Pak-Saudi joint naval exercises conclude

RIYADH: Exercise Naseem Al Bahr XI (NAB), between Pakistan Navy and Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) concluded in Saudi Arabian waters off Al Jubail, KSA.

The Exercise was scheduled from 09 to 17 Feb 18.

The exercise NAB comprised of practical demonstrations of Fast Boat Attacks, various formations, maneuvering drills, defence against asymmetric attacks using fast boats, Helicopter landings, Boarding Operations, Anti Piracy and joint response to conventional threats at sea.

Live Weapon Firing was also conducted in which PN and RSNF ships successfully engaged their respective targets. PN P3C & helicopters conducted joint operations with Saudi Air Force & RSNF Air Arm elements.

Mine Counter Measure Exercise (MCM) was also conducted for the first time as part of exercise NAB. During the sea phase of MCM Exercise, Survey and Diving Operations and under water demolition of targets were also conducted.

This year, Exercise Deraa Al Sahil was also a part of Naseem Al Bahr XI in which Pak Marines and RSNF Marines exercised Amphibious Landing Operations, Escorting Operations, Beach Landing, Sniper Camouflage Training and Boarding Operations.

In addition, Small Arms Firing, Cover and Maneuver drills and Para Drop Operations by RSNF Marines were also undertaken.

PN-RSNF Joint Naval Exercises were followed by a closing ceremony, held at King Abdul Aziz Naval Base Al Jubail. Chief of Staff (Personnel), Vice Admiral Abdul Aleem of Pakistan Navy was the Chief Guest on the occasion.

While addressing the debrief/ closing ceremony, Chief Guest said that the first ever conduct of Naseem Al Bahr XI including Mine Counter Measure (MCM) and Deraa Al Sahil exercises in Saudi Arabian waters at mega scale is a manifestation of high level of mutual faith, trust and confidence.

Regular conduct of Exercise Naseem al Bahr between PN and RSNF since 1993 is testimony to the ever increasing cooperation between two brotherly countries in general and navies of both countries in particular. Such interactions will enable both the navies of the region to jointly ensure maritime security in the IOR.

The Admiral highlighted Pakistan Navy’s role in counter terrorism and counter piracy operations since 2004 and 2009 respectively in North Arabian Sea (NAS), Gulf of Aden (GOA) and Horn of Africa (HOA). CTF 150 and CTF 151 are demonstration of Pakistan Navy’s commitment and resolve to maintain peace and order at high seas surrounding two countries.

The Chief Guest also appreciated the operational capabilities of RSNF Officers and men displayed throughout the exercise and hospitality of RSNF Eastern Fleet Command during stay of PN Flotilla at Port Al Jubail.

Earlier, debrief about conduct of various phases of the exercises was conducted by Pakistan Navy Flag Officer Sea Training representative and RSNF Fleet Training Group.
Debrief analyzed performance of all participating units and focused on areas needing improvement, highlighted lessons learnt from various operational activities and recommendations for future exercises. Debrief was also attended by Rear Admiral Laafi Bin Hussain Al Harbi, Commander RSNF Eastern Fleet and a large number of officers from PN and RSNF. –

Source: Samaa


Abu Sayyaf foiled in bid to hijack cargo ship

MANILA: Members of the Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf terror group were foiled in their attempt to hijack a cargo vessel, loaded with steel bars, off the island province of Basilan in restive Mindanao, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported on Saturday.

Commander Armand Balilo, the PCG spokesman, said two of the crew of the boat MV Kudos 1 suffered minor injuries in fighting off the attack late on Friday night.

Chris Paul Maligmat, the boat captain, said the vessel was on its way to deliver its cargo of assorted steel bars to Manila from Davao City, the hometown of President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte, when the attack occurred off Basilan island.

The Abu Sayyaf terrorists who were aboard three motorboats tried to board the vessel in an apparent hijacking attempt but Maligmat said they fought back while sending an SOS to the PCG and Navy authorities stationed in Basilan.

While waiting for the arrival of the PCG and Navy rescue vessels, Maligmat reported they fought back by spraying the attackers with hot water mixed with oil.

According to PCG’s Balilo, the attackers fled when they saw the approach of the rescue vessels which later escorted the ship to Zamboanga City.

The PCG said the foiled hijacking was the latest attempt by the Abu Sayyaf to extend their kidnap-for-ransom activities by victimising especially crewmen of Malaysian, Vietnamese and Indonesian fishing boats.

