U.S. Blames Iran for Drone Attack on Tanker Near Oman

U.S. Central Command and Israeli officials are blaming Iran for a Tuesday attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman. Tanker Pacific Zircon was 150 miles off the coast of Oman when what U.S. officials said was an unmanned aerial vehicle hit the ship at about 3:30 p.m. […]

Pacific Zircon Image via Vessel Finder

U.S. Central Command and Israeli officials are blaming Iran for a Tuesday attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman.

Tanker Pacific Zircon was 150 miles off the coast of Oman when what U.S. officials said was an unmanned aerial vehicle hit the ship at about 3:30 p.m. local time, according to the shipping company.

“We are in communication with the vessel and there is no reports of injuries or pollution. All crew are safe and accounted for,” reads a statement from tanker owner Eastern Pacific Shipping – owned by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer.
“There is some minor damage to the vessel’s hull but no spillage of cargo or water ingress.”

Shahed 136 drones. Iranian military photo

In a statement to USNI News, CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael Kurilla said, “this Unmanned Aerial Vehicle attack against a civilian vessel in this critical maritime strait demonstrates, once again, the destabilizing nature of Iran’s malign activity in the region.”

An unnamed Israeli official told Agence France-Presse newswire that the Iranians used a Shahed 136 explosive drone in the attack as part of an effort to disrupt the Sunday start of the World Cup soccer tournament in Qatar. Iran is selling Shahed 136 to Russia for use in the invasion of Ukraine.

The delta-winged drone is similar to the one that killed two people aboard merchant tanker Mercer Street off the coast of Oman last year. In an investigation of the incident, CENTCOM determined that a one-way drone was loaded with military-grade explosives and launched from Iran.

Iran has not taken responsibility for the attack.

New Report Says US Navy Capacity Is “Very Weak”

By Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) US Congressman Mike Gallagher, a Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, delivered a stark warning to American citizens yesterday in response to a…

By Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) US Congressman Mike Gallagher, a Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, delivered a stark warning to American citizens yesterday in response to a...

UK Remembers Merchant Navy Sailors Lost In Falklands War

Atlantic Container Line (ACL) and Cunard have marked the 40th anniversary of the ‘darkest day in ACL’s history’ when its vessel, the Liverpool registered SS Atlantic Conveyor, was struck by two…

Atlantic Container Line (ACL) and Cunard have marked the 40th anniversary of the ‘darkest day in ACL’s history’ when its vessel, the Liverpool registered SS Atlantic Conveyor, was struck by two...

Expedition to Broadcast Survey of World War II Wrecks Live

The Valor in the Atlantic Expedition will livestream its survey of the historic wrecks of SS Bluefields, a freighter and U-576, a German submarine. The remains of each wreck from the Battle of the Atlantic lay only a few football fields apart. Settled about 700 feet below the surface, approximately 30 miles off Cape Hatteras, […]

Bluefields under the previous name Ormidale, predating 1938. NOAA Photo

The Valor in the Atlantic Expedition will livestream its survey of the historic wrecks of SS Bluefields, a freighter and U-576, a German submarine.

The remains of each wreck from the Battle of the Atlantic lay only a few football fields apart. Settled about 700 feet below the surface, approximately 30 miles off Cape Hatteras, N.C., the wrecks are believed to be the only example on the East Coast from World War II “where the victim and aggressor are lying side by side,” the narrator for the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration livestream said Monday.

The foundation is leading the “Valor” expedition and leaves its activities posted on its website. The livestream will continue through Wednesday.

Bluefields, operated by a Nicaraguan firm, was part of KS-520 convoy that left Norfolk, Va., and headed toward Key West, Fla., when it was attacked on July 15, 1942.

The two vessels were nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015 after their discovery the year before. The search began in 2011.

In Monday morning’s livestream, Bluefields, built at Manitowoc, Wis., in 1917, could be seen upright. Visible on the deck were a truck engine, axle, wheels with tires still on.

Remotely operated vehicles Yogi and Guru passed the wreckage with special cameras to provide a 360-view of where masts and cargo booms have fallen to the deck. The steel hull appears to be intact at least to the deck level.

“We’re finding out what’s in the hold [that is] not on the cargo list. It’s sort of totally untouched,” the narrator said.

The now open holds can be clearly seen using the ROVs’ sophisticated cameras.

