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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Sarosh Zaiwalla/s views on piracy and more

Cortesy ecoterra status on piracy dated 27/28 november 2011.


MO Representative Speaks Out On The Piracy Of Freight Shipping Off Somalia (HandyShippingGuide)
Anger at the Current Situation Pervades the Industry Worldwide
Our article of a couple of days ago told of the Assembly of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) which is currently meeting in London and mentioned in passing that piracy remains high on the agenda. Now Sarosh Zaiwalla, a specialist in shipping law and a Permanent Representative to the IMO has commented on the current situation as regards the hijacking of bulk freight and container vessels passing through the troubled waters of the Gulf of Aden and beyond.
Mr Zaiwalla’s comments illustrate the increasing frustration which the global shipping community feels as year after year the problem of piracy worsens whilst little seems to be happening, either to address the political problems in Somalia, or to take internationally coordinated steps to deal with the situation directly using an armed response. Speaking to the Handy Shipping Guide Mr Zaiwalla said:
“In October, I addressed the Indian Shipping Summit in Mumbai. As a commercial lawyer who specialises in Shipping Arbitrations, I thought I would be asked about cargo disputes and Bills of Lading. The Indian Shipping Community however, despite always being a profoundly commercial group, had one thing on their minds that overtook even their bottom lines.
“International World Trade relies on the ability of traders to transport huge amounts of goods on giant moving structures across the most hostile seas in the world. These traders face enough challenges from nature and ill-fortune. It is nothing short of outrageous that, over the last few years, ship owners and seafarers have been forced to add the very real threat of violent piracy to the dangers of their normal lives. Piracy is a major threat not only to the shipping industry, but also to peace throughout the globe – if the world does nothing to stand up to people who use AK-47s and grenades to take the property of others, then what will stop thieves adopting the same tactics on the land?
“The Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia is now almost a no-go area for international ships. The most recent large scale act of piracy took place during the Indian summit, when the Italian ‘Monte Cristo’ was captured in this area. The crew managed to hide in their citadel, while the rest of the world wondered what could be done. It is a matter of great satisfaction that an international NATO force took charge and freed those men, but that is something that has not happened enough. More commonly, ransoms are paid for seafarers and cargo, meaning that expensive ‘Kidnap and Ransom’ insurance policies have added to the cost of shipping.
“The individual navy vessels from different countries that attempt to counter piracy are few in number and grossly inadequate for the task of patrolling the whole of the Indian Ocean. There is at present no coordinated approach. As a result, pirates are often captured only to be fed and returned to Somalia, free to go back to their old work of piracy.
“If international forces are to coordinate in order effectively to tackle piracy in the long term, I believe that they must combine their efforts into a UN Naval task force. This force could then concentrate on patrolling the coast of Somalia, from where the vast majority of the pirates emerge. I hope that we will all be surprised by the effect that could be brought about by such a force monitoring all small vessels leaving Somalia’s coastline to ensure they were genuine fishing vessels.
“With that in mind, I have used my position as a permanent member of the International Maritime Organisation (“IMO”) to force the issue. I had intended to move a resolution at the IMO for this purpose, but I will not now do so, as the Secretary General of the IMO has informed me that he himself with be moving this resolution. At the IMO’s General Meeting in November I hope to contribute to the pressure that will be required to create a Naval task force that may be able to save many lives, as well as a lot of money, by taking control of the Indian Ocean back from the pirates.
“Short of the creation of a UN naval taskforce, it is not going to be practical to control the plague of piracy. The Somalian pirates are effectively the same as any other terrorist. The only difference is that while international terrorists have so far indulged in acts of terrorism for the sake of their professed political causes, Somalia’s pirates indulge in terrorism only to fill their own pockets.
“Arming ocean-going vessels will go some way towards dealing with pirates, but for this course of action to work, many obstacles must be overcome. For example, Egypt will not allow vessels passing through the Suez Canal to carry on-board guns and ammunition. What also is of concern is the growing ‘industry’ around piracy. The total losses to the International Trade Community on account of piracy in the year so far is estimated to be US$2billion. Out of this US$2 billion, only about US$110 million represents ransom paid to the pirates, just over 1% of the total loss. The rest of the loss is mainly represented by increased insurance premiums, the cost of adapting ships to higher security standards and payments made to the specialist security companies which have sprung up to deal with piracy. At the end of the day, this additional cost falls on the consumer: they increase the freight charges and, consequently, the cost of the goods to the ultimate consumer.
“The 21st Century requires an enlightened approach to combat evils like piracy. It requires the countries of the world to come together, whether or not they share a coastline, to eradicate once and for all the Somalian piracy which has emerged in recent years. Any dragging of feet now would cause serious harm to the safety and livelihood of many innocent people, and would play right into the pirates’ hands.”
Mr Zaiwalla’s views, and those of his Indian shipping industry colleagues are perfectly reasonable but many other observers will be concerned at the thought that more freighters passing through these troubled waters might wish to carry arms, a move which may well lead to an escalation of violence by people who will have no hesitation in using extreme tactics as the disturbing video’s linked to one of our recent articles demonstrated.
Ideally a political solution to the troubles of Somalia together with an officially commissioned military response would be found, but, with the eyes of the world concentrated on a seemingly worsening financial global economy, the question will be if and when impassioned pleas from the likes of Mr Zaiwalla and his IMO colleagues can move this terrible situation on to a better place.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

