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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cargo carried in Ships and the controll exercised by Governments of various States

This luxury liner which has restaurants, café, lounge, disco, swimming pool, bars, spacious decks, boutique – and offers unlimited entertainment was in news for no fault of it but due to its sharing name with another vessel caught in Indian waters.

Marine trade has existed for long.. in olden days, goods from one country to another was consigned in wooden sailing boats. The owner was one and loss or profit went straight to him – there were not many middle men. The modern trade is so complex that there are so many parties involved – so also the sailing is not from one place to another – there are very many ports wherein some part of cargo gets loaded or off loaded.

Vessels do regularly call at Indian Ports, though not all the cargo may be meant for India. The US model is to be appreciated and followed in many ways.

There is a document known as Cargo Manifest. In US, an ocean cargo manifest is required from each leading terminal for each port of discharge. The manifest must contain a detailed listing of all shipment units loaded by each POE. After the 26/11, things became more stringent and US Customs introduced “24 hour Advance Cargo Manifest Declaration Rule”. Effective 2002, all Ocean carriers or NVOCCs are required to submit complete cargo manifest to US customs at least 24 hours prior to cargo loading if that vessel is calling a US port direct. The rule extends not only to US Imports but also to cargo transitting US ports and remaining on board the vessel for subsequent discharge at a non-US port. Details of cargo manifest must be based on actual declaration of cargo by the shipper, and must be submitted no later than the OOCL cargo declarations cut off deadline at cargo origin.
Failure to comply with this rule could result in cargo hold at origin port, significant penalties against the carrier or NVOCC, along with the removal of container for inspection by US customs and/or the denial of permission to unload vessel cargo and the possibility of returning the cargo to the load port.

Thus the State has knowledge of the types of cargo entering US Ports and exercises control over the movement of cargo and vessels. Whilst legitimate cargo would be released without much hassles, the Govt can check and prevent entry of smuggled weapons of mass destruction and ammunition. Bulk Carrier Services are exempt from this.

Last year (Sept 2009) in the midst of heightened activities, the Somalian pirates had a jackpot when they captured Ukrainian (Belize-flagged) vessel M/V Faina, on a mission to Kenyan port of Mombassa. The vessel was carrying 33 soviet-made T-72 tanks, tank artillery shells, grenade launchers and small arms. The vessel had deliberately taken a route far from the coast of Somalia, where pirates are known to be rampant. It was reported in the media that Pirates first made a demand of US $ 35M as ransom. One of the reasons for reduction could even have been the lurking fear of keeping such dangerous cargo.

And there are others who are soft on terror – in Dec 1995, an Antonov AN 26 aircract dropped large consignment of arms including hundreds of AK47 rifles and million rounds of ammunition over a large area in the villages of Purulia District of West Bengal. Several days later, when the plane re-entered Indian airspace, it was intercepted by the Indian Air Force MiG-21 and forced to land in Mumbai. As has happened in many high profile cases, details of the incidents remain wrapped in mystery.   The crew of the aircraft consisted of five Latvian citizens and Peter Bleach, a British citizen. They were arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. Following the intervention of Russian authorities, the Latvian crew (who gained Russian citizenship while in Indian custody) were later pardoned and released in 2000. Peter Bleach, too, was released on 4 February 2004, via a presidential pardon. With all the main characters involved in the episode either free or absconding, many of the details of event are still unknown, and may never be known.

With this lengthy background, read about the RO-RO vessel Aegean Glory which was stopped by security agencies at Diamond Harbour and brought to Kolkatta Docks recently. The ship reportedly has deadly military cargo and whether the documents clearly manifest them and whether this information was made available to Indian Govt. are the questions ?
There are reports that the UN mission in Liberia has written to the Indian government, confirming that the ship was carrying military equipment belonging to peacekeeping contingents from Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. Any sovereign State needs to ensure that no goods especially arms are smuggled into its territory. The ship unloaded a part of its military cargo first at St. Louis and then at Cox Bazar port near Chittagong in Bangladesh and then set sail for Kolkata dock to unload some military cargo that belongs to the Nepal Army. The declaration and verification all become very necessary especially when the cargo destined for Nepal would get offloaded at Kolkatta and move from there.

Reports also suggest that the Agent failed to declare the nature of cargo whilst filing documents at Kolkatta Port Trust – military cargo needs to be declared even when not meant for Indian consignee. This type of gearless vessel could not unload on its own and requires the Port handling equipments.

When the vessel with consignment of arms and ammunition was intercepted by Security foces in Hooghly river channel near Diamond Harbour, the Port Trust, Navy, Coast Guard were seemingly unaware of the nature of cargo. It was 551-ton military cargo containing smoke bombs, anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers, loaded in Monrovia with a call at Karachi port. All the 19 crew members of the ship hailing from Romania, Greece and Ukraine and its captain, a citizen of Greece, were interrogated.

In another unrelated incident at Cyprus a German freighter Santiago was detailed for carriage of illegal arms. The ship was anchored off the southern city of Limassol under police guard with a suspected military cache that would contravene a 2004 UN embargo on arms sales and deliveries to Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.

The state government has asked the company to explain if the omission on its part was intentional. Is it only a failed or miscommunication or any deliberate attempt to suppress facts is an area of concern !!!

Regards - Sampathkumar S

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