The ROVs are controlled by crew members aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Nancy Foster.

“We still have to be very careful here” with the vehicles to ensure they don’t disturb the shipwrecks or damage the expedition’s equipment, the narrator said several times.

The 250.5-foot freighter was carrying war materiel, including oil as well as household goods, when it sank.

The 1942 convoy consisted of 19 merchantmen that were being escorted by five Navy and Coast Guard vessels. The U-boat, which had suffered a damage ballast tank two days before, was coming off patrol Hatteras when it spotted the convoy moving at 8.5 knots. The sub fired four torpedoes. Two hit Chilore and another hit J.A. Mowinckle. The last torpedo hit Bluefields amidships on the port side, which sank within minutes. Chilore later sank under tow off Cape Hatteras.

As for the U-576, the damaged submarine was noticed by a sonar ping from a Coast Guard vessel after it surfaced in the middle of the convoy, NOAA reported in its history of the encounter.

Video frame grab of the stern cabin of SS Bluefields. UNC Coastal Studies Institute – Battle of the Atlantic expedition, 2016

“Immediately the Armed Guard crew on the merchant ship, Unicoi, opened fire and scored a hit. Almost concurrently, two U. S. Navy Kingfisher aircraft straddled the U-576 with depth charges and sent it to the bottom of the sea with all 45 crew members,” according to NOAA’s history of U-576.

It was about 4:30 p.m.

Bluefields’ crew did not suffer any casualties, but all 45 crew members of the U-boat died. Germany’s foreign ministry said in a statement to the NOAA in 2014 that the wreck “should, if possible, remain at their site and location to allow the dead to rest in peace.”

The narrator in Monday’s livestream repeated a NOAA historian’s observation that “few people realize how close the war actually came to America’s shores.” He added, “and how close we came to losing.”

The new survey of the Bluefields and U-576 was actually the second leg of the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration’s project “to explore historic shipwrecks within and surrounding the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary” under its “Valor in the Atlantic” project.

The first leg included livestreaming the new survey of USS Monitor, as well as a number of other ships that went down in World Wars I and II. The videos have remained posted on a number of social media sites as well as the foundations’.

In addition to the survey’s historic purpose highlighting “Valor in the Atlantic,” the ROV dives are also providing direct observation of types and numbers of fish occupying the wrecks.

In a press release, the foundation said the data “will be complemented by fishery echosounders that use sound to ‘remotely sense’ the locations and relative size of fish surround[ing] the shipwrecks.” The information additionally will guide “ecosystem-based management and spatial planning decision[s] to ensure that the reefs and their inhabitants are sustainably used by fishers, divers and other interests.”

Fishery experts aboard Nancy Foster said there are three kinds of “fishing reefs” off the North Carolina Outer Banks – the shipwrecks, like Bluefields, which is very tall and attracts a wide variety of fish; artificial reefs, vessels sunk to attract fish and the natural rocky and sandy reefs than can extend for over a kilometer. The waters and Gulf Stream are heavily used for commercial fishing and attractive to sports fishing.

A sonar image of U-576. NOAA Image

For example in surveying Monitor as a fishing reef, the livestream narrator said, “we’re very pleased to be back” after 20 years and seeing “healthy coral and predators,” like sharks by the ironclad and snowy groupers by Bluefields.

Partnering with the foundation, headquartered on the Mystic Seaport Museum campus in Connecticut, were four offices from NOAA and the state of North Carolina’s office of State Archaeology.

Russian-Owned Super Yachts Going Dark to Avoid Sanction Seizure

Mega-wealthy owners of the superyachts value privacy and discretion and keep as low a profile their vessels allow and recent events in Ukraine have increased the desire of some superyacht owners to hide their movements. Yachts owned by Russia’s oligarchs may be subject to being seized under international sanctions. Several vessels have already been detained. […]

Graphic by H I Sutton used with permission

Mega-wealthy owners of the superyachts value privacy and discretion and keep as low a profile their vessels allow and recent events in Ukraine have increased the desire of some superyacht owners to hide their movements.

Yachts owned by Russia’s oligarchs may be subject to being seized under international sanctions. Several vessels have already been detained. These include Amore Vero, reportedly owned by Igor Sechin, a former Russian administration official and CEO of the Rosneft energy company. Lady M, is reputedly owned by Alexei Mordashov, a steel and mining billionaire.

