Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bush allies slam his support of maritime treaty - The Boston Globe

WASHINGTON -- Some of President Bush's allies are criticizing him for promoting a landmark maritime treaty that would commit the United States to obeying hundreds of pages of international law, including provisions allowing foreign officials to order the US Navy and Coast Guard to release certain detained ships.

I am not really sure what to think about this treaty because I have not read it. There are some very important military officials that say it will be good for the country and good for our security, and it is also going to expand our oil rights further than what we are currently allowed which would possibly increase our domestic production and lessen our need for foriegn oil.

There is also the argument that we are submitting ourselves to the will of the United Nations and losing more of our national sovereignty. I am not a fan of anything that increases the power of the One-world government. I think that it would be best to stay away from anything that forces American to become less 'free' as a nation.

I would really like to hear some comments from people who know more about the subject- I will also return later on this week after looking up some information about it.

read more digg story

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New Gadgets: Navigating Through Ice Just Got Easier

I got home from my day job today and got my new copy of Maritime Reporter and Engineering News (http://www.marinelink.com/) I tore through it as usual searching for strange news and gadgets. I saw something that I thought was truly useful in the gadget section- something I hadn't sen anywhere else yet- The Sigma S6 Ice Navigator. As a mariner who is no stranger to the frozen north, I have a real appreciation for this type of technology.

What we have here is a high resolution imaging device that can track up to 1,000 targets on the water- i.e. Big Ice Cubes. This will probably be outfitted on every ice-navigating vessel that can afford it. It is produced by Rutter Technology (http://www.ruttertech.com/).

Something else in the product section that I thought was cool was the SeaQuantum high performance coating- A self smoothing performance coating that reduces hull friction and fuel costs. Your ship may not be a race car- but you can squeeze a little more performance out of her by using something like this! This is made by Joten (http://www.jotun.no/)

In the communications arena we have the new OceanStar by Martek Marine Ltd. (http://www.martek-marine.com/) This will make the crew happy- it can pull in international television and high speed broadband internet. It sounds much better than the system that was installed on my last ship- where the signal kept dropping every time we made a turn or sharp roll. This should give you the clarity you want when you are in the middle of watching a great action movie!

There is a pretty good discussion going on over at gCaptain (www.gCaptain.com) about my last blog entry having to do with the Somalian pirate take-over of the Danish ship and self defense. I am a big advocate of guns and giving people the right to defend themselves. This is always a topic that gets people riled up- as there is no correct answer, it is all driven by personal experiences- it should be interesting. But don't be afraid to post a comment or two over here as well- I welcome your input!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Maritime News Around the Globe - July 23rd 2007

New Zealand Captain Fined For "Almost having an Accident"

The news hasn't been to crazy lately, but I found somethings that I thought were cool or weird. A ferry captain in New Zealand was fined $750 plus court costs for failure to report a 'near incident'. I found myself thinking about all of the near incidents I have had and was thinking about how much money that would add up to.

I am not really sure what rules govern the seas in New Zealand, but I think dragging a Ferry captain for getting too close to some rocks, but not actually hitting them is a little insane. When I was dredging we used to get right next to the rocks. I could have jumped off of the bridge wing and landed on the rocks. I would say that my number of near misses would range in the hundreds. That is if you go by the New Zealand Maritime standards. I guess it all depends on what you consider 'reportable' - but I probably would have blown this off too.
"The conviction was welcomed by MNZ general manager of maritime operations John Mansell said." I personally think that it is ridiculous and the nanny state crap needs to stop. Having the 'autorities' get involved when there was no accident is just crazy. There was no property damage, no loss of life and they are raking this poor captain over the coals.... no wonder it is getting hard to keep people in the business.

Here is the article so you can read the whole thing... this just blows my mind.

China Launches Maritime Satellite Mobile Phone Service
July 23, 2007
China Transportation Telecommunications, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Communications, has announced the launch of a maritime satellite mobile phone service in Beijing.
The service will enable users to make calls with a mobile phone in deserts, in the sea or on high mountains where a GSM or CDMA signal is unavailable. With a size close to that of common mobile phones, the maritime satellite mobile phone only weighs 210 grams. The mobile phone has all of the new functions of the latest mobile phones available for GSM or CDMA networks.
At present, only a few developed countries in the world have opened this service, according to Michael Butler, president and chief operation officer of Inmarsat. Yang Kongyi, director of CTT, has told local media that the service covers Asia and the most part of Africa and it is expected to cover the entire world by 2008. Repost of the article at chinatechnews:

Just another way that China is whooping our ass at the international shipping business. I wish that we could compete with them on the price point of products, but when you have an unlimited supply of labor that is extremely cheap- I guess that sets you apart from the competition. I think that the US should impose strong tariffs againt Chinese companies for the substandard labor standards- bordering on slavery- and for the problems we have had with chinese goods in this country in recent times. - I personally am very leary of any food products for myself or my pets that have been in contact with any chinese companies. (But it is hard to know which products get their supplies from china...)

