March 31, 2011

The road from Fukushima

A moment, first, to bow to the Japanese. Their discipline, stoicism and sheer humanity in the face of catastrophe is a lesson to us all. From the father who bought just four bottles of water because he wanted to leave some for other shoppers- despite near panic when the water in Tokyo was said to be irradiated and unsafe for infants, to people who simply put fallen items back on supermarket shelves and quietly left after the earthquake first struck, to restaurants that dropped prices, to doctors, dentists, barbers et al providing their services for free in relief camps today, to the millions who did not loot or plunder or become animals fighting for survival, all have my awestruck admiration. Salute again.

It is too soon to forecast, as some of my industry friends are doing, how the triple disaster in Japan-the earthquake, the tsunami and the near nuclear cataclysm at Fukushima- will affect shipping long term. The simplistic view is that there will be a huge hit to immediate Japanese demand, but this will pick up substantially as the country stabilises and starts rebuilding, when everything from raw material to oil to finished goods will be needed.

My non-simplistic view is that it won’t be so simple. Or, I just don’t know.

The world’s third largest economy has been brought to its knees in a blink of an eye. Japan had a massive debt issue even before the disaster; that problem is now far, far worse. Recovery will take years, not months. Exports- the Japanese economy’s lifeblood - will take a long time to even come close to present levels. The demand for freight will not be uniform across vessel types or classes; car carriers, for example, may be particularly hit now, just as the Japanese car giants have been.

Losses to the Japanese economy post the earthquake are estimated at 200 billion dollars today. Japan says it can cost up to 25 trillion Yen to rebuild the shattered nation- that is another 200 billion dollars, give or take. Power outages and rolling power cuts are common today, and they will be common in the weeks ahead.

The World Bank says it will take five years for Japan to recover and rebuild, and the costs will be 6% of the entire Japanese economic output in 2010. The Bank of Japan says that, in the aftermath of the quake, the impact on Japanese output and economy will be ‘severe’, prolonged and much greater than the impact of the earthquake at Kobe sixteen years ago. For those who remember, that impact was bad enough.

As I write this on the weekend four days before publication, analysts say that if radiation from Fukushima increases, it will threaten the Tokyo Bay ports- that handled 38% of the entire Japanese container throughput last year. Some German companies have already stopped sending their ships there. The Japanese PM has warned that the situation at Fukushima is still ‘grave and unpredictable’; one reactor core may have been breached. Radiation levels are rising there. Higher levels have been detected in close by China, including aboard a merchant vessel calling China from Japan.

I shudder to think what the impact on world trade would be, if cargoes and ships from Japan were to become subject to radiation checks elsewhere. I worry about the impact of small - but continuous - radiation exposure on crews’ health- they can’t run and hide anywhere. I have no doubt that Japan – so dependent on exports- would be very severely hit should some sort of ban on their goods be enforced by countries that fear irradiated goods and ships landing on their shores. If this happens, trade- and shipping- would be severely hit too.

All in all, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a quick, sharp and sustainable Japanese increase in demand next month.

Then there is the logistical nightmare. A massive chunk of Japanese infrastructure lies in ruins. Ports, roads and railways have been decimated. Also power- Japan used to get almost thirty percent of its power from nuclear energy. The reactors that were flooded with seawater will probably never be reusable. Moreover, will the Japanese- and the rest of the world- rethink nuclear energy options? Some countries, China included, already are. Led by Germany, Europe- with France leading the pack where nuclear energy accounts for three quarters of total energy needs- is planning stress tests on its own reactors, probably in an attempt to calm the public. Regardless, obvious questions are being asked across the world- Can Fukushima happen here? Are we prepared? Are we safe? Do we even know what the hell we are doing at these reactors?

As of January 2011, 29 countries were operating 442 nuclear reactors for electricity generation and 65 new nuclear plants were under construction in 15 countries. Some countries across the world will go back to older- and dirtier- alternatives, I think, after Fukushima. Coal demand may pick up down the line- an event that, if it happens, will have a far reaching and long term impact on bulk freight demand. It will also have negative consequences for the environment and climate change, perhaps even more significant than the radiation from Fukushima.

But that is later. Today, Japan has a huge power problem that will not get better very quickly, especially if some of its reactors have been rendered useless by seawater.

