Seacurus Daily: Top Ten Maritime News Stories 02/03/2015
1. Hostages Released After Years of Captivity
Four Thai nationals seized from a fishing vessel by Somali pirates nearly five years ago have been released, the UN and local officials have said. It is believed that they spent longer in captivity than any other victims of Somali piracy. The four were among 24 crew members seized in April 2010 after pirates hijacked the Taiwan-flagged fishing vessel FV Prantalay 12. It is not known whether any ransom was paid for the releases. One unconfirmed report claims $150,000 (£97,000) was handed over while another says $1m (£650,000) was paid. Somali pirates are still holding 26 more hostages from another vessel.
2. Maersk Vessel Grounds off Fremantle
A Maersk containership spent a few hours aground early Saturday morning near the entrance to Fremantle Harbour in Western Australia. According to the Fremantle Port Authority, the MV Maersk Garonne became stuck in soft sand about 500 meters off South Mole as it was entering Fremantle Inner Harbour at about 5 a.m. Saturday morning. The vessel was pulled free by tugs at about 8:30 a.m. and was expected to go to anchor at Gage Roads for inspection by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the port authority said. Initial reports indicated that there are no injuries or damage to the vessel.
3. Panama Tolls Leap Concerns
The Japanese Shipowners Association (JSA) has questioned new, higher Panama Canal tolls for vessels that will not benefit from the expanded canal, at a public hearing on the proposed new toll structure. Panama Canal Authorities (ACP) held a public hearing 27 February on its proposal for a new toll structure, following more than a year of informal consultations with representatives from various industry segments. After a month of revision, the ACP will present a final proposal to its board of directors. The new toll structure is expected to be formally announced by mid-April 2015.
4. Time to Think Differently on Rescues
A rescue expert operating in the Mediterranean Sea told IHS Maritime that commercial ship rescues were essential but identified safety concerns, and said private search and rescue (SAR) operations could ease the burden. Regina Catrambone, founder of and rescuer with the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), said that on a scale of 10, "If coastguard rescue lies around the 5-10 mark [depending on the vessel/equipment used and from where they are deployed], commercial rescues probably lie around the 1-5 scale."
5. North Korean Renaming Scam
A North Korea shipping company has been renaming and reflagging its vessels so it can evade an arms embargo, a UN report has said. North Korea is subject to strict sanctions because of its nuclear weapons programme. The sanctions were extended to Ocean Maritime Management (OMM) last year after one of its ships was found to be importing weapons from Cuba. Experts monitoring the sanctions, said OMM had renamed 13 of its 14 ships, and transferred their ownership to shell companies, which meant they were effectively erased from the blacklist database.
6. ITF Wades into Shoreleave Debate
The ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) has submitted a deposition to the US Coast Guard’s consultation on seafarers’ access to maritime facilities – the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=USCG-2013-1087-0001). The submission supports the USCG’s efforts to improve the shore leave/access situation for seafarers while upholding the nation’s security needs. Submissions have been made from across the industry, including from the AMO, MM&P, MEBA and SIU trade unions, the Chamber of Shipping of America and the seafarers’ welfare organisations.
7. Italian Coastguard Want to be Armed
Italy’s coastguard on Friday called on the government to change its status so that its 11,000 seamen can carry weapons, amid mounting concern over the possibility of attacks by people traffickers or terrorists. The demand is a long-standing one but has been renewed following a recent incident in which traffickers armed with Kalashnikovs threatened coastguards engaged in an operation to rescue thousands of migrants in danger of drowning close to Libya. It also follows signs that the Islamic State group has established a base in conflict-torn Libya, and threaten attacks on merchant shipping.
8. P&I Renewal Season Ends
Several P&I clubs have reported results of the renewal season which ended on 20th February. The UK P&I Club announced a net increase of 1.2 mill gt of mutual business taking mutual owned tonnage to 127 mill gt. The UK Club’s combined mutual owned and chartered tonnage now stands at over 225 mill gt, an increase of more than 3% from 20th February 2014 – 20th February 2015. The North P&I club has emerged ‘significantly stronger’ from the 2015 renewal today, further consolidating its position as one of the most financially secure and largest members of the International Group of P&I Clubs, it claimed.
9. Costa Captain Denies Reality TV Role
The convicted captain of the Costa Concordia cruise liner, Francesco Schettino has denied that he had tried to cash in on large amounts of money by appearing on an Italian reality television show. Last week Le Iene, a satirical-investigative TV programme, aired secret footage showing a man negotiating on behalf of Schettino for his appearance on Italy’s version of “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here,” which is filmed in exotic locations. Schettino said a TV production company was ready to pay him 2 million euros (2.2 million dollars) to go on the programme. But he has rejected the offer.
10. Aussies Make Significant Drug Find
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) have seized more than 100 kilograms of methamphetamine with an estimated street value of approximately AUD 65 million (USD 50.8m) as part of a joint operation. A Malaysian national and a Hong Kong national have been charged with serious drug offences for their involvement in the importation. During an examination, ACBPS officers located a false floor in the container filled with children’s toys, the box concealed a hidden compartment containing 100 kilograms of a white crystallised substance.
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