Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Autonomy – a solution looking for a problem?

Autonomous ships: are they the future of the seven seas?

The rapid pace of change in technology presents incredible opportunities for Maritime Autonomous Systems (MAS); we need to be clear on how to safely and securely exploit these opportunities by asking some key questions.

What do we want to use MAS for?

When new ideas and technologies emerge there is always the risk of having a “solution looking for a problem”, and we need to avoid constraining our thinking to “how can we do our current jobs better?”

Frequently the approach is to think about the Dull, Dirty, Dangerous tasks – certainly there are activities for MAS to take on that meet these criteria. For example, Thales is delivering the Maritime Mine Countermeasures (MMCM) project to the UK and France which will reduce the risk to people by taking them out of the minefield, and increase the persistence of the capability.

We also need to look at what was previously too difficult. The scientific community is already using MAS to gather data from wide areas over long durations – how can MAS evolve to collect even more data, bringing it together to really inform us? Whether to improve our understanding of the climate, to increase efficiency of transportation, to enhance defence and security: we can use the huge amount of widely available data from a multitude of sources to really change our approaches to decision-making.

How much do we want to trust MAS?

When we know how we want to use MAS, the degree of delegation of decision-making that we are willing to make is a critical element. This is a central point in “Autonomy”, with the definition of what is meant by “Autonomous Systems” a matter for ongoing discussion across sectors.

The acceptable level of delegated decision-making depends on the goal: there is a difference in the potential impact of delegating decisions for the navigation of a small, scientific research vessel to that of a large container ship, or when there is a security threat.

We must look at the overall “system” so that we are aware of what could happen when we use Maritime Autonomous Systems, and make sure we understand the consequences.

How much can we trust MAS?

There is a difference between designing Maritime Autonomous Systems and facing the challenges from the environment, the long-distances across which operations are conducted, the presence of other traffic. Thales is carrying out extensive trials from its Turnchapel Wharf, Plymouth, UK Maritime Autonomy Centre, building its understanding and capabilities in using MAS for real.

When it comes to the delegation of decision-making to MAS, we need to be very aware of how much trust can be placed in the underlying data that is being used. Has the onboard AI-based image recognition software been spoofed? How can we be confident in the integrity of the data being seen by the remote Watchkeeper? Can we be sure that the critical communications systems will be available?

There are techniques to address these concerns to build our trust in MAS, and these need to be adopted. These can include cybersecurity assessments and protection, redundant communication systems, understanding the role of people in MAS. Employing consistent and effective approaches will build our confidence in using MAS and open up other fantastic opportunities across a range of sectors.


It is key to think about the full system and the context within which it exists, not just focus on the physical platforms. This includes working across the Industry, Government and Regulator community at both a national and global level to ensure we understand how to safely and securely use Maritime Autonomous Systems.

Source: Maritime UK

National governments found to have a much greater responsibility for shipping emissions than previously thought

LSS (Low Sulphur Surcharge) / IMO 2020 | Burnard International

GHG emissions of global shipping are increasing, and expected to continue to increase, under current policy, according to the 4th IMO GHG Study. Advances in this new study’s methods have estimated that 30% of total shipping emissions fall directly within national government responsibility, twice the magnitude previously estimated. 

The study’s findings and trends continue to set a significant challenge for governments domestically, and collectively at the International Maritime Organisation, if the sector is to contribute proportionally to achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goals. The study shows strong, clear policy action must be taken for the sector to urgently transition away from the use of fossil fuels.

The multi-disciplinary team at UMAS, which led the Third IMO GHG Study in 2014, also led the work on emissions inventories in the Fourth IMO GHG Study. The effort was a collaboration between 9 organisations from across 6 countries, made additionally challenging by Covid-19: disrupting normal collaborative working, and meaning the work had to be managed around Covid-19 induced caring responsibilities.

The emissions inventory produced made a number of advances, including the ability to estimate the GHG emissions for each ship in the global fleet, on every voyage it sailed. 316Mt of the total 1056Mt of shipping CO2 emissions (2.9% of total anthropogenic emissions) were within national emissions responsibilities. At 30% of total emissions, this is twice the magnitude estimated in previous studies.

According to international (IPCC) guidelines, only shipping emissions that occur when ships sail on a voyage between two countries are the responsibility of the UN agency the International Maritime Organisation. 

When any ship sails between two ports in the same country, the emissions are the responsibility of that country – and should be accounted for and have reductions managed within that country’s emissions inventory and commitments, including in its reports to the UNFCCC regarding commitments made in the Paris Agreement (Nationally Determined Contribution). 

Until now only a few countries had investigated their shipping emissions at this level of detail, and the IMO had had to make simplified estimates that have been shown to underestimate the level of emissions that count as ‘domestic’ shipping and fall within the responsibilities of individual governments to manage.

The study produced many further insights into the recent trends in shipping emissions and the drivers of these trends. Some of the main points relevant to the market and policy makers are described here, and the full report is available here.

Elena Hauerhof, UMAS, leader of the inventory work: “This study represents a significant step forward in estimating emissions inventories, and for the first time uses a fully IPCC -aligned approach to estimate international shipping emissions. 

The study has also significantly advanced the accuracy of AIS based estimations for any ship, and evidences this by undertaking a detailed validation against fuel consumption and other key parameters reported in EU MRV for over 9000 ships”

Tristan Smith, UMAS, contributor and director UMAS: “You have to start by getting GHG accountancy right, and this has proved a perennial problem for the shipping sector. Most countries, including the UK, continue to count shipping emissions inaccurately e.g. on the basis of fuel sold to shipping as opposed to actual voyages and activity. Very few countries use IPCC aligned methods, or include shipping in their NDC – it’s a poorly-assessed, under-examined and often-ignored sector for many governments. 

Poor accountancy creates persistent underestimation of the magnitude of responsibility and role that should be taken nationally to decarbonise shipping. Hopefully this study will encourage countries to look again, and bring shipping firmly into their national GHG policy and action.”

Source: UMAS (University Maritime Advisory Services)

Ship orderbook shrinks to 17 year low

Ship Orderbook Shrinks To 17-Year Low -BIMCO

The total orderbook for dry bulk, container and tanker ships has reached its lowest point in 17 years as Covid-19 has massively slowed contracting (-50%) while deliveries of new vessels have proved more resilient (-2%).

The orderbooks for dry bulk and container ships in particular have fallen sharply. At 63.4m DWT, the dry bulk orderbook is at its lowest level since April 2004 and 34.7% smaller than twelve months ago. Similarly, the orderbook for container ships has fallen 10.3% in the past 12 months to its lowest level since September 2003.

The fall has left the orderbook to fleet ratio at its lowest level in many years at just 7.7%. This is however not a reason for a flurry of new contracting activity. The larger fleet means that even this lower ratio represents a significant amount of tonnage especially given the poor outlook.

Dry bulk contracting down by 6m DWT

The falls have in particular been driven by the scarcity of new orders as the drop in trade volumes and long road to recovery looms. In the first seven months of the year, contracting for dry bulk vessels is down 65.6% from the start of the year and orders for new container ships are down 37.7%. The pandemic has had a surprisingly limited effect on total deliveries …

“Contracting activity has been quick to feel the effects of the pandemic with owners and investors showing little appetite for new ships,” says Peter Sand, BIMCO’s Chief Shipping Analyst.

Smaller decline for tanker orderbooks

The tanker shipping industry has also recorded a fall in its orderbooks, though not as sharp as the falls in dry bulk and container shipping books. This is primarily because the tanker orderbook has been at a much lower level than that of dry bulk and containers in the past two decades. The orderbook for crude oil tankers stands at 36.3m DWT and for the oil product tanker fleet at 12.1m DWT, down 4.2% and 12% from 12 months ago respectively.

