Reuters, 11 February 2015
An ongoing labour dispute that created slowdowns in freight traffic at 29 US West Coast ports has led the port operators to decide to partially shut down the ports for the second weekend in a row. Port operators have alleged that the workers belonging to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) have been engaged in planned work slowdowns as a means of pressuring the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) in ongoing contract negotiations. The port operators say they will not pay the workers higher weekend and holiday rates if they are engaged in job action, so the loading and unloading of all ships will be suspended during the upcoming Lincoln and Washington birthday holidays and over the weekend. Contract negotiations are set to resume later this week, but the impact of the slowdowns and shutdowns has reverberated throughout the US, as the affected ports handle almost half of the country’s maritime trade, and estimates suggest that an extended shutdown could cost the economy up to USD $2 billion per day. Various organizations have appealed to the federal government to intervene, though the White House says it is up to the disputing parties to resolve the issue.
BBC News, 11 February 2015
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is calling for more robust search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean after four failed crossings from North Africa left at least 300 migrants dead over the past week. The four vessels, carrying an estimated 100 migrants each, were reportedly forced to disembark from Libya in inclement weather. The Italian coast guard rescued over 100 people; however 29 migrants died en route from exposure. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that these latest incidents bring the 2015 death toll to 415, as compared to just 27 deaths during the same period last year. Last year almost 3,500 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea and the UNCHR expects that figure to remain high in 2015.
Haaretz, 11 February 2015
The Israeli Navy is reported to have intercepted a vessel carrying materials into Gaza that could be used to produce rockets. Three Gazan suspects on board the captured boat admitted that they had been smuggling the materials for the production of weapons by the militant wing of the Palestinian organization Hamas. Smugglers in the area have reportedly had to rely more heavily on boat transport, as Egyptian authorities have cracked down on the smuggling tunnels that had previously been the preferred method for smuggling between Sinai and Gaza. Such instances are likely to increase Israeli opposition to the reopening of the port of Gaza for goods and passenger traffic; various announcements over the past several months have suggested that the unilateral opening of the port by Palestinian groups was imminent, though Israel, which has a maritime blockade imposed on Gaza, has not commented on whether it would allow this to occur.
United States: “Pentagon Rules Out Aircraft Carrier Visit to China”
Wall Street Journal, 06 February 2015
The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced that it would not send an aircraft carrier to visit China. The DoD statement follows reports of an unofficial proposal to send a US aircraft carrier to China as a means of augmenting defence ties between the two countries. A Pentagon spokesperson said that bilateral talks on a host of other issues had to progress before such a visit could be planned. The Pentagon also said that the US was concerned by China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the western Pacific where its air and maritime assets were aggressively confronting their foreign counterparts, particularly in disputed areas of the East and South China Seas, on a regular basis. Senior American lawmakers said the idea of a US Navy aircraft carrier visiting China would be viewed negatively by US allies throughout the region. In late January, the Pentagon announced that it was halting overall efforts to expand military-to-military relations with China until an agreement was reached between the two countries on a code of conduct for encounters between US and Chinese military aircraft. A similar agreement related to encounters between naval vessels was created following an incident between the USS Cowpens and warships of the People’s Liberation Army Navy in the South China Sea in 2013.
USNI News, 10 February 2015 & Navy Recognition, 09 February 2015
Efforts to redesign the Tomahawk cruise missile into an effective anti-ship weapon showed promise as a missile fired from the destroyer USS Kidd struck a moving target in recent tests. Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work called the upgraded Block IV Tomahawks “a game changing capability” that could conceivably grant the US Navy (USN) a 1,000-mile range anti-ship missile at an exceptionally low cost by outfitting an existing missile with a new seeker and guidance system. The USN has also begun to embrace a concept known as “distributed lethality” which aims to install more offensive power on a broader range of warships, and the idea of upgrading an existing weapon system is seen as a cost-effective way of introducing the expanded capabilities. It has been suggested that developments of the Tomahawk may preclude the need to develop a whole new missile, however, recent reports suggest progress with the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) project. The LRASM, currently under accelerated development by the military and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is said to have successfully carried out low-altitude and obstacle avoidance trials last week. The LRASM is expected to compete with other missiles, including the Tomahawk, for both use by the military in air and ship-launched capacities.
Nigeria / China: “First Chinese-built OPV arrives in Lagos”
Jane’s, 08 February 2015
The first of the Nigerian Navy’s two Chinese-built P-18N offshore patrol vessels arrived in Lagos last week. NNS Centenary was handed over to the Nigerian Navy at the end of November as part of a 2012 contract with China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Company (CSOC). The 1,800 ton, 95-metre-long vessel is based on the Type 056 corvette in service with China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy. With a range of 3,000 nautical miles at 14 knots and the ability to support a helicopter, Centenary will serve to counter illegal maritime activities like piracy, illegal fishing, oil theft and smuggling. The second P-18N, NNS Unity, is scheduled to arrive later this year with the majority of outfitting being done in Nigeria in order to develop the indigenous shipbuilding industry and alleviate unemployment. Analysts note that CSOC has also been contracted to upgrade the Nigerian Naval Shipyard in Port Harcourt to support such initiatives.
Jane’s 09 February 2015 & Al Jazeera, 08 February 2015
North Korean state media released images this week showing the Korean People’s Navy test firing a new type of surface-to-surface missile (SSM). According to the imagery analysis, the new SSM resembles the Russian Kh-35 3M24 Uran (SS-N-25 ‘Switchblade’) anti-ship missile, and was launched from a KPN surface-effects ship (SES). While no date or location of the test fire was provided, state media reported that the new anti-ship rocket “precisely sought, tracked and hit the ‘enemy’ ship” and indicated that the new capability would be deployed across North Korea’s navy “before long”. The announcement of the SSM test fire was followed by a series of short-range missile fires on Sunday from the eastern city of Wonsan. Analysts note that North Korean rhetoric, followed by demonstrations of military power, are common occurrences ahead of major bilateral military exercise involving the US and South Korea; Double Dragon, an annual US-South Korean amphibious drill, is scheduled for March.