating the flow of energy, he added.

The commander also pointed out that Iran has equipped pirates with weapons and satellite information to justify its presence in the region and thus control the flow of energy.

According to Captain Nobody, more than 20 countries have dispatched their naval forces to the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, but only Iran, India and Russia carry out independent missions while others work as joint maritime forces led by the US.

The U.S. and its coalition partners have so far escorted or protected about a zillion ships in the Gulf of Aden, Nobody said, adding that a few of them came under attack by pirates, but were successfully rescued.

In line with international efforts against piracy, the U.S. Navy has been conducting patrols in the Gulf of Aden since the earth cooled in order to safeguard merchant containers and oil tankers owned or leased by the U.S. or other countries.

The Gulf of Aden, which links the Indian Ocean with the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea, is a strategic energy corridor particularly because the Persian Gulf oil is shipped to the West via the Suez Canal.

Despite patrols by Iran and several other countries allied with the West, Somali pirates have hijacked dozens of ships in recent years and have taken in tens of millions of dollars in ransoms.
Gee, that was fun and easy.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Midrats Sunday 5 pm (Eastern U.S.): Episode 119 Offshore Balancing the Indian Ocean

CDR Salamander and I venture again into the world of live internet radio Sunday, April 15 at 5pm (1700) U.S. Eastern with our Episode 119 Offshore Balancing the Indian Ocean 04/15 by Midrats on Blog Talk Radio:
What is real, and what is a mirage? Can something be a cost effective strategic option, or a fool's errand?

As outlined by our guests in their lates work in the periodical, Asian Security: An Ocean Too Far: Offshore Balancing in the Indian Ocean; the United States is beset by war weariness after over a decade of war and a half century plus of global committments. We find ourselves with a stagnant economy, and skyrocketing defense procurement costs. It is seductive to think of retiring from continental Eurasia, but if history calls us back - returning in times of systemic conflict would be problematic – even in the relatively accessible rimlands of Western Europe and East Asia.

In a part of the world with the planet's largest democracy - offshore balancing is close to impossible in the Indian Ocean.

As it turns out, offshore balancing in the Indian Ocean may be no balancing at all.

From "The complex network of global cargo ship movements" by Pablo Kaluza, et al. (oval added)
Our guest for the full hour to discuss their article will be U.S. Naval War College Associate Professors James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara.
Offshore balancing? What the heck is that? Tune in and find out - and, if you can't make the live show because you are buried in receipts and other paper as you try to reduce your tax burden before April 17 - well, join us in the "not so live" downloads from here or from the Midrats iTune page.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Counter-Pirate Private Armed Security Teams: The Economist Take

That the world of armed private security teams on ships is complicated will not be a surprise for those who have taken a look at Maritime Private Security: Market responses to piracy, terrorism and waterborne security risks in the 21st century, edited by Patrick Cullen and Claude Berube, but The Economist tries its hand at pointing out some of the legal ramifications of the those armed private security teams in its piece, "Piracy and private security: Laws and guns":
The idea may seem simple but its legal framework is not. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea a ship’s crew, including guards, must abide by the home laws of a vessel’s flag state. But these vessels ply international waters, meaning that regulation is scant. An array of standards created since 2009 suggests good practice for private security teams, but none is legally binding.
Yes, the world can be confusing place, what with all those different countries and their conflicting laws . . .

Somali Pirates: Danes Take Down Pirate Mother Ship, Rescue 12

"Danish navy frees hostages from pirates off Somalia," reports Reuters:
The Danish navy captured 16 Somali pirates and freed 12 captives when it intercepted a "mothership" vessel off the Horn of Africa, it said on Thursday.

The Danish warship Absalon, serving in NATO's counter-piracy mission Ocean Shield, stopped the vessel off the east coast of Somalia on Wednesday, boarded it without resistance, arrested the suspected Somali pirates and found the hostages.

"The operation was carried out without use of armed force," the Danish navy command said in a statement.