In fact, product tankers is the only segment to have seen higher contracting this year than last, up 2.9% in the first seven months of the year at 3.2m DWT, though orders for new crude oil tankers have fallen 41.3% in the same period, a drop from 10.1m DWT last year to 5.9m DWT this year. Deliveries have fallen by 39.1% for crude oil tankers and 46.1% for oil product tankers while total tanker deliveries so far this year have amounted to 10.1m DWT compared to 17.2m in the same months last year.

Demolition activity rises as yards re-open

The decline in appetite for new ships comes at a time when many owners are keen to get rid of their existing ships. As major demolition nations around the world have eased their lockdowns and once again opened their yards, June and July saw a strong uptick in demolitions. Total demolition activity in July totalled 1.8mDWT, up by 1.2m DWT from July 2019, an almost 400% increase from demolitions in April 2020.

In particular dry bulk and container demolitions have increased, up 80.9% and 26.3% respectively, while 8.8m DWT of dry bulk capacity and 152,770 TEU of container ships have been sent for demolition since the start of the year.

“The sharp uptick in demolitions following the reopening of yards is entirely expected due to the demand shock from the Covid-19 crisis and expectations of a long road to recovery ahead of us. This is reflected in both the higher demolition numbers, with owners pushed to act on older and substandard ships that they had kept sailing until now, as well as the drop in contracting as the outlook for the next few years has become much gloomier than it was at the start of the year,” says Peter Sand.

Nevertheless, the fleet continues to grow Despite the rise in demolitions and decline in deliveries in many sectors, the fleets continue to grow because in volume terms, deliveries are much higher than demolitions. The dry bulk fleet has exceeded 900m DWT for the first time (901.67 as of 3 August), with the fleet growing by 2.6% since the start of the year. The crude oil and oil product tanker fleets have experienced the next highest fleet growth of the four, at 2% and 1.7% respectively, with the container shipping fleet bringing up the rear by growing 1.2% since the start of the year.

“The continued increase in the supply of ships, despite higher demolitions and lower contracting, cannot be ignored as the volume of world trade is set for a considerable drop this year, and not forecasted to return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2022. While the decline in contracting will result in slowing fleet growth in the coming years, balance in the shipping markets may prove elusive for many years to come,” says Peter Sand.

Source: Peter Sand, Chief Shipping Analyst, BIMCO

Border Force intercepts inflatable dinghy carrying 20 migrants off coast of Dover

Home Secretary Priti Patel in Dover

Boris Johnson said he wanted to work with France to stop the crossings and ensure that migrants "understand that this isn't a good idea, this is a very bad and stupid and dangerous and criminal thing to do".

"But then there's a second thing we've got to do and that is to look at the legal framework that we have that means that when people do get here, it is very, very difficult to then send them away again even though blatantly they've come here illegally," the PM added.

Downing Street has said that once the Brexit transition period comes to an end in December, the UK will be able to draw up a new framework.

The PM's official spokesman said: "We are currently bound by the Dublin Regulations for returns and they are inflexible and rigid - for example, there is a time limit placed on returns, it's something which can be abused by both migrants and their lawyers to frustrate the returns of those who have no right to be here.

"At the end of this year we will no longer be bound by the EU's laws so can negotiate our own returns agreement."

Immigration minister Chris Philp will head to Paris on Tuesday to hold talks with his French counterparts on the issue.

Asked whether the Royal Navy could get involved, the PM's spokesman said the Border Force was considering a range of options and the Home Office had been in talks with the Ministry of Defence.

The government has made an official request to the Royal Navy for help, while a former Royal Marine has been appointed "clandestine Channel threat commander".

The RAF has confirmed that its Atlas surveillance aircraft was supporting Border Force operations in the Channel on Monday.

The comments from the PM and Downing Street have caused anger among charities, who have criticised the use of "inflammatory language".

Lisa Doyle, the Refugee Council's director of advocacy, said: "It's incredibly disappointing to hear the prime minister using such inaccurate and inflammatory language to describe men, women and children who are desperate enough to make perilous journeys across the busiest shipping channel in the world.

"Seeking asylum is not a crime, and it is legitimate that people have to cross borders to do so."

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said ministers should "move on from soundbites" and focus "constructively on serious and long-term solutions".

He added: "Britain is better than this. We have a proud history of welcoming people fleeing some of the most violent and oppressive regimes in the world and we can't stop now."

Stills from Saturday August 8

How can government stop migrants crossing Channel?

Early on Monday morning, a Border Force patrol boat met an inflatable dinghy carrying around 20 Syrian migrants off the coast of Dover.

Those on board were seen waving and smiling as the vessel made its way across the English Channel.

The migrants were met by the patrol boat Hunter shortly after 7am with the White Cliffs in sight.

Home Secretary Priti Patel was seen in Dover on Monday, disembarking from a police boat that had been out in the English Channel earlier in the morning.

A minister told Sky News earlier that the "unacceptable situation" of migrant crossings in the English Channel "absolutely needs to stop".

So far this year, more than 4,000 migrants have reached the UK by crossing the English Channel in small boats.

Almost 600 people made it to the UK in crossings between Thursday and Sunday.

Migrants being rescued by coastguards

UK calls for France to crack down on migrants

Speaking to Kay Burley @ Breakfast, care minister Helen Whately said: "We do have an unacceptable situation of many migrants coming across the Channel at the moment.

"It's also a dangerous route, there's real risk to life for those coming across, it's obviously a form of illegal immigration, it's not the right way to come to the United Kingdom.

"So, we are taking action."

Ms Whately added: "The important thing is we work together with the French to stop this flow of migrants.

"It's not a safe way for them to try and get here, it's incredibly dangerous, it also means money is going to people smugglers, so it absolutely needs to stop."

Last year, the home secretary promised that the crossings would have become an "infrequent phenomenon" by now.

She has since called the figures "appalling" and levelled blame at her counterparts on the continent as she revealed the UK and French governments were locked in a row over the interpretation of maritime law.

UK and France working ‘at pace’ on plan to halt migrant Channel crossings

Dinghy carrying 20 migrants arrives off Dover coast as RAF called ...

The UK and France are working “at pace” on a new plan to put an end to people attempting to cross the Channel in small boats, a Home Office minister has said, as tensions rise over the British government’s approach to the unfolding crisis.

Following talks with officials in Paris, Chris Philp, minister for immigration compliance, conceded the French were doing a “great deal of work” and had intercepted more than 1,000 people attempting to reach England this year after days of loaded statements from the two nations.

But Philp’s remarks were light on detail on what the “new operational plan” would involve, although he said if it was successful in making the Channel route unviable then “migrants will have no reason at all to come to France in the first place”.

His statement is unlikely to assuage those who have accused UK government in recent days of having an “increasingly chaotic” approach.

On Monday, the RAF flew a transport plane around the Channel at about 1,500 feet. The purpose and outcome of the flight remains unclear but followed a request for military assistance from the home secretary, Priti Patel, to the Ministry of Defence.

In a statement to camera, Philp said: “We had a very constructive meeting with our French colleagues in Paris this morning.

“We have reaffirmed our unshakeable shared commitment to making sure this route of crossing the channel is made unviable.

“It is facilitated by ruthless criminal gangs, it puts lives at risk and it is totally unnecessary.

“We have worked on a joint operational plan, a revised, a new operational plan, with the objective in mind of completely cutting this route. We’re going to work at pace in the coming days to make that plan a reality.”

Philp said the French had committed to appointing a commander to take responsibility for combating Channel crossings, in a move that mirrors the UK government’s instalment of the former Royal Marine Dan O’Mahoney as “clandestine Channel threat commander”.