Some boats are going dark, turning off their automated identification systems and running to safe harbors. Some are be sailing to remote Russian ports not normally associated with luxury yachts.

One such yacht is Amadea. This 106-meter (348 ft) yacht is reputed to be owned by Suleyman Kerimov, a Russia-based billionaire and politician, who is on the sanctions list.

Amadea stopped transmitting her position on AIS (Automated Information System) on Feb. 24, just hours after the start of the invasion. AIS is required, under Safety Of Lives At Sea (SOLAS) rules. The International Maritime Organization’s rules require, “AIS should always be in operation when ships are underway or at anchor.”

An exception is allowed if the captain believes that the ship is under threat and that the AIS might compromise the safety or security of the vessel. Even the captain must inform the relevant authorities that they are doing it and why. Circumstantially, it appears that these yachts are turning it off as a deliberate attempt to avoid detection.

Graphic by H I Sutton used with permission

Amadea was reported as having arrived in English Harbour in Antigua by specialist channel eSysman Super Yachts. Photographs and video, provided by anonymous contributors, showed the yacht there. USNI News has been able to collaborate this with satellite imagery and other open sources. The yacht arrived in its Caribbean hide-out on March 5 or 6 and is visible in satellite imagery provided to USNI News by ShadowBreak Intl.

Several other yachts associated with Russian oligarchs have also started atypical journeys. Several appear to be headed to the Suez Canal. One example is Quantum Blue, a 104-meter (340 ft) yacht, reportedly owned by Sergey Galitsky, co-owner of Russia’s largest retailer.

Quantum Blue had temporarily been detained in Monaco by Monegasques and French authorities on March 3. However, Galitsky was not on the European Union sanctions list and the boat was released. It sailed straight to Port Said, at the entrance to the Suez Canal.

Amadea has since left Antigua and remains ‘dark’ on AIS. Her final destination is unclear –like the final destination of many of these yachts is subject to speculation. An obvious destination in the Indian Ocean might be the Maldives or Seychelles where they are likely safe from the sanctions. According to eSysman Superyachts, certain vessels may ultimately be headed to Vladivostok in the Russian Far East.

Navy Opens Up Military Deep-water Pier to Merchant Ships to Ease California Cargo Crisis

With Southern California seaports overburdened by commercial ships and pandemic and supply-driven delays in moving cargo, the Navy agreed to allow cargo-carrying vessels to use one of its military wharves at Port Hueneme, Calif. Port Hueneme is the only deep-water port sited between San Francisco and Los Angeles that can support the heavy, large commercial […]

The Navy in partnership with the Oxnard Harbor District (OHD) is providing resources onboard Port Hueneme in direct support of decreasing port congestion in Los Angeles County and reducing the national supply-chain shortage on Nov. 22, 2021. US Navy Photo

With Southern California seaports overburdened by commercial ships and pandemic and supply-driven delays in moving cargo, the Navy agreed to allow cargo-carrying vessels to use one of its military wharves at Port Hueneme, Calif.

Port Hueneme is the only deep-water port sited between San Francisco and Los Angeles that can support the heavy, large commercial vessels with deep drafts that require deeper channels and harbors to take on or offload their cargo.

The Navy’s Nov. 4 decision activated a 2002 “joint use agreement” between the Navy and the Oxnard Harbor District that allows commercial use of the 1,000-foot Wharf 3, an adjoining four acres and a 21-acre industrial land to support loading, off-loading and storing of cargo, providing it doesn’t interfere with the military’s operations. The 40-page agreement has been modified twice with congressional support.

The terminal and stevedore operator Ports America had off-loaded “a large number” of 40-foot containers from one commercial vessel, “merchandise expected to have direct impact with helping to support holiday supply demands,” Daniel Herrera, Naval Base Ventura County’s assistant program director for port operations, said last week in a Navy news release.

Earlier Monday, the MV Delphinus Leader, a car carrier, pulled into the port at Wharf 3, according to Marinetraffic.com. On Friday afternoon, MV Chiquita Venture, a container ship, was anchored outside the port and harbor entrance, according to online vessel trackers. The container ship had visited Port Hueneme on Nov. 11 for two days before stopping at ports in Mexico and Guatemala. Berthed inside at the regular commercial berths on Friday were MV Del Monte Harvest, a container ship, and MV Grand Race, a vehicle carrier.