Earlier, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to launch joint naval and air patrols in their common maritime borders to stop the alarming increase in the criminal activities of the Abu Sayyaf and pirates operating in the area.

In one of his statements, President Duterte said he would allow Malaysian and Indonesian forces to “blast the Abu Sayyaf and the pirates out of the water” if their pursuit operations would occur even inside Philippine territory.

The military also tagged the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group, both of which have pledged allegiance to the Daesh in the Middle East, for the siege on Marawi City on May 23, 2017 that prompted Duterte to declare martial law over the whole of troubled Mindanao.

The military revealed Daesh had appointed the late Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was killed during the siege, as “emir” with orders to establish a caliphate in Marawi City to be used as their main base for the expansion of their operations in Southeast Asia.

Source: Gulf Today


New NATO Commands to Focus on Maritime Security, Cyber Defense

NATO approved two new alliance commands Wednesday to put a greater focus on maritime security, logistics and military mobility, and cyber defense, DoD News reported.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels that defense ministers agreed to revamp the command structure because of concerns including the Russia threat, out-of-area operations and the status of NATO’s southern flank.

“At the end of the Cold War, NATO had 22,000 staff working in 33 commands,” Stoltenberg said. “Today, the command structure is reduced to fewer than 7,000 staff in seven commands.”

The new joint force command, which will be hosted by the U.S., will “help protect sea lines of communication between North America and Europe,” Stoltenberg said. “We will establish a new support command for logistics, reinforcement and military mobility — improving the movement of troops and equipment is essential to our collective deterrence and defense.”

Germany will host the logistics command, while a new cyber operations center at will be set up at NATO’s military headquarters.

Ministers are expected to make decisions on timelines, locations and staffing this summer.

Source: Homeland Security Today


The Indian Ocean Base Race

It seems that we are in the middle of a base race across the Indian Ocean. The latest move, reported on Tuesday, involves an agreement to give India access to naval facilities in Oman, close to the Strait of Hormuz. This may be the first step towards a greater Indian naval presence in the Persian Gulf.

Things are moving fast in the Indian Ocean. In January there were credible reports that China is sizing up a new naval and air base near Gwadar, in western Pakistan. If correct, this facility would join its recently opened naval and military base at Djibouti as part of a growing network of Chinese naval and air bases across the Indian Ocean. Further Chinese bases in the region should also be expected.

At the same time, there is a base race occurring in the Horn of Africa, driven by rivalry between the two emerging power blocs in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia–UAE–Egypt on one side; and Turkey–Iran–Qatar on the other. The Yemen civil war and other new proxy conflicts in the region are spawning, and are aggravated by, a series of new naval and air bases opened by those countries across the Horn of Africa, including in Djibouti, Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia.

This is not only happening in the western Indian Ocean. Closer to home, we have seen China take control of Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka, although the Sri Lankans have retained control over security matters. Last week’s “self-coup” by President of the Maldives Abdulla Yameen, involving the closure of the country’s democratic institutions has left the country in turmoil. The coming power struggle has the potential to fuel Sino–Indian competition to secure bases in that microstate.

India, the biggest power among regional states, is responding with uncharacteristic vigour. Delhi has long aspired to control the narrow maritime chokepoints used by ships travelling to and from the Indian Ocean, including the Malacca Strait, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Mozambique Channel. This has involved building up its naval and air bases in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which sit at one end of the Malacca Strait.

India also has eyes on building a forward operating base at the other end of the Indian Ocean, on Assumption Island in the Seychelles, at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel. A new agreement on that base was finalised with the Seychelles in January.

India is also gaining access to bases operated by its strategic partners in the region. In 2017 it signed a logistics agreement with the United States that will facilitate use of US facilities throughout the region, including at Diego Garcia and the various US facilities in the Persian Gulf, by the Indian navy and air force. In November, India signed a deal with Singapore that will reportedly enhance existing Indian access to Changi naval base. In January, India also announced the finalisation of a logistics exchange agreement with France that will allow Indian access to French military facilities, including key bases at Djibouti on the Red Sea and at Réunion in the southern Indian Ocean.

India is also building strategic relationships and facilities near the Persian Gulf. After years of negotiation, India has finally secured a deal with Iran to modernise and expand the port of Chabahar, near the Strait of Hormuz. This would be the terminus of a new transport corridor linking the Indian Ocean with Central Asia and Russia.