“The French authorities are doing a great deal of work, they’ve intercepted well over a thousand people so far this year, but the sheer numbers crossing the Channel are completely acceptable – unacceptable to the French government and unacceptable to the UK government,” he said.

“So it’s quite clear more needs to be done and that is exactly what this new comprehensive action plan that we are working on will aim to do.

“And if we can make this route unviable, which we are determined to do, then migrants will have no reason at all to come to France in the first place.”

He said it would be premature to talk about financial commitments at this stage because the plans were still being developed and finalised.

It was initially reported Philp would be meeting with the French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, but the Home Office has since insisted he was never due to meet ministers, only officials.

Humanitarian groups and refugee and migration experts have urged the government to consider bolstering or creating safe and legal routes to the UK for asylum seekers, which they argue would reduce the number of people risking their lives at sea to reach the UK.

The government could consider strengthening family reunion rules, providing places for child refugees under the so-called Dubs scheme and developing humanitarian visas that would give people advanced permission to enter the UK to claim asylum.

Boris Johnson was accused on Monday of scapegoating people who are risking their lives by crossing the Channel to seek asylum in the UK and using “inaccurate and inflammatory” language to describe their plight.

And on Tuesday, Natalie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover, distanced herself from rhetoric used by fellow Tories in a letter to the home secretary, in which they referred to “invading migrants” .

A group of 23 Conservative MPs and two peers on Monday wrote to Patel to demand “stronger enforcement” efforts to combat a “surge in illegal immigration” as the number of arrivals in small boats surpassed the 4,100 mark so far in 2020.

Elphicke, whose Dover constituency has witnessed a significant proportion of the arrivals, has been pushing for tougher action and improved support from the French government, describing people “who break into our country”.

But appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday, she refused to condone the language used by her colleagues.

Asked if she would use the term “invading migrants”, she said: “That’s not my letter I didn’t sign it and I do not use the language you refer to. These are illegal entrants – we could and should take action. We are looking to work with France and it’s essential here in Dover we put a stop to these small boat crossings.”

Idling: bad for business, bad for biofouling

Number of idle box ships surges by 52pc in November from October ...

As public health measures to contain the devastating impact of COVID-19 placed 4 billion people and a myriad of global industries on lockdown, the commercial impact suffered by the shipping industry has been immense.

A common feature across the entire spectrum of ships that operate in our colossal industry is that there are significantly more ships sat still than this time last year. Ship owners have looked to put ships in hot or warm lay up as an interim solution to weather the dismal market conditions brought about by decreased consumer goods demand and halted passenger cruising and short-sea ferry trips due to travel restrictions.

In April this year, Clarksons Research predicted that 2020 could see global seaborne trade shrink by 5%, the biggest annual decline the sector has seen in 35 years. According to Alphaliner, the beginning of June saw the inactive global containership fleet stand at 2.72m teu, representing 11.6% of the overall fleet capacity. Passenger ships and cruise ships sat eerily still being one of the early casualties of the pandemic.

In the tanker sector, 4 billion people going into lockdown resulted in a serious drop in the demand and price of crude oil. With oil being traded on the futures market, traders were looking to lock in value, and in west Texas, producers were paying traders to take oil off their hands, resulting in negative oil prices. This resulted in a significant upturn in demand for using tankers as floating storage when land-based storage quickly became overwhelmed. According to Lloyd’s List Intelligence, as the industry sailed into the last week of May 2020, crude oil stored on tankers surged to a record 275 million barrels across 239 tankers sat at anchor for 20 days or more.

Not since the global crisis of 2008 and 2009 has such a large proportion of the industry sat still. This is bad for business and also bad for biofouling.

Biofouling has been a perennial headache for the shipping industry for centuries. However, it now looks like it’s going to get far worse, particularly for those vessels sat idle in warmer waters. Marine organisms love a static submerged surface and ship hulls below the waterline are prime real estate.

Since biofouling causes increased frictional resistance when water flows across the hull, ships with heavy fouled hulls have to burn more fuel to maintain the same speed through the water. Or if a ship is operating on fixed shaft power, speed penalties will ensue.

Barnacles and their volcano-shaped hard shells that stick out into the water column are a particularly horrifying contributor to frictional resistance. Once they attach head-first onto a hull using their super strong glue, they are also a very tricky beast to get rid of. If water-based cleaning techniques won’t shift them, more abrasive scrubbing methods are required.

Just recently, a new research study commissioned by I-Tech AB, undertaken by the Safinah Group, revealed the true extent to which barnacle fouling impacts the global fleet, and the results are shocking.

For the research study, UK-based marine coatings consultants the Safinah Group analysed underwater hull fouling condition on a sample of 249 ships which drydocked over a four-year period between 2015-2019. It was discovered that over 40% of vessels surveyed had a barnacle fouling coverage on the hull of over 10%.

Since anything more than 10% coverage is deemed to cause an ‘unacceptable’ impact on vessel performance by experts, the global fleet is really suffering the consequences.

On many of the vessels surveyed, fouling levels were even worse; approximately 15% of vessels had between 10-20% of hard fouling coverage on the hull, 10% of vessels had 20-30% of hard fouling coverage and the remaining 10% of vessels had between 40-80% of hard fouling coverage.

Extrapolating from published data taken from a 2011 study by Michael P. Schultz, this level of hard fouling (assuming a 10% coverage of hard fouling on 40% of the fleet) could be responsible for at least 110 million tonnes of excess carbon emissions, and an additional US $6 billion spent on fuel per year for the global commercial fleet. The true figure is likely to be higher, as this is a conservative calculation based on today’s relatively low fuel prices.

This data analysis was carried out before the COVID-19 pandemic therefore, it can be anticipated that in recent months, the extent of barnacle fouling coverage across the global fleet will have increased significantly, chiefly due to the huge proportion of vessels that have lain idle. We can definitely assume that if this data collection exercise is repeated, we could anticipate a significant spike in the extent of fouling coverage.

This means that when the thousands of vessels that have welcomed barnacles on the hull set sail again, their impact will be immediately noticeable on the fuel bill. For those ships that were protected against extended idling periods by antifouling coatings that have I-Tech’s Selektope® technology inside, they will reap the immediate benefits of a barnacle-free hull.

As such, the examination of the idle period guarantees provided by coatings manufacturers and identifying what components can enable protection during extended idling periods is more important than ever.

For most antifouling coatings, protection guarantees range between 14 and 21 idle days, with the most premium antifouling coatings coming with up to 30 days idle guarantee. However, under tough market conditions such as those encountered during the current COVID-19 pandemic, ships need longer protection guarantees. For many antifouling coatings on the market this is made possible by the inclusion of Selektope®.

Therefore, considering antifouling coatings that contain Selektope® is an easy step to ensuring that ships sail free from barnacle burden.

Source: Selektope, by Catherine Austin, Marketing Director – I-Tech AB

Unauthorised Flags: A Threat to the Global Maritime Regime

Blacklisting call for Panama flagged ships as seafarers told to ...

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) specifies that all ships “have the nationality of the State whose flag they are entitled to fly.” Consequently, flag states exercise jurisdiction over their flagged vessels. 

A recent and quickly growing phenomenon, however, has put this basic tenet of the law of the sea in question: unauthorised flag use.

Unauthorised flag use is a practice whereby a vessel uses a state’s flag without its consent and, oftentimes, without its knowledge. 

Although this can take many forms, often overlapping, it may be helpful to think of this issue in two broad categories: fraudulent flagging and false flagging. Fraudulent flagging generally entails an official recognition of fraudulent registration, e.g. fraudulently issued registration documents resulting in formal recognition by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). 