While the joint-use agreement gives access for ships to berth and cargo, including containers and vehicles, and to be offloaded and stored for follow-on transportation, it doesn’t mean sailors and base workers are jumping in to help with transportation and logistics.

The naval base “is providing a wharf and containment storage space, but we are not providing labor,” Drew Verbis, a Naval Base Ventura County spokesman, told USNI News.

The extra berth will be a boost to the local port if more commercial ships opt to pull into the harbor rather than face possibly longer delays awaiting space at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., to the south.

Those ports – the nation’s busiest – have grappled with longer-than-usual waits for ships to offload or take on cargo, forcing more than 100 vessels at times to wait offshore before space was available. The delays were fueled by COVID-19 cases among port workers; shortages of containers, truck drivers, warehouse space and available rail transportation; crowded storage yards and the resurgence in demand for consumer-driven goods that had softened by the pandemic-driven global slowdown.

Recent federal and state efforts to ease some transportation regulations, waive fees might be helping ease the bottlenecks. The ports are also considering moving to 24-hour a day operations. The port was closed Thanksgiving and none of the terminal operators work on Sundays, under existing schedules, according to the port.

Neither of those ports is at full operational capacity. On Nov. 23, one tanker, one bulk carrier and 18 container ships were berthed at the Port of Los Angeles, according to the port’s website. Another 94 vessels were at anchor or drifting in San Pedro Bay, while 45 others were waiting at the Port of L.A.

The city of Oxnard’s harbor is home to two port operations – the Navy’s Port Hueneme and the Oxnard Harbor District. The Navy controls the land along the west and north sides of the harbor, with four large wharves supporting military ships and the Naval Construction Battalion Center. The city of Oxnard controls the east and south sides, with two large wharves and commercial warehouses.

While the availability of one extra wharf at Port Hueneme won’t make a big dent, it provides more options for ship operators, particularly amid the busy holiday shipping season, and without a large impact on Navy operations.

“The Port appreciates the partnership with NBVC and locating additional space to accommodate excess holiday shipments coming through the Port,” Jason Hodge, the harbor district president, said in the Navy release. “We are delighted to come together to meet the challenge of providing a solution to help keep essential goods moving. Our long-standing history of partnership continues with this call-to-action to address the national supply chain challenge.”

“The Navy recognizes the importance of being good neighbors with our local communities, and makes every effort to provide support when current operational requirements allow,” said Capt. Robert Kimnach, the base commander. The agreement “is in direct support of reducing port congestion and the national supply-chain shortage and demonstrates one example of the positive, long-term partnership between the Navy and the local community.”

The Navy, in 1942, took over the port and eventually turned over Wharf 1 and Wharf 2 to the commercial operators, according to the Port of Hueneme website. It’s become a regular handler of ships hauling bananas, automobiles, domestic oil and fresh produce, with $8.75 billion in trade moving through the port in 2020 and $8.06 billion moving through in September of this year. That’s a fraction of the $460 billion in cargo that the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach combined moved last year.

COVID-19 Pandemic Shows Mariners Are Essential Workers, Experts Say

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted why mariners – from ferry crews to masters of Triple E-class container ships – are “essential workers,” while questioning future shipbuilding and threatening the survival of smaller shipping companies, two experts in maritime commerce told USNI News. Joshua Tallis, lead author of CNA’s “Adrift: COVID-19 and the Safety of Seafarers,” […]

Daniel Murphy, a deck cadet with United States Merchants Marine, supervises as cargo is transported into the Green Cove with equipment being sent to the Distribution Management Office Yermo, Calif., on July 6 at Naha Port in Okinawa, Japan. MSC Photo

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted why mariners – from ferry crews to masters of Triple E-class container ships – are “essential workers,” while questioning future shipbuilding and threatening the survival of smaller shipping companies, two experts in maritime commerce told USNI News.

Joshua Tallis, lead author of CNA’s “Adrift: COVID-19 and the Safety of Seafarers,” said the closing of ports across the globe to stop the spread of infection had the most immediate impact on seafarers, tankers and container ships. In the cruise industry, he said much of the attention initially was on the condition of the passengers as those vessels were kept from landing. But Tallis added that the impact was also felt across the entire maritime transportation industry — ferries, fisheries and workers on off-shore rigs.

