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Saturday, 24 February 2007

Mutations shrink unwanted penis growth in Dogwhelks

Yes, this is a boatish story, albeit a Saturday morning one. It's about antifouling. Antifouling is the stuff we paint on our hulls to prevent (or rather discourage) marine growth. A few decades ago the active ingredient was TBT. Leeching of TBT into the water had an unfortunate side effect; it made female dogwhelks develop a penis. These penises were quite big and blocked the vulva, preventing the lady dogwhelks from releasing their eggs.

We all grumbled a bit when TBT was banned because the replacement wasn't as effective. Many boaters swear by adding chilli powder or powdered copper to their antifouling. Others like Raedwald just put up with a few more barnacles and a slimier hull.

Anyhow, around ten years ago a mutation termed 'Dumpton's Syndrome' began to appear; it shrunk the unwanted penises to a size where they no longer blocked the eggs. Good news for lady Dogwhelks. Now these mutated Dogwhelks make up to 50% of the population in some areas and numbers are recovering well. Brilliant how nature adapts.

Right, off to the boat.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Don't hold back, man - say what you think!

From the blog of A Very British Dude, relaying Letwin's reasons why future tax cuts will be hard to achieve:
Basically, the presbyterian shit has spent your income, your savings, the country's savings and re-leveraged the country imprudently, meaning you'll have to pay more in future without giving any noticable improvement in peoples' wealth or quality of life. God, I hate him so, very, very much.
You can't really add to that.
Smoking on ships - consultation that meets the criteria?

The full text of the judgment in the judicial review of the nuclear power consultation process is now available here. The government lost. Some interesting points in the judgement.

The question is, if the Department for Transport says it will publish a partial Regulatory Impact Assessment in all cases where there is an impact on small businesses, refers to this PRIA in the consultation document, and then withholds it from the website where the consultation is published, are they in breach of the duties outlined in this judgment?
'What if' ..... the Germans had invaded in 1940?

The 'what if?' game is only really fun if all the participants know a tad about history. It seems to have become a surprisingly common belief that the US was responsible for preventing the German invasion of England in 1940. Silly. Everyone knows it was the Royal Navy. And although it seems certain now that Hitler could not have invaded England, one factor springs to my mind as contrasting the enormous differences between 1940 and 1944.

When Lord Gort led the BEF into France he quite naturally took his charger with him. The poor beast had to be shot on the quayside at Dunkirk. The order of battle for operation Sealion included 650 tanks but also included 57,000 horses; the German army in 1940 was still largely horse-drawn. Although horses didn't need petrol, this force would have required over 500 tonnes a day of fodder, much of which would also have to have been transported on the invasion barges. Four years later not one horse was in the invasion force that landed in Normandy.

Much of the credit for this is to the US war effort that supplied trucks and motor transport to the allies, including 376,000 trucks to Russia. It may have been Russian blood that defeated the Germans, but it was carried into battle on American vehicles. When nations work together, it is often the particular strengths of each that make such alliances successful.

Campaign against Post Office closures

An efficient and cheap postal service network is one of the hallmarks of civilisation. Disaggregating telecommunications, and all the licencing revenue therefrom, from the Post Office in the UK was one of our worse policy decisions. - watch this site, it has promise - has an appeal from Simon Hart of the Countryside Alliance. Feel free to leave your comments.
And the prize for the most contrived photo of the year goes to ... the EU

There really is something horribly cultish about the great Brussels bureaucracy that churns out publicity material that has all the subtlety of the 'Watchtower'. When you read it you realise that some Euro-apparatchik with a floaty prozac smile actually believes, I mean fervently believes in a quasi-religious way, the gumph they're writing. I always thought one of the key rules of this sort of thing was never to talk down to your audience; how about
European citizens have grown up with tales of the great explorers who first helped us to understand that the globe is round, and to locate the continents accurately upon it. Many enjoy their holidays beside the coast, the bustle of fishing ports, seafood meals in a harbour restaurant and walks along a beach beside the surf. Some spend time visiting colonies of nesting seabirds or watching whales, or waiting for the fish to bite. Others spend their leisure time restoring and sailing old wooden boats. Still others may watch documentaries about dolphins or penguins on television or at the cinema. Some may work in marine insurance, others as fishermen, others as harbour masters, others in the tourist office of a coastal city.
Ah, the Euro-Ladybird book of Maritime Policy. What can be done to encourage more leisure use of our coast? Well, the EU not ending the UK's derogation on red diesel would be a start. Do we need a Euro-Coastguard? No, thanks. What role should the EU have in coastal governance? None. There. Consultation response complete.