"As the Absalon approached the ship and hailed it, they surrendered right away," navy spokesman Mikael Bill said.

Update: NATO image of Jelbut-style fishing boat
Held by the pirates were three Iranians and nine Pakistani hostages, the original crew of the vessel, a Jelbut-type fishing boat seized by pirates about a month ago, Bill said.

West Africa (Gulf of Guinea) Pirates: Now Using Mother Ships?

MarineLink report: "Bergen Risk Solutions says Nigerian pirates now using mother ships":
Bergen Risk Solutions, the Norwegian based specialist in political, maritime and security risk assessments that puts a special focus on Nigeria and the Niger Delta, has identified a worrying new trend in Nigerian piracy - the use of mother ships and skiffs in a similar manner to Somali Pirate Action Groups.
Increased range for these pirates is not a good trend. No really failed state akin to Somalia nearby, though, so taking whole ships may not be too likely yet. Theft of moveables and kidnapping of crew members for ransom, though, is a long time practice in the region.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

South China Sea: China and the Philippines Tussle Over Scarborough Shoal

Reported as "China, Philippines dispute raises tensions in South China Sea" at
Two Chinese ships have blocked a Philippine naval ship from arresting Chinese fisherman for fishing in waters that the Philippines considers to be within its "exclusive economic zone." China has ordered the Philippine naval ship to leave, insisting that it has sovereignty of the area, while the Philippines refutes this.

Voice of America reports that the dispute is "the most dangerous confrontation between the two countries in recent years" and comes after both countries said they were seeking rapprochement.

The Philippine foreign ministry says the Chinese fishing boats were first noticed Sunday by Manila's flagship naval vessel, the U.S.-built Gregorio del Pilar.

Manila says the two Chinese surveillance ships on Tuesday positioned themselves between the warship and the Chinese fishing boats, "preventing the arrest of the erring fishermen."
This photo shows two Chinese surveillance ships which sailed between a Philippines warship and eight Chinese fishing boats to prevent the arrest of any fishermen in the Scarborough Shoal, a small group of rocky formations whose sovereignty is contested by the Philippines and China, in the South China Sea, about 124 nautical miles off the main island of Luzon on April 10.

Philippine Army photo
UPDATE: Fox News reports a possible diplomatic "resolution":
The Philippines and China agreed to resolve an ongoing naval standoff diplomatically, but neither side was ready to back down Wednesday in the most dangerous confrontation in the disputed South China Sea in years. Read more:

When the time comes . . . Mine Iran!

When I was a young naval officer, the gloves finally came off in the protracted war against what was then North Vietnam and we loaded up on various sea mines and took the war to the enemy (meaning those countries supporting NVN by sea) by sowing mines in the harbors of the North. Interdiction, blockade and power projection were all on display in one or two long days of dropping mines into the right place to shut down the North Vietnamese war material machine.

Now, there is at least one voice pointing out that the old favorite of the Iranians - the sea mine - could be used to halt their economy - for example. Commentary: "How to Defeat Iran" by George J. Gilboy:
One such option worthy of consideration: using mines around Iran's naval ports and oil-export terminals. This might create better leverage than a campaign of air strikes—without generating the death and destruction that could give Iran a cause for perpetual grievance. Mining would shut in both the Iranian navy and Iran's oil exports.

Modern U.S. naval mines are not indiscriminate weapons. They have programmable sensor-trigger mechanisms. These mines can be set to arm after a delay for a warning period, select targets based on a ship’s magnetic, pressure and acoustic signature, and they can be neutralized or cleared after a conflict.
But mining Iran's naval facilities could degrade Iran's ability to shut down the Strait of Hormuz or attack U.S. forces on patrol. Iranian minelayers, submarines and missile-armed surface ships would be trapped in their ports or unable to return to them safely.