While cargoes were unloaded in a day as crews remained aboard and cruise ship passengers were eventually landed, Sal Mercogliano, an associate professor of history at Campbell University, the question of how to repatriate crew if there were no containers or petroleum to move and no cruise passengers to carry became “an immense logistical problem” for shippers and cruise companies.

For the cruise industry, Tallis said that meant using their ships to take crew members back to their respective countries. Then the ships were laid up. For the large companies owning container carriers and tankers, it meant that in many cases, chartering airplanes to fly their crews back to their home countries — Ukraine, the Philippines, Vietnam — but not their residences often hundreds of miles away. Smaller companies struggled over how to stay alive financially as vessels continued at sea for more than a year.

International Maritime Organizations call for rotating crew members every 11 months.

Tallis said this whole process demonstrated the need to knock down travel and visa barriers, increase transparency of how mariners are treated by operators and reevaluate port access rules. In his presentation at the Canadian Maritime Conference and in the interview, Mercogliano said that when COVID-19 restrictions began to fall into place from China across the globe, they directly affected about one million mariners on 60,000 large cargo ships.

What was happening economically in global trade was a “one-two punch,” Mercogliano said. “There was the initial slowdown” that caused global trade to plummet as manufacturing shut down first in China. As the manufacturing shutdown spread, the demand for energy products to keep plants operating, businesses open and people moving to and from work fell accordingly. There was a slowing of demand across the board as all commerce slowed and workers lost jobs.

Tallis described the economic impact of the shutdown as much greater and with longer-lasting effects than the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

“Now, there’s been an uptick in orders,” Mercogliano said. Tallis added: “part of it is online ordering, like Amazon.” Both agreed that this backlog of demand requires maritime shipping to move goods to market. American consumers and manufacturers “are trying to get ahead of another slowdown,” Mercogliano said. On the manufacturing side, he cited the build-up of auto parts being shipped to the United States so plants no longer rely on “just-in-time” delivery.

What’s happening now is some mariners “are stuck on their vessels,” admittedly earning more because they are working to meet pent-up demand, “but their relief is stuck on the beach” unable to travel to the new pick-up point – like Cape Town, South Africa – or even to reach large transportation hubs in their own countries. “If you’re on the beach you’re not making money,” Mercogliano, who worked at Military Sealift Command, said.

“We’re still feeling it out where you’re going to get mariners from,” he added.

Mercogliano said the “gangways up order” in Military Sealift Command illustrated the problem of keeping its civilian mariners aboard for prolonged periods of time while contractors and military personnel are allowed to leave. This was the case even if the ship was in a port where most of the MSC crew lived. “They were used to port calls, visits to their families,” he said.

“Mariners need to access ports of call” for their physical and mental well-being, said Tallis.

At the same time, the shipping industry is consolidating and operating in larger and larger ports, removed from major cities. Tallis said the benefit to consolidation is the companies’ new political heft, which also causes them to address issues like the pandemic more seriously.

The downside, Mercogliano said, is “the feeder companies are having difficulties” finding cargo to move regionally to survive. Larger firms like Maersk, which is a vertically-integrated logistics company, are buying the feeder companies. He noted an exception are American regional companies like Matson -operating between Hawaii, Guam and the continental United States – covered by Jones Act protections for domestic carriers.

No matter the size of the corporation owning the vessels or whether the definition of seafarer extended to off-shore oil workers, all these businesses were searching for the “most effective” means of “stopping infection from coming aboard,” Tallis said. In the case of the large cargo and tanker vessels, he noted that unlike USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), if someone tests positive, the crew size provides redundancy to keep operating. On civilian ships, “there’s no depth [20 to 30 crew] — if they get sick. They’re older and more susceptible” to COVID-19 infection than Navy sailors.

Testing before boarding — harbor pilots, technicians, and new crew; masking in tight spaces are steps the cargo and tanker vessels are employing. There also are changes in where new crew members board – California rather than Hawaii or Yokohama.

As for other effects of the pandemic, Mercogliano noted there is a back order of new vessels and what the effect of that will be on shipyards globally. That could also impact new fuel standards.

The pandemic is “pushing technological change — re-looking and re-examining” maritime industry, he said.