In early February, India signed an agreement with Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistanfor the transit of goods between the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. While the deal is essentially commercial, it has the potential to significantly enhance India’s access to and influence in Central Asia. Future military uses of Chabahar by India cannot be ruled out.

The latest agreement – for access, maintenance, and logistics of Indian naval vessels at the port of Duqm, in Oman, and the use by Indian aircraft of Omani airbases – was reportedly reached during this week’s visit to Oman by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Duqm makes a lot of sense for India. The port not only sits near the entrance of the Strait of Hormuz, within spitting distance of Gwadar, but also is a handy logistics point for an expanded Indian naval presence in the Arabian Sea.

The deal is reported to include arrangements to develop strategic oil storage facilities at Duqm. This may be of greater significance than the defence deal. In the event that the Strait of Hormuz is closed, these reserves would be available to Indian tankers. India’s Adani Group recently signed a memorandum of understanding to develop the port.

Oman, a masterful practitioner in the art of strategic balancing, has long cultivated a special security relationship with India. The Indian Air Force’s anti-piracy efforts are already supported by Oman and, according to some reports, India also operates a signals intelligence facility near Rad al Hadd, in north-east Oman.

Nevertheless, a naval facility in Oman would be an important step in India’s military reach into the Persian Gulf. The use of Duqm as part of India’s strategic oil reserve is more than just icing on the cake. Watch this space.

Dr. David Brewster is with the National Security College at the Australian National University, where he specialises in South Asian and Indian Ocean strategic affairs. He is also a Distinguished Research Fellow with the Australia India Institute. His previous career was as a corporate lawyer working on complex cross-border transactions and he practiced for almost two decades in the United States, England, France and Australia. 

This article appears courtesy of the Lowy Interpreter and may be found in its original form here.

Source: Maritime Executive


Three ships attacked by pirates

One vessel was boarded in the Gulf of Guinea while two others were boarded along the coast of South America.

Three piracy incidents were reported around the globe Thursday, according to authorities.

Suspected pirates attacked a ship on Thursday off the coast of Nigeria in the Bight of Bonny, according to the Marine Domain Awareness for Trade – Gulf of Guinea (MDAT-GoG).

The agency reported that the ship was under attack 19:50 Zulu time 45 nautical miles off the Nigerian coast.

Two other attacks have been reported along the coast of South America, according to the ICC’s International Maritime Bureau.

The IMB said an officer on watch aboard a bulker carrier at Brazil’s Macapa Anchorage at 04:25 UTC noticed an open forecastle door and unauthorised persons on the forward deck.

The ship’s alarm was sounded and the crew mustered, prompting the robbers to escape. A search of the vessel revealed that the ship’s stores were stolen.

The port authority notified a local agent of the incident.

The bureau also reported that a tanker anchored off Venezuela at Puerto La Cruz anchorage was attacked by pirates the same day.

According to the bulletin, three robbers armed with knives threatened a crew member making rounds on the ship.

The crew chased the robbers off the ship once the alarm was sounded, but they escaped with stolen stores.

The incident was reported to Venezuelan authorities, who dispatched the coast guard to investigate the matter.

A week ago, MDAT-GoG reported that a vessel has been attacked off the coast of Nigeria in the Bight of Bonny.

Vessel operators are advised to exercise extreme caution in this area.

The IMB said it was the fourth piracy incident reported in the Gulf of Guinea region so far this year but global piracy has been on the decline.

It reported last month that 180 piracy incidents in 2017 represented the lowest level since 1995 and marked a decrease from 191 incidents in the prior year.

“Although the number of attacks is down this year in comparison with last year, the Gulf of Guinea and the waters around Nigeria remain a threat to seafarers,” said IMB director Pottengal Mukundan.

Source: Tradewinds


Combined Group reinsurers send out market signal by leaving war risks rate unchanged ahead of renewal

No reduction in reinsurance costs is on offer to the three clubs in the Combined Group of War Risks Associations for the first time in many years.

However, no change appears to signal that the soft reinsurance market of recent years may be turning, even if there is nothing as tangible as a hardening market.

The outcome means that ships with war risks cover from a Combined Group club will pay an unchanged annual premium at the 20 February renewal of cover.

The Combined Group links the war risks insurance operations of the North of England, Standard and London protection-and-indemnity clubs, offering highly competitive cover compared to rival commercial underwriters.