False flagging, on the other hand, describes a situation where a vessel falsely claims registration different than the flag it is actually authorised to fly as a matter of expediency. Both create a gap wherein there is no effective oversight of the vessel’s activities, which can be exploited to facilitate a range of illicit activities.

Fraudulent Flags, Real Issues

The issue of fraudulent flagging was brought to the attention of the international community in 2015, when the IMO became aware of a fraudulent registry purporting to operate on behalf of the Federated States of Micronesia. 

Micronesia does not operate an international shipping registry. It is not even an IMO Member State. Two years later, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) formally brought the issue to the attention of the IMO Legal Committee after discovering that 77 out of the 84 vessels flying its flag have been doing so without authorisation.

Other countries have also fallen victim to fraudulent registration, including Fiji, Samoa, Nauru, Vanuatu and the Maldives. Although in some cases, like Nauru, the fraud was caught early enough that no fraudulent documents were ever issued, as of last year over 300 vessels are believed to have been registered fraudulently.

These fraudulent registrations are exploited by those engaged in illicit activity. In the case of the DRC, the country only became aware of the issue when contacted by INTERPOL with a request to prosecute two vessels engaged in illicit activity that claimed the DRC flag. 

Of the 98 vessels investigated by Fiji since 2017 for fraudulently claiming its flag at least 20 percent were subsequently linked to North Korea and likely engaged in sanctions evasion. Fraudulent registries not only deprive legitimate registries of income but can also cause significant reputational damage when vessels fraudulently flying a flag are involved in illicit activities.

In just one example, the Maldives found itself having to officially deny a statement by the Japanese Foreign Ministry which identified a supposedly Maldives-flagged vessel as engaging in a prohibited ship-to-ship transfer with a North Korean tanker.

In addition to enabling illicit activity and causing financial or reputational damage to legitimate maritime actors, fraudulent and false flagging can also adversely impact a range of other areas—maritime safety and security, environmental protection, and maritime emergencies among them. 

More broadly, as the resolution on the subject adopted by the IMO Assembly in January 2020 notes, unauthorised flag use “endanger[s] the integrity of maritime transport, and undermine[s] the legal foundation of the Organisation's treaty and regulatory regime.”

Despite that, the IMO response to the issue has been slow to come. While the organisation has been aware of the problem at least since 2015, it was only in 2019 that it adopted any concrete measures to address it. 

One of these measures involved establishing a whitelist of authorised national registries and a procedure of verifying the information provided. This is particularly important given that the IMO had in the past erroneously recognised the fraudulent Micronesia International Ship Registry as a legitimate authorised body acting on behalf of the Micronesian government.

The fraudulent entity, Micronesia International Ship Registry, listed as the official registry representative in an IMO contact list circa early 2018. This has since been corrected.

The other element—perhaps the most practically impactful—is the adoption of a new flag indicator in IMO records denoting fraudulent registrations. Adopted as an outcome of the March 2019 meeting of the IMO Legal Committee, it is intended to identify instances where a flag state has confirmed that a vessel was never legitimately registered. 

This, however, has been implemented inconsistently and likely only identifies a portion of vessels that have engaged in the practice. As an example, despite Micronesia having never operated a flag registry, not all vessels which had fraudulently claimed Micronesian registration are marked with the ‘false’ indicator in the IMO’s Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS).

While these steps are welcome, they are insufficient to combat fraudulent flagging on their own. Indeed, the most impactful measure taken has been efforts by individual countries to denounce fraudulent registrations issued in their name. 

Marine circulars by Tuvalu and the Cook Islands note that Fiji reported the unauthorised use of its flag to the Tokyo MOU while Micronesia, Nauru, and Samoa reported the fake registries operating in their name to the IMO. Notifying multilateral organisations of the issue may have contributed to decreased unauthorised use of these countries’ flags: an annual report on vessel inspections maintained by the Tokyo MOU shows drastic decreases in inspections of vessels flagged to both Fiji and Micronesia between 2017 and 2019. Inspections of vessels “registered” to Fiji went from 23 to four; those for Micronesia from 67 to zero.

False Flagging – Quicker and Easier

In comparison to the relative success combatting fraudulent flagging, false flagging poses a more complex challenge. This is because it is much easier to perpetrate: it does not require anchoring the deception in an official recognition by the IMO, but instead involves creating a false identity that is good enough to get away with illicit activity in the present moment. 

This includes broadcasting false identities via a vessel’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder—a safety and navigation system whose use for most international vessels is mandated by International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)—or the fraudulent use of registration documents.

Broadcasting false identities using AIS transmissions is relatively straightforward as the identifiers broadcast are entered manually. This allows them to be changed frequently, complicating efforts to track a vessel’s activities. 

AIS transmissions using identifiers registered to the KUM RUNG 5, a North Korean cargo ship, for instance, show a vessel cycling through around 30 different identifiers, including names, Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) numbers, callsigns, and even IMO numbers, which are meant to be unique to just one vessel throughout its lifetime. 

This includes the use of at least four names in 2020 alone. Because the identifiers are programmed onboard the vessel, confirming the authenticity of the broadcast is not possible without other means of verification.

A vessel seeking to falsify an identity can also match the unique identifiers legitimately assigned to another vessel. In the case of a North Korea-flagged cargo vessel TAE YANG, investigated jointly by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the Royal United Services Institute, the vessel mimicked aspects of the identity of the Mongolia-flagged tanker KRYSPER SINGA. 

The AIS record initially broadcast by the TAE YANG with its assumed identity appeared to show the KRYSPER SINGA as having visited North Korea, while the real KRYSPER SINGA was actually off the coast of Singapore. Imagery, both satellite and ground, was necessary to verify that the AIS transmissions from North Korea were really coming from another vessel, the TAE YANG. Relying on AIS transmissions alone would have implicated an otherwise innocent vessel in a violation of United Nations sanctions on North Korea.

With regards to the use of fraudulent documents, the somewhat artificial distinction between fraudulent flagging and false flagging blurs. But a distinction, however minute, remains: fraudulent documents in the context of false flagging are used not to support a registration claim made to the IMO but to allow a vessel to navigate interactions with third parties when expedient. The case of the WISE HONEST is illustrative.

The WISE HONEST was a bulk carrier detained by Indonesia in 2018 for illicitly exporting coal from North Korea. At the time of the detention, it was registered to North Korea. 

Yet court documents show that the vessel initially identified itself to Indonesian authorities as being flagged by Sierra Leone—which it had been from August 2015 until May 2016. Authorities found two sets of documents onboard the vessel, one supporting registration with Sierra Leone, and one with North Korea. 

Although it is unclear whether the Sierra Leone documents found on the WISE HONEST in 2018 were an expired set of documents issued to the vessel in 2015 or a forgery, this case illustrates the ease with which legitimately issued documentation could be repurposed for illicit activity.

Building a Better Response

Although the measures adopted by the IMO are an important step toward addressing the problem of fraudulent and false flagging, a much more comprehensive response is needed. This should combine measures taken collectively by the appropriate international bodies, measures taken individually by states, and measures taken by the private sector.

At the national level, there are several steps countries can take.

First, implement national measures to prosecute fraudulent or false flagging and the illicit activity it facilitates, and enhance enforcement capabilities. Though fraudulent or false flagging may be illegal in some jurisdictions, this has not deterred vessels from engaging in the practice. This might have to do with how difficult enforcement action can be. Fiji opened criminal investigations into the unauthorised use of its flag in 2017. 