Octopus helps unearth ancient pottery
Posted 20 minutes ago
South Korean archaeologists say they have discovered a sunken vessel packed with ancient pottery, in an exploration prompted by an octopus which attached its suckers to a plate.
The National Maritime Museum says the 12th-century wooden vessel was found buried in mud flats off Taean, south-west of Seoul. It says more than 2,000 pieces of 12th-century bowls, plates and other types of pottery were heaped inside the 7.7 metre vessel. "I believe the pottery might have been made for royals and the ruling elite of the Koryo Dynasty," which ruled the peninsula from 916 to 1392, museum head Seong Nack-Jun said. The exploration began in early June after shards of celadon pieces were found attached to the suckers of several webfoot octopuses, which a fisherman had netted. The museum has since retrieved about 540 pieces, which were scattered around the vessel.

And the Somali pirates are asking for $1.5mil for the return of the Danish ship and it's crew. The vessel Danica White with five crew members was hijacked on June 2, about 240 nautical miles off the Somali coast while heading to Kenya's Mombasa port to deliver construction material. "We were informed yesterday that the pirates are demanding $1,5-million (about R14-million) in order to release the vessel," said Andrew Mwangura of the Kenyan branch of the Seafarers' Assistance Programme. Three other vessels - one from Taiwan and two from South Korea - are also currently held by pirates off the coast of war-torn Somalia. Recently, a Panama-flagged cargo vessel was reported to have gone missing in Somali waters. The International Maritime Bureau said this year had seen at least seven pirate attacks off Somalia's 3 700km of unpatrolled coastline.

I would reccommend to anyone of my friends sailing in these waters or other hostile territories- to make sure you have some type of weapon with you on the vessel you sail on.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Critical Times: The Maritime Industry Manning Shortage

Anyone working in the maritime industry knows that there is a manning shortage that seems to be worsening. As someone currently working in the Tug and barge industry, I know there is an unquenchable need from companies to fill all billets, particularly mates. This shortage can be linked to several factors such as an aging current work force that is approaching retirement, the shift from crews made up of haws pipers and academy guys to boats with almost all academy guys for officers, stagnant pay for so many years, over regulation, and personal liability.

To illustrate the age gap, on the vessel which I am currently working on the person that is nearest to my age is 20 years older than me. Three of the eight are do to retire this year. This is not isolated to my boat, but out of all the ships and tugs I have sailed on, my observation has been that there is a missing generation within the industry. Talking to the guys on the boats they for the most part agree with that statement. The industry was slow during the 80s and part of the 90s and guys just got out of it. For a lot of people once you leave the industry you never want to get back into it.

The second contributor is the shift from a hawspiper/Academy mix to a primary Academy make-up for officers. With the shift in regulations and license requirements the Coast Guard has made it very difficult for guys to start on deck as an AB and move up through the ranks. This has resulted in the dependence on the academies to produce officers for the industry. The problem with this is that now the primary sources of officers have the credentials and background and are choosing to shift to a shore side position. In years past employees would shift around in the industry so there was never a real shortage. If a guy was working in New York Harbor he would just shift around in the harbor so the employee was never really going anywhere, they were still in the industry. This is not the issue now, I am finding that my friends and my self are thinking about or have already made the choice to move ashore. I guess what I am trying to say is that the demographics are changing to more college boys, and they have the credentials and the foresight to move to more favorable careers.

This comes to the last two points, which are probably the biggest isssues, the pay and the quality of life. First I will talk about the pay. It is a well-known fact that the pay has been stagnant for such a long time that, every year you stay in the industry you are making less than the prior year. Every time I look in the paper and I see that a principle of a middle school makes more than a captain of an ATB carrying millions of gallons/ dollars of product and equipment, the college educated workforce realizes this as well. Not to mention that the Captain is a moving target for a lawsuit and prosecution by false courts contrived by the Coast Guard-- there are no accidents, only negligence in this industry. Why would you want to stay in an industry that is so vilified when you know that if there is any mishap that you are pretty much screwed? What job in the country has as much liability as the maritime business? That is something we starting out in the industry hear over and over again, “You are only good as your last job”

The industry as a whole is facing a huge problem and it is going to take everyone in all sectors of the industry to come together and let the government know what a vital role they play in the nation. It is critical that we lift regulations and red tape to attract people to come into the industry and end the constant fear of jail time, civil penalties, and losing your license to work. A rise in pay would help attract new people and bring back some people that may have left shipping for greener pastures.