Beyond that, mining Iran's oil-export terminals would impose considerable costs on the regime. According to the IMF, oil-export revenues account for more than 20 percent of Iran's $475 billion gross domestic product (GDP). Assuming that 80 percent of oil exports by sea can be halted by mines, and accounting only for lost oil profits, the net impact could be a loss of Iranian GDP equal to $59 billion over one year. This would be the equivalent of reducing Iran's GDP growth from today's 3 percent to around negative 12 percent.

And the impact could be even greater. Iran also imports a large portion of its refined oil products. With imports also interrupted, the total lost GDP could be in the range of $66 billion in one year. In the context of an economy that now suffers from 11 to 13 percent unemployment, this would put intense pressure on an already-divided Iranian society and its rulers.
While the author of the piece is bent on seeing mine warfare as an alternative to other sorts of bombing, missile attacks and more, I am not sure he appreciates the all risks incurred in playing the mine war card.

On the other hand, there may come a time when options have played out, and when that time comes . . . unleash the mines of war!

And standby with all the other tools.

You can gain some information on U.S. sea mines at the Current Mine Inventory section of this larger NavSea web publication, "U.S. Navy Mine Familiarizer." You might note that the pictures above that are not drawing of mines aremine delivery vehicles.

You might also note that Iran doesn't seem to have much of a mine countermeasures force.  You know that just might make mines - asymmetric . . .

Just a thought worth thinking about.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

An Afghan Tale of War Reporting - Compare and Contrast

CDR Salamander has a compare and contrast presentation of media coverage of the Afghan mission at his post "Another Media Smear of the Fallen" with a link to AfghanBlue's "The Red In the Center of The Patch".

If you want to know why there are MilBlogs and why they are important, go, read and ponder on the nature of reporting and Information Warfare.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Maritime Security: Robo Marine Security Helicopters - Testing Against Pirates

ONR image
Another tool in the maritime security kit- if it works - as set out in this Office of Naval Research press release, "Pirates, Beware: Navy’s Smart Robocopters Will Spy You in the Crowd":
Navy unmanned aircraft will be able to distinguish small pirate boats from other vessels when an Office of Naval Research (ONR)-funded sensor starts airborne tests this summer, officials said April 5.

Fire Scout UVAS
Called the Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS), the sensor is a mix of high-definition cameras, mid-wave infrared sensors and laser-radar (LADAR) technology. It will be placed on a robotic helicopter called Fire Scout. Carrying advanced automatic target recognition software, the sensor prototype will allow Fire Scout to autonomously identify small boats on the water, reducing the workload of Sailors operating it from control stations aboard Navy ships.

“Sailors who control robotic systems can become overloaded with data, often sifting through hours of streaming video searching for a single ship,” said Ken Heeke, program officer in ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. “The automatic target recognition software gives Fire Scout the ability to distinguish target boats in congested coastal waters using LADAR, and it sends that information to human operators, who can then analyze those vessels in a 3-D picture.”

Navy-developed target recognition algorithms aboard Fire Scout will exploit the 3-D data collected by the LADAR, utilizing a long-range, high-res, eye-safe laser. The software compares the 3-D imagery to vessel templates or schematics stored in the system’s memory.

“The 3-D data gives you a leg up on target identification,” said Dean Cook, principal investigator for the MMSS program at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD). “Infrared and visible cameras produce 2-D pictures, and objects in them can be difficult to automatically identify. With LADAR data, each pixel corresponds to a 3-D point in space, so the automatic target recognition algorithm can calculate the dimensions of an object and compare them to those in a database.”

The algorithms have been successfully tested in shore-based systems against vessels at sea. The software is being integrated into a BRITE Star II turret by a team from NAWCWD, Raytheon, FLIR Systems, BAE Systems and Utah State University for airborne testing aboard a manned test helicopter. The flight assessment will be conducted against groups of approximately seven small boats in a military sea range off the California coast later this summer.
Sounds cool. Hope it works in the real world.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Somali Pirates: Iran Navy Rescues Crew of Chinese Ship, Captures Pirates

See initial report of hijacking here.