Its current status is unknown. Micronesia was finally able to bring charges in April 2020 against the individuals behind the Micronesia International Ship Registry—five years after the fraudulent registry first became active. Following the detention of the WISE HONEST in 2018, the only charges Indonesia could bring against the captain of the vessel were for “being in charge of an unseaworthy vessel.” It is unclear whether Sierra Leone tried, or would have been able to take any action in relation to unauthorised flag use.

Prosecution on the basis of the associated illicit activities—violations of United Nations sanctions on North Korea, for instance—could offer a supplemental pathway as well. Yet all too often, these measures are not appropriately implemented in national legislation. In many, if not most, cases, however, mutual legal assistance agreements would likely be necessary to take action effectively, given that vessels claiming a flag fraudulently may never be under the aggrieved party’s effective jurisdiction. The same is true of appropriate national enforcement procedures, without which any enforcement action will be difficult if not impossible. Exercises like those conducted under the banner of the Proliferation Security Initiative— a multinational response to the transnational threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—could focus on the ability to track and interdict a shipment and help build this capacity.

Second, invest in capabilities to monitor a broader set of vessel activity. In order to follow through on national legislation criminalising fraudulent or false flagging, countries need to be able to identify it. Doing so requires investment in capabilities—both human and technological—to monitor vessel activity. Human capabilities entail relevant personnel knowing how to identify vessels engaged in fraudulent or false flagging. 

This is key to making sure that indicators of fraudulent or false flagging are noted and acted upon. Technological capabilities include the ability, likely via an AIS monitoring platform, to trace AIS transmissions linked to vessels in a country’s territorial waters to see if they have previously engaged in fraudulent or false flagging, and the ability to scan for AIS transmissions making unauthorised use of the country’s flag. Regional partnerships may offer smaller states, including those without international ship registries, a more cost-effective way of maintaining these capabilities.

Third, when it comes to assumed identities and identity theft perpetrated through AIS transmission, the way AIS transponders work is part of the problem: manual data entry makes fraud quite easy. The most recent advisory for the maritime sector issued by the U.S. government recommends that registry managers work with classification societies to provide a “soft lock” on AIS transponders, which would disable the option of manual changes during a vessel’s voyage while allowing for disablement in sanctioned emergency situations. This could go some way toward addressing the issue, although it would necessarily miss many of those actors already engaged in illicit activities who are not likely to allow for this sort of modification to their vessel’s equipment.

The private sector also has a role to play. To do so, it is important that AIS data providers and AIS monitoring platforms review how they aggregate data associated with false flagging. The ability of states to take action against those engaged in fraudulent or false flagging is contingent on the indicators of that practice being visible. As noted in the report on the TAE YANG, AIS data can be “corrected” or jettisoned when found to be associated with a vessel identity not registered with the IMO. 

This risks, in effect, erasing the illicit activity or making it harder to attribute. In the case of the TAE YANG, its AIS transmissions were merged with those of the KRYSPER SINGA and ultimately attributed to it. In other cases, like that of the KUM RUNG 5, AIS data for what is likely a single vessel may be grouped into different records on the basis of some of the false identifiers used by a vessel engaged in false flagging. Failure of data providers and maritime platforms to address these issues risks undermining faith in AIS as a means of monitoring vessel identities and activities—leaving national authorities and independent analysts with one fewer tool to monitor and disrupt illicit activity.


Fraudulent and false flagging is a complex issue requiring action from multilateral organisations like the IMO, national authorities, and the private sector. Each of these actors has a different set of incentives. Much is at stake for the private sector, including both data providers and the maritime industry that uses said data, and the reliability of AIS transmissions. For individual countries, their motivation comes from the reputational or financial costs they might incur as victims of unauthorised flag use. And for the international community writ large, with the IMO as the guardian of global maritime trade, the persistent and seemingly growing problem posed by fraudulent and false flagging—as the organisation itself admits—threatens to undermine the entire legal regime it embodies. The temptation to pass responsibility for combatting unauthorised flag use to others is immense. But it is only through steps taken collectively by all relevant stakeholders that this problem can be addressed.

Source: CIMSEC

Helping crews and storage solutions

Inchcape Shipping Services | BPM-D

Just think about the history of the last hundred years – Spanish flu hit in 1918, two world wars, crisis in the Suez and famine in Africa. Through all of these very testing times Inchcape has been a dependable servant to the maritime community and continued to facilitate vital global trade. Black gold is often credited as the most important commodity in the world, fortunes have been made from it and wars fought over it.

Tanker shipping is vitally important to the world, both with crude oil and refined products. Without it many say the world would grind to a halt. But what about today? The reverse has happened! The shoe is on the other foot! Instead the world has in a way ground to a halt (or hopefully just paused) but oil, product refining and tanker shipping continue at a pace.

What is the consequence and how will big oil and the tanker market react and adapt? This is something we at Inchcape on the tanker side have been looking into. Before Covid-19 was so rampant a short lived oil war at the beginning of the year saw a dramatic increase in oil production and put much more oil into the market. Traders shorted oil and prices collapsed. “Oh no” some cried, but “oh yes” said many oil traders and refiners. It’s “contango” time once more – no not a fizzy drink, but it is a sort of dance.

As previously explained a blog or two ago contango is a trading term meaning that money can be made. Contango or the fact that the price for a commodity sometime in the future will be much more than it can be bought for today, really makes a trader and an oil refiner happy. Time to literally fill your boots with oil. So we started storing crude oil on ships at sea as many on shore facilities are already full or “at Tank Tops”. Greed is indeed good…or is it? Well it depends how far the oil price falls and as we have seen some have had to pay to have physical oil taken off their hands – someone got the sack there.

COVID-19 Disruption

Soon the oil markets ran into another problem and yes this was Covid-19 and the slow shut down of the world. No one really expected, that like me now writing this from my kitchen, the majority of the whole world would be put in detention at home. 

Capacity for all types of oil and oil products on shore is full, at tank tops and over spilling. Jet fuel, Gasoline, Naphtha is not being used and is clogging up refineries that you cannot just shut down overnight. 

During many agricultural crisis that we have seen, over production of milk was solved by pouring it away. Especially now days doing that with oil is frowned upon. Oil has to be stored and now there is nowhere else to do it except at sea on tankers.

The making of shipping magnets.

Tanker owners are not complaining. Shipping being a great example of a simple supply and demand market, loves this sort of situation. Before Covid-19 knocked the world for six, tanker markets were relatively good and at some points at the end of 2019 VLCC owners had been asking for up to $300,000 per day for the use of their ship. (Tensions in the Middle East Gulf and geopolitics). On a 45 day voyage such a TCE makes the Owner $13.5 million for a round trip. Sure, those dizzy heights did not last for long, but rates still fell back to very good historic levels.

A double positive. With more and more tankers of all types and denominations being attracted by charterers to store oil and oil products at sea, the tanker market is in an upward spiral. There is a finite number of tanker vessels of each type and this stock is getting depleted day by day as ships store oil or que up at ports and wait to discharge into terminals that are already full. Fewer tankers are in the open market for normal voyages, the bigger the squeeze on tonnage supply the more an owner can ask for the use of their ship with little competition, and so it goes on.

How can Inchcape help the tanker market at this time? Well as ever Inchcape have been in the thick of things. A major focus of ours has been the health and safety of maritime crews, which should be at the top of everyone’s list.

Both Inchcape’s global network and the fact we are the biggest pure port agent in the world helps shipping at all times, good and bad, and also throughout history. Inchcape is at your service and by your side 24/7 365, as shipping never sleeps, and is especially so at this time when the world again faces fresh challenges but also the opportunities these challenges bring. Today’s global crisis another challenge for Inchcape, especially to provide humanitarian aid and shipping know how to the maritime community. It is uncharted times, but also a challenge and one which we and our excellent staff all around the world rise to.

