The US Navy has decided that the best course of action is to break up the minesweeper USS Guardian after it ran solidly aground on a coral reef in the Sulu Sea:
“We’re working very closely with the Philippine coast guard, with their navy and their government personnel. We’ve been grateful for their support as we all work together to remove Guardian and minimize further damage to the reef,” James said.
It’s expected to take over a month to dismantle the Guardian, which ran aground before dawn on Jan. 17.
Crews have already removed 15,000 gallons of fuel from the ship. They’ve also taken off hundreds of gallons of lubricating oil and paint. They’ll be removing human wastewater and other materials that could harm the environment, James said.
The U.S. Navy is hiring floating cranes to help with the removal. A contractor in Singapore is sending the cranes, which should arrive on site in a few days.
The Navy originally said the Guardian would be lifted by crane onto a barge and taken to a shipyard. But now the Navy says the ship is “beyond economical repair.”
No one was injured when the ship ran aground at the reef in the Tubbataha National Marine Park. The park is a World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea, about 400 miles southwest of Manila.
Update, 8 February: A bit more information about the salvage operations which are supposed to have started on February 4th.
Strategy Page on one of the ways Chinese ship builders are adapting to a tougher market for new ships:
Recent photos from China show three 1,500 ton coastal patrol ships (“cutters” in American parlance.) being built simultaneously, next to each other. This is part of a 36 ship order, in part to help the domestic ship building industry, for the China Marine Surveillance (CMS). Seven of the new ships are the size of corvettes (1,500 tons), while the rest are smaller (15 are 1,000 ton ships and 14 are 600 tons). The global economic recession has hit shipbuilding particularly hard over the last four years, and China is one of the top three shipbuilding nations in the world. For a long time coastal patrol was carried out by navy cast-offs. But in the last decade the coastal patrol force has been getting more and more new ships (as well as more retired navy small ships). Delivery of all 36 CMS ships is to be completed in the next two years.
The CMS service is one of five Chinese organizations responsible for law enforcement along the coast. The others are the Coast Guard, which is a military force that constantly patrols the coasts. The Maritime Safety Administration handles search and rescue along the coast. The Fisheries Law Enforcement Command polices fishing grounds. The Customs Service polices smuggling. China has multiple coastal patrol organizations because it is the custom in communist dictatorships to have more than one security organization doing the same task, so each outfit can keep an eye on the other.
CMS is the most recent of these agencies, having been established in 1998. It is actually the police force for the Chinese Oceanic Administration, which is responsible for surveying non-territorial waters that China has economic control over (the exclusive economic zones, or EEZ) and for enforcing environmental laws in its coastal waters. The new program will expand the CMS strength from 9,000 to 10,000 personnel. CMS already has 300 boats and ten aircraft. In addition, CMS collects and coordinates data from marine surveillance activities in ten large coastal cities and 170 coastal counties. When there is an armed confrontation over contested islands in the South China Sea, it’s usually CMS patrol boats that are frequently described as “Chinese warships.”
Gibbs Technologies, based in Nuneaton, England, is the only major company now making a serious push into the amphibious car. Its Gibbs Amphibians Inc. division, in Auburn Hills, Mich., has developed the Aquada, a sports car that can hit speeds of more than 100 miles per hour on the road and then, with a press of a button, turn into a boat that can do more than 30 mph.
[. . .]
The reason it is still in dry dock, he says, is a conflict between U.S. government regulations for vehicles on land and on water.
For example, air-bag sensors must be set according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards for the car to be approved for the open road. But on the water, the settings are too sensitive. Waves that crash on the vehicle deploy the air bags. Another problem: An Environmental Protection Agency rule requires a catalyst to control emissions which can heat up several hundred degrees. The Coast Guard bars anything even half that hot operating in the engine compartment.
The Aquada is on the sidelines for now, but Gibbs is moving ahead with a drivable jet ski it calls the Quadski that will be on the market by year-end. With wheels that fold out horizontally when it is afloat, the Quadski can travel as fast as 45 mph on water and on land. And it has fewer regulations to meet because it is classified as a personal watercraft.
Flying cars have shown up closer to the showroom in recent years, but they’re still not available to the general public.
The drug gangs in south and central America are becoming quite sophisticated in their attempts to get their products to the eager US consumer. One of the more technological developments is the drug-running submarine:
Despite losing nearly a hundred of these vessels to U.S. and South American naval forces (and dozens more to accidents and bad weather) the drug gangs have apparently concluded that the subs are the cheapest and most reliable way to ship the drugs. It’s currently estimated that over 80 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States leaves South America via these submarines or semi-submersible boats.
Most of these craft are still “semi-submersible” type vessels. These are 10-20 meter (31-62 foot) fiberglass boats, powered by a diesel engine, with a very low freeboard, and a small “conning tower” providing the crew (of 4-5), and engine, with fresh air and permitting the crew to navigate. A boat of this type was, since they first appeared in the early 1990s, thought to be the only practical kind of submarine for drug smuggling. But in the last decade the drug gangs have developed real submarines, capable of carrying 5-10 tons of cocaine that cost a lot more and don’t require a highly trained crew. These subs borrow a lot of technology and ideas from the growing number of recreational submarines being built.
[. . .]
The submarines that have been captured have, on closer examination, turned out to be more sophisticated than first thought. The outer hulls are made of strong, lightweight Kevlar/carbon fiber that is sturdy enough to keep the sub intact but very difficult to detect with most sensors. The hulls cannot survive deep dives but these boats don’t have to go deep to get the job done. The diesel-electric power supply, diving and surfacing system, and navigational systems of captured subs was often in working order. It was believed that some of those who built these boats probably had experience building recreational subs. The sub builders also had impressive knowledge of the latest materials used to build exotic boats. It had already become clear that something extraordinary was happening in these improvised jungle shipyards.
