U.S. Leader Talks of Peace in Asia

By Wendy Laursen 2015-05-31 20:22:45

U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter has been focusing on maritime security during his tour of Asia last week. After viewing a Vietnamese coast guard vessel that was rammed by a Chinese ship last year, he pledged $18 million to help the nation buy U.S. built Metal Shark patrol boats.

Carter’s 11 day trip has seen him visit naval and coast guard headquarters in Vietnam looking to “modernize” relations. He started his Asian tour calling for a stop to island building in the South China Sea, and it has been a focus of his dialogue with Australasian leaders. Although Vietnam has also reclaimed land in the sea, Carter singled out China’s large-scale activities extending to several thousand acres.

Malaysia Concerned

Carter also met with Malaysian Minister of Defense Datuk Seri Hishammuddin in Singapore where he congratulated Malaysia on its successful chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), pointing to a host of recent ASEAN initiatives which have successfully bolstered regional security, including cooperation in humanitarian and disaster relief, peacekeeping, anti-piracy and counterterrorism.

The two leaders met on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue, a major annual forum for key leaders in the Asia-Pacific region to discuss security challenges and opportunities. They shared their concerns regarding Chinese land reclamation in the South China Sea. They agreed that all regional tensions should be resolved in accordance with international law. Carter expressed gratitude to Hishammuddin for advocating for an increase in cooperative maritime patrol flights.

Australia and Japan Alliance Building

Ash, Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and Australian Minister for Defence Kevin Andrews also held trilateral defense ministerial talks in Singapore last week. This was the fifth meeting of its kind among the three nations’ top defense officials.

The defense ministers from Japan and Australia reaffirmed the strength of their respective alliances with the United States as essential to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region, and underscored their enduring support for the U.S. rebalance to the region.

Recalling Japan’s path as a peace-loving nation for the last 70 years, the U.S. secretary of defense and Australian defense minister welcomed and supported Japan’s recent efforts to play a greater role in regional and global security, including its efforts to develop legislation for peace and security under the banner of “Proactive Contribution to Peace” based on the principle of international cooperation.

The leaders expressed strong opposition to the use of coercion or force to alter the status quo in the East China and South China Seas unilaterally and their serious concern over Chinese land reclamation activities. They urged all South China Sea claimants to exercise self-restraint, halt reclamation activities, take steps to ease tensions and refrain from provocative actions that could escalate tensions.

They called on governments to clarify and pursue territorial claims and accompanying maritime rights in accordance with international law. They also called for ASEAN and China to reach early agreement on a meaningful code of conduct in the South China Sea.

Australia’s top five trade partners are all in the Indo-Pacific, and approximately 98 percent of the nation’s international trade by volume travelling by sea – and more than half of that through the South China Sea.

Russia Steps Up

Also in Singapore is Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov. He said that Russia will take part in naval military exercises together with its Asia Pacific allies including the May 2016 drills which have a focus on counter-terrorism and naval security.

RT reports Antonov also said he was concerned about stability in the region, naming the U.S. as the main destabilizing factor with policies aimed against Russia and China: “We are concerned by U.S. policies in the region, especially since every day it becomes increasingly focused on a systemic containment of Russia and China.”

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Supply Vessel Fire in Mumbai High

By Wendy Laursen 2015-05-31 19:42:42

The ONGC supply vessel Vestfonn suffered an engine room fire on Sunday, in the Mumbai High field, about 200km west of Mumbai, India.

The OSV Ahalya evacuated 24 of the 33 crew from Vestfonn, leaving the remainder on board to contain the fire.

Coast Guard Regional Headquarters Mumbai diverted aircraft to assess the situation and coordinated support efforts from vessels in the area including OSVs BS Negi and Ocean Diamond.

The fire was contained on Sunday evening, and Vestfonn is under tow by another ONGC vessel Malviya 24.

Vestfonn is a 6,100-bhp OSV built in 1983.

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Carpathia’s Role in Titanic’s Rescue

By MarEx 2015-05-31 21:15:13

Carpathia was a workhorse. It wasn’t one of the glamorous express transatlantic liners built to compete for the Blue Riband and designed to resemble Versailles. Only once was it met by hordes of photographers with flashbulbs popping when she arrived in New York.

Built by C S Swan and Hunter at Wallsend, and launched with little fuss on August 6, 1902, the 13,603 grt Carpathia – capable of just 14 knots – was intended to carry Hungarian emigrants from the Mediterranean ports of Trieste and Fiume to New York and a new life in the United States. This role was secured in the long term for the vessel, Slavonia and Pannonia in 1904 when Cunard was granted the Hungarian Government contract to carry emigrants, but its maiden voyage was from Liverpool to Boston in 1904. In November of that year Carpathia took up her Mediterranean duties, plodding backwards and forwards year in, year out, without incident, carrying emigrants westbound at a fare of £5.10 s and American tourists or returning emigrants eastbound.