Friday, July 13, 2007

High Profile Oil Spill off of Ibiza Means More Trouble for Merchant Mariners

Maritime workers near the Balearic island of Ibiza are cleaning up three local hot spots after inspectors discovered a sunken merchant ship which had leaked ten tons of fuel into the waters earlier this week. The beaches that the spills have effected are tourist attractions.

The ship, Don Pedro, was transporting 150 tons of fuel (gasoline?) and 50 of diesel fuel from Ibiza to the eastern Spanish city of Valencia when it sunk on Wednesday after it hit some rocks. Inspectors discovered the leak, which is currently 3.5 miles long by half a mile wide, development Minister Magdalena Alvarez said in a press conference on Thursday.

Emergency services said they had rescued 20 crew members from the Don Pedro roll-on/roll-off cargo ferry after it rammed a small promontory just off Ibiza in the early hours. Two ships were at the site and floating dams were to be set up to try to minimise the impact of the leak, that was near the coast, the rescue services said in a statement.
This small oil spill will be damaging to the maritime industry although it pales in comparison to some of the past oil related catastrophes because this incident will have less environmental impact. This spill has become worldwide news because it has landed in the middle of a tourist attraction. Pollution has been a hot topic for many years now, starting with the Exxon Valdez, then the spill of of the Galapagos Islands, and the cover-up of oily discharge by OSG employees. This spill is just going to add more fuel to the fire, empowering environmental groups that would like to see us shut down. Should we expect tighter regulations in the future... can it get any worse?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Old Tech Meets New Style: The World's Sexiest Sextant

I never thought I would see a modern styled sextant. I really never thought I would see a sextant in a trend-setting magazine like WIRED. This piece really caught my eye. If you are a collector of nautical gear, this would be a great addition to add to your display case. At $1,500+ I am sure that this will be more for the wealthy yachtsman than the average merchant vessel.

Photograph by Martin Timmermann

WIRED magazine recently ran an article that was a real surprise to me: It was about a sextant, and a very good looking sextant at that! This old school navigational device has some sexy styling that any nautical buff would be proud to get their hands on. Take a look at the story and the picture of this excellent piece of retro nautical tech.

read more digg story

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Security Farce: Holes in Maritime Security

The following was mailed to me from a friend who recently had to deal with the Coast Guard in port:

I recently had the Coast guard come aboard and do a surprise security inspection. I got scolded for not checking their ID and checking their bags, and we did not have all vessel access points locked up like fort Knox. We just happened to be at a fairly nice area with a lot of recreational craft around and I asked the Coast Guard personnel, pointing to a small sailboat fifty feet from the vessel “what that was?” He said “A sail boat” So I asked him, “what is up with that?” Why are you busting my balls for not checking your ID when the dock checks your ID, is fenced in, has security barriers, security cameras, and security guards. Do you think that me checking your ID is going to make a bit of difference? Why would someone go though all the trouble to do us harm when anyone with three brain cells could figure out that you would just have to be on that sailboat to get close? Not to mention that all attacks on vessels in recent history have been water born attacks, the USS Cole, that French tanker in the Middle East. He just looked at me with a blank look on his face, and soon left.

I guess I just get fired up when they put all these security measures in place that limits our freedom. I am not even allowed to walk down the dock and get a newspaper in my own country, and then I am asked to play this game of checking IDs and the sort, when I can see clearly that they have all security on one side of the dock and nothing on the other side. All at the expense of us Mariners.
My take on all this security insanity:

The Coast Guard is not looking at all aspects of maritime security- and the most irritating part is that they are overlooking the obvious. There is absolutely no security in the marinas and small vessels are not being policed. It is really apparent when you are navigating out of large cities like San Francisco, or when pulling out of the mouth of the Columbia. Trying to get past buoy #10 on the Columbia River is a nightmare, small vessels darting directly under your bow. All you can do is pray that you do not run them over. The Coast Guard does not see this as a problem? What is going to happen when the terrorists catch on to this? They will go rent a small boat, load it up with explosives, and drive it straight into the first tanker they find.

I have a feeling it will take a maritime disaster of this magnitude to wake the Coast Guard 'Officer Elite' up to the reality of maritime security. There are too many Coast Guard desk-jockeys deciding what is best for the Merchant Marine community. If they spent more time conning a vessel and less time writing flawed policy- perhaps our security situation would be a little better.

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