Anti-Terrorist Training Coming Soon to Smartphones

By MarEx 2015-06-15 02:19:57

A new virtual reality system is being developed to help train security personnel responding to physical threats and cyber-attacks to Europe’s critical infrastructure including airports, ports and railway stations.

The AUGGMED project (AUtomated serious Game scenario Generator for MixED reality training), part of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program, will develop a multimodal virtual reality and mixed reality platform that can be used anywhere via a variety of devices and technologies from smartphones and tablets to high-end PCs with multiple monitors and head mounted displays. The project has secured funding of approximately 5.53 million Euros ($6 million) and will run for 36 months.

Christos Giachritsis, Senior Research Scientist at BMT Group and project co-ordinator for AUGGMED comments: “Terrorism continues to be a major threat to human life and critical infrastructure in Europe. New strategies and execution plans are making it even more difficult for security forces to predict, prepare and defend against such attacks. Training for such critical incidents has, in the past, used traditional methods such as live scenario training through full-scale field exercises but this can be very costly, time-consuming and dangerous. Furthermore, it can only offer a limited number of scenario examples that individually, require major resources to plan and execute.”

AUGGMED aims to develop an innovative, collaborative training platform which will enable police, security forces and counter-terrorist units, as well as first responders to train their staff in different virtual reality environments within a wide range of scenarios and apply this training in the real infrastructure environment using mixed reality techniques.

The platform will also offer tools to allow the trainers to set learning objectives for individual trainees and/or teams of trainees (from a single or multiple organizations), define scenarios, monitor the progress of the training session, alter scenario parameters during the training session, provide real time feedback and assess the trainee’s performance.

As well as bespoke scenarios which can be automatically generated to suit the needs of the individual, training can take place as often as required, and trainers will be able to initiate a remote, unplanned session to test the readiness levels of individual members of staff.

Giachritsis says: “It’s vital with any training that it is fit for purpose. It is for this reason that the end users involved in this project including West Yorkshire Police (UK) and Ministry of Citizens Protection (Greece) will play a critical role throughout the development process, providing their knowledge and expertise in relation to the definition of training requirements and subsequent evaluation of the AUGGMED platform.”

Under the coordination of BMT Group, a consortium of 13 project partners from six EU countries will collaborate, including: SERCO; University of Greenwich; Piraeus Port Authority; Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya; University of Birmingham; GEOMOBILE; Sistema D’Emergencies Mediques; Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire; Sheffield Hallam University; Israteam; Konstantinos Kardaras (Integration Power); Ministry of Citizens Protection and Unversidad Politécnica de Madrid.


Body Recount for Chinese Cruise Disaster

By Reuters 2015-06-14 23:34:04

Just 12 people survived the Yangtze River cruise ship capsizing in which 442 people perished, state media reported, giving a final toll for the disaster and blaming an earlier miscount of the survivors on confusion between government agencies.

All the bodies that had been missing since the Eastern Star capsized during a freak storm on June 1 have now been found, the official Xinhua news agency reported over the weekend. The number of survivors was lowered from 14 earlier, after realisation that there had been some duplication in the count.

“Different government bodies made repeated calculations of the number of survivors, thus leading to a miscalculation,” Tang Guanjun, head of the Yangtze River Navigation Affairs Administration, told reporters late on Saturday, Xinhua said.

A 60-strong team looking into the capsizing has collected a “multitude of first-hand evidence” and has interviewed many people including the captain, who survived, the government said last week.

Police have detained the captain and chief engineer for questioning as part of the investigation. An initial probe found the ship was not overloaded and had enough life vests on board.

The company which operated the ship has apologized for the disaster and said it would fully cooperate with the investigation. The government has pledged there would be no cover-up.


First Cruise Ship Visit for Dili

By MarEx 2015-06-14 20:37:46

In a demonstration of Timor-Leste’s progress as a free and independent nation, P&O Cruises’ Pacific Jewel made the first ever cruise ship visit to the national capital Dili over the weekend.

Carnival Australia CEO Ann Sherry and Steve Bracks, special adviser on governance to the Timor-Leste Prime Minister, hailed Pacific Jewel’s visit as a significant step forward for the country.

“After years of struggle, Timor-Leste finally won its independence only in 2002, but even five years ago few could have imagined nearly 2,000 cruise tourists going ashore in Dili,” Sherry said.

“Australia has strong ties to Timor-Leste on its path to nationhood and there is no doubt that Australians have been willing the Timorese people and their country to succeed. So, the arrival of the first cruise ship is an affirmation of Timor-Leste’s potential as an attractive cruise destination and the part tourism can play to build its economy.”