On Thursday April 11, 1912, Carpathia left New York almost unnoticed just after noon bound for Trieste as usual on a journey which, for momentous reasons, it would never complete, but a journey which would take it from insignificance to celebrity.

At about the same time on the other side of the Atlantic, a hugely celebrated ocean greyhound was leaving Queenstown and heading west on her Maiden Voyage to New York. It was Titanic, brand-new pride of the White Star fleet, commanded by Captain Edward Smith, on his last voyage before retirement. Titanic had on board many rich and famous socialites, the celebrities of the day, and her departure from Southampton had been ad feted as Carpathia’s had been unnoticed.

In command of the little Carpathia was 42-year-old Arthur Rostron, an officer with Cunard since 1895 and master of Carpathia for just three months. With him were 700 passengers, 150 of them elderly American tourists and most of the rest former emigrants making a visit home.

At 12:15am on the morning of April 15, Carpathia’s wireless operator Harold Cottam was in the process of untying his shoes in readiness for bed. He was ten minutes later than he normally would be in turning in, and providentially his ear phones were still clamped to his head. Had he not been, and had they had not been, there would have been no Titanic survivors.

On receiving the first SOS from Titanic at 12.15, Cottam raised Captain Rostron who had already retired for the night, and Rostron in turn rose to the challenge of his first maritime emergency with impeccable practical thoroughness.

After a brief moment of disbelief in which he quizzed Cottam about the certainty of his seemingly preposterous claim that Titanic was in distress, Rostron immediately ordered a change of course. Carpathia was 58 miles from Titanic. At 14 knots it would take her over four hours to get there.

The chief engineer was ordered to turn off all the heat and hot water so that every ounce of steam could be used to drive the engines. All off duty stokers were raised from their beds to shovel coal into the furnaces as fast as they were able.

Next, Rostron ordered his first officer to begin specific preparations – the lifeboats were to be slung out, lighting rigged along the ship’s sides, all shell doors were opened in readiness, and slings made to haul up the children and the infirm, ladders and rigging lowered, and the ship’s forward cargo cranes made ready to lift aboard luggage, belongings and lifeboats.

Meanwhile, all remaining crew were summoned to duty and preparations were made to receive 2,000 Titanic passengers in the public rooms. Blankets and warm clothing were gathered to distribute, and tea, coffee and soup were prepared.

First aid points were established in the three dining rooms, with a doctor in charge of each. When all was ready, the ever-thoughtful Rostron ordered his crew to take hot coffee in preparation for the long night ahead.

The ship, meanwhile, strained and shuddered as it edged past her maximum speed as every stoker shovelled coal into the furnaces. 15, 16 and finally 17 knots were achieved as the ship surged through the dark, without radar, past glistening icebergs visible to the lookouts only by the reflection of the stars.

At 4am Carpathia reached Titanic’s position and Carpathia’s engines were stopped as the crew, together with many passengers now on deck having been alerted both by the hustle of preparations and the increasing cold in their quarters, strained to see some sign of the ship. Suddenly, they saw a green flare fired by Titanic’s lifeboat number 2 – and the first survivors came aboard at 4.10am. By 8.30am Charles Lightoller, the final person to be rescued stepped aboard Carpathia.

Now carrying double her original complement of passengers, Carpathia steamed slowly among wreckage and icebergs seeking more survivors – but none was found.

Rostron’s next decision was where to go. Halifax was nearest, but the passage would involve travelling through much ice and he felt the Titanic’s survivors had had enough of that. The Azores would have been the best destination to keep Carpathia on course and incur the least cost to Cunard, but the ship had insufficient supplies for such a journey with such greater numbers, so Rostron headed back whence he had come – New York.

Carpathia’s passengers and crew did what they could, giving up beds and clothing to those who had survived near-freezing temperatures often inadequately dressed, but for many inconsolable widows nothing could be done save allow them to cry themselves out.

Carpathia was besieged by calls from the press, which Rostron ordered were to be ignored, and when it finally arrived in New York on the morning of April 18 it was accompanied up river by reporters in hired tugboats shouting questions through megaphones. Never had Carpathia been the centre of so much attention.

Eventually the vessel berthed at 9.30am at Pier 54, from which it had set out just seven days earlier.

Though much praised and decorated for his calm and exemplary actions, Rostron was reluctant to speak publicly about the Titanic disaster, and the references in his autobiography Home from the Sea published after retirement were self-effacing and devoid of sensation. But in response to a journalist querying many years later how the little ship could have been coerced to travel at a speed greater than the maximum of which it was supposedly capable, and how it had progressed safely at such speed through ice in the dark, the deeply religious Rostron simply replied “A hand other than mine was on the wheel that night.”

The now-famous Carpathia returned to her Mediterranean duties until 1915 when it was taken up for war service carrying essential supplies from New York to Liverpool.

But, just four months before the Armistice was signed, while in convoy from Liverpool to New York, Carpathia was torpedoed three times by U55 on July 17, 1918 just 120 miles south west of Ireland. Two and a half hours later it sank, with the loss of five crewmembers killed by an explosion. 275 survivors were picked up and landed safely at Liverpool.

