CBC News, 22 June 2012
The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) announced last Friday that 170kg of cocaine was seized in two separate shipments at the Port of St John on May 29th and June 5th, with an estimated street value of over CAD $21 million. During secondary searches of containers from Guyana bound for Ontario, CBSA officers found irregularities while X-raying wooden pallets, and found the drugs hidden within hollows in the boards; a similar concealment method was used in the June 5th bust. Analysts note that Guyana, which neighbours one of the principle transit countries in the cocaine trade,Venezuela, is also becoming a significant transit nation for cocaine bound for Europe and the United States.
Xinhua, 26 June 2012
China’s naval training ship Zhenghe arrived at Halifax port on Tuesday for a three-day goodwill visit. Task Commander and Deputy Chief of Staff of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) RAdm Liao Shining was met by RAdm David Gardam, commander of Canadian Maritime Forces Atlantic, and both sides highlighted the aim of strengthening the “strategic partnership” between the two countries and cooperation between the two navies. The visit to Halifax follows on the success of similar visits by other PLAN vessels to Maritime Forces Pacific in Esquimalt, BC, in 2000 and 2006. Canada is the seventh stop of Zhenghe’s five-month tour, which started from China’s northeastern port city of Dalian in mid-April, and includes port of calls to 11 countries. WhenZhenghe returns to China, it will be the first PLAN vessel to circumnavigate the globe on its own.
United States: “Four U.S. Navy minesweepers arrive in the Gulf”
Reuters, 25 June 2012
Four US Navy mine countermeasures (MCM) ships arrived in Bahrain this week for a seven-month deployment in an area of operations that includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The vessels – USS Sentry, Devastator, Pioneer and Warrior – were transported from San Diego aboard MV Tern to support a US Central Command request for additional MCM assets in the US 5th Fleet’s area of responsibility. The arrival of the four additional MCMs, which will conduct operations with coalition forces to ensure the continued safe flow of maritime traffic in international waterways, comes at a time when tensions between Iran and the West over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme have raised fears that Iran might try to block the Strait of Hormuz.
Russia/ Syria / United Kingdom: “Russian arms ship to make second attempt to deliver helicopters to Syria”
Telegraph, 24 June 2012
Russian military officials have reportedly said that the merchant ship MV Alaed would again attempt to deliver helicopter gunships and air defence systems to Syria, this time under a Russian flag. The ship’s first try at delivering the equipment was derailed last week after its British insurers withdrew their coverage, citing a contract clause that forbade “improper or unlawful trade.” Unsubstantiated reports suggest that Whitehall may have promoted the idea of withdrawing the vessel’s coverage, and may have even considered boarding the ship as it passed the coast of Scotland. The Kremlin’s move to place the ship under a Russian flag – rather than its previous Curaçaoan flag of convenience – was designed to lessen the possibility of foreign interference with the delivery. Russia has maintained support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad despite growing international fury at his continued violent repression of a growing opposition movement. Moscow insists that the helicopters are ones that had been sent to Russia for upgrades, and were already Syrian government property.
Russia/ China: “Bulava ‘De Facto’ Enters Service – Russian Navy Chief”
Defence Professionals, 26 June 2012
The Russian press reported that Navy commander Vice-Admiral Viktor Chirkov has said that the Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) is now in “de facto” service with the Russian Navy. While it is unclear what this means for actual deployment, the announcement came as a surprise considering the missile’s test-launch record: only 11 of the 18 or so test-firings were said to be successful, while some sources suggest the failure rate may have been much higher. Reports earlier this year suggested that some Russian defence experts had warned of the missile’s lack of readiness, saying that rushing the system into service would be dangerous for operators. VAdm Chirkov’s news comes shortly after two St Petersburg university professors were convicted of passing Bulava information to the Chinese, with a Chinese operative reportedly seeking details on Russia’s Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile and Iksander short-range ballistic missile.
DefenceWeb, 21 & 22 June 2012
A South African pair was released by Somali pirates after being held for over almost 20 months. The couple’s yacht was hijacked by gunmen in October 2012 as it was traveling off the coast of Tanzania. Although the pirates initially demanded a USD $10 million ransom from the hostages’ families, it is not clear if a ransom was paid. Attacks on yachts are increasing off the coast of Somalia due to ramped-up security on merchant ships, leading criminals to target unprotected vessels. According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), as of June 18th, there have been 63 attacks and 12 hijackings in total by Somali pirates this year, and they are currently holding 12 vessels and 178 hostages. Criminals in the region also raked in more than $150m in ransoms last year. In related news, an annual report released by the IMB and One Earth Future foundation shows that although the number of prisoners taken by pirates in the Indian Ocean fell in 2011 from the year prior, hostage deaths increased to a total of 35. While data on previous years is limited, the 35 deaths are seen as the highest number of piracy-related hostage fatalities in one year. Some observers say the higher rate of violence is a result of increased pressure on pirates in the region due to the continued foreign naval presence and an increase in private security.
The Hindu, 23 June 2012
The re-launching of the submarine INS Sindhurakshak at the Severodvinsk shipyard last Saturday marked the end of the Russian portion of the mid-life refit project for the Indian Navy’s (IN) Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines. The IN has 10 Kilo attack boats, seven of which were upgraded in Russia, while the remaining three are in various stages of progress in Indian shipyards. The refit programme reportedly involved the addition of torpedo tube-launched Klub-S anti-ship missiles, as well as improved acoustic and communications suites. Russian shipyard officials are apparently pressing the Indian government to agree to the next refits for the Kilo-class boats, and to sign a contract for the provision of six new conventional submarines for the IN. Analysts question whether New Delhi will agree to further large deals with Russian suppliers considering the variety of problems and disputes that have arisen in terms of other naval procurement deals, such as the refurbishment of the ex-Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier.