Saturday’s Timor-Leste call during Pacific Jewel’s return from dry dock and major refurbishment in Singapore was an opportunity to test Dili’s capacity to host a superliner visit.

The tender call was eagerly anticipated by the Dili community who were excited to welcome their first ever cruise tourists.

On the eve of the visit, former Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks, who, since 2007, has been a special adviser to the Timor-Leste Prime Minister, said it sent a powerful signal about the country’s progress.

“Having hundreds of cruise visitors come ashore in Dili to experience the sights, sounds and culture of Timor-Leste is another positive stepping stone in the country’s progress as a free and independent nation,” Bracks said.

Pacific Jewel’s visit to Dili has been keenly anticipated by the government and the local community who are keen to make tourism a much valued feature of the local economy in a country that has so much to offer visitors in cultural experiences.”

In May 2002, Timor-Leste became the first sovereign state of the 21st century following a long and traumatic struggle for independence. Australia played a key part leading up to independence. In 1999, current Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, led an international peacekeeping force which oversaw the transition to independence.

Sherry said Pacific Jewel’s Dili call was consistent with Carnival Australia’s efforts in recent years to open up new cruise destinations in countries such as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

“In addition to taking our passengers to otherwise remote destinations offering fabulous scenery and cultural experiences, cruise tourism can become a valuable part of island economies,” Sherry said. “I hope that Timor-Leste’s potential to take its place on the cruising map can be realized.”

A second P&O Cruises’ call to Timor-Leste is scheduled for September 2016 when Pacific Eden will visit Dili.

In another initiative enabling remote communities to participate in the economic benefits of cruising, the P&O Pacific Partnership with Save the Children raises funds for education and health facilities in the South Pacific.

Carnival Corporation also recently unveiled a tenth cruise brand – fathom – introducing ‘social impact travel’ enabling people to work with communities on economic, environmental and educational needs. fathom’s maiden voyage from Miami on a seven-day cruise cycle to the Dominican Republic will depart in April next year.


Human Traffickers Claim Australian Navy Pay-Off

By Reuters 2015-06-14 02:29:28

Australia would have stooped to a “new low” if reports that its navy paid people-smugglers bound for Australia thousands of dollars to turn back their boat are true, an Indonesian government official said on Saturday.

Australia has vowed to stop asylum-seekers reaching its shores, turning boats back to Indonesia when it can and sending asylum-seekers to camps in impoverished Papua New Guinea and Nauru for long-term detention.

A boat captain and two crew members arrested this week on suspicion of human trafficking told Indonesian police Australian authorities had paid each of them A$5,000 ($3,860) to turn back their vessel with 65 migrants on board.

The passengers, including children and a pregnant woman, were from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton have both denied reports of payment to the smugglers but Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declined to comment, citing operational security.

“Under Australian’s push-back policy we have been consistently saying they are on a slippery slope,” Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference.

“Should this situation be confirmed and it turns out to be true, it would be a new low for the way the government of Australia handles the situation on irregular migration.”

Nasir said it would be the first time such an incident occurred involving Australian authorities.

Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi raised the issue with Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia, Paul Grigson, on the sidelines of a foreign policy conference in the Indonesian capital.

“He promised to bring my question to Canberra,” Marsudi told reporters. “We are really concerned, if it is confirmed.”

Indonesia plans to ask Australia for clarification, he said.

The United Nations and human rights groups have criticized Australia over its tough asylum-seeker policy, which Abbott defends as necessary to stop deaths at sea.


Container Ship Efficiency Not Always Paying Off

By Wendy Laursen 2015-06-12 21:35:22

Nor-Shipping saw a number of innovations for improving the energy efficiency of container ship designs, but with low fuel prices and the latest spending spree on mega-container ships, the industry is undergoing a shift that may see a stall in the benefits shipowners will gain for their efficiency dollar.

“The difference between elderly ships without the latest energy efficiency features and the new ships is still definitely there, but the effects, in dollars, have become less,” says Dirk Vissar, Senior Shipping Consultant at consultants Dynamar B.V. of the Netherlands.

Impact on Slow Steaming

The second half of 2014 saw a big drop in fuel prices, enough for many to anticipate a lessening of slow steaming. As fuel prices drop, a point is reached where it might be advantageous to remove a ship from a loop and speed up the rest. Some analysts put this point at a fuel price of $350 for the Far-East to Europe trade and around $400 for the Transpacific trade. There is no unambiguous assessment of the point, as it depends on many factors.

There are overheads involved in taking a ship out so fuel prices need remain low for a reasonable length of time before it is worth making the change. It may be better to keep ships in slow loops until they are disposed of.