The cover runs to $500m or £325m of hull war risks insurance for any one ship, with a similar amount of P&I war risks protection on top. The clubs used to offer cover of up to $630m or £390m, but dropped the limit a few years ago to reflect the fact the insured fleet no longer included high-value cruiseships.

The Combined Group clubs offer annual cover on a tariff basis but have not published their premiums in the past few years after discovering their rates were being used as a target by some rivals.

The tariffs of the three clubs differ but remain broadly aligned, with the basic annual premium for a flagged-out cargoship as low as $2,000 for a $50m vessel.

But additional premiums payable for short term “breach” cover to enter higher-risk areas are a much more significant cost for shipowners.

There are mixed reports of the extent to which the reinsurance market is changing, in the wake of claims running to more than $100bn from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as the wildfires in California.

The P&I clubs won a reduction, albeit of less than 2%. However, they are among the biggest buyers of reinsurance, while the Combined Group clubs are customers with less commercial muscle.

There have also been suggestions that reinsurers are drawing a distinction between buyers who have made claims and those with a clean record.

The Combined Group falls into the latter category so its experience suggests that the soft reinsurance market may be disappearing, even for long-term buyers with a favourable claims record.

Stephen Rebair, the North of England’s underwriting director, who is chairman of the Combined Group, said: “There has been a halt to the softening reinsurance market rather than a hardening.”

Rebair said the reduction in the limit of cover following the departure of cruiseships “helped make the renewal a bit more palatable for reinsurers”.

There have been no big claims on the Combined Group clubs for some years, although there have been smaller piracy and pilferage incidents in West Africa and off Somalia.

There have also been no classic war losses, such as a vessel hitting a drifting mine from World War II.

However, the UK War Risks Association (UK War Risks Club) is cutting the cost of annual cover by 10% for the year from 20 February.

UK-flag cargoships will pay 0.0032% of their insured value, while foreign-flag vessels that do not qualify for British government reinsurance will fork out 0.0036%. Cruiseships are rated higher at 0.0081% and 0.009%, respectively.

The UK War Risks Club — which left the Combined Group about a decade ago — offers $1bn of hull and $500m of P&I war risks cover.

The 10% reduction in rates matches the Hellenic Mutual War Risks Association, insuring three quarters of the Greek-controlled fleet.

The annual premiums charged by the Hellenic club — under the same Thomas Miller management — are lower. The basic tariff for cargoships is 0.00222% of the insured value, passenger ferries came in at 0.00535% and cruiseships are levied at 0.01069%.

There were originally nine clubs in the Combined Group, which was set up during World War I.

They were established to protect British owners from losses instigated by King George V’s enemies — presumably his first cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Protection against the Queen’s enemies still figures as a Combined Group objective, although whoever they may be does not pose quite the same threat.

Rebair said the Combined Group remains viable, with just three member clubs covering a fleet with an insured value of about $20bn.

Steamship Mutual moved into the war risks market in 2015 but has shown no interest in joining the Combined Group. The Standard Club set up the Singapore War Risks Mutual in partnership with the Singapore Shipping Association the same year but it is underwriting a long way away from the UK.

Source: Tradewinds


Cargo ship’s crewmen pour hot water on pirates, prevent kidnapping off Basilan

A cargo ship’s crew poured prevented pirates from boarding their vessel by pouring hot water on their attackers, a military official said Saturday.

Western Mindanao Command chief Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr. said by pouring hot water on the pirates, the crew members of MV Kudos were able to buy time until naval and coastguard personnel arrived to rescue them.

The Philippine-flagged cargo ship was attacked by armed men in waters between Coco and Sibago islands in Basilan province late Friday.

“We were pleased that the crew did not lose their presence of mind. Their raw courage enabled them to pour hot water to the pirates who were already attempting to climb the vessel,” Galvez said in a statement.

He said they received a distress call about the pirates’s attack on MV Kudos at 10 p.m.

Maritime forces, including the Philippine Coast Guard, were able to establish contact with the ship’s crew at around 11:30 p.m., he added.

Galvez said that the maritime forces arrived just in time to rescue the ship’s crew.

He said that as the troops were arriving, the pirates fired at the vessel and had injured some of the crew members.

Aside from naval ships, he said they sent Philippine Air Force two aircrafts to augment the responding troops.

The ship’s crew suffered minor injuries during the attack, but none of them were abducted.

The ship’s crew were declared safe at midnight.