A tribute to Cross Island Bombay - from the TS RAJENDRA

Previously published at MoneyLife

WWII shell found off Mumbai: Here’s what your media can’t tell you, so we dredge out the details

November 02, 2011 01:15 PM

Veeresh Malik

Many of the stories on the WWII shell found off Mumbai have simply bombed. No, this shell will not cause any harm to the city, not any more than the Diwali firecrackers which tried their best to shatter the peace. But why was the shell undiscovered for so long? An insider take

Cross Island in Mumbai has been an integral part of the life of any seafarer who has been trained on the TS Rajendra. It is also very important from the point of view of those heading out by boat from the New Ferry Wharf (aka Bhaucha Dhakka), not too far from Mazagaon, or for those heading in or out of the now soon to be filled-up and yet un-renamed Princes and Victoria Docks complex of the Mumbai Port Trust. Most of all, much of the support fleet for the oilrigs operate in this channel, and around this island.

Uninhabited largely due to a total lack of fresh water, and with added stories on how it was haunted by the ghosts of Portuguese soldiers who were done in when the British took over Bombay, even the local fishermen chose to avoid it. We were anchored not too far, and would sometimes take a sailing boat close to it, but had strict instructions never to make landfall as the foreshore was also rumoured to have quicksand pits. There were also some Indian Navy instructions on the subject. That also kept the tourists off.

The real reason why Cross Island never made it as an offshore destination or to the "A" list of tourist destinations in a land-starved Mumbai, however, is simple. The waters around it are extremely polluted, and for some reason also very corrosive—just running your hand in the sea as you went past in a sailboat or motorboat was enough to give you an acidic itch for days afterwards. Also, it stinks, the seawater in this area. This was in the mid ‘70s. It is said to have only become worse in recent years, as the bay gets silted up, and the tides are not strong enough to replenish the water there. Typically, the water is so dirty, that it is like in the Sunderbans (Bengal)—you cannot see your fingers if you put your hand in. But in the Sunderbans, there is always freshwater coming from upriver, and the lack of visibility is due to mud.

There are also a few cannons lying scattered around, as well as what looked like the remnants of one large gun of the howitzer variety on that island. Again, nobody dared remove them, despite the existence of one of the largest scrap-yards in the area, because of the stories surrounding the haunting of Cross Island. And the main story was that if anybody tried to go to the Island after dark, the old cannons and guns would come alive, with the wrath of the soldiers who had apparently been left there to die.

Another reason: Cross Island had also reportedly been used for target practice by the British in the years leading up to, during, and after WWII. And there were some terrible stories around that, too.

A cartographer’s report for the waters around Mumbai mentions how siltation for a variety of reasons has caused the Thane creek, upstream from and north of Cross Island, to become more like a swamp. This again is very true—till as recently as a decade ago, huge barges along with tugs could come as far inland as the old Thane Creek road bridge. Now you are lucky if you spot a small fishing boat and that too during high tide in the same spots.

One such cartographer’s report can be found here, and makes for interesting reading:

So when it was first reported that a Jaisu Shipping-operated dredger had recovered a WWII relic, a shell with about 100 pounds of explosives in it, my thoughts went immediately to the stories we had heard. And discounted them right away, because little further enquiries confirmed that this was, in all likelihood, a shell for the BL 5.5" artillery howitzer, and probably a relic of some firing practice exercise, where one of these shells had simply failed to detonate.

And sat there in the seabed, right under the port channel, while hundreds of ships, boats and other vessels just went about their business—day in and day out—in one of the busiest ports of the world.

But then, that information also fell flat—it was not likely that this sort of an artillery shell would have been used for target practice on an island so close to the city. Besides, there were no available records of the Port of Bombay having been equipped with such an artillery battery facing inwards. The howitzers used for this shell, if not properly aimed, had the capacity to go right across to the other side of Bombay, where now lies Chembur and even in the war days existed an oil jetty called "Pir Pau".

Or was this from the famous Fort Stikine, since her manifest does indicate that she was carrying these shells, too? This could be probable, considering that the port dredging operations are still pulling gold out of the same waters, traced back to the same explosion in April 1944.

Every which way, a single shell that has been lying undisturbed for decades, is not likely to cause more damage than a big hole in the ground. Certainly not enough to endanger a city.

But what it does reflect, from a commercial point of view, is the way our authorities have neglected the dredging and subsequent growth of India's premier port. Waking up now to this need, after depths available in the area went down from 8-10 metres during WWII, to as low as 3-5 metres, is ample evidence of the neglect that Mumbai Port has faced.

It is quite likely that more such debris and material, whether from the Fort Stikine or otherwise, will continue to be found in and around the approaches to the various berths in Mumbai Port, and that some of these may well be explosive in nature and will require great care. Many of my colleagues have gone over those waters hundreds of times—and people continue to do so.

It is important to dredge the approach channel. It is even more important to clear the channel of all such dangerous debris and explosives. But it is not likely to cause immense harm to the rest of Mumbai. Unless some idiot brings it ashore and deliberately tries to set it off.

Why such an explosive was not carried away by boat itself to the Naval Station will remain an unanswered question. Presumably there is a brass or metal value which was being ascertained, till it was realised that this shell was still very much alive. Because, and in this case as the son of an Army officer, a 5.5" shell is a very interesting "decoration piece", often found amongst the pride of possessions of elderly retired Armed Forces officers. Others would love to have them too, but they simply aren't available any more.

But they don't have the explosive inside it. And this one did.

No 'decoration piece' is really worth the effort—if it is still packed!