Ecuadoran police found the first real diesel-electric cocaine carrying submarine two years ago. It was nearly completed and ready to go into a nearby river, near the Colombian border, and move out into the Pacific Ocean. The 23.5 meter (73 foot) long, three meter (nine feet) in diameter boat was capable of submerging. The locally built boat had a periscope, conning tower, and was air conditioned. It had commercial fish sonar mounted up front so that it could navigate safely while underwater. There was a toilet on board but no galley (kitchen) or bunks. Submarine experts believed that a five man crew could work shifts to take care of navigation and steering the boat. The boat could submerge to about 16 meters (50 feet). At that depth the batteries and oxygen on board allowed the sub to travel up 38 kilometers in one hour, or at a speed of 9 kilometers an hour for 5-6 hours. This would be sufficient to escape any coastal patrol boats that spotted the sub while it moved along on the surface (its normal travel mode). The boat could also submerge to avoid very bad weather. The sub carried sufficient diesel fuel to make a trip from Ecuador to Mexico. There was a cargo space that could hold up to seven tons of cocaine.
The U.S. Coast Guard recently commissioned the first of 58 “Fast Response Cutters.” These are 46.8 meter (154 feet) long, 353 ton vessels equipped with a 8 meter (25 foot) rigid hull boat launched and recovered internally from a ramp in the stern (rear) of the ship. Armament of the cutter (as seagoing coast guard ships are called) consists of a remotely controlled 25mm autocannon and four 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns, plus small arms. Top speed is 52 kilometers an hour and the crew of 22 has sleeping and eating facilities on board so the ship can be at sea five days at a time (and 2,500 hours, or over 100 days, a year at sea). The Fast Response Cutter is basically a slightly larger version of the Danish Dutch Damen Stan 4207 patrol vessel.
The Danish Dutch design was selected four years ago because, a year before the Coast Guard was finally forced to admit defeat in its effort to build an earlier design for 58 new patrol ships (Fast Response Cutters.) The ship builders (Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman) screwed up, big time. While the Coast Guard shares some of the blame, for coming up with new concepts that didn’t work out, the shipbuilders are the primary culprits because they are, well, the shipbuilding professionals, and signed off on the Coast Guard concepts. Under intense pressure from media, politicians and the shame of it all the Coast Guard promptly went looking for an existing (off-the-shelf) design, and in a hurry. That’s become urgent because of an earlier screw up.
Six years ago, the Coast Guard discovered that a ship upgrade program made the modified ships structurally unsound and subject to breaking up in heavy seas
Update: Thanks to eagle-eyed commenter Guan Yang who pointed out that the design is actually Dutch, not Danish. I’ve modified the quoted text to match the correct information.
China’s view of its borders in the South China Sea clashes wildly with those of its neighbours and the international community:
In a statement, the Philippines said that its navy boarded the Chinese fishing vessels on Tuesday and found a large amount of illegally-caught fish and coral.
Two Chinese surveillance ships then apparently arrived in the area, placing themselves between the warship and the fishing vessels, preventing the navy from making arrests.
The Philippines summoned Chinese ambassador Ma Keqing on Wednesday to lodge a protest over the incident. However, China maintained it had sovereign rights over the area and asked that the Philippine warship leave the waters.
I just received a press release about a new documentary to be shown on the CBC this Sunday. Here’s the trailer:
Rum Running is a half hour documentary that will celebrate its world broadcast premiere on CBC Television’s Land & Sea on Sunday, February 19, 2012 at 12 Noon. Rum Running describes the history of rum running and depicts the high stakes role that Nova Scotia and the French Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon played during the era. The film reveals how thousands of law abiding citizens of Atlantic Canada were lured into the alcohol smuggling trade during Prohibition in the 1920′s and 30s.
The National Post editorial board has lots of nice things to say about the federal government’s attempt to take politics out of the huge shipbuilding contract process:
On Wednesday, the Tory government released its Solomonic decision regarding which shipyards will build $33-billion in new military and non-military vessels over the next two decades. The evaluation of bids for the largest government procurement contract since the Second World War was handled by senior bureaucrats, rather than cabinet ministers. Even the announcement of the winning contractors was made by Francois Guimont, the top civil servant from Public Works and Government Services, rather than his minister or the minister of National Defence, as would have been the case with past contracts of this magnitude.
Of course, that’s not to say there will be no political backlash from the decision. Irving Shipbuilding of Halifax will be given $25-billion to build new joint support ships, Canadian Surface Combatants — a sort of destroyer-frigate hybrid — and offshore patrol vessels capable of sailing off all three of Canada’s coasts — east, west and Arctic. Seaspan Marine of Vancouver will build science vessels for the Coast Guard and for the Fisheries department, plus icebreakers worth a total of $8-billion. That means Davie Shipyard in Levis, Que. was left without a major shipbuilding contract (though Davie is still eligible to bid on a further $2-billion contract to provide smaller government boats, such as Fisheries patrol vessels). It must have been tempting for the Tories to intervene in the contract-award process and toss Quebec a bigger bone. Their recent decision to expand the grasp of the official languages commissioner to several airlines, and their willingness to give new seats to Quebec in the House of Commons (despite the fact Quebec was not underrepresented there), just because Ontario, B.C. and Alberta were getting more, shows the Tories have become very concerned about their appeal to Quebec voters.
You can guarantee that many Quebec politicians will benefit for having yet another stick to beat the federal government with — this would be true in all scenarios except the one where the Quebec shipyard got both contracts. It would be an even better deal for the taxpayers (and perhaps even the Royal Canadian Navy) if the contracts hadn’t been restricted to Canadian shipyards: it wouldn’t fly politically, but it would almost certainly have been better bang for the billions of bucks.