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June 7, 2023

Germany’s Defense Minister, Boris Pistorius, announced at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore that Germany will send two warships to the Indo-Pacific region in 2024. The decision comes in light of escalating tensions between China and Taiwan, as well as the disputed South China Sea.

Pistorius emphasized the importance of upholding the rules-based international order and protecting major maritime passages. He clarified that the deployments are not aimed at any specific nation but rather focused on safeguarding the international order. Germany’s increased military presence in the region presents a delicate balancing act between security concerns and economic interests, as China is Berlin’s most significant trading partner. This move follows Germany’s deployment of a warship to the South China Sea in 2021 after a two-decade hiatus. Approximately 40% of Europe’s foreign trade passes through the South China Sea.

The major shipping gateways on the US West Coast are experiencing the longest labor-related disruptions since 2015. Talks between port employers and dockworkers have gone on for nearly a year without reaching a contract agreement. The dispute revolves around the division of carriers’ profits during the pandemic era, as freight rates have plummeted.

The International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU), representing dockworkers, and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), representing ocean carriers and terminal operators, have been engaged in negotiations since May 2022. While port operations had been relatively smooth with sporadic regional issues, recent labor shortages and disruptions in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Oakland have continued, leading to canceled or delayed container vessel movements. The demand for wage increases by the ILWU, along with retroactive pay, has become a sticking point in the negotiations. The situation is causing concerns for retailers and cargo owners, who may divert shipments to East and Gulf coast ports or face delays and increased costs.

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has revealed that bridge watch officers on a bulk carrier and an offshore supply vessel failed to maintain adequate lookouts before their collision near Port Fourchon, Louisiana. The incident occurred in July 2022 when the bulk carrier Bunun Queen, traveling on autopilot, collided with the Thunder offshore supply vessel.

Both vessels had radar and electronic systems capable of detecting each other. However, the officers on watch on both ships were distracted by non-navigational tasks and did not maintain a proper lookout. The collision resulted in significant damage and incurred $12.3 million in damages to both vessels. The NTSB concluded that the distraction of the officers due to non-navigational tasks, including cell phone use, contributed to the accident. The report highlighted the importance of adhering to established protocols regarding cell phone use and maintaining proper lookouts as mandated by international regulations.

An oil tanker, SEAVIGOUR, experienced engine failure in Egypt’s Suez Canal, leading to a temporary disruption in traffic. Tugboats successfully towed the stranded tanker, allowing traffic in both directions to resume as normal. The SEAVIGOUR, a Malta-flagged vessel built in 2016, was en route from Russia to China. While technical malfunctions causing traffic disruptions are not uncommon in the Suez Canal, they are typically short-lived. Just two weeks prior, tugboats had to move another vessel that had been stranded for a few hours in the canal.

The administrator of the Panama Canal has issued a warning about the severe drought causing traffic problems for ships passing through the waterway. The canal relies on 200 million liters of water from Lake Gatun, which is rapidly drying up. To address the situation, draft restrictions have been imposed on larger vessels, resulting in a 40% reduction in cargo capacity. Experts predict further restrictions as the El Niño weather phenomenon approaches. The Panamanian government has declared a climatic emergency due to the driest year on record since 1950. In response, specialists are exploring long-term solutions to secure the canal’s water resources for the next 50 years.

Ocean Network Express (ONE) has successfully introduced its first 24,000-TEU “Megamax” vessel, named ONE Innovation. Constructed at Japan Marine United Corporation’s shipyard, this state-of-the-art vessel features environmentally friendly technologies to maximize cargo intake while minimizing fuel consumption. Equipped with a bow windshield and an exhaust gas cleaning system, the ship complies with international emission regulations. ONE’s Megamax fleet expansion will enhance its service quality and competitiveness, while also reducing its environmental impact. The vessel will operate on the Asia to Europe (FE3) service under THE Alliance, contributing to sustainable global logistics.

Ports in China’s Shandong province are now demanding detailed information on oil tankers older than 15 years, potentially causing delays in unloading crude shipments. Shipping agencies have been asked to provide data on a ship’s age, flag, insurance coverage, ownership history, and past inspection records. The added documentation must be submitted five days before a vessel arrives. Delays at Qingdao and Lanshan ports could disrupt Chinese refineries, particularly independent refineries known as teapots, which represent a significant portion of the country’s processing capacity. Authorities aim to prevent incidents like the 2021 oil spill near Qingdao and address deficiencies in older tankers.

The US Treasury has removed a $120 million Russian superyacht from its sanctions list, allowing it to be auctioned. The 267-foot Alfa Nero was abandoned in Antigua after Russian troops invaded Ukraine. The Treasury had previously imposed sanctions on Russian billionaire Andrey Guryev, claiming he owned the vessel. However, facing financial difficulties, Antigua seized the superyacht and requested the delisting to proceed with its sale. This action demonstrates the US commitment to depriving Russian elites of their assets. Since the conflict began, numerous superyachts, worth around $4 billion, have been frozen worldwide. Antigua plans to use the auction proceeds for domestic purposes.

Nor-Shipping 2023, one of the maritime industry’s highly-anticipated trade shows, began with grand ceremonies and events in Oslo, Norway. The event’s main exhibition in Lillestrøm, scheduled to start the following day, is expected to be the largest in the show’s history, with nearly 1,000 international exhibitors and numerous delegates.

Sidsel Norvik, the director of Nor-Shipping, highlighted the industry’s anticipation for the 29th Nor-Shipping event, focusing on profitable partnerships and contributing to a sustainable future. Distinguished speakers, including John F. Kerry, Dr. Andrew Forrest, Joseph E. Stiglitz, and Kitack Lim, will address various conferences and sessions. The program features new additions, such as conferences on offshore wind, offshore aquaculture, maritime hydrogen, and autonomy. Nor-Shipping aims to facilitate connections between talent, employers, and educational institutions through its Ocean Campus initiative.

You can read previous issue of ‘Currents’ here.

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