THE CHAIN LOCKER
If you've read many previous posts on this blog, you know the sad saga of MV ICEBERG (click "Iceberg 1" in the Categories list to the right of the page). Hijacked only 10 miles into her voyage from Aden to Jebel Ali on 29 March 2010, she's been held captive ever since - 118 miserable weeks - the longest-captive crew in the brutal history of Somali piracy. 

Her original crew of 24 has been diminished by two since then: first, her Yemeni 3rd officer, suffering from malnutrition and psychological problems, committed suicide by jumping overboard on 27 October 2010. His body was recovered and stored in the ship's freezer - but since the ship had only sporadic generator capability, this can't have been a good situation. The ship's owner declined to help. Second, on 9 February 2011 her Chief Engineer was taken away by armed men to an undisclosed location, after the crew had been threatened with execution if the owner failed to pay ransom. His current status is unknown.

MV ICEBERG's crew have been beaten, abused, and deprived of adequate food, clean water and medical treatment. In December last year some of the crew were reportedly taken ashore due to illness, but to my knowledge this is unconfirmed. The ship may be in bad shape, too - one report had her taking water in the engine room. She's been without supplies and maintenance for a long time.

The saddest thing is that their condition has been ignored not only by their shipping company, but also substantially by their respective governments: those of Yemen, India, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan and the Philippines. I've read very little about concrete action taken to release the men, though rumors of talks and impending release have swirled sporadically. That just adds to the torture the men's families must be feeling.

See this link to a video from IBN Live in which Diraj Tiwari, MV ICEBERG's Chief Mate, tells of the crew's despair. Check the date: that video was taken 15 months ago!

Somalia Report has tracked the situation since the beginning, and posted this timeline and summary on 26 June. It's an excellent wrapup of developments to date, and has many good links.

MV ICEBERG's owner is reported to be Azal Shipping of Dubai - once said to have gone out of business and unable to negotiate for MV ICEBERG's ransom - but with a current website "under construction" at the link above. When the maritime news site gCaptain called the number listed on the site, they got no answer. Another story is that Azal Shipping is a front for the real owner, Saeed Mohamed Qali, currently held at Guantanamo Bay. In any case, the ship's owners have been unable or unwilling to provide a ransom, or even to assist the captives in any way. 

At the top of the post see a video trailer for an upcoming documentary about MV ICEBERG's plight, being made by Neil Bell for Rabotat Films. I hope it will draw attention to this unconscionable situation - I hope that it enables people outside the maritime world to put themselves in these men's shoes! 

As seamen, we can help generate pressure to save MV ICEBERG's crew. Please track the progress of the upcoming documentary, tweet and link to posts and news about MV ICEBERG, spread the word to friends and family. Bring the murky, largely ignored saga of this ship and her miserable crew out of the shadows and into the spotlight. You can help them if you act!
 
 
THE CHAIN LOCKER
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USNS Rappahannock - click photo for US Navy account of shooting at boat mistaken for pirates
The irony of "unintended consequences" is that you're seriously setting out to do one thing, and unexpectedly end up doing quite another. Wikipedia mentions some interesting examples, such as the Africanized bee, and I'm sure you can think of many examples from your own life. War is full of unintended consequences, which is why it should never be undertaken lightly - although it usually is, probably an unintended consequence of letting sweet, perfectly harmless children grow up to become politicians. 

Unintended consequences can be positive, too, but when most folks use the term it's in a negative sense. The campaign against piracy, especially off East Africa, seems to be chock-full of those!

ENRICA LEXIE (click "Fishermen Shot" in the Categories column on the right side of the page) was one famous unintended consequence of the use of embarked security teams. In that case, you'll remember, two Indian fishermen were shot by the ship's armed military escort because they were mistaken for pirates. It appeared in that case that the only attempts to warn the fishermen were "warning shots" which were apparently not seen or heard. And that's easy to understand. It's noisy on a small boat under power, so the noise of gunshots - apparently so loud on the ship - can be drowned out by the background noise on the boat, and splashes from gunfire may not be visible, either. An unheard warning is no warning at all!

Now we hear about USNS RAPPAHANNOCK, an underway replenishment ship, shooting an approaching suspicious small boat, killing one Indian fisherman and injuring three more - see this story from The National. The Navy has released the timeline and plot below:



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This blog post from Madden Maritime makes the point that this incident is not like ENRICA LEXIE - the sailors aboard USNS RAPPAHANNOCK, according to the US Navy account"repeatedly attempted to warn the vessel's operators to turn away from their deliberate approach." Only when the boat had approached within 100 yards did they fire shots at the vessel.

We don't know what the warning attempts consisted of. The Navy statement, quoted in the gCaptain story, only said this: “In accordance with Navy force protection procedures, the sailors on the USNS Rappahannock used a series of non-lethal, preplanned responses to warn the vessel before resorting to lethal force. When those efforts failed to deter the approaching vessel, the security team on the Rappahannock fired rounds from a .50-caliber machine gun.”