In a 24 Oras report on Saturday night, a member of the crew said they also poured hot oil on the pirates.

The ship sustained 15 gunshots during the attack.

The pirates, meanwhile, were able to escape.

Galvez said pursuit operations are ongoing against the ship’s attackers. Patrol operations in the area and its surroundings have also been beefed up, he added.

Source: Hellenic Shipping News


Why intensifying international interest in the Red Sea is driving military buildup

The Red Sea is becoming host to three distinct but loosely linked theatres of competition.

International interest in and around the Red Sea is intensifying, bringing increased geopolitical competition.

To the north, the Suez Canal links the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean and represents a crucial maritime trade route, transporting about 2.5% of global oil shipments, Global said.

At the other end, the Bab el Mandeb Strait — one of the world’s most important chokepoints, only 29km wide at its narrowest point — com­mands the southern entrance. It has taken on added geostrategic importance since the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen began in 2015.

Further south is the Horn of Africa, a hotbed of maritime piracy that prompted navies from around the world to form task forces to fight it.

The Red Sea’s enhanced geostrategic importance is driving unprecedented development and competition. Last year, China boosted its power projection capabilities by inaugurating a nearly $600 million naval base in Djibouti. The newest entrant is Turkey, which recently signed an agreement with Sudan to develop a port at Suakin.

China and Turkey will join the United States, which has operated its only full-fledged expeditionary military base on Africa, Camp Lemonnier, also in Djibouti, since 2002, as well as the French, Italian and Japanese forces.

Saudi Arabia has been running operations with coalition allies out of a base in Assab, Eritrea. The United Arab Emirates has a military presence in Yemeni Red Sea ports of Aden, Mokha and Mukalla as well as the island of Perim in Assab, and in Berbera in autonomous Somaliland. Last year, Turkey opened a military base in Somalia to train Somali forces.

The Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen has necessitated Arab Gulf countries locking off maritime supply routes to Houthi rebels and developing a supporting logistics network for operations. The Saudi-led coalition has been wary of providing Houthi rebels space to blockade or disrupt maritime traffic by mining and anti-ship weapons from the Yemeni coast, especially around the Bab el Mandeb.

Such burgeoning international interest in and around the Red Sea in the absence of a formal regional framework is straining the environment as a growing number of stakeholders seek to safeguard their interests by counterbalancing competitors. As such the Red Sea is becoming host to three distinct but loosely linked theatres of competition.

At the global level, the rise of China has been driving international competition. The Chinese want to safeguard freedom of navigation for key maritime trade routes and massive investments into Africa as part of its One Belt, One Road Initiative. The United States wants the regional security landscape preserved favourably, especially with Israel being in close proximity but also against terrorist threats and to counter a rising China and resurgent Russia.

The Saudi-led coalition is seeking to ease the socio-political instability that has been taking hold around Saudi Arabia’s periphery in good part by counterbalancing the regional footprint of Iran, which supports the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Finally, there is the north-east African geopolitical competition. Egypt has strained relations with Sudan, which Cairo charges with supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt opposes Sudan-backed Ethiopian plans for the Renaissance Dam under construction since 2011. When finished it will be Africa’s largest hydro-electric power station and generate much-needed electricity for Ethiopia and Sudan but reduce water flows to Egypt’s Nile.

Sudan, like Ethiopia, has been the subject of investments and support from Qatar. Egypt views a potential emerging pro-Muslim Brotherhood alliance between Turkey, Qatar and Sudan as an incubating threat. Sudan recalled its ambassador to Egypt following reports Egypt had dispatched troops to Eritrea, which borders Sudan, in response to the announcement of Turkey’s Suakin agreement.

Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia all border the Red Sea or its entry points but a growing number of extra-regional powers are moving in swiftly to safeguard their interests.

Some analysts say the Red Sea basin was previously overlooked for its strategic value. Being part Middle East and part Africa, it was approached in a segmented way. The absence of a multilateral regional framework to manage affairs or disputes in the Red Sea is probably a key reason why outside powers have been able to formalise their own presence and, ironically, may be making its emergence even less likely.

Source: The Arab Weekly


Arctic sea routes could ease Malacca Strait security issue

Oil and gas imports via Northern Sea Route would bypass the strategic choke point between Indonesia and Malaysia – but environmental threat looms

One of Asia’s biggest security headaches since the end of World War II has been a potential choke point on crude oil shipments that sail through the Strait of Malacca.

