November 11, 2013

The newest menace of the waterways – private submarines

Filed under: Australia, Business, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:24

Keeping up with the Joneses has always been a popular hobby among the nouveau riche, and topping the neighbours’ fancy car is only the start of it for some people. If your particular Jones just bought a lovely new pleasure boat, here’s a possible riposte — the Seabreacher J:

Seabreacher J

The Seabreacher J was designed and engineered exclusively for the recreational boating market. This model incorporates a jet drive for increased safety and better surface performance. The J model is able to be registered as a conventional powerboat. It is powered by a Rotax engine which is available in 155hp or 215hp supercharged variants. The engine and jet drive can be easily maintained at any personal watercraft dealership, making it a very basic watercraft to own and operate. The Seabreacher J combines the thrill of flying a submersible watercraft with the practicality and dependability of a conventional personal watercraft. The J model can be custom built with a host of available options that can personalize your Seabreacher to your desires.

The Seabreacher J isn’t a true submarine, but it’s priced for a larger market. To see what they look like in use, a quick Google Image Search turns up lots of “action shots”. True submersibles are also available for more wealthy customers, as Strategy Page explains:

Since the 1990s there have been a lot of recreational submarines. Luxury boat builders have even built submarine yachts. Submarine construction technology has come a long way in the past century, and it’s possible to build these boats at an affordable ($10-200 million) cost. They are safe and there are over a hundred of them out there.

A few companies have gained a lot of experience building subs for non-military underwater operations (academic research, oil exploration), which has created a body of information and cadre of technicians who can build these recreational subs. One of the largest civilian submarine yards is in Dubai, where dozens have been built so far and construction continues. Another large operation in the U.S. has built most of the scientific subs over the last two decades.

The submersible pleasure craft look like streamlined yachts while on the surface. The upper deck, including the bridge, is outside the pressure hull. When submerging, everyone goes below and the upper deck gets flooded. If you get close to one of these yachts it becomes obvious that they are built to dive. Military subs are still not used to encountering this civilian traffic underwater. The military boats have the right of way, but military boats are now warned to exercise extra care when approaching coastal areas used by civilian subs.

Owners of these luxury subs tend to be secretive, and the builders have agreed to some government oversight, especially to make sure militarized subs, that can carry torpedoes or mines, are not built. But there is no law against anyone owning one of these submarines, and it’s feared that it’s only a matter of time before drug dealers, gun runners, or even terrorists, get their hands on some of them. Some police officials believe this has already happened, but no one is saying much. The civilian subs don’t dive as deep as military subs and are not built for combat. They have staterooms and large windows. But they do have carrying capacity, and that could be put to criminal uses. Already, Colombian gangs have been caught trying to build subs, using Russian advisors initially and later just employing the same tech used for recreational subs. Over a hundred submersibles (a sub that travels just below the surface) have been caught carrying cocaine. The age of privately owned subs is here.

December 27, 2012

Captives in longest hijack freed after nearly three years

Filed under: Africa, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:27

The crew of the Iceberg 1 are now free, after enduring the longest pirate kidnapping in modern history:

How’s this for a seasonal tale to warm the hearts? After almost three years in captivity, the crew of the Iceberg 1, a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates, are home after finally being rescued.

For the benefit of those who haven’t followed the story — and there are probably plenty, as it’s had only scant coverage — the Iceberg 1 was captured back in March 2010, and has languished in pirate custody ever since.

As we reported back in the summer, the ship essentially fell between two stools. Its Dubai-based owner, who appears not to have been insured, refused to pay a ransom for it and simply went to ground, ignoring pleas for help from the hostages’ families.

Meanwhile, the governments representing the different sailors on board — six Indians, nine Yemenis, four Ghanaians, two Sudanese, two Pakistanis and one Filipino — were either unable or unwilling to mount a rescue attempt. So, too,was the multinational anti-piracy force, which generally prefers hijacked ships to be freed by ransom, on the basis that freeing sailors by force carries too much risk of casualties.

December 3, 2012

We’re from the ITU and we’re here to “fix” your internet

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:32

At Techdirt, Nick Masnick recounts some of the wonderful things the International Telecommunications Union would like to “help” regarding that pesky “internet” thing:

We’ve been talking about the ITU’s upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) for a while now, and it’s no longer “upcoming.” Earlier today, the week and a half session kicked off in Dubai with plenty of expected controversy. The US, the EU and now Australia have all come out strongly against the ITU’s efforts to undermine the existing internet setup to favor authoritarian countries or state-controlled (or formerly state-controlled) telcos who want money for internet things they had nothing to do with. The BBC article above has a pretty good rundown of some of the scarier proposals being pitched behind closed doors at WCIT. Having the US, EU and Australia against these things is good, but the ITU works on a one-vote-per-country system, and plenty of other countries see this as a way to exert more control over the internet, in part to divert funds from elsewhere into their own coffers.

Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the ITU, keeps trying to claim that this is all about increasing internet access, but that’s difficult to square with reality:

    “The brutal truth is that the internet remains largely [the] rich world’s privilege, ” said Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union, ahead of the meeting.

    “ITU wants to change that.”

Of course, internet access has already been spreading to the far corners of the planet without any “help” from the ITU. Over two billion people are already online, representing about a third of the planet. And, yes, spreading that access further is a good goal, but the ITU is not the player to do it. The reason that the internet has been so successful and has already spread as far as it has, as fast as it has, is that it hasn’t been controlled by a bureaucratic government body in which only other governments could vote. Instead, it was built as an open interoperable system that anyone could help build out. It was built in a bottom up manner, mainly by engineers, not bureaucrats. Changing that now makes very little sense.

Canada is also on the record as being against the expansion of the ITU’s role.

Canada will look to prevent governments from taking more power over the Internet when governments sit down for 12 days of negotiations on the future of the Internet next week, but the government didn’t say Thursday where it stands on a contentious proposal that could see users pay more for online content.

Canada’s position going into the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) mirrors a number of Western allies in opposing having governments control how the Internet functions, leaving it to the current mix of public and private sector actors, according to documents released to Postmedia News under access to information laws. That stance is in contrast to proposals from some of the 193 members of the International Telecommunications Union, such as Russia, that want greater control over the Internet — more so than they already have in some cases — including more powers to track user identities online.

The meeting in Dubai will determine whether the ITU, an arm of the United Nations, will receive broad regulatory powers to set rules of road in cyberspace. The potential to centralize control over the Internet into the hands of governments has some users and hacktivists concerned that freedoms online would be crushed should a new binding international treaty change the status quo for how telecommunications companies interact across borders.

February 24, 2010

Was there anyone in Dubai who wasn’t involved in the killing?

Filed under: Middle East — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:57

Dubai’s investigators announce another 15 suspects in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a military leader with Hamas:

Dubai has identified 15 new suspects in the assassination of a Hamas official at a Dubai luxury hotel, bringing the total number of people believed involved in the death to 26, the government said on Wednesday.

Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed last month in his hotel room in what Dubai police have said they are near certain was an Israeli hit. They said the killers travelled to the Gulf Arab emirate on European passports.

Of the new suspects, six carried British passports, three held Irish documents, three Australian, and three French, the Dubai government’s media office said in an emailed statement.

At this rate, they’ll be trying to arrest hundreds of people in connection to the assassination. Israel, of course, has not admitted any involvement (and you have to admit that previous Mossad activity didn’t appear to require a cast of this size).

February 18, 2010

The rush to assign blame to Israel

Filed under: Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:39

Tom Gross looks at the unseemly rush to blame Israel for the killing of Hamas operative Mahmoud Mabhouh earlier this month:

Yesterday, without any actual evidence, the media in some European countries — notably Britain — went much further than even the media in Dubai, and blamed Israel unreservedly for Mabhouh’s death.

Headlines included:

* Britons had passport details stolen by ‘Mossad death squad’ (Times of London)
* Terror of innocent Britons named as assassins: Why choose us, ask Britons whose identities were stolen by Mossad hit squad (Daily Mail, page 1). Another story on page 4 of the Daily Mail was headlined: “Dragged into a Mossad murder plot” and photo captions in the paper described those involved as “Mossad agents” and “Mossad killers”.
* And today the lead editorial in The Guardian is titled “Israeli assassinations: passports to kill”.
* And BBC Radio 4’s PM show yesterday broadcast the following at 17:35 minutes: 1 million Jews on hand to assist local Mossad executions.

Other papers mixed fact with pure nonsense about the supposed past exploits and misdeeds of Israeli intelligence.

Prominent international TV stations have also paid enormous attention to this story, blaming Israel without any concrete evidence. For example, the first four stories on the 8 am World News broadcast on CNN International yesterday concerned Mabhouh’s death (even though it occurred four weeks earlier). Only after those items did CNN report on the capture of the most senior Taliban commander since 2001, which many would argue is a far more important news story, both strategically in terms of international politics and specifically for the United States.

It’s quite possible that Israel’s secret service (Mossad) was behind the killing, but it’s also possible that this was the result of inter-factional disputes among Palestinian groups. The evidence of Israeli involvement so far is circumstantial, but the British media have often been willing to believe the worst of Israel.

There’s also this: “It would be uncharacteristically stupid of Mossad operatives if they had in fact so easily allowed themselves to be filmed, and Mossad operatives are not stupid.” That’s not to say that an operation couldn’t be an exception to the general rule, and reputations are lost even faster than they are built in the espionage/counter-espionage world.

Update: Interestingly, Fatah and Hamas are now accusing one another of complicity in the killing.

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