Keep safe, and we salute all or key workers on land, in hospitals and at sea.

Source: Jonny Hudson, Vice President Head of Tankers, ISS-Shipping

Why the Beaching Method of Ship Recycling Should Not Be Criticised

Cargo Ships on Beaches…Really?

Over the last decade, far reaching agenda driven institutions have published numerous articles, cover stories and quarterly reports highlighting how the beaching method of ship recycling in South Asian yards results in “dirty, toxic and dangerous scrapping” with “dire working and living conditions for workers”. 

There is vehement opposition for the beaching of ships for recycling that is practiced in South Asian Countries by these institutions. Moreover, these institutions conclude that poor working conditions with no infrastructure, low wages, compromised labour rights and environmental standards are the only reason why end-of-life ships fetch more money when sold to the recycling yards operating in the Indian sub-continent when compared with recycling yards in Europe and Turkey.

As such, it is imperative to re-emphasize that in the last four years, nearly 80 ship recycling yards in India (out of 120 working yards) have achieved Statements of Compliance (SoC) with the Hong Kong Convention by various IACS class societies – including ClassNK, IRClass, Lloyd’s Register, and RINA. In addition, a yard in Chattogram, Bangladesh has also become the first one to achieve an SoC by ClassNK in January 2020, having first achieved a RINA SoC in 2017.

Furthermore, to encourage the positive growth of India’s vital ship recycling sector, in November 2019 the Government of India acceded to the Hong Kong Convention for Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships and became the only South Asian country and major ship recycling destination so far to take such a positive step.

Additionally, major blue-chip Ship Owners of the world such as Maersk, China Navigation, Teekay, Transocean, MOL, NYK, and several other major Japanese & Norwegian ship owners have visited & vetted yards in Alang and decided that Indian yards are well up to their standards and are a viable destination to recycle their end-of-life tonnage.

Moreover, twenty Indian ship recycling yards have submitted their applications to the European Commission in order to audit their recycling facilities for inclusion in the EU’s list of approved ship recycling yards and several of these yards are currently undergoing EU-audits, which certainly demonstrates that they must have passed the preliminary requirements to merit a possible inclusion under the EU Ship Recycling Regulation (EUSRR).

As a matter of fact, ship recycling yard owners have indeed made massive investments to upgrade their recycling facilities, including: 100% impervious floors with drainage systems; heavy lift cranes; yard and vessel-specific training for workers; and the development and implementation of Ship Recycling Facility Plans and Ship Recycling Plans (as per IMO’s guidelines in Resolutions MEPC.210(63) and MEPC.196(62)).

The institutions that have been tireless in criticising South Asia’s yards have deliberately remained blind to the tremendous improvements that have taken place there. Such large-scale development cannot be shrugged-off with baseless statements that the beaching method is toxic, and blatantly false statements that all yards in South Asia are the same, irrespective of their level of advancement.

There can only be two logical reasons for the critics to be vocal in their opinions. First, they view these certificates as not good enough and believe that yards continue to operate in the same manner as they were operating before obtaining their HKC certification. Secondly, in the minds of critics, the Hong Kong Convention may be a grossly inadequate standard to regulate the recycling of ships.

In response to the first point, it would be unwise to question the integrity and professionalism of reputed classification societies having IACS memberships. Regarding the second point, it is true that critics of the beaching method are also critics of the Hong Kong Convention because of the simple fact that it does not ban the beaching of vessels.

Nevertheless, it has to be remembered that the Hong Kong Convention was developed by a large number of countries under the aegis of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations Specialized Agency. The IMO decided that banning the beaching method (which currently is used for over 92% of the recycled tonnage) would be wrong as well as counterproductive. Moreover, the real improvement that has taken place in the last few years can be seen today on these yards during an in- person visit. Therefore, it is important to explore and define the inherent reasons associated with South Asian countries fueling their ability to recycle over 92% of end- of-life ships. This article is an effort to demystify said claims through a systematic analysis of the economics of end-of-life ships in India and Turkey.

Source: GMS, Contributor: Dr. Anand Hiremath, Lead Coordinator, GMS Responsible Ship Recycling Program

Chinese iron ore imports break record at 112.7 million tonnes

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China imported a record 112.7 million tonnes of iron ore in July, just shy of 10m tonnes above the previous record. July thereby marked the fourth month in a row that iron ore imports exceeded the corresponding month the year before.

In the first seven months of the year, iron ore imports are up 11.8%, or an additional 69.5m tonnes, which is the equivalent of 300 extra Very Large Ore Carrier loads (230,000 tonnes).

The Chinese appetite for iron ore, and thereby rising demand for shipping, has boosted Capesize earnings which averaged USD 24,500 per day in July. The Chinese iron ore import price in July averaged USD 97.1 per tonne, a rise from June but below the price in July 2019.

“The reversal of previous years’ trend to use scrap metal instead of imported iron ore is puzzling and the growth in steel production doesn’t explain the higher imports. Are they simply stockpiling while tensions with Australia grow?” asks Peter Sand, BIMCO’s Chief Shipping Analyst.

The record-breaking iron ore imports go against expectations given the slowdown of the Chinese economy as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Steel production in China, for which iron ore is a primary ingredient, is up by 1.4% in the first six months of the year. After two years in which the growth in steel production has been far higher than that in iron ore imports, the reversal which we have seen so far this year is puzzling.

The increased iron ore imports without a corresponding increase in steel production is likely driven by several factors, including supply disruptions to domestic scrap steel, limiting the use of electric arc furnaces and therefore increasing the share of steel being produced with domestic iron ore.

Source: BIMCO

Hydrogen – The future of zero-carbon fuels?

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As the debate over how to combat climate change becomes ever more urgent, one company says it has found a way to produce carbon-neutral hydrogen on an industrial scale. In November, Heliogen, an American clean energy company backed by Bill Gates, announced that it had concentrated solar energy to exceed temperatures greater than 1,000 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, Heliogen can split CO2 or water molecules to make hydrogen in a carbon-neutral way for industrial processes.

Producing hydrogen without the use of fossil fuels wasn’t a concern until recently, but now this is arguably one of the biggest challenges to making it a viable fuel of the future, says Yury Melnikov, senior analyst at the Energy Centre and the Moscow School of Management 

“For many decades, all around the world we’ve been getting cheap and reliable hydrogen almost only from fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil. Until recently, there were no serious reasons to look for an alternative production method. But the fight against climate change, which governments, companies, cities and people are now involved in, has changed the problem at the root. Now we need not only a cheap and reliable hydrogen production method, but also a carbon-neutral one,” Melnikov says.

Logistical challenges

“The production of hydrogen is actually very easy: two electrodes are put into water and electricity is led to the electrodes. This simple process releases hydrogen from water. The challenge comes when sustainable production is needed,” says Juha Kytölä, Director of R&D and Engineering at Wärtsilä. “Electricity from ’green’ sources like wind or solar is not widely available at this moment and it still has rather high cost, though it is decreasing.”

Kytölä adds that creating hydrogen – even in a carbon-neutral way – isn’t the biggest challenge to using it as a fuel. The logistics of transporting and storing hydrogen is difficult due to the size of the tanks needed and the very low temperatures required for liquifying it.

It would be useful for the maritime industry in particular if the hydrogen produced through the Heliogen concept could be used efficiently for creating synthetic methane, he says. Ships currently running on liquefied natural gas (LNG) could use it without any modifications to the ship systems. Alternatively, hydrogen could be used as-is as a fuel in combustion engines or fuel cells, but that would require further development in terms of hydrogen storage and logistics concepts.