Leaving Japan aside for a moment, I think that the industry is going through a time, along with the rest of the world, when the sheer speed and number of major geopolitical events makes any analysis extremely difficult, even impossible. Revolts in Libya and other countries in North Africa threaten to expand into Jordan, Syria and maybe other countries yet unknown. The world may see the cost of its addiction to oil, which is already around 115 dollars a barrel, rising further with instability in the region, with resultant consequences for shipping. Near revolution in Yemen, continuing anarchy in Somalia and piracy are other issues the industry has to contend with.

All these, added to the new environmental concerns have arisen post Fukushima, are defining issues that need to play out and be digested. Occurring almost simultaneously across the world, these events are near overwhelming. Logical analysis seems impossible when there are so many variables and so many what-if scenarios.

The world- along with the shipping industry and Japan- needs to pause, methinks, instead of forecasting and perhaps then acting on ill-conceived impulse. Besides digesting or managing geopolitical and natural upheavals, it needs to reevaluate its energy options going forward. Before the shipping industry commits to new assets on ephemeral incidents, it needs to wait a bit, also because I suspect the nuclear vs. coal energy debate will soon reignite. Going by history, we won’t do too good a job of this debate, but that does not matter from shipping’s business perspective.

What matters is that shipping resists the temptation, for once, to try to stay ahead of the curve; that it waits for some clarity to emerge from Japan and elsewhere. That it waits to see which way the wind is blowing before it sets sail. Capital intensive and tonnage heavy shipping cannot afford to jump this way or that before the dust settles in Japan or until the Arab revolutions play out. There is too much uncertainty across the world today; blindly zigging now and finding out, in retrospect, that you should have zagged instead will cost you very dearly. So my general recommendation to the industry is to pause. Wait until clarity emerges, and then –only then- evaluate.

And while you are waiting, a moment of silence, please, for those brave souls at Fukushima- the workers at the plant who put their lives repeatedly and knowingly at risk fighting nuclear meltdown. A moment for those heroes, who put themselves at horrible risk by choosing to stay and fight the madness. They taught us, while we were busy calculating Fukushima‘s impact on our businesses, that a blazing light can sometimes shine from the abyss of deep tragedy.


March 24, 2011

Unstable equilibrium

“Two percent of the ship’s beam,’ the logistics manager told me once again with what he thought was authoritative finality. “That is enough GM and stability for any ship, including this one”.

“Two percent!” he exclaimed, clearly getting carried away. “On this ship, that is less than forty centimeters. That should be your minimum GM.”

Our feeder container ship had just berthed, and the man himself had come aboard before we started discharging, huffing and puffing and threatening to blow my house down because I had shut out cargo at the last port since we were fully loaded. A freshly shaved 27 year old almost fresh out of business school, he had been incandescent with rage on the phone then; he could not believe that the widespread- and regular- under declaration of container weights in the trade could actually reach a stage when I would refuse to load any more since we were down to our marks- and our stability was borderline, to boot. The fact that I had- at the same loadport- disregarded his two percent hogwash out of hand had not improved his temper; I had also refused to take out any more ballast to accommodate cargo; our GM was low enough, we were a small, low powered ship and we would be going through the South China Sea in typhoon season. I couldn’t have cared less about the two percent mumbo-jumbo.

The manager was so angry now, standing in my cabin six days later, that I could almost see aftershave evaporating off his heated skin, and I could certainly smell it. So I sat him down, popped him a coke (something stronger being against the D and A policy and all that) and, without speaking, handed him a sheaf of computer stability printouts and my own calculations from the load port.

I then called the Mate on the walkie-talkie and asked him to commence discharging the containers, and make sure that- as the logistics department had planned- two shipboard cranes would start discharging simultaneously, picking up the heavy containers from the top tier.

Meanwhile, our man the manager appeared visibly flummoxed because he couldn’t understand why such elaborate calculations that I had now given him were necessary when a simple ‘two percent of the ship’s beam’ calculation could be done in two point eight seconds. He spent a few minutes pretending to understand the cheeky printouts, shuffling the papers impatiently. “Two percent,” he said again, much like the village moneylender quoting daily interest rates to a destitute farmer in a remote Indian hamlet.

The ship started listing. It went on going till it was about 10 degrees to starboard. It then seemed to stop, but then continued for another couple of degrees, stopping at about 13. Obviously cargo work had commenced and two heavy containers were being simultaneously discharged.

The effect of a list, as we all know, is more dramatic the higher you are on a ship, and the Master’s cabin is invariably high, just below the bridge deck. It may have appeared to him as if we were capsizing, because the logistics manager darted to the bridge-front porthole in my cabin. “What is happening?” he asked, obviously alarmed. “Why is she going like that?”