China receives more than half its oil imports via the strait from the Middle East. Japan gets 90%; South Korea about 80%. A hostile navy could block the narrow waterway between Malaysia and Indonesia, paralyzing a foe’s economy.

The 890 km strait that divides Indonesia and Malaysia is only 2.7 km wide (1.7 miles) at its narrowest near Singapore, forming a natural bottleneck. It is the second-largest oil trade choke point in the world after the Strait of Hormuz.

Beijing has long recognized this maritime Achilles heel, as do Tokyo and Seoul. It’s one reason why China is building bases in the South China Sea and sending submarines into the Indian Ocean. The idea is to position military assets closer to the strait to deter potential foes like the US and India from closing the channel to oil shipments. 

However, some analysts say this long-standing security threat to Asia may moderate as the melting ice in Russia’s Northern Sea Route and North America’s Northwest Passage offers a shorter and less costly way to ship oil to Asia from Russia, Norway, Greenland and Canada. Global warming also makes it easier to ship oil from Alaska to China.

“The Arctic route reduces the risk of oil disruption for China, Japan and South Korea. You can bring it all through the Northern Sea Route, bypassing the Malacca Strait and its security problem,” Arctic expert Rockford Weitz told Asia Times. Weitz is a professor of practice who directs the maritime studies program at Tufts University’s Fletcher School in Medford, Massachusetts.

The Northern Sea Route runs along the Russian Arctic coast from the Kara Sea, along Siberia, to the Bering Sea.

The shift will occur gradually over the next 10-15 years, according to Weitz, with increasing amounts of Arctic oil and gas reaching China and other Asia nations via the polar route. Another choke point could form at the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska. But in this case, Washington would risk angering Moscow if it tried to interfere with navigation.

Does the Arctic have more oil?

Scientists say the Arctic holds the world’s largest remaining untapped gas reserves and its last undeveloped oil reserves. The US Geological Survey estimates the Arctic holds up to 90 billion barrels of untapped oil. They also reckon the region holds as much as 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 44 billion barrels of liquid natural gas.

But Weitz notes the energy reserves, especially in areas like Greenland, could exceed existing estimates. If true, this means the Arctic might start to overtake the Malacca Strait-reliant Middle East as a leading supplier of crude to Asia.

“The oil is there, it’s just a question of how much,” Weitz said, noting that the Arctic is still relatively unexplored and that test drilling in Greenland’s fast-retreating ice cap and other northern sites is still being carried out.

He sees a growing number of joint oil exploration and development projects between Moscow and Beijing, especially as global oil prices head higher and justify the costs of these ventures. One focus of these efforts, according to Weitz, will be the Siberian Plateau which is known to hold significant amounts of oil.

Russia calculates that the Arctic territory it claims may hold up to 586 billion barrels of oil, though this is unproven.

Shorter than Suez

The capacity to ship oil and gas from ports along the Northern Sea Route also reduces the need to build costly pipelines across the tundra for land-based energy transport. The fact that rivers in Russian Siberia flow north to the Arctic Ocean also allows these waterways to be used to ship oil and other resources to coastal ports.

Analysts say there will be a 40% reduction in sailing distance, and a 20%  cut in fuel, if the Northern Sea Route is used to connect Northern Europe with China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan versus the Suez Canal route via the Middle East. There are smaller but comparable cuts in distance and fuel versus the Persian Gulf.

Data from Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute shows the country’s entire Northern Sea Route was virtually ice-free between June and September of 2017. Analysts say this suggests the transit will be increasingly easy to navigate for bulk carriers – even during winter months when ice levels are highest.

“Ice-class” oil tankers with strengthened hulls that can negotiate Arctic waters are already being built. Weitz says more advanced bulk carriers of this type will be needed, along with new ice-breaking vessels.

China’s state oil firms and banks have underscored their interest in Russia’s Arctic energy assets and the new shipping route by investing in the huge US$27 billion Yamal LNG facility in Siberia. Asian buyers account for 54% of Yamal’s contracted output. More Chinese cash is flowing into a newer Arctic LNG2 project that may be bigger than Yamal.

A Chinese state policy paper issued in late January further confirms Beijing’s interest in tapping Arctic oil and gas.

Risk of major oil spills

However, one dark cloud hovering over the new route is the possibility of a catastrophic oil spill. Arctic countries have limited search-and-rescue capability and fewer resources to cope with an oil spill from a big tanker in such remote and inhospitable waters.

