Quotulatiousness

May 19, 2014

South Korean coast guard to be “dismantled” after ferry disaster

Filed under: Asia, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:53

K.J. Kwon, Paula Hancocks and Jethro Mullen report for CNN:

South Korea’s President made an emotional apology Monday over the ferry disaster that killed close to 300 people last month and said she would dismantle the country’s coast guard.

“As the President who should be responsible for people’s life and security, I am sincerely apologizing to the people for having to suffer pain,” said President Park Geun-hye in a televised speech. “The final responsibility for not being able to respond properly lies on me.”

The Sewol ferry sank en route to the resort island of Jeju on April 16, leaving more than 304 people dead or missing. Most of the passengers were high school students on a field trip.

“As a President, I feel a sense of sorrow for not being able to protect them during their family trip,” said Park, whose approval ratings have dropped significantly in the weeks since the sinking.

The Sewol disaster caused widespread outrage in South Korea over lax safety standards and the failure to rescue more people as the ship foundered.

[...]

“After serious consideration, I’ve decided to dismantle the coast guard,” Park said. “The investigation and information roles will be transferred to the police while the rescue and salvage operation and ocean security roles will be transferred to the department for national safety which will be newly established.”

January 9, 2014

China asserts “police powers” over most of the South China Sea

Filed under: Asia, China, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:02

James R. Holmes on the change in China’s approach to the disputed South China Sea region:

Associated Press reporter Christopher Bodeen chooses his words well in a story on China’s latest bid to rule offshore waters. Beijing, he writes, is augmenting its “police powers” in the South China Sea. That’s legalese for enforcing domestic law within certain lines inscribed on the map, or in this case nautical chart.

The Hainan provincial legislature, that is, issued a directive last November requiring foreign fishermen to obtain permission before plying their trade within some two-thirds of the sea. Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon supplies a map depicting the affected zone. It’s worth pointing out that the zone doesn’t span the entire waterspace within the nine-dashed line, where Beijing asserts “indisputable sovereignty.”

China imposes fishing curbs: New regulations imposed Jan. 1 limit all foreign vessels from fishing in a zone covering two-thirds of the South China Sea. Washington Free Beacon

China imposes fishing curbs: New regulations imposed Jan. 1 limit all foreign vessels from fishing in a zone covering two-thirds of the South China Sea. Washington Free Beacon

A few quick thoughts as this story develops. One, regional and extraregional observers shouldn’t be too shocked at this turn of events. China’s claims to the South China Sea reach back decades. The map bearing the nine-dashed line, for instance, predates the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It may go back a century. Nor are these idle fancies. Chinese forces pummeled a South Vietnamese flotilla in the Paracels in 1974. Sporadic encounters with neighboring maritime forces — sometime violent, more often not — have continued to this day. (See Shoal, Scarborough.) Only the pace has quickened.

Henry Kissinger notes that custodians and beneficiaries of the status quo find it hard to believe that revolutionaries really want what they say they want. Memo to Manila, Hanoi & Co.: Beijing really wants what it says it wants.

January 7, 2014

Fortunate wind shift helps free trapped Antarctic vessels

Filed under: China, Environment — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:19

AntarcticaBBC News updates us on the situation:

The Russian research ship Akademik Shokalskiy and Chinese icebreaker Xue Long have broken free from Antarctic ice where they had been stranded for several days.

The Russian ship’s captain said a crack had appeared in the ice after a change in wind direction.

The Akademik Shokalskiy got stuck on 25 December. It has a Russian crew of 22.

On Thursday, the Xue Long‘s helicopter ferried 52 passengers from the stranded Russian ship to an Australian vessel.

The Xue Long then became stuck itself on Friday.

[...]

A US Coastguard icebreaker, Polar Star, is heading towards the two ships, responding to an earlier request for help. It left Sydney, Australia, on Sunday and will take a week to get there.

The Akademik Shokalskiy got trapped by thick floes of ice driven by strong winds about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart in Tasmania. It was being used by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) 2013 to follow the route explorer Douglas Mawson travelled a century ago.

January 6, 2014

US icebreaker dispatched to assist Chinese icebreaker in Antarctic

Filed under: China, Environment, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:02

AntarcticaThe Australian is reporting that the US Coast Guard’s Polar Star is enroute to assist the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long and the chartered Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy:

The US Coast Guard’s Polar Star accepted a request from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) to help the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been marooned since Christmas Eve.

It will also aid the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, which was involved in a dramatic helicopter rescue of the Shokalskiy’s 52 passengers last Thursday before also becoming beset by ice.

AMSA confirmed the Polar Star, which was on its way from Seattle for an Antarctic mission, had diverted course and was on its way to help.

It will take about seven days for the icebreaker, with a crew of 140 people, to reach Commonwealth Bay after collecting supplies from Sydney today.

The AMSA spokeswoman said the Polar Star had greater capabilities than the Russian and Chinese vessels.

“It can break ice over six metres thick, while those vessels can break one-metre ice,” she told AAP on Sunday.

“The idea is to break them out, but they will make a decision once they arrive on scene on the best way to do this.” AMSA will be in regular contact with the US Coast Guard and the captain of the Polar Star during its journey to Antarctica.

Twenty-two crew remain on board the Shokalskiy, which sparked a rescue mission after a blizzard pushed sea ice around the ship and froze it in place on December 24.

A U.S. Coast Guard HH-52A Seaguard helicopter landing on the icebreaker USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10).

A U.S. Coast Guard HH-52A Seaguard helicopter landing on the icebreaker USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10).