I sat him down again and explained, very briefly, the principles of stability to him. I also told him that the unfavourable shift in the centre of gravity with two shipboard cranes- effectively thirty metres up from the keel and picking up 35 tonnes each on a small vessel with a low displacement- was considerable. (That he seemed to believe; he ignored the wxd/W calculation I was trying to explain and instead went very pale as the ship rocked a bit, looking as if he believed that the ship’s centre of gravity had been raised to approximately 2 percent below the level of his scrotum.)

I also reminded him, while he was conveniently frozen, that the ship’s cranes were designed to work up to a fifteen degree list, at which point they would cut out, leaving us with two hanging loaded containers and the usual lopsided view of the world. I told him bad weather had an even worse effect. I reminded him that bad weather was called bad for a good reason.

The ship rocked and righted itself as the containers were discharged. The logistics manager regained some colour, finished his coke and left quickly. We never had any cargo related problems thereafter.

Another small Ro-Ro ship quite a while ago. Me, the Chief Officer. Captain, who I found out later had a fishing licence and dispensation to sail as Master (Nope, this was not a flag of convenience, but a well regarded open registry). On my first loaded voyage from Singapore to Penang, he told me that I should take out all the ballast we had aboard. “Make it zero,” he said, in a tone that brooked no dissent, and made me wonder, naughtily, as to what he told his wife when he wanted more children.

Puzzled and unaware of his dubious credentials, I asked him why he wanted the ballast out, especially since our GM was low with heavy deck cargo. “We don’t need ballast,” he declared dismissively. “We can get ballast anywhere”.

“Captain, then why do we have ballast tanks?” I asked him.

He cursed in an unfamiliar language. “Make the ballast zero!” he repeated, before stalking away regally.

I re-did my calculations, went against his instructions and kept one double bottom tank full. We were halfway to Penang anyway by now.

A few hours before arrival, the Captain summoned me to the bridge when we were going through a squall that was accompanied by a moderate swell. “She is rolling uncomfortably and is tender,” he told me. “And we have the swell on the beam. Can you fill up some ballast?”

“One ballast tank is full, Captain. I did not pump it out. We should have no stability problems; we do not need to ballast more,” I said, “especially since we can get ballast anywhere.”

“So you did not listen to me?” And, when I remained silent, he added, angrily, “Don’t do it again.”

They gave me command of my first ship soon thereafter. I think it was on the Captain’s recommendation; he wanted to make sure that I could never sail with him again.


March 17, 2011

High level conference finds solution to piracy!

(RAPE fund author seeks senior position in industry)

I recently invited myself to an anti-piracy conference (Just myself, because I don’t much care for dissent). The objective of this high powered (in my own mind) summit was to examine the problem of piracy, express suitably simulated outrage and, in line with the blistering ideals of the IMO (blistering, because those same ideals should be scalding the tongues of many by now), ‘orchestrate a response’ to the Somali menace.

I am thrilled to announce that, at the end of the two day affair, both the Convenor (me) and the Guest of Honour (me again) were equally excited because we have found a singular solution to piracy. I am afraid though, that you will have to labour through this piece to be brilliantly exposed to that thunderbolt. This is life. Nobody said it was going to be easy.

This is how we cracked it. I first made a presentation to myself for both of us to peruse. This consisted largely of two graphs, produced by Microsoft Excel after much struggle. These graphs, presented here, are self explanatory; the numbers used therein have been extracted from reputable sources in the public domain. As we know, there are enough international bodies keeping updated statistics on piracy instead of fighting it. Any errors that may have crept in are mine alone- I may have missed out a few hostage seafarers here and there, but what the hell. Who really cares? Let us, for the sake of convenience, assume those few have been bumped off.

The conference made some interesting observations after much cutting and pasting, strong black coffee (laced in the evenings) and an East African cultural show put up on Day 2 by some RPGs and automatic small arms specially flown in from Mogadishu. Some of these observations led to some equally interesting findings, as we can see below:

• Filipinos form almost a quarter of the 522 hostages held on IMO numbered ships at present, followed by Indians, at 12.5%. Syria is surprisingly third, and Tunisia and Algeria were other surprises (to us at least) in our ‘top ten’ list of hostage nationalities.

• There are hardly any European, North or South American hostages held at the moment. Greece does figure at number fifteen, though, with ten hostages and under two percent.

• It can be safely assumed that most of the non-IMO craft- dhows, fishing vessels and the like- will be manned mainly by Asian or African crews. Including these, therefore (even if statistics were easily available) would show an even higher percentage of Asians and Africans held hostage.

