The Ghost Fleet Of Johor
Revealed: The ghost fleet of the recession anchored just east of Singapore
“The tropical waters that lap the jungle shores of southern Malaysia could not be described as a paradisical shimmering turquoise. They are more of a dark, soupy green. They also carry a suspicious smell. But there is something slightly odder which I can’t immediately put my finger on. Then I have it – the 750ft-long merchant vessel is standing absurdly high in the water. The low waves don’t even bother the lowest mark on its Plimsoll line. It’s the same with all the ships parked here, and there are a lot of them. Close to 500. An armada of freighters with no cargo, no crew, and without a destination between them. Nearby, as we meander in searing midday heat and dripping humidity between the hulls of the silent armada, a young European officer peers at us from the bridge of an oil tanker owned by the world’s biggest container shipping line, Maersk. We circle and ask to go on board, but are waved away by two Indian crewmen who appear to be the only other people on the ship. ‘They are telling us to go away,’ the boat driver explains. ‘No one is supposed to be here. They are very frightened of pirates.’
Local fisherman Ah Wat, 42, who for more than 20 years has made a living fishing for prawns from his home in Sungai Rengit, says: ‘Before, there was nothing out there – just sea. Then the big ships just suddenly came one day, and every day there are more of them. Some of them stay for a few weeks and then go away. But most of them just stay. You used to look from here straight over to Indonesia and see nothing but a few passing boats. Now you can no longer see the horizon.’ The size of the idle fleet becomes more palpable when the ships’ lights are switched on after sunset. From the small fishing villages that dot the coastline, a seemingly endless blaze of light stretches from one end of the horizon to another. Standing in the darkness among the palm trees and bamboo huts, as calls to prayer ring out from mosques further inland, is a surreal and strangely disorientating experience. It makes you feel as if you are adrift on a dark sea, staring at a city of light.
As daylight creeps across the waters, flags of convenience from destinations such as Panama and the Bahamas become visible. In reality, though, these vessels belong to some of the world’s biggest Western shipping companies. And the sickness that has ravaged them began far away – in London, where the industry’s heart beats, and where the plummeting profits and hugely reduced cargo prices are most keenly felt. You may wish to know this because, if ever you had an irrational desire to charter one, now would be the time. This time last year, an Aframax tanker capable of carrying 80,000 tons of cargo would cost £31,000 a day ($50,000). Now it is about £3,400 ($5,500).
Three thousand miles north-east of the ghost fleet of Johor, the shipbuilding capital of the world rocks to an unpunctuated chorus of hammer-guns blasting rivets the size of dustbin lids into shining steel panels that are then lowered onto the decks of massive new vessels. As the shipping industry teeters on the brink of collapse, the activity at boatyards like Mokpo and Ulsan in South Korea all looks like a sick joke. But shipbuilding is a horrendously hard market to plan. There is a three-year lag between the placing of an order and the delivery of a ship. The labours of today’s Korean shipbuilders merely represent the completion of contracts ordered in the fat years of 2006 and 2007. Those ships will now sail out into a global economy that no longer wants them. ‘Whole communities in places like Mokpo and Ulsan are involved in shipbuilding,’ Wallis says. ‘So far the shipyards are continuing to work, but there have hardly been any new orders in the past year. In 2011, the shipyards will simply run out of ships to build.'”
Abandoned Sailors Go On Hunger Strike
“Three Russian seamen from a vessel stranded in the port of Dubai began a hunger strike on Friday, an International Transport Workers’ Federation official said. The Magdalena, owned by a German company and flying the flag of Antigua and Barbuda, has been anchored in Dubai since early August. The vessel’s owner reportedly owes the crew $230,000 in wage arrears. Onboard are nine Russians, two Ukrainians, four citizens of the Philippines, and one Estonian. “The captain of the vessel said that three crew members… went on hunger strike. The vessel’s owner has also been informed,” Pyotr Osichansky said. The seamen demand repatriation and the repayment of wage arrears, and refuse to perform their duties. In early September the crew asked for international aid as they were running out of food and water. A week later two weeks’ worth of water supplies, provisions for three weeks, and fuel for 50 days were provided. A total of 23 Russian sailors are currently in a similar situation on two other vessels – the Piryit bulk carrier, which is stranded near the port of Cristobal in Panama, and the Southern Pearl vessel is anchored off the Bulgarian coast.”
Repo Man, International Waters
This repo man drives off with ocean freighters
“If repossessing a used Chevrolet can be tricky, consider retrieving the Aztec Express, a 700-foot cargo ship under guard in Haiti as civil unrest spread through the country. Only a few repo men possess the guile and resourcefulness for such a job. One of them is F. Max Hardberger, of Lacombe, La. Since 1991, the 58-year-old attorney and ship captain has surreptitiously sailed away about a dozen freighters from ports around the world. “I’m sure there are those who would like to add me to a list of modern pirates of the Caribbean, but I do whatever I can to protect the legal rights of my clients,” said Hardberger, whose company, Vessel Extractions in New Orleans, has negotiated the releases of another dozen cargo ships and prevented the seizures of many others. His line of work regularly takes him to a corner of the maritime industry still plagued by pirates, underhanded business practices and corrupt government officials. “International waters,” Hardberger said, “are worse than the Wild West. In many ways, there is little or no opportunity to avenge the wrongs people have done to you.” Before repossessing a ship, they make sure the vessel has been seized illegally and the claims filed against it are fraudulent. If negotiations and legal methods fail, the company will proceed with an extraction, a step that might include payments to local officials if a nation’s government is corrupt. Those payments, Hardberger said, are made under exceptions in the federal Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens from bribing foreign officials to retain or obtain business. “In a rogue state, you can’t tie your hands behind you,” Hardberger said. “It is common to find that the court system is rife with corruption.””
Alang: Where Ships Go To Die
Thanks to recession, Gujarat’s ship-breaking yards are booming, but impact on environment is toxic
“It is known as the graveyard of ships, a place where ageing vessels are torn apart by unskilled labourers and the metal then sold on as scrap. The scrapping of ships in South Asia – Bangladesh and Pakistan are also major scrappers – is a rudimentary, almost medieval affair. Ships are allowed to beach on the sands and then armies of men with little or no training pull apart the ships with hand-tools. Toxic substances such as mercury and asbestos are allowed to seep into the environment. One of the attractions to the ship owners of having their vessels dismantled here is that the ship breakers in this part of the world receive little of the regulatory oversight that takes place in Europe or the US. Over the last 10 months, the scrappers at Alang in Gujarat have received and dismantled around 280 ships, up from 163 during the same period a year earlier. Some breakers believe that over a 12-month period from January, they might reach a total of 400 ships. On the edge of Alang a huge flea market has sprung up, selling multifarious equipment and fittings taken from the ships. Locals say that when an owner decides to scrap a vessel, they rarely have the time or opportunity to make a full assessment of the value of such things. As a result, the flea market sells everything from ships motors and cutlery sets to fridges and lifeboats at bargain prices. “Last year I bought a torque wrench here for about 3,500 rupees (£44), which would have cost me 50,000 on the open market,” Vasant Pachal, an engineering workshop owner from the city of Vadodara, recently told The Hindustan Times while browsing at the market. “Apart from the great deals, I get to see the latest in technology every time I come here.””
Previously On Spectre — Dubai Skips
So Is It Mom Or Chevrolet?
Worldwide Food Riots
Taken To The Streets
Fairly Bad Indicators
April Fools! Dollar Actually Fine