So, the anticipated increase in vessel speed hasn’t really materialized. “Slow steaming is here to stay,” says Visser. “The industry has shaped its procedures to slow steaming (and so have shippers). Some vessels have been sailing a little bit faster. If they lose time in one port, they tend to make it up by steaming a bit faster to the next port. However, we see that the services between Europe and the Far East, for example, are still being run with the same number of ships as they did before the oil prices started coming down.”

Day Rates Continue to Drop

Freight rates remain low as shipping companies struggle in a market characterized by vessel oversupply and deliveries of ultra-large ships. “Freight rates have come down tremendously over the years, and that is driving the move to larger ship sizes that tend to reduce slot costs,” says Visser. Under the present market (low cargo offerings versus overcapacity), the lower slot costs of each yet larger vessel are passed on straight to the shipper in the form of yet a lower rate, barely covering fuel costs.” This turns the multimillion investment in an 18,000 TEU ship into an investment into lower rates… and ultimately worse…”

The world cellular container ship fleet grew by 6.3 percent during 2014 to reach 18.37 million TEU as at 1 January 2015, according to Alphaliner figures. The 1.1 million TEU growth in capacity was driven by the delivery of newbuildings totalling 1.47 million TEU, up from the previous year’s 1.38 million TEU.

Port congestion

Larger vessels are having an effect on port operations, says Visser. This has generated debate in the industry on how much the increase in average vessel size and the rise of multi-partner shipping alliances can be cited as causes of congestion. The World Shipping Council recently released a report stating that port congestion can and does arise from multiple causes. “Closer dialogue and joint problem solving is what is needed to address those issues, and solutions will not be found by pointing fingers. Every participant in the supply chain will have a role to play.”

Visser agrees there is no simple answer. Improved vessel efficiency has helped shipping companies lower operating costs, but this has been partially negated this year and last year by one-off port congestion in some areas including the U.S. West Coast and Manilla. Waiting times lengthen voyage time and lead to the need to use more ships.

So, despite the best intentions of an industry looking to improve its operational performance and its environmental footprint, things don’t always work out as planned, he says.


Bellingham Activists Down From Anchor Chain

By MarEx 2015-06-12 18:02:46

Two activists protesting plans by Royal Dutch Shell to resume drilling for oil in the Arctic dangled for several hours on Friday from the anchor of one of the company’s vessels in Washington state before coming down voluntarily, the Coast Guard said.

The women used camping gear and hammocks to attach themselves to the massive chain on the barge in Bellingham, Washington, north of Seattle, the activist group ShellNo said.

They dangled from the vessel, the American Trader, for about five hours after climbing on the anchor chain in the early morning, the Coast Guard said.

Both are students at Western Washington University, KIRO-TV reported.

The women reportedly came down of their own accord.

The U.S. Coast Guard assisted the protesters who were taken to Coast Guard Station Bellingham where local Police officers placed them under arrest.

“Coast Guard personnel have an excellent working relationship with our partner law enforcement agencies, and together we are committed to the safety of life at sea,” said Lt. Cmdr. Justin Noggle, chief of enforcement at Sector Puget Sound. “We will continue to enforce those laws and regulations necessary to ensure the safety of the maritime public.”

The Coast Guard has established a 100-yard safety zone around Arctic drilling and support vessels while moored or anchored, and a 500-yard safety zone while those vessels are transiting. Safety zone violations can result in a maximum civil penalty of $40,000 for each entry into the zone or day the individuals violated the zone.

Last month, activists chained themselves to a different Shell vessel in Bellingham, the Arctic Challenger. That vessel, an oil spill containment barge, pulled out of the port this week and was the first of the Arctic drilling fleet headed to Alaska, a Shell spokeswoman said on Thursday.

Protesters around Washington have staged ongoing demonstrations over Shell’s intention to resume drilling for fossil fuel in the Arctic, one of the most environmentally sensitive regions in the world, saying a spill would be destructive to the ecosystem and extremely hard to clean up.

Shell maintains that it has a robust safety and cleanup plan should a spill occur. Shell representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The oil giant, which is still awaiting several federal permits before it can return to the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska, has said it was continuing to prepare a drilling rig docked in Seattle for the trip north this summer.

The rig has been an epicenter of protests both on land and water, with demonstrators attempting to block workers from reaching the rig. Last month, hundreds of people in small boats and kayaks surrounded the rig in the Port of Seattle.

ShellNo and other groups have vowed to form a flotilla to try to stop the rig from leaving Seattle’s Elliott Bay in coming weeks.

Anchor Chain Picture Source: Facebook