• Greek flagged ships made up a third of presently hijacked ships, followed by the UAE at about a fifth. Is this because many Greek shipowners have been penny pinching or resisting armed guards? Maybe they are happy to be Greeks bearing gifts for the pirates.

• Numbers of ships of other nationalities hijacked are miniscule, not exceeding one each.

• It seemed, to the slightly boozy delegates at the end of Day 1 of the conference, that the between 7 and 12 billion dollars being made annually were being extorted- sorry, generated, by anti-piracy businesses and markets in countries mainly in the West. However, these had almost no mariners or ships held in Somalia, and only one or two of their nationals were being presumably tortured or executed at the moment. The vast majority of seafarers taken were Asian, African and Middle Eastern. This, the delegates felt, was a little unfair. It was resolved that pirates should be encouraged to take more Westerners hostage at once.

• The high powered committee noted, with some dismay, that the recent (and as usual, intermittent) anti-piracy media flutter in India had reached the Parliament, with politicians taking crash lessons in how to show outrage. Why dismay? Because our news channels and leaders are displaying publicly to the world, once again, how ill informed and out-of-date they actually are. (Psst, this has been going on for awhile, folks)

Having spent the better part of a day and a half on these two graphs, the high powered committee finally reached the ‘’Orchestrating the Response” part, and, learning from the IMO, quickly made short work of it.

In this connection, the Guest of Honour (me again, sorry) observed that recent news reports have suggested that Somali pirates may have “reached their limit, at least for now. Security agencies have suggested that Somali pirates are willing to negotiate lower ransoms to release ships they have seized — because they are running out of room. They say that pirate groups are more willing to negotiate the release of captured vessels now because their ports at Haradheere, Eyl and Hobyo are choked up with ships. The pirates are reportedly looking for quicker deals, and seem willing to accept lower ransoms, if it means the ships can be moved on”.

This second hand observation initiated a severe brainstorming and out of the box thinking session amongst the conference delegates (both) and resulted, finally, in a breathtaking and simple strategy that will solve the problem of piracy once and for all. The strategy involves the setting up of a fund that we will tentatively call the Resources for Anti-Piracy Extortion (RAPE) fund. The fund will collect a billion dollars a year, with contributions made by every ship passing through piracy affected war zone (on an ‘x dollars per GRT’ basis). Every year, the billion dollars will be collected and distributed amongst all the pirates in Somalia through their leaders, on the express proviso that they stop putting out their skiffs to sea and use their ill gotten gains to instead remain on dry Somali land, living the life of Reilly- drinking, gambling, gambolling and chasing buxom Puntland wenches, etc. Both delegates felt that, with a maximum of 250 million dollars or so being made now from ransoms (on an accrual basis, not cash flow), this billion dollars represented a fourfold jump in pirate revenues- and minus any expenses, to boot- and would keep the Somali gangs in good cheer and Bacardi, not to speak of silk skirts, and away from the Indian Ocean. Voila! No more piracy and around eleven billion dollars a year saved that are being presently squandered on sterile anti-piracy effort.

Pure genius, I tell you. Guest of Honour (me), take a bow.

(Collateral advantage: The conference threw up another interesting fact. The main man (me) proved that I could waste time and resources on useless statistics; that I was computer literate and could make iffy presentations; that I could discuss, analyse and otherwise manage important issues and come up with crappy conclusions. Additionally, I seemed to display an absolute disregard for hostage seafarers with my juvenile attitude, infantile black humour and uncaring temperament.

In short, the conference noted- almost as an aside- that I was now the perfect candidate for a senior shipmanagement or IMO position.).


March 10, 2011

Crew management, for adults only

Much more effective than meetings with checklists and management manuals or diktats disgorged by senior officers or management ashore, I have found aboard vessels, is an approach that is quite the opposite. I believe that a management style that invites crew input into the decision making process is far more efficient and safe, and makes for a ship that is happier- and therefore more productive.

Unfortunately, most organised- and optimistically called- shipmanagement companies do not prescribe to this culture. In fact, much of their alleged management, partly due to suffocating regulations that are sometimes proven useless (case in point, the ISPS code) but also for other reasons to do with clueless and lousy HRD practices, seems to consist of playing the mommy-knows-best game. Discipline to them means that crews should follow archaic or harsh rules made by people of apparently seriously questionable intelligence.