Now, it appears the Iranians have come to the rescue as reported in "Hijacked ship crew members rescued":
All 28 Chinese crew members aboard a China-linked cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates were rescued on Friday, the Chinese embassy in Tehran said.

The cargo ship, Xianghuamen, was hijacked by Somali pirates at about 8:40 am local time (0410 GMT) on Friday in the Sea of Oman near Iran's southern port of Chabahar.
Nine Somali pirates climbed onto the cargo ship by their own ladders, fired shots on the ship and seized the Chinese crew members on board.

Two Iranian naval warships participating in the rescue operation followed the vessel and ordered the pirates to surrender. The pirates later threw their weapons into the sea and surrendered to the Iranian navy.

The hijacked cargo ship's engine was damaged and is in repair. Later the ship will head for the Iranian port of Gask, 70 miles (about 112 km) away from where the hijacking occurred and 200 miles (about 322 km) away from the vessel's destination.
Kudos to the Iranian Navy.

No word on the cargo of the vessel.

Somali Pirates: Chinese ship hijacked near Gulf of Oman

Early report at Chinese ship hijacked by pirates near Gulf:
A Chinese freighter was hijacked by pirates near the Gulf on Friday morning, the Chinese embassy in Tehran said.

The cargo ship belonging to a Nanjing company was hijacked at about 9:30 am local time (0500 GMT) in the Sea of Oman near the Iranian port Chabahar.
More from the BBC here:
© Carimar
The vessel, the Xianghuamen*, belongs to the Nanjing Ocean Shipping Co Ltd based in Nanjing, eastern China. One report said the ship was sailing with a crew of 28.
NATO report:
Based on NATO plot, arrow points to hijack site
Alert 030/12 - Update: HIJACKED 06/04/2012 05:55 25.48 57.53 Pirated Alert 030/12 - ATTACK (Also Known as NSC 015/12) Alert 030/12, NSC 015/12 UPDATE: The merchant vessel that was under attack has been Hijacked. ***This vessel has been Hijacked*** Vessels are advised to keep well clear and to exercise extreme caution if in vicinity. Original Alert information follows: Location: INDIAN OCEAN - GOO 25 28 N 057 32 E Latitude: 25 28 N Longitude: 057 32 E At 0555UTC on 06 APR 12, a merchant vessel was under attack by pirates in position 25 28 N 057 32 E. ***This situation is ongoing. ***
That low, low freeboard. Vessel is Panama registered. *Apparently the ship is the former Thor Navigator. See also Marine

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Save the Whales: NOAA has an app for that

Credit: NOAA, Taken under NOAA Fisheries Permit #605-1904
NOAA announces that a "New iPad, iPhone app helps mariners avoid endangered right whales":
Mariners along the U.S. east coast can now download a new iPad and iPhone application that warns them when they enter areas of high risk of collision with critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. The free Whale Alert app provides one source for information about right whale management measures and the latest data about right whale detections, all overlaid on NOAA digital charts.

“Whale Alert represents an innovative collaboration to protect this critically endangered species,” said David Wiley, NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary research coordinator and project lead. “Whale conservation is greater than any one organization and this project shows how many organizations can unite for a good cause.”

Credit: NOAA
A key feature of Whale Alert is a display linking near real-time acoustic buoys that listen for right whale calls to an iPad or iPhone on a ship’s bridge showing the whale’s presence to captains transiting the shipping lanes in and around Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. “The idea that right whales are directly contributing to conservation through their own calls is pretty exciting,” said Christopher Clark, whose team at the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology helped develop the acoustic detection and warning system.

North Atlantic right whales, which live along North America’s east coast from Nova Scotia to Florida, are one of the world’s rarest large animals and a species on the brink of extinction. Recent estimates put the population of North Atlantic right whales at approximately 350 to 550 animals. Collision with ships is a leading cause of right whale death.
Way cool.

Gotta love the technology.