DeccanHerald, 26 June 2012
The Indian government has announced its plans to start construction of a second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) after the first becomes operational. IAC-1 is currently being built by Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL), and is estimated to be ready for service by 2017. The second ship – presumably to be called IAC-2 – is expected to be larger than IAC-1, fulfilling the Indian Navy’s goal of having two modern carriers in service. The Navy’s current aircraft carrier, the 53-year-old INS Viraat, is facing retirement, while the Vikramaditya, formerly known as the Russian ship Admiral Gorshkov, is due to be delivered from Russia by December.
Channel News Asia, 24 June 2012
For the second week in a row, China’s Jiaolong manned submersible broke the national diving record, descending to a depth of 7,015 metres in the Mariana Trench on Sunday. This weekend’s record, the fourth of six dives, is the maximum depth that Jiaolong can handle, proving that China’s deep-sea capabilities are becoming increasingly stable. Although the world depth record is still held by a US Navy officer and a Swiss oceanographer in 1960, Jiaolong‘s achievement, along with China’s first manual space docking also on Sunday, indicates a general trend for increasing Chinese technological sophistication.
China / Vietnam / South China Sea: “China says Vietnam claim to islands “null and void”” & “Vietnam Law on Contested Islands Draws China’s Ire” & “Sansha new step in managing S.China Sea” & “Chinese fishing boats back in shoal – DFA”
Reuters, 21 June 2012 & New York Times, 21 June 2012 & Global Times, 25 June 2012 & Inquirer Global Nation, 26 June 2012
China sharply criticized Vietnam on Thursday for passing a law that declares sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea (SCS). The Foreign Ministry in Beijing summoned the Vietnamese ambassador to strongly oppose the new law, which China called null and void, as the islands are apparently “indisputable” Chinese territory. In response to Vietnam’s SCS law, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs announced the creation of Sansha city to administer the Xisha (Paracel), Zhongsha (Macclesfield Bank) and Nansha (Spratly) Islands. The move effectively upgrades the islands’ status from county to prefectural level, giving them greater weight under Chinese law, but still unrecognized by other SCS claimants. Meanwhile, after a brief withdrawal by both China and the Philippines due to inclement weather, Chinese fishing boats have returned to Scarborough Shoal, site of an ongoing standoff between Chinese and Filipino ships, despite unilateral fishing bans by both countries. Observers note that the territorial disputes come two weeks ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where the resource-rich SCS – a focal point of several territorial frictions triggered by what many observers believe is Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the area – is expected to be high on the agenda.
South Korea: “South Korea to build navy base on frontline island”
Channel News Asia, 26 June 2012
The Republic of Korea’s Navy has been given local government approval to build a new USD $36.6 million base on Baengnyeong Island, the island closest to North Korea in the Yellow Sea. The almost 24,000-square metre complex will include barracks and a training ground, and other infrastructure sufficient to house 100 personnel, with an end-2014 completion timeline. The new base is likely to shore up the South’s monitoring and response capabilities against the North, given that another frontline Yellow Sea island, Yeonpyeong, was shelled by the North in November 2010, and that the North has reportedly completed a hovercraft base at Koampo, 50km from Baengnyeong.
Reuters India, 26 June 2012
The Malaysian government will face allegations in parliament on Tuesday that navy documents were sold to French shipbuilding company DCNS to help its bid for the USD $1.25 billion submarine contract it won in 2002. PM Najib Razak, who was defence minister at the time, has repeatedly denied the claims against him. However, pressure is mounting on Razak after documents obtained in a French court case, which detail payments made by DCNS to two companies set up by a former associate of the prime minister who worked on the submarine deal, were leaked to Malaysian media. Among the documents published was a report prepared for DCNS stating that defence contracts in Malaysia could only be obtained by giving large amounts of money to individuals or organizations, including the country’s ruling United Malays National Organisation political party. The Malaysian human rights group leading the French court case against DCNS is being accused by the government of being linked to Malaysia’s opposition parties, leading some to assume that the allegations are politically motivated. The latest corruption evidence could seriously hurt Razak’s reputation ahead of elections scheduled for 2013.
Maritime Executive, 21 June 2012 & Reuters, 21 June 2012
At least 17 people are confirmed dead and upwards of 70 others are believed to have drowned after an overcrowded vessel carrying some 200 suspected asylum-seekers capsized approximately 200km northwest of Christmas Island on Thursday. Media reports say that 110 people were rescued by search teams, which included four Indonesian and Australian warships, four merchant ships and five Australian government aircraft. Search efforts were called off on Sunday after the last survivors were believed to have been found, all of whom are currently at a high-security detention centre on Christmas Island where they will be interviewed by authorities about the incident. More than 55 boats carrying over 4,000 asylum-seekers have been intercepted in Australian waters so far this year, which has sparked a row between government officials, many of whom continue to advocate a return to the policies of the Howard government, which transported asylum-seekers to detention centres on small island nations under a plan known as the the “Pacific Solution.” Current PM Julia Gillard had planned to send refugees to detention centres in Malaysia, but in May 2011 the Australian High Court struck down the deal over human rights concerns.