A disaster attributed to two over-the-alcohol-limit officers? Ban alcohol on ships --forever and at any time- across the world! (Actually, not really, I have seen European officers excluded by European companies here). I daresay that there has been far greater tragedy- human, financial or environmental- wrought about by collective drunk driving across the world. By the same reasoning, no landlubber should be allowed even a sip of alcohol. Ever. Anywhere in the world. At anytime.

In one very well-known management company I sailed with briefly that many (mistakenly) believe is reputed, barbecues were banned. Apparently some minor fire had broken out on some ship at sometime- maybe a pork sausage had spontaneously combusted; nobody really knew. Anyway, the crew managers- who seemed to think that head masterly demeanour from a bunch of glorified clerks was critical to the running of ships- declared an across-the-fleet BBQ ban. Crews can fire up the boiler safely, but those kids can’t be trusted to fire up a barbecue. Ships will sink if we don’t lay down the law! That is really why we are sitting in this office!

Another company- also well known- used to ask their agents to put up joining officers and crew in ‘inexpensive’ (read cheap, substandard) hotels, and to give them vouchers at mealtimes. No a-la-carte or buffet for you children! You will overeat! I pointed out once with thinly disguised disgust, during a briefing meeting, that I had just come from such a hotel where I had to give them a meal voucher when all I wanted was a cup of coffee, having been recently fed two meals over a five hour flight. I told them they could have saved a buffet full of money if I had been allowed to order a coffee instead. The body shoppers didn’t find it funny; had my disgust been bigger than my sense of humour I would have quit that setup right then and there.

It would help in many ways, I think, if the industry started treating its mariners like the adults that they are. The industry needs to consider seriously the fact that its immature attitude- and the culture it propagates-is a major irritant to seamen who are spending months at a time in a pressure cooker atmosphere that is aggravated by such stupidity.

Back to ships, where the ISM code and other regulations have done irreparable harm, in my view, to smooth operations aboard vessels in many ways. They reduce work flexibility and give too much importance to paperwork and filing, for one. Then, the juvenile treatment of seamen- in many ways- filters from the manuals, checklists, non-compliance reports, management emails and the entire ISM hoo-ha aboard ships today to senior officers, and it filters from them down the ranks. These officers can easily propagate a suffocating mommy-knows-best culture throughout the ship if they are careless, to an extent that spontaneity, flexibility, willingness to work and even a seaman’s confidence to find, independently, simple solutions to everyday problems is hit. Overregulation, the mandating of procedures for the simplest things and the ridiculous desire to control everything crew do -thousands of miles away- have a tendency to do that.

I have tried to counter this suffocation at sea by what I call a ‘management by walking around’ style. I try to talk to crew as people, not like children or cogs in some out-of-control machine. Many of them have pretty good ideas about how things could be more efficient or safer. Any crew’s collective experience totals in decades- and is often significantly greater, and usually more apposite- than the collective sea experience of the organisation ashore.

Obviously a consultative or informal style cannot work in all situations aboard; emergencies or even simple manoeuvring of a vessel, besides many other situations, demand an autocratic approach. The crew knows that very well; they don’t need an office memo to remind them that a ship is not a democracy. They know who the boss is; they just don’t need their noses rubbed into that fact all the time. They know rank and responsibility and the need for crisp compliance; grant them that. They understand when a Captain is brisk- even brusque. They even understand why: they have been sailors for many years.

In fact, an informal or consultative style when non-critical operations are going on has another incidental benefit- officers and crew tend to trust you more and have confidence in your intentions. This, I find, makes for people who are happier, and therefore will, when the time comes, do that vital task with an extra snap.

Thing is, the difference between competent and exemplary performance- whether of a ship or a person or even an organisation- lies usually in that very same extra snap.


March 03, 2011

Jasmine thorn

The global economy is still coming to grips with the aftermath of the Jasmine revolution- a phrase originally coined for the Tunisian uprising but now which I will apply to the infectious unrest that has spread across the Arab world and even beyond, with pre-emptive detentions and website curbs being enforced in faraway China. Unfortunately, commercial shipping faces exceptional and additional risks that threaten to hobble it just as it appeared that it was getting back on its feet.

Obvious risks have to do with fear of the spread of the unrest, impact on oil prices and regional political or economic stability. Libya -with the largest reserves of oil in Africa- is in civil war, but that is not what rattled the stock and oil markets around the world last week. For Libya is only the 18th largest producer of oil in the world, and ranks a lowly 9th in proven reserves. If civil war there has spiked oil prices to the extent it has, it is not because of fears of the Libyan oil tap being shut off: it is because of fears of the fragrance of Jasmine spreading - imagine if Saudi Arabia (second largest oil producer) or Iran (fourth) were hit by paralysing civil unrest and violence.