Like so many others, Carpathia’s days were ended by a wartime torpedo; but unlike them, the little ship from the Tyne will always be remembered for its part in a night of tragedy and heroism.

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OPEC Oil Output Highest Since 2012

By Reuters 2015-05-31 17:04:44

OPEC oil supply in May climbed further to its highest in more than two years as increasing Angolan exports and record or near-record output from Saudi Arabia and Iraq outweighed outages in smaller producers, a Reuters survey showed.

The boost from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries puts output further above its target of 30 million barrels per day (bpd), underlining the focus of top exporter Saudi Arabia and other key members on market share.

OPEC supply rose in May to 31.22 million bpd from a revised 31.16 million bpd in April, according to the survey, based on shipping data and information from sources at oil companies, OPEC and consultants.

The group meets on Friday and is not expected to alter policy as oil has risen to $65 a barrel from a low close to $45 in January and there are signs of slowing growth in the higher-cost supplies that have been eroding OPEC’s market share.

“Anything but a renewed confirmation of the production target at the forthcoming OPEC meeting would be a major surprise,” Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch said.

“The rapid rise in U.S. crude oil production has been stopped and the oil price has recovered considerably.”

If the total remains unrevised, May’s supply would be OPEC’s highest since it pumped 31.53 million bpd in August 2012, based on Reuters surveys.

The biggest increase came from Angola, which exported 58 cargoes in May, more than originally planned in April, according to loading schedules.

Top exporter Saudi Arabia has not reduced output from April’s record high of 10.30 million bpd, sources in the survey said, as it meets higher demand from export customers and in domestic power plants.

Of the countries with lower output, Libya posted a decline as more supply was disrupted by unrest, and production in Nigeria slipped because of pipeline leaks that prompted Royal Dutch Shell’s local venture to declare force majeure on exports from the Forcados stream.

Iraqi exports, which have helped push OPEC output higher this year, look set to have fallen slightly short of April’s record level, according to this survey.

Although Iraq increased its northern exports further following a deal between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government, flows declined from the south, which produces the bulk of Iraq’s oil.

Further increases are expected in later months, said a source familiar with Iraq’s exports.

“We should do better in the second part of the year to close the gap between planned and the current figures,” he said.

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Petrobras Considers Selling Gulf of Mexico Assets

By Reuters 2015-05-31 16:57:36

Brazilian state-run oil company Petrobras is considering selling some of its assets in the Gulf of Mexico as part of a divestment plan to shore up its finances, local daily Folha de S.Paulo reported on Sunday.

Petrobras has hired BNP Paribas to study the possible sale of its stake in offshore oilfields in the region, which are worth about $8 billion, the newspaper said without citing sources.

Officials with Petrobras and BNP Paribas were not immediately available for comment.

Facing a corruption scandal that has dragged down its market value, Petrobras, one of the world’s most indebted companies, said in March it plans to sell as much as $13.7 billion in assets this year and next to reduce debt and protect cash.

In 2013, Petrobras had trouble selling fields in the Gulf of Mexico as the value of those assets fell at the time.

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Iran Sanction Deal A Step Closer

By Reuters 2015-05-31 16:52:30

Six world powers have agreed on a way to restore U.N. sanctions on Iran if the country breaks the terms of a future nuclear deal, clearing a major obstacle to an accord ahead of a June 30 deadline, Western officials have said.

The new understanding on a U.N. sanctions “snapback” among the six powers – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – brings them closer to a possible deal with Iran, though other hurdles remain, including ensuring United Nations access to Iranian military sites.

The six powers and Iran struck an interim agreement on April 2 ahead of a possible final deal that would aim to block an Iranian path to a nuclear bomb in exchange for lifting sanctions. But the timing of sanctions relief, access and verification of compliance and a mechanism for restoring sanctions if Iran broke its commitments were among the most difficult topics left for further negotiations.

U.S. and European negotiators want any easing of U.N. sanctions to be automatically reversible if Tehran violates a deal. Russia and China traditionally reject such automatic measures as undermining their veto power as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

As part of the new agreement on sanctions snapback, suspected breaches by Iran would be taken up by a dispute-resolution panel, likely including the six powers and Iran, which would assess the allegations and come up with a non-binding opinion, the officials said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would also continue regularly reporting on Iran’s nuclear program, which would provide the six powers and the Security Council with information on Tehran’s activities to enable them to assess compliance.

If Iran was found to be in non-compliance with the terms of the deal, then U.N. sanctions would be restored.

The officials did not say precisely how sanctions would be restored but Western powers have been adamant that it should take place without a Security Council vote, based on provisions to be included in a new U.N. Security Council resolution to be adopted after a deal is struck.

“We pretty much have a solid agreement between the six on the snapback mechanism, Russians and Chinese included,” a Western official said. “But now the Iranians need to agree.”

Another senior Western official echoed his remarks, describing the agreement as “tentative” because it would depend on Iranian acceptance.

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