EU Maritime Green Paper may be found here.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Some thoughts on Border Security

Reading the section on Border Security from the Conservative Party's interim policy paper;

Border control:

  • The inadequacy of border control to meet today’s security needs goes back a long way and it will be some time before a useful data base exists. With hundreds of point of entry, there must be priorities. Air travel and airports are most threatened and vulnerable and travel to and from them most heavily regulated. The Group considers, however, that the spot check style entry regulation, and the intelligence led light protection in many other ports of entry (including sea ports), is inadequate. We also doubt that it is safe to have so little information about movements in our home waters and, beyond the police, no coast guard for protection. We are in favour of the creation of a dedicated border force and will consider further its composition and powers.
  • As a general proposition, the threat needs not only to be pushed back as far as possible from our physical borders but reduced as far as possible. This implies the development of uniform and effective international regimes on transport of goods as well as people across the high seas and across borders. More attention needs to be paid to shipping and container security.
I was reminded of seeing the Atomic Weapons Establishment correspondence in the PRO some years ago. The reason the AWE was located at Aldermaston was because it was distant from any UK port. The fear at the time was that the Soviets would secrete nuclear weapons on 'suicide' merchant vessels and position these in strategic UK ports for a preemptive strike.

The danger today of chemical, biological or nuclear devices being introduced into the UK is perhaps more real than it was in the decade after World War II. Although the IMO has moved post 9/11 to introduce international procedures to enhance Maritime Security, one really wonders how well applied such standards are on some rusty Cambodian freighter berthed in a UK port.

Two points are made in the party's policy paper: (1) That the coastguard are not a protective force and (2) information on vessel movements in home waters is inadequate. Quite correct on both points. HM Coastguard was originally an Admiralty service but passed into the hands of the Board of Trade in 1945 and is now a government 'agency' with primary concern for Maritime Search and Rescue and marine pollution. Although large merchant vessels (generally over 300 gross tonnes) are required by the IMO to have an Automatic Identification System (AIS) fitted, this can easily be switched off and the vessel is then 'invisible' unless seen visually or on radar. Vessels under 300 tonnes, unless required to report under port and VTS conditions, can move through UK waters quite anonymously. And small boats and yachts in their hundreds of thousands, many without even the now-obligatory radar reflectors, crowd our small anchorages and harbours.

I'm certainly not advocating any stricter regulation of leisure boating - let's be very clear about that. We won't stand for it any more than we'll take this government's ID scheme lying down.

And even though I welcome in principle the idea of a Border Security Force (or 'service' in the dreary lexicon of the 21st century) how can it be achieved (a) without significant additional government expenditure and (b) without more 'big state' and 'big government' intrusion into our freedoms and liberties?

Here a few thoughts to ponder on.

1. Yes, a full time professional Border Security Force at all airports and at about the hundred or so recognised seaports, supported by advanced technology (as well as old fashioned canine technology) to check ships, aircraft, passengers and cargoes as unobtrusively and inconveniently as possible. The fact that only a minute proportion of the drugs and handguns entering the UK are detected means we are also failing to spot explosives, detonators and other nasties.

2. Enhanced maritime reconnaissance and surveillance. Although we've pretty well done away with our MR aircraft since the end of the cold war, options such as satellite surveillance and unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles offer an economic alternative.

3. An expansion of the Auxiliary Coastguard Service, taking in both the 'grey power' of terrific institutions such as the National Coastwatch Institute and the experience and local knowledge of boatmen and yachtsmen. Volunteers could serve under similar conditions to TA and Reserve forces (without overseas mobilisation). Local people who will already be familiar faces patrolling local waters and harbours with an intelligence and enforcement role as well as having an integral part in SAR and environmental protection.

4. A redefinition of the role of HM Coastguard to include national resilience, security, defence, intelligence, communications and even EOD roles.
Tug vs. Bridge

American boatbuilding technology is pretty good. But here's a situation I'll bet the designers never factored into their calculations. A tug, a closed bridge and a river in full flood. Full picture sequence is here (and yes it has a happy ending).

Humphrys has Blair on the ropes

John Humphrys, celebrating his 20th year on the programme, barely broke into a trot this morning on BBC R4's 'Today' when interviewing Tony Blair. Blair was audibly under stress; the tension and uncertainty clear in his voice. His spinmeisters must be regretting having allowed the interview. All the old certainties were gone, and he came across as a spent force, without authority or real conviction. The link to the piece is Here

Surely the end must be near.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Celebrating the life of Lord Harris of High Cross

I was privileged last night to attend this event at St John's Smith Square. A number of speakers, some of them good. Although he sat on the cross benches, Lord Harris will forever be identified with the evolution of Thatcherite economic policies. Geoffrey Howe, Norman Tebbit and Neil Hamilton (enjoying his billing as 'former MP' rather than 'disgraced former MP' as I expect he is more usually introduced) were on the platform. Norman drew a huge round of applause by offering to light-up on stage 'even though I don't smoke'. Ralph Harris was of course Chairman and President of FOREST from 1987 until his death. Mrs Thatcher too frail to speak but she gave a big smile for the cameras. Ralph Harris was right on the button on a number of things. This is one of my favourites:

Alas, you need government, but big government is subject to such flaws, such incorrigible flaws. Big government is irresponsible government because they can't know all the circumstances of the nation, the society, the families that they are administering. Big government leads to all kinds of deals, backstage deals about policies, and all the time they are governed not by the public interest, but by the self-interest of the politicians to maintain their power. You need politicians, but the more you can contain politicians to the central tasks they have to do, the less you tempt them into this vote-grabbing, this corruption and deceit which is inseparable from modern, mass, undiscriminating democratic politics.