October 31, 2013

Canada’s shipbuilding strategy – the worst of both worlds

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:15

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) both are badly in need of new ships. The federal government has been aware of this for quite some time and has made plenty of announcements about addressing those needs … but the actual steps taken do not give me hope that the needs will be met economically or in a timely fashion. Canada no longer has a domestic ship-building industry with experience in producing military vessels, and it does not make economic sense to re-create it for the relatively small number of ships the RCN and the CCG actually need.

Politically, it can be a good election ploy to pour lots of government money into new shipyards which will employ hundreds of skilled and unskilled workers. The newly employed will be spending their salaries in Halifax, Vancouver, and Quebec and the visible signs of construction (both of the facilities themselves and of the hulls of the ships) will be a steady reminder to voters that the feds are investing in their cities. From the political viewpoint, it makes lots of sense to design and build the ships in Canada.

Economically, the situation is quite different. None of the remaining shipbuilding firms have the trained staff for either designing or assembling modern military ships. They’ll need to expand their yards and hire new skilled workers to take on the contracts. The civilian economy probably does not have all the necessary trained would-be employees ready to hire, so many would need to be brought in from other countries while training courses eventually turn out enough Canadians able to take those jobs. This will all increase the cost of the shipbuilding program, and delay the already belated eventual delivery of the ships. J.L. Granatstein explains:

The government’s National Shipbuilding Strategy aims to provide Arctic patrol ships, supply vessels and eventually replacements for the RCN’s fine frigates, as well as a large icebreaker and 10 smaller ships for the Coast Guard. The cost, including the frigate replacement, is estimated at $80 billion, and the process involves re-establishing the nation’s shipyards in Vancouver and Halifax, in effect re-creating a defunct industry. Up to 15,000 jobs are to be created.

But this is Canada, so pork and high costs are inevitable. National Defence and Public Works are deeply involved, politicians’ hands are all over the plans, and costs are sky-high. Consider the two Joint Support Ships to be built in Vancouver for $3 billion. They will likely be fine ships when they hit the water, years late. Britain’s Royal Navy, however, is buying four roughly similar ships from South Korean builders for $750 million — for all four. Should the RCN ships cost eight times those of the British? The Dutch navy is buying ships built in Romania; the Danes use ships built in Poland. Why? Because the cost is far less, the quality is good, and the work of installing the armaments and communications systems can be done in home waters, creating good jobs.

Take another case, the 10 small vessels to be built on the west coast for the Coast Guard for $3.3 billion. In 2007, the Danes bought similar, larger ships for $50 million each, ships with an icebreaking capacity the CCG ships will not have. Even with six years of inflation factored in, the CCG ships will cost at least three to five times as much.

But, the government will say, the jobs being created on the coasts are good ones, paying well for the skilled workers who are being trained to fill them. It is true, but will the Canadian public support the RCN and the Coast Guard when it realizes the massive costs involved to create each job? Moreover, no government can bind its successors to follow any policy. Jean Chrétien killed the maritime helicopter project when he came to power two decades ago, and the RCN still has no new ones. A future government might well say that the deficit is too high and the ship projects cannot proceed. After all, governments have killed the shipbuilding industry in this country before — after the two world wars and after the RCN frigate program ended in the 1990s. There are no guarantees in politics, and neither the Liberals nor the NDP seem high on defence spending for anything other than peacekeeping.

However, any time the political equations and the economic equations point in very different directions, you can almost always count on the politicians to go for the most expensive/most politically advantageous answer.

February 1, 2013

USS Guardian to be dismantled in place after grounding on coral reef

Filed under: Environment, Military, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

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:

USS Guardian aground in the Sulu Sea January 2013

“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.

October 13, 2012

Chinese shipyards adapt to slower international sales

Filed under: Business, China, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:17

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.”

October 11, 2012

French fishing fleet dabbles in piracy, maritime intimidation

Filed under: Britain, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:01

The BBC reports on a recent incident between British and French fishing vessels:

Fishermen are calling for Royal Navy protection after claims they were attacked by French vessels.

Kevin Lochrane, from East Sussex, said he was surrounded by seven or eights boats in international waters 15 miles off Caen in a dispute over scallops.

One Scottish fisherman, Andy Scott, said he feared for his crew’s safety during the incident.

Other crewmen said they were also surrounded by the French fishermen, who they said tried to damage their gear.

September 24, 2012

Flying cars are still (mostly) future-tech, but amphibious cars are almost here

Filed under: Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:23

Except for the WW2-era Schwimmwagen, no other amphibious car has gone into mass production. That might change soon, if Gibbs Technologies can square the circle between US highway regulations and US Coast Guard regulations:

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.

September 13, 2012

Submarines for the drug trade

Filed under: Americas, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:26

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.

April 22, 2012

Danish Dutch design helps rescue the US Coast Guard from further embarrassment

Filed under: Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:01

Strategy Page on the US Coast Guard’s latest cutters:

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.

April 12, 2012

Chinese vessels left in possession of Scarborough Shoal as Philippine ship withdraws

Filed under: Asia, China, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:28

An update on the BBC News website about the stand-off between Chinese and Philippine ships in the disputed Scarborough Shoal area of the South China Sea:

Earlier on Thursday a Philippine coastguard vessel arrived in the area, known as the Scarborough Shoal.

The Philippines also says China has sent a third ship to the scene.

The Philippine foreign minister said negotiations with China would continue. Both claim the shoal off the Philippines’ north-west coast.

The Philippines said its warship found eight Chinese fishing vessels at the shoal when it was patrolling the area on Sunday.

The BBC article doesn’t name the Philippine ship, but it’s likely to be the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (formerly the USCGC Hamilton):


Photo from Wikipedia

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.

February 16, 2012

Rum running in the Maritimes during Prohibition

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, History, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:33

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.

October 20, 2011

Timer now started for how quickly Quebec forces Harper to override shipbuilding contract awards

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:08

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.

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