South China Sea: China Building Third Airstrip

By Reuters 2015-09-14 19:01:30

China appears to be building a third airstrip in contested territory in the South China Sea, a U.S. expert said on Monday, citing satellite photographs taken last week.

The photographs taken for Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank on September 8 show construction on Mischief Reef, one of several artificial islands China has created in the Spratly archipelago.

The images show a rectangular area with a retaining wall, 3,000 meters (3,280 yards) long, matching similar work by China on two other reefs, Subi and Fiery Cross, said Greg Poling, director of CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).

“Clearly, what we have seen is going to be a 3,000-meter airstrip and we have seen some more work on what is clearly going to be some port facilities for ships,” he said.

Security experts say the strip would be long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft, giving Beijing greater reach into the heart of maritime Southeast Asia, where it has competing claims with several countries.

News of the work comes ahead of a visit to Washington next week by Chinese President Xi Jinping. U.S. worries about China’s increasingly assertive territorial claims are expected to be high on the agenda.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department did not comment specifically on the airstrip construction, but repeated calls for a halt to land reclamation, construction and militarization of outposts in the South China Sea to “ease tensions and create space for diplomatic solutions.”

A new airstrip at Mischief Reef would be particularly worrying for the Philippines, a rival claimant in the South China Sea. It would allow China to mount “more or less constant” patrols over Reed Bank, where the Philippines has long explored for oil and gas, Poling said.

Three airstrips, once completed, would allow China to threaten all air traffic over the features it has reclaimed in the South China Sea, he said, adding that it would be especially worrying if China were to install advanced air defenses.

Satellite photographs from late June showed China had almost finished a 3,000-meter airstrip on Fiery Cross.

Satellite images from earlier this year showed reclamation work on Subi Reef creating land that could accommodate another airstrip. Poling said the latest images made it obvious that such an airstrip was being built at Subi.

China stepped up creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea last year, drawing strong criticism from Washington.

Asked about Mischief Reef on Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei repeated China’s claim to “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly Islands and its right to establish military facilities there.

Sailing to the Future?

By MarEx 2015-09-14 17:05:57

As the maritime industry implements stricter emissions guidelines, shippers are increasingly seeking cleaner methods of transportation. And one enterprising German company has introduced what could be a simple solution that pleases both shippers and environmentalists alike: kites.

SkySails, which was founded in 2001, has developed a kite wind propulsion system for large cargo ships.

“Wind is the cheapest, most powerful, and greenest source of energy on the high seas,” SkySails says in a report. “Now, with SkySails, modern cargo ships can use the wind as a source of power – not only to lower fuel costs but significantly reduce emission levels as well.”

A towing kite is at the core of SkySails’ propulsion system and, coupled with a control pod and towing rope, it forms what the company refers to as its “flying system.” The kite is steered by the control pod and maneuvered in the air ahead of the ship to generate propulsion.

The system generates up to 2,000 kilowatts of propulsion power, which is 25 times more energy per square meter than conventional wind propulsion systems. And the system is said to be cheaper than conventional engines too. According to SkySails, one kilowatt hour of their wind power costs just six cents for ships to use, which is about half the cost of the vessel’s main engine.

Installing SkySails on a vessel costs about $2.5 million, and there are currently only two ships using it. But the company believes that will soon change as the industry looks to reduce operating costs. “There is enormous, free wind energy potential on the high seas,” said Gerd Wessels, a SkySails Managing Partner. “With SkySails, we can cut fuel consumption of our ships in half on good days and save an average of 10-15% in fuel every year.”

SkySails is headquartered in Hamburg, Germany.

Click here for SkySails’ full report.

India Loosens Cabotage Laws

By MarEx 2015-09-14 15:07:57

India has announced plans to relax its cabotage laws for five years in hopes of boosting trade and decongesting its roads and railways.

The loosened cabotage laws will allow foreign operators piloting Roll-On Roll-Off (RoRo), Hybrid RoRo, Roll-On Roll-Off Passenger (Ro-Pax), Pure Car Carriers, Pure Car and Truck Carriers, LNG vessels and Over-Dimensional cargo or Project Cargo Carriers to transport cargo between ports along the Indian coast.

“Such special vessels are in short supply in the country but since they cater to specific classes of cargo, their availability will make it possible to shift cargo movement for these commodities from road and rail to coastal shipping,” the Indian Union Shipping Ministry said in a statement. “As an example, large automobile clusters exist at Manesar and around Chennai. Large numbers of cars are transported from north to south and vice-versa. It is possible to shift a major part of this transportation to coastal shipping.”

India also expects the availability of RoRo vessels to reduce carbon emissions and provide a green mode of transportation. The new cabotage laws will affect 12 major Indian ports and about 200 non-major ports.

Cruise Passenger Dies After Falling Overboard

By MarEx 2015-09-14 14:48:12

The body of a 59-year-old woman was recovered by the Massachusetts Coast Guard after tumbling overboard from a cruise ship on September 11. The victim was a passenger on the Seabourn Quest, which was just three hours into a ten-day cruise to Montreal from Boston. The woman’s body was recovered about 10 miles off Cape Ann.

The woman’s body was recovered by Rockport Harbormaster officials, who searched the waters on a 24-foot Boston Whaler with emergency medical service personnel onboard. According to reports, the Coast Guard received a call from the cruise ship at about 7 pm local time, and the victim’s body was recovered at about 8:30.

It is still unknown how the woman fell overboard, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has taken over the investigation and will also conduct an autopsy.

This is the latest in a string of recent incidents involving cruise ships. In late August, a Carnival Glory passenger died after falling overboard near the Honduran coast. And last week an engine fire on the Carnival Liberty left about 3,300 passengers stranded in St. Thomas.

The Seabourn Quest is a 650-foot luxury cruise ship with a capacity of about 450 guests.

U.K. Rejects Offshore Wind Farm Proposal

By MarEx 2015-09-14 14:27:15

The U.K. Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) has rejected a proposal to construct a 970 MW offshore wind farm in Navitus Bay amid concerns regarding the project’s seascape, landscape and visual impacts. The proposed $8.3 billion farm would have powered about 700,000 southern London households and created about 1,700 jobs. The project was to be developed by Navitus Bay Development Limited (NBDL), a joint venture between French energy company EDF and Dutch firm Eneco. The Navitus Bay farm would have been constructed off the English coast, about ten kilometers south of Dorset and the Isle of Wight

According to DECC, the project was rejected because it would harm the views from England’s UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Jurassic Coast. Both areas are considered Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and have been designated for conservation due to their significant landscape value.

Said the DECC in a statement: “Careful consideration has been given to the application and the planning and energy issues involved. The wind farm development would not contribute to the quality of the area, but would cause significant harm to it.”

In a separate statement, Navitus Bay project director Stuart Grant said: “While we are clearly disappointed by today’s decision, we would like to thank the communities of Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and all our stakeholders for the high level of engagement they’ve shown in the project, including their responses to our consultations and during the examination process.”

The turbine’s blades would have had a rotor diameter of 577 feet and would reach a maximum height of 656 feet. Current 5 MW turbines typically have rotor diameters of 500 feet.