Egypt, Suez Canal or not, is another common concern; it is the centre of gravity of the Arab world and is, additionally, the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood, the theological base for the Al Qaeda. The geopolitical impact because of instability and public demonstrations in countries like Morocco, Jordan and Bahrain – or even Yemen, with its own civil war and strong Al Qaeda affiliate- similarly impacts shipping more or less in line with other commercial activity.

However, the major unique threat that shipping faces must have to do with security of sailors and ships, for the Jasmine revolution generated tsunami can quite easily threaten these for entire voyages from Gibraltar to Sri Lanka and eastwards.

With apologies to all for beating my favourite dying horse yet again, I invite you to join the dots with the following facts. (Not theories. Facts)

1. Shipping – and the wider international community- have proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are incapable or unwilling to protect ships and seafarers from piracy or maritime terrorism to the point that they appear deliberately malevolent.

2. A maritime advisory (23 February 2011) says, in a further testimony to links between terrorism and piracy as if these were needed, that “Pirates in the harbour town of Xaraardheere (Somalia) have agreed to pay 20% of their ransom money to Al-Shabaab (an Al Qaeda affiliate) in exchange for being allowed to use the town as a base for their activity”.

3. The Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) publicly offered its support to Libyan rebels recently, even as Gaddafi blamed AQIM for the uprising in his country. (Al Qaeda affiliates may not have started the Jasmine revolution, but they will try their damnest to benefit from it across the region. A benign example-the Muslim Brotherhood, banned for decades, is close to being absorbed in the Egyptian political mainstream. Less benign possibilities would include more Lindbergs and MStars)

4. The Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), active in Yemen and Saudi Arabia and with links to African, Pakistani, European and Afghani affiliates, has attacked ships in the past and has publicly stated that it wants to control to Bab El Mandab straits at the entrance to the Red Sea.

5. Way back in 2003, a plot in Morocco resulted in three Saudi Arabians being jailed for planning to sail speedboats rigged with explosives and sink warships in the Straits of Gibraltar. They could have targeted merchant ships more easily. Today, the Western Med is unstable. Chances of reactivation of terrorist cells are therefore high.

6. Attacks on shipping in the Niger Delta and approaches are largely ignored right now. Nonetheless, seamen (and oil workers) have been shot, killed or taken hostage. (No ships for ransom though, so ignorance is bliss)

7. The last week saw the ITF say they were advising “seafarers and their trade unions to begin to prepare to refuse to go through the danger area, which includes the Gulf of Aden, off the Somali coast, the Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean”. No doubt this has more to do with piracy and the recent executions and torture of seafarers- or the killings of the four American yacht ‘Quest’ sailors - than the Jasmine revolution, and is another way of trying to put pressure on the international community to finally act. No one needs to be told of the impact on trade- and oil prices- if the entire Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean up to South Africa are out of bounds for seafarers.

I don’t know about you, but it is clear to me that nearly every country along the Mediterranean or Red Sea North African coast is (often violently) unstable today. Start from Morocco, where thousands have protested, demanding a new constitution, change in government and end to corruption. Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Sudan with its own (non Jasmine) civil war and split. Somalia. Even smallish Eritrea, where analysts fear unrest could easily spread. Only tiny Djibouti, with its large American military base, seems to be exempt.

Add Yemen to the North, and a much rattled Saudi Arabia (the Saudi monarch returned to his kingdom recently after two months, opening his wallet and spreading largesse to his subjects- debt forgiveness, interest free loans et al, $36 billion dollars worth-probably out of fear) to the mix, and you have a situation where the entire geography across a large part of the world is unstable and prone to terrorist violence.

Given terrorist history, designs, linkages, public statements and possible plans I spoke of earlier, and given that the northern Med and the entire Red Sea sees tens thousands of ships visiting or passing through every year, one can safely say that shipping- and seafarers- have a lot to worry about. Whatever worries the rest of the global community in this connection, getting your house and office blown up from under you is not one of them.

And we haven’t even started talking of piracy-terrorism yet; if we did, the unstable zone would extend up to the coastline of Sri Lanka, Western India, Oman and the Straits of Hormuz.

An idle thought to end: If the threat of violence to ships and seafarers widens from the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean to include the Mediterranean and Red seas, will we be soon talking of permanent additions to on-board complements- armed teams operating in shifts?

What an excellent business opportunity, did I hear you say yet again?