“The biggest barrier to oil production in the Arctic is the threat of a spill. Any clean up would be far worse than Deepwater Horizon,” Weitz warned, alluding to British Petroleum’s disastrous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which spewed more than 130 million gallons of oil and inflicted over US$17 billion in environmental damage.

The potential fallout from a similar mishap in the Arctic is enormous since today’s supertankers are much larger than the Exxon Valdez, the oil tanker that caused history’s worst Arctic oil spill in Alaska in 1989.

Arctic oil drilling is another possible source of spills. The US Geological Survey reports that 84% of the Arctic’s undiscovered oil and gas lies offshore. Activists like Greenpeace allege that there are ongoing spills from Russian oil companies in the Arctic that have never been reported.

The Arctic Council, the inter-governmental body that oversees the Arctic and its eight member states signed a legally binding agreement on cooperating and responding to a major Arctic oil spill in 2013.

But critics say such cooperative steps are only a start and that further action is necessary, given the lack of infrastructure, knowledge and preparedness to deal with a major Arctic oil spill.

Source: Asia Times


India to begin first ever UAE naval exercises off Abu Dhabi shores

Ahead of the second visit by India’s prime minister Narendra Modi to the UAE on Saturday, efforts are being made to put into action between 12 and 14 agreements between both countries

India will begin its first-ever naval exercises off the shores on Abu Dhabi next month, as the UAE and Indian prepare for a number of agreements to collaborate on defence, security, energy, space and in the coming years.

Ahead of the second visit by India’s prime minister Narendra Modi to the UAE on Saturday, efforts are being made to translate between 12 and 14 agreements between both countries into real action.

“It shows recognition that we have a shared interest in maritime security against piracy, in keeping the sea lanes open, in ensuring the freedom of navigation and perhaps also the recognition of what our forefathers knew: that our countries are neighbours separated only by water,” said Navdeep Suri, Indian ambassador to the UAE.

“So we’re trying today to revive that historical connection between our countries. The kind of conversations we are having in defence or security today would perhaps have been unimaginable a few years back and there’s a level of confidence in our leadership to say how we can learn from each other in countering violent extremism and radicalisation.”

India is home to 180 million Muslims. “[Some may ask] how can India make such a feeble contribution to Daesh, they have produced so few terrorists and how have the Muslim communities remained so integrated within the context of the pluralistic society that we have,” the ambassador said at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy on Wednesday.

“Similarly, here in the UAE with Hedayah and the Sawab Centre (anti-terrorism centres), there are things for us to try and emulate and for those conversations to happen, you need really strong and stable platforms.”

In energy, the UAE agreed to establish a strategic petroleum reserve in India. “[India] is an energy-deficit country,” Mr Suri said. “We used to import 55 per cent of our energy, but today we have reached 79 per cent. So we have to transform from being a major buyer of oil from the UAE into something much more multidimensional.”

Space is another area of joint collaboration, with the former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation set to join the advisory board of the UAE Space Agency. Mr Suri said: “When you look at India’s space programme with more than 200 satellites and the launch capacities we have been able to develop, it’s a partnership waiting to happen. The UAE has huge ambitions in this area, we have 50 years of experience. We have demonstrated the capacity to deliver some of the lowest-cost solutions in the space area and [we could] potentially train UAE space personnel.”

More investment will also go into India from the UAE in terms of infrastructure projects following the joint fund set up in 2016 with US$75 million planned to go towards India’s roads, airports, ports, railways and parks.

“Twenty-nine per cent of companies in Jebel Ali are Indian and there are high percentages in other free zones, but the missing link has been investment from the UAE in India,” he said. “People expected [the investment] to happen immediately, but we’ve had to clarify that it is investment, not aid, a loan nor a grant, and it needs financially viable projects.”

The embassy has been working with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, DP World, Emaar and Mubadala to understand their areas of interest and what they view as opportunities and problems in India. The ambassador said he expects this trend will strengthen “very significantly” in the next year or two.

During his less than 20-hour visit to the UAE, Prime Minister Modi plans to take part in the launch of a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi. “A very large tract of land was donated to the Indian community by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed,” he said. “I am confident that once this temple is up, it will truly be a beacon, not only of Indian culture here but the UAE’s own spirit of tolerance that celebrates diversity and enables all communities the space to practice their religion, culture, identity and language.”

Source: The National