“Heliogen has introduced one potential way to produce hydrogen. Practice will show if this method is commercially successful. If the resulting cost for hydrogen will be very low, the hydrogen may be attractive for further processing purposes like for production of synthetic methane, thus replacing the use of fossil methane,” Kytölä says.

Scaling up

Is Heliogen’s breakthrough the solution to transforming sunlight into fuel at scale?

“Heliogen is proposing an alternative process to produce hydrogen. Instead of electrodes and electricity, Heliogen is using extremely high temperatures to split water to hydrogen and oxygen. Common to both processes is that hydrogen can be released from water by using a lot of external energy. When later combusting hydrogen (combining hydrogen and oxygen), that energy is released again (due to process losses, the energy is somewhat less than was needed for the split),” explains Kytölä.

Heliogen declined via email to comment for this story, but in a press release announcing the breakthrough, Bill Gross, CEO and Founder of Heliogen, said that his company has made a technological leap forward in addressing the energy demand in industrial processes like making cement, steel and other materials (which are responsible for a fifth of all emissions) and transportation, which are still heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

Indeed, any industry could benefit from this process in order to utilise hydrogen to produce heat, to produce mechanical or electrical energy or for chemical processes.

Melnikov has several reservations about the Heliogen technology’s readiness for commercialisation. He sees electrolysis as a more promising option for hydrogen production from renewable sources.

“With Heliogen, everything will depend on whether the company will succeed in the face of the challenges posed by the technology itself and offer the market a competitive solution,” Melnikov says.

He identified three main challenges that clean energy providers like Heliogen must overcome, which are similar to the challenges Kytölä identified for the use of hydrogen as a fuel overall: difficulties in terms of scaling, difficulties in transportation, and difficulties in storage and matching production to demand.

An industrial level system that could be used to produce heat for one factory using such technology would need dozens of square kilometres of space next to it. Additionally, Heliogen technology, like many technologies that capture renewable energy source, only works at full capacity a few hours each day. Most industrial processes work according to a very different schedule, so storage solutions will be key to viability. At the moment, however, there are no high-value heat storage technologies.

Solution of the future?

The expert community is of two minds about whether Heliogen is the non-linear technology we’ve all been waiting for.

“I would say that this is an interesting and potential step forward for creating sustainable societies. It remains to be seen if this becomes the commercially most attractive way. We are all awaiting low-cost solutions to meet that target,” Kytölä says.

Melnikov believes that it is still much too early to assess Heliogen’s full potential and come to any verdict because it is just one of many different methods of heating something to a high temperature without burning fossil fuels and has no direct relation to hydrogen production. However, cheap, flexible, and reliable green energy production will be a real game changer for the deep de-carbonisation of the global economy. Should Heliogen succeed, it will have carved out an important niche in the future global energy market.

Source: Wartsila

UK Business Minister Visits Belfast Maritime Consortium

The Belfast Maritime Consortium led by Artemis Technologies, has hosted a visit to the city by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, pictured centre at Belfast Harbour Commissioners Office with Joe O’Neill, CEO, Belfast Harbour, left, and Iain Percy OBE, CEO, Artemis Technologies. Representatives of the 13-partner syndicate met the minister to discuss their plans to develop zero emissions ferries in Belfast that will revolutionise the future of maritime transport. The project recently won a £33 million Strength in Places Fund grant from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a BEIS funded body

The Belfast Maritime Consortium led by Artemis Technologies, has hosted a visit to the city by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP. 

Representatives of the 13-partner syndicate met the minister to discuss their plans to develop zero-emissions ferries in Belfast that will revolutionise the future of maritime transport.

The project recently won a £33 million Strength in Places Fund grant from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a BEIS funded body

Iain Percy OBE, CEO of Artemis Technologies, a spin-off from competitive sailing team Artemis Racing, said:

“It was a pleasure to host the Secretary of State in Belfast to showcase our plans to make the city, and the UK, the global lead in zero emissions maritime technology.

“Along with our consortium partners, we took the opportunity to provide a detailed brief to the Minister on our plans to foster a newly resurgent maritime cluster in Northern Ireland that could create hundreds of jobs over the coming years.

“No matter who we meet, the excitement when we talk about combining Belfast’s shipbuilding heritage with its incredible talent in aerospace and composite engineering, and world-class R&D capabilities, is clear to see.

“Thanks to the support of BEIS and UKRI through the Strength in Places Fund, and with the assistance of our partners in industry, academia and the public sector, we can harness that potential and change the face of waterborne transport forever.”

During the visit, the Secretary of State met with members of the Belfast Maritime Consortium at Belfast Harbour, before previewing new exhibition space at the W5 interactive science museum featuring Artemis Racing’s America’s Cup high-speed yacht, and touring the Northern Ireland Advanced Composites and Engineering (NIACE) Centre, which will host part of the consortium’s R&D programme.

The Belfast Maritime Consortium project, which is being backed by close to £60m of investment over the next four years, including contributions from consortium partners will create an initial 125 research and development jobs leading to more than 1,000 in the region over the decade.

The Belfast consortium brings together a range of established and young firms, academia and public bodies, including Belfast Harbour, Bombardier Belfast, Northern Ireland Advanced Composites Engineering (NIACE), Creative Composites, Energia, Catalyst, Invest Northern Ireland, Ulster University, Belfast Met, Queen’s University, Belfast, Ards and North Down Borough Council, and Belfast City Council.

Crew Change Crisis hits Australian smelter Operations

(Image Courtesy: IMO)

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the Maritime Union of Australia say government failures to support crew change will now cost a smelter operation millions of dollars and even more to the local economy, as the unions help the exhausted Burmese crew of the Unison Jasper to stop working and get off the ship.

The bulk carrier Unison Jasper was carting alumina to the Tomago Aluminium smelter near Newcastle when it was recently detained by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) in the Port of Newcastle. The action took place following allegations that crew members were abused, intimidated and forced to sign contract extensions which would have kept them on board for up to 14 months, well beyond the legal maximum off 11 months.

The unions alerted AMSA to the human rights breaches, and the agency swooped. Dean Summers is ITF Coordinator for Australia, he says the detention of the ship shows that Port State Control agencies such as AMSA will act when seafarers say ‘enough is enough’ and stand up to enforce their rights to get off during the mounting crew change crisis.

“This is the latest flare up where seafarers are standing up and exercising their human right to stop working once their contracts have expired, and get off these ships. It is totally outrageous that these seafarers were already 13 months at sea when the Australian authorities granted this ship a licence to do this run along the Australian coast,” said Summers.

“Exploitation is bound to happen when the federal government allows foreign-crewed vessels to replace Australian jobs.”

“The crew have said ‘we’re not moving this anywhere, now’ and they’ve actually come down the gangway and off the ship. It’s not going anywhere. Now it’s the responsibilities of the Taiwanese owners which have profited off the abuse of these seafarers to deal with a dead ship in a very expensive berth, as the losses will be mounting for the smelter and their buddies,” added Summers.

Unions constructed a wind break around the huddled crew dockside last Friday, as Covid-19 pandemic restrictions prevented them from going more than 13 metres from the vessel.

“This shows the absurdity rules brought in by governments like Australia in the pandemic world. Despite the intimidating experience these seafarers have been through, they are prevented from coming more than 13 meters from the ship. Our ridiculous rules deny them even the dignity of that,” said Summers.

“The ITF and our affiliates have been clear: governments need to bring in practical exemptions from travel, transit and quarantine rules for seafarers so they can get to and from ships. I’ve no doubt that this situation with the Unison Jasper is a consequence of federal government inaction to coordinate the industry across states, agencies and internationally.”

“This is a lesson for the politicians and bureaucrats who seem incapable of bringing in green lanes for seafarers to get crew change, so seafarers don’t have to take the drastic action of stopping ships, as they have done here,” he said.