I can readily understand, in our post-USS COLE world, why they did that. 100 yards is pretty close and the boat was large enough to contain a lot of explosives. Although we don't know what the "non-lethal, pre-planned responses" consisted of, once they'd been delivered and the boat continued to close, the sailors had to do something. And what they did was effective.

But the warnings delivered to the boat apparently were not effectiveThis story quotes the Indian fishermen aboard the small boat as saying they heard no warnings, although they were apparently prepared to heed them if they did: “When we came close, we slowed down to let [the USNS Rappahannock] pass to avoid any accidents. Once we crossed them from behind, they started firing at us. Usually, we know alarms and sirens are sounded by ships. But there were no warnings.”

Another misunderstanding - resulting in another death, and another family who will never be the same. Clearly the technology, or methods, for warning possible hostile small craft before firing on them needs to be radically improved. Someone needs to look at the problem from the point of view of the small boat's crew, not just from the ship's standpoint. The two environments are radically different. Again, a warning unheard is no warning at all.

The current situation is not only dangerous to fishermen; it also puts the crews of ships who are equipped to respond with lethal force in an intolerable situation. From a moral standpoint, no one's life should be taken in such an unnecessary manner. And no one wants to be responsible for taking another's life, either, even when he felt he had to. From a legal standpoint, the company and crew of a vessel making this mistake can pay dearly. 

How about you - can you speak to the "warnings" problem? Do you think the tragic "unintended consequences" of using lethal force could be reduced through better warnings - and do you understand the small boat environment well enough to suggest an improvement? Please let us know in the Comments section!

 
 
THE CHAIN LOCKER
I know you've been watching developments in the COSTA CONCORDIA cleanup. An ambitious plan has been developed by Titan and Micoperi to float the ship off in one piece and restore the sea bottom to its former state - see this update from Marine Log. And also this excellent recent story from gCaptain.

As noted in a previous post (click "Costa Concordia Salvage" in the Categories listing to the right of the page for story and links to the salvage companies) Costa Cruises seems to have taken the high road after the tragedy, choosing the salvage bid that would do the best job of protecting Giglio's tourism ecosystem, even though that bid was the highest. They seem to have firmly got the message that in the maritime world, as in any other, the highest standards are also actually the most cost-effective. It's cheaper, safer - and much more morally defensible when lives are at stake - to do it right. But did they get that message a little too late?

News has just broken that the COSTA CONCORDIA investigation has been hampered because the ship's Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) was not working at the time. The VDR had also repeatedly broken down prior to the tragedy; leaked emails between Costa's technical director and a ship repair company reportedly described the situation as "intolerable". The VDR was to have been fixed again on January 14th - the day after she was steered into the rocks - although Costa said that the VDR was working at the time of the accident. See this post on Maritime Executive for those details. 

The same Maritime Executive post reveals that apparently COSTA CONCORDIA's watertight doors were left open, which Costa also denies. But some of the ship's officers reportedly claim that leaving the doors open was unofficial standard practice "to make it easier for employees to come and go." 

I know you've heard that one before - I certainly have! It's much more common in the industry than anyone would like to admit. But unclosed watertight doors have been critical factors in many sinkings. I won't even link to one, because I know you've heard of such incidents yourself.

But here's a link to a blog post and video from The Monitor of an incident involving a river tug in trouble in high current on the Mississippi River. The tug would undoubtedly have sunk except that her watertight doors were tightly closed! And yet, as a tug man myself, I can remember instances where the doors were left open, simply for convenience' sake - as indicated in the COSTA CONCORDIA case. 



In addition to "convenience" I think we might add another "c" to that: complacency. I don't know how many of you are familiar with the history of the union movement in our industry. Those who are will know that some of the most powerful wellsprings of the maritime union effort arose because of some companies' carelessness or cost-cutting with regard to seamen's safety & well-being. 

Many of those poor practices have been rectified these days, and almost everyone - from the seaman to his shipowner - seems to realize that safe practices are also good, economical business practices. It's never cheaper to have an accident or a sinking! And when lives are at stake, it's never right to save a few dollars by risking them. Most companies and sailors now understand that.

So as seamen, let's not throw away those hard-won advances through our own complacency or laziness! Being timid in that cause is unacceptable, too. Those officers who testified that the watertight doors on COSTA CONCORDIA were routinely left open should have spoken up (and perhaps they did - we don't know) to correct the situation. Sometimes it takes courage to do the right thing.

Are you aware of any safety lapses on your vessel that could be corrected? Today you have the weight of the law and recognized safe practice behind you. Speak up - for your own safety, and that of your shipmate. Get help and support from other crew members in pointing out a hazard, if you feel it's necessary. Point out that safe practice is also good, responsible business practice that will even save money in the long run.

How you have dealt with similar situations? Comment and tell us. It will encourage the rest of us to practice safety awareness, and it may prevent an injury or save a life!