Search for El Faro Wreckage Begins

By MarEx 2015-10-08 12:29:15

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for the missing crew of the Tote-operated M/V El Faro cargo ship that sank off the Bahamas on October 7. The vessel sank on October 1 and the exhaustive air and sea search lasted for six days.

The decision to suspend the search came one day after National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials arrived in the El Faro’s homeport in Jacksonville, Florida. The NTSB is currently conducting its own investigation into the cause of the vessel’s sinking.

Now that the USCG has suspended its search for survivors, NTSB has requested a U.S. Navy salvage unit to join the search for the ship’s wreckage. NTSB hopes to mobilize the salvage unit by the end of the week and crews have honed the search area to two debris fields. One is about 345 square miles from the El Faro’s last known location, and the second is 81 square miles north of that location.

The ship’s owners, Tote Maritime Puerto Rico, believe the ship sank last Thursday after suffering engine failure during its weekly run from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico, leaving it at the mercy of Joaquin off the southern Bahamas.

Tote officials insist that Captain Michael Davison had a sound plan to avoid Hurricane Joaquin’s path had his ship not experienced propulsion failure. Davidson reportedly had real-time weather information when he left the port in Jacksonville and reported favorable conditions at the outset of the journey.

Officials had acknowledged earlier that chances of finding survivors were remote, given that the 790-foot ship, piled high with containers, disappeared in the middle of a ferocious storm with high seas whipped up by winds of 130 miles per hour.

The body of only one presumed crew member was found during the search. El Faro was carrying 28 U.S. crew members and five Polish contractors when it set out from Jacksonville.

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Full Speed into the Hurricane’s Path

By MarEx 2015-10-08 12:29:15

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for the missing crew of the Tote-operated M/V El Faro cargo ship that sank off the Bahamas on October 7. The vessel sank on October 1 and the exhaustive air and sea search lasted for six days.

The decision to suspend the search came one day after National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials arrived in the El Faro’s homeport in Jacksonville, Florida. The NTSB is currently conducting its own investigation into the cause of the vessel’s sinking.

Now that the USCG has suspended its search for survivors, NTSB has requested a U.S. Navy salvage unit to join the search for the ship’s wreckage. NTSB hopes to mobilize the salvage unit by the end of the week and crews have honed the search area to two debris fields. One is about 345 square miles from the El Faro’s last known location, and the second is 81 square miles north of that location.

The ship’s owners, Tote Maritime Puerto Rico, believe the ship sank last Thursday after suffering engine failure during its weekly run from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico, leaving it at the mercy of Joaquin off the southern Bahamas.

Tote officials insist that Captain Michael Davison had a sound plan to avoid Hurricane Joaquin’s path had his ship not experienced propulsion failure. Davidson reportedly had real-time weather information when he left the port in Jacksonville and reported favorable conditions at the outset of the journey.

Officials had acknowledged earlier that chances of finding survivors were remote, given that the 790-foot ship, piled high with containers, disappeared in the middle of a ferocious storm with high seas whipped up by winds of 130 miles per hour.

The body of only one presumed crew member was found during the search. El Faro was carrying 28 U.S. crew members and five Polish contractors when it set out from Jacksonville.

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U.S. Mulls Entering Disupted South China Sea

By Reuters 2015-10-08 12:03:31

The United States is considering sailing warships close to China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea to signal it does not recognize Chinese territorial claims over the area, a U.S. defense official said on Thursday.

The Financial Times newspaper cited a senior U.S. official as saying U.S. ships would sail within 12-nautical-mile zones, that China claims as territory around islands it has built in the Spratly chain, within the next two weeks.

The Navy Times quoted U.S. officials as saying the action could take place “within days,” but awaited final approval from the Obama administration.

A U.S. defense official declined to confirm that any decision had been made, but referred to remarks in congressional testimony last month by U.S. Assistant Defense Secretary David Shear, that “all options are on the table.”

“We are looking at this,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last month, in reference to China’s South China Sea claims, that the United States would “fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as U.S. forces do all over the world.”

The White House declined to comment on potential classified naval operations.

In May, the Chinese Navy issued eight warnings to the crew of a U.S. P8-A Poseidon surveillance aircraft when it conducted flights near China’s artificial islands, according to CNN, which was aboard the U.S. aircraft.

CHINA WATCHING CLOSELY

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing on Thursday that China was paying attention to the reports of impending U.S. naval action, and that it and the United States have maintained “extremely thorough communication” on the South China Sea issue.

“I believe the U.S. side is extremely clear about China’s relevant principled stance,” she said. “We hope the U.S. side can objectively and fairly view the current situation in the South China Sea, and with China, genuinely play a constructive role in safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

U.S. President Barack Obama said he told Chinese President Xi Jinping he had “significant concerns” about the islands when Xi made his first state visit to Washington late in September.

Xi said at the time that China intended to militarize the islands, but Washington analysts and U.S. officials say China has already begun creating military facilities, and the only question is how much military hardware it will install.

Admiral Harry Harris, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, has said China’s development of the islands, including the building of runways suitable for military use, was of “great concern” and a threat to the region.

In congressional testimony on September 17, Harris said the United States should challenge China’s claim to territory in the South China Sea by patrolling close to the artificial islands and was considering going within 12 miles of them.

China claims most of the South China Sea, where the Spratly islands are located and $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.

Philippine military officials have said that China has repeatedly warned Philippine military aircraft away from the artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago.

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Operations Limited at Yemeni Ports

By MarEx 2015-10-08 11:34:43

Control of Yemen and its ports has been a primary point of conflict between Houthi rebels and Saudi coalition-led forces. And while fighting has continued, the city’s port operations have continued despite infrastructure difficulties due to bomb damage and neglect.

According to the Maritime Asset Security and Training (MAST), a leading maritime security company, the Port of Aden is in the best condition. Aden’s refinery has reopened and the container terminal is operational but subject to delays.

But the Port of Hodeidah, Yemen’s largest military port, is reportedly in poor conditions. Due to blockade orders, fuel and containers are not allowed to be discharged. The port is also dealing with blackouts and only one crane is operational.

Earlier today, at least 50 people were injured in a missile strike against Yemen.

In May, Arab warplanes and ships bombed Hodeidah. The city is aligned with the Iran-allied Houthi militia.

Civil war broke out in Yemen earlier this year as two factions have claimed sovereignty. The Saudi coalition began its air strikes against the Houthis and their allies, forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, in late March after a push from their northern stronghold towards the southern port of Aden.

The coalition, which says the Houthis are stooges of Iran, stepped up air strikes on Yemen’s capital Sanaa and other Houthi-held areas after a Houthi missile killed more than 60 Gulf Arab troops stationed in Marib province on September 4.

As conflict in the region escalates, claiming the ports city has been a goal for each faction. Coalition forces have taken the most southwest tip of Yemen in the Bab El Mandeb Strait. Passing vessels have been reporting artillery fire recently, which includes gunfire from warships in the area.

Last week, militants attacked guards at a gate near Es Sider port, a key oil port which is under control of forces allied with the recognized government. The terminal has been closed since last December because of regional conflict and supply issues at oil fields.

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