A few comments on what’s going on at sea.
Nigeria, Russia, and a private-security ship
Earlier this month, Nigerian authorities seized a ship operated by the Moran Security Group. In the usual manner, the ship, M/V Myre Seadiver, is flagged by the Cook Islands, was built in Norway in the 1960s, was Norwegian owned and flagged for most of its life, and is now owned and operated by Moran Security Group in Moscow. The entire crew, according to media reporting, is Russian. The ship is accused of arms trafficking.
Myre Seadiver’s ship type is “standby safety vessel.” Moran appears to keep it in respectable condition (click through the gallery to Myre Seadiver, the last two photos), and lists a number of services provided for maritime operations, including:
Protection of offshore platforms and pipelines
Logistics in the maritime environment in conditions of piracy or naval acts
There has been little reporting on the arms found on Myre Seadiver, but if the main report making the rounds is correct, the arms stash consisted of 14 AK-47s, 22 Be
rnelli MR1s, and some 8,500 rounds of ammunition. In other words, the ship wasn’t trafficking in arms; it had a small-arms load-out for its security crew.
In a company presentation available online, the Moran Group advertises Myre Seadiver as conducting security operations in the Gulf of Guinea. Its two other ships are reportedly in the Red Sea and Gulf of Oman. (See slides 7 and 8 of the presentation. Note: large file of more than 7 meg size.) Piracy has been on the rise off the coast of Nigeria, and companies like Shell and Gazprom have had to trim their plans to accommodate the problematic security environment (which has been problematic for quite a while. Gazprom, which signed an agreement with Nigeria in 2008 but has yet to start operations, has other problems as well, like this one and this one.)
Nigeria is hanging on to Myre Seadiver for the time being, at any rate. This is probably because Nigerian authorities are deciding what they want to do about private-security ships operating off their shores. Their initial reaction indicates that they don’t like it.
Nigeria’s situation is different from Somalia’s, and even from Yemen’s; “first world” shipping doesn’t necessarily avoid Nigerian ports, and Nigeria has the capacity to impound ships in a relatively honest procedure managed by the national government. I doubt Myre Seadiver will ever go back to Lagos once she is out of there, but what will Nigeria do about Myre Seadiver, and the other private-security ships that will inevitably come, if they simply avoid Nigerian ports while operating offshore? I am sympathetic to a Nigerian desire to exercise national sovereignty, but if you’re going to do that, you have to give effective protection to those who are operating under contract with you, in your waters or your EEZ.
Will the outcome instead be – eventually, at least – maritime security provided by the navies of nations with offshore oil and gas contracts abroad? It was only 25 years ago that the former-Soviet navy patrolled the fisheries off West Africa where the Soviet fishing fleet operated. Today’s Russian navy bustles loudly about the Arctic Ocean, where Russia has excessive seabed claims. China today has parlayed the pretext of fishing-fleet protection into naval patrols and fortification of the South China Sea, well outside her legitimate EEZ claims.
(I wrote nearly four years ago about the implications of maritime private-security operations for conventions at sea and local power relationships. The example I used at the time was a Russian private-security force.)
In any case, Nigeria is not the basket case Somalia is. The maritime portfolio of private-security firms is being tested there, and the resolution will be informative. As for other outcomes relating to conventions on the high seas, we will know if the status quo is to get reinforcement by the outcome of the US election on 6 November. If Romney wins, it will. If Obama wins, deterioration of the maritime security environment will become unstoppable.
(Note on Myre Seadiver: those who look her up on the Marine Traffic website may be confused to see photos of a different ship – Myrevag, with an orange-painted hull – associated with her. Myrevag is definitely a different ship, with a different IMO number; the association of the two ships on the site is invalid. The Moran Group photos of Myre Seadiver confirm that she is the same ship as the former Norwegian-flagged Stril Tender.)
Russian ships continue to romance Greece
A Russian amphibious landing ship, Ropucha-class LST Novocherkassk, departed Thessaloniki, Greece this morning after a port visit which included a couple of important commemorations. One was the “Ohi” Day festival, which commemorates 28 October 1940, when Greece rejected an ultimatum from Mussolini that Athens must allow Axis forces to occupy Greece. Russian sailors attended the service at St. Demetrius Cathedral and laid wreaths to honor Greek freedom fighters from World War II.
On 27 October, the Russians visited a military cemetery to pay honor to Russian soldiers killed – according to the report – in “the Russo-Turkish War.” The cemetery in question was created for the burial of the Allied (Entente) soldiers of World War I who fought to defend Serbia against the Central powers, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria. Although Russian soldiers were deployed along the Macedonian Front in World War I (called by the Serbs the “Thessaloniki Front”), their battles against the Ottoman Turks during that conflict took place in the Caucasus.
Russia and the Ottoman Empire fought a long series of “Russo-Turkish Wars” from the 16th to the early 20th centuries. Russian war dead in the vicinity of Thessaloniki are probably from World War I. But the Russians and Greeks also have the Battle of Navarino to commemorate in October. The Russian, British, and French navies defeated an Ottoman armada in this naval battle off southwestern Greece on 20 October 1827, representing a turning point in Greece’s war of independence from the Ottomans. Another Russian landing ship, Tsesar Kunikov, visiting several Greek ports and the port of Kotor in Montenegro, commemorated the Battle of Navarino with the Greeks in October 2011. (Novocherkassk was in Lemnos to commemorate the Battle of Navarino.)
Not all the commemorations involve fighting Turkey. During Tsesar Kunikov’s circuit of Greece last year, a monument was dedicated to the Russian sailors who liberated Corfu from Revolutionary France in 1799. The Russians operated jointly with an Ottoman Turkish fleet in that operation. And Novocherkassk was in Corfu earlier this month commemorating the same event.
In 2001, the Russian Orthodox Church recognized Admiral Fyodor Ushakov, the liberator of Corfu in 1799, as a saint. An icon of the admiral, tended by a priest, has accompanied Novocherkassk around Greece.
In Greece’s ongoing debt and solvency problems, her Western allies give her grief, while Russia gives her love. Besides history, geography, religion, and culture, of course, Greece and Russia have little reason to throw in together.
Bet you didn’t know about this one
Over the last week, the US Navy has conducted annual exercise CARAT Cambodia with the Cambodian navy. 2012 represented the third iteration of the exercise, which involves formation steaming and gunnery drills as well as classroom events.
…or this one either
Today is the final day of Exercise Ibsamar III, a biennial naval exercise between South Africa, India, and Brazil. The first iteration of the exercise was held in 2008. South Africa has been the host each time. Just prior to Ibsamar III, South Africa also hosted Exercise Altasur IX, the latest in a naval exercise series involving South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. Two Indian ships, a destroyer and a tanker, participated in Ibsamar III with a Brazilian corvette and three South African vessels, reportedly including SAS Queen Modjadji I (S103), a Type 209-variant diesel-powered submarine. Queen Modjadji I had a collision at sea in August, but apparently is back in action.
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