The ship now won’t move until the ship owners can find fresh crew, who themselves must go through two weeks of quarantine on arriving in Australia, even if they have a negative Covid-19 test result in their home countries.

“The Unison Jasper will sit here for weeks, maybe a month, not moving and not helping Australia’s economic recovery. That is the cost of ignoring the plight of a tired and fatigued workforce and applying blanket rules to this essential workforce. This incident was preventable, but preventing it requires action from our leaders. Without action, this won’t be the last ship held up,” said Summers

“We are on the verge of our ports choking with ships unable to sail, not because of industrial action by unions –

but because of the absolute exhaustion and fatigue of forgotten seafarers. If for no other reason, it’s the threat of a trade shut down, that Australian exporters should be asking the politicians why this crisis grows.”

“This case demonstrates a lack of coordination in government agencies and seafarers are suffering as a result.

If governments don’t work with each other, on the national and global level, then we will find more seafarers saying ‘enough is enough’, and more ships will be held up. That could cost industry billions. Perhaps then the politicians and bureaucrats will care,” said Summers.

Unions get most Workers home, Challenging times ahead

(Image Courtesy: IMO)

As the global cruise industry and seafarers’ unions near completion of the repatriation of almost 250,000 seafarers, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) warns that there are challenging times ahead for the industry and its workforce.

The ITF and its affiliated unions represent much of the global cruise ship workforce. The federation and the unions have actively supported the return of tens of thousands of seafarers in all categories from catering, hospitality staff, and entertainers to deck and engine crew, who were left stranded aboard cruise vessels across the globe as Covid-19 struck and governments shut their borders.

Dave Heindel, Chair of the Seafarers’ Section of the ITF, says the pandemic has shown the best and worst of humanity.

“On the one hand we’ve seen governments shamefully shutting their doors to seafarers as port states, transit countries and even the home countries of seafarers when really they should have done everything within their power to get seafarers on cargo and cruise ships home. On the other hand, this pandemic has shown the best of unions and many employers who have tried their hardest for these seafarers in really difficult circumstances,” said Dave Heindel.

“We have nothing but respect and admiration for the seafarers. These are people who simply went to work and found themselves trapped aboard what some seafarers came to call their ‘floating prisons’, unable to come ashore even for a walk. We thank these seafarers for their patience and fortitude through an incredibly difficult time. Some seafarers have been overwhelmed by the situation, and some have tragically taken their own lives out of desperation. We are deeply saddened by these events, and although most of us have never experienced a situation like theirs, we feel for them and their families. Seafarers deserve solidarity and respect from the public for what they’ve endured during this pandemic,”

“It is difficult to overstate the scale of the operation needed to get almost 250,000 seafarers home from cruise ships dotted around the world. The ITF family of maritime unions have been working round the clock since March to coordinate visas, flights and travel exemptions for seafarers to get home to their families,”

“While this is a fantastic result in the cruise industry, we need to remember that there remain around 300,000 seafarers trapped working over their contracts aboard cargo vessels, some as much as 16 months. Well over their 8-9 months as expected. This number is growing day-by-day. The answer here is simple: governments have to make practical exemptions to restrictions on seafarers’ travel and transit so that we can see a return to functional crew changes. It is imperative that we get these hundreds of thousands of seafarers off their ships after their contracts have expired, just as we did in the cruise industry,” said Dave Heindel.

Johan Øyen, who is Chair of the ITF’s Cruise Ship Task Force, says the combined efforts represent a major humanitarian success.

“We commend the cruise lines and those governments which have worked with the cruise lines to achieve the repatriation of nearly a quarter of a million seafarers from these ships. This has required tremendous logistical coordination,” said Johan Øyen.

“This success has occurred despite governments, including flag and port states, failing to live up to their legal and human rights obligations under international law. Not only was it morally wrong for states to refuse seafarers the ability to come ashore in order to get home, it was also illegal. We will be looking at what kind of enforcement mechanisms are required to prevent states from shirking their responsibilities in the future,” said Johan Øyen.

“Despite the challenges, the majority of the cruise industry has worked to achieve this result. The ITF and our affiliated unions look forward to working cooperatively with the industry to ensure recovery plans and the restart of operations coincide with an open conversation on how to improve the working and living conditions of seafarers onboard,”

Øyen says the ITF is concerned at reports that a number of Covid outbreaks have occurred on cruise ships in recent days, although at least one of these outbreaks is believed only to have happened due to important procedures not being been followed prior to the voyage.

“Cruising should only happen again when adequate health and safety measures are in place and are followed, and commitments are made from cruise location countries that they will allow seafarers shore leave and ashore for medical assistance and crew change as required. Cruise lines need to learn from the mistakes many of them made early in this pandemic to ensure safe work environments for seafarers,”

“We hope the global community will take note of the suffering of the seafarers left for months on board waiting to get home, and pay due respects to those seafarers. They are heroes of this pandemic,” said Johan Øyen.

UK job losses hit decade-high, worse seen ahead

Job Losses During The Coronavirus Outbreak - Recruitment Huntingdon

The number of people in work in Britain has suffered the biggest drop since 2009 and signs are growing that the coronavirus will take a heavier toll on the labour market as the government winds down its huge job-protection scheme.

Led by a record plunge in the self-employed, 220,000 fewer people were working in the three months through June, official figures showed on Tuesday.

Separate tax data for July showed that the number of staff on company payrolls had fallen by 730,000 since March, sounding the alarm about a potentially much bigger rise in joblessness.

Mounting job losses are expected as Britain winds down its job-retention scheme, which has covered around one in three private-sector jobs. It is due to close at the end of October.

“A real concern is that this is just the first wave of bad news for the jobs market,” said Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development.

“The fact that reduced hiring rather than increased firing of permanent staff is the main cause of the jobs slowdown to date bodes ill for the coming months if more employers turn to redundancies as a last resort.”

Finance minister Rishi Sunak said the government’s support programmes were working but job losses were inevitable.

“I’ve always been clear that we can’t protect every job, but … we have a clear plan to protect, support and create jobs to ensure that nobody is left without hope,” he said.

A string of companies plan layoffs, ranging from British Airways (ICAG.L) and London’s Evening Standard newspaper to retailers WH Smith (SMWH.L) and Selfridges.

The unemployment rate unexpectedly held at 3.9%. But that reflected more people who had given up looking for work and therefore were not considered unemployed, and 300,000 people who said they were working but getting no pay, the Office for National Statistics said.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected the unemployment rate to rise to 4.2%. Last week, the Bank of England forecast the jobless rate would hit 7.5% at the end of this year.

BoE Deputy Governor Dave Ramsden told The Times the central bank still had “significant headroom” to ramp up its huge bond-buying stimulus programme again if needed.

The ONS is expected to announce on Wednesday that Britain’s economy has fallen into a recession with a 21% slump in the size of the economy in the second quarter.

Tuesday’s figures showed the number of self-employed people fell by a record amount in the three months to June, led by older workers. The number of employees rose – something the ONS said was partly accounted for by workers reclassifying themselves as employed.

The number of people claiming universal credit – a benefit for those on low pay as well as the unemployed – rose to 2.689 million in July, leaping by 117% from March.

Pay fell by the most in more than 10 years in the April-June period, down 1.2%, reflecting how workers on the job retention scheme receive 80% of their salary. Excluding bonuses, pay fell for the first time since records began in 2001.

However, there was a small increase in job vacancies in the three months to July as small businesses took on staff to meet coronavirus guidelines, the ONS said.

Source: Reuters (Reporting by William Schomberg, editing by David Milliken, Simon Cameron-Moore, Larry King)