Amen to that.
Tell 'em what they already know

18 Doughty Street's latest 'ad' offering, an unabashed encomium of all things American, is attracting mixed reviews (as they say). It's the sort of thing that would appeal to Tony Blair. Previous ads have needled all the right people because they have essentially told the audience what they already know.

I'll slip in here a link to a superb article in Vanity Fair by Niall Ferguson, whose analysis of America's current situation is more than thought provoking.

Now, maybe 18DS should have looked to Stephen Shakespeare's other interest, Yougov. The Daily Telegraph commissioned a Yougov poll on attitudes to America last year. Strong results included:

  • 70% like Americans, but only 12% have any confidence in America's ability to deal with world problems
  • 77% think GWB is a bad leader and 74% think US policy in the ME is increasing instability in the region
  • Only 11% think the US is a 'beacon of hope' for the world; 77% don't
  • Curiously, 58% think it would be fair to describe the US as an Imperial power

Taking those findings as the pretext for an ad would have hit a number of right buttons. We like Americans but don't think the current US is a power for good in the world. We think the US is motivated by 'imperialist' imperatives but this is not the case.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

More Naval Blairspeak

Gone are the drab monosyllabic days
When "agricultural labour" still was tilth.
And "100 % approbation", praise;
And "pornographic modernism", filth -
Yet still I stand by tilth and filth and praise.
-Robert Graves

In the old days when a ship reached the end of her life she was scrapped. All the useful bits were taken off and reused where possible, and the steel and other metals went for reprocessing. Ships are scrapped. Or not. Any more.

The former Royal Navy assault ship HMS Intrepid, a key part of the fleet that led the campaign to retake the Falkland Islands 25 years ago, is expected to be recycled at a British facility, the Ministry of Defence announced today.

COLREGS and obstructing da law

The provisions of the Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Act 2006 come into force today with stiff sentences for anyone obstructing services including the Coastguard and RNLI on their way to an emergency. Emergency can include, according to the Act, "serious harm to the environment (including the life and health of plants and animals)".

The movements and responses of vessels at sea are governed by an international set of rules, the Collision Regulations, ordinarily known as COLREGS. These govern, for example, situations when two vessels are on a converging course; one will always be the 'stand on' vessel and the other will always be the 'give way' vessel. It's well understood.

Except perhaps in the US, where some well-debated video footage of the US Coastguards' complete disregard of COLREGS when on their way to an incident has raised important questions of liability in the event of collision damage with innocent craft obeying the regs.

Now, suppose a Coastguard launch is planing at full throttle towards a seal at danger of passive smoking from a Vietnamese crewman sucking a roll-up whilst watching it from the taffrail of his rusty freighter. I see him coming up at speed from my port side - I'm the stand on vessel. He doesn't change course or reduce his speed and hits me. Will I be prosecuted for obstruction?

And will the seal give a toss?

Monday, 19 February 2007

Smoking ban on Ships - the cracks start to open

I indicated here that the consultation proposals for banning smoking on ships and boats are unworkable as they are presented. Now the cracks start to open.

Proposed legislation

"The Government intends to implement restrictions on smoking on board all vessels coming within the scope of the Merchant Shipping Act (MSA) 1995, including fishing and inland waterway vessels, calling at ports in England and within the 12-mile territorial limit, regardless of which flag they are registered with (that is, regardless of which country regulates them)."
The Secretary of State's power to make regulations under the Act is given by s.85 - Safety and Health on Ships. Under s.85(1)(a) he may make provisions for protecting the health of persons on board United Kingdom ships. He also has the power under s.85(1)(c) to make provision for securing the safety of other ships and persons on them while in UK national waters. The Merchant Shipping and Maritime Security Act 1998 amended s.85(1)(c) to include health measures, but not when the ship is only making passage (unless part of an international convention). The definition of a ship is given in s.170 of the MSA95 as meaning any sea-going vessel or sea-borne craft of any type whatsoever. Now, looking at the proposal above it appears that

1. Inland waterways vessels are not covered by the definition if they are not sea-going or sea-borne. Inland waterways and the licensing of vessels on them are generally the responsibility of the Environment Agency. Without amending the MSA, the SoS has no power under it to make regulations for inland waterways vessels.

2. The SoS cannot make regulations for foreign vessels exercising the right of innocent passage through UK national waters. Innocent passage includes anchoring. And when do the restrictions on foreign vessels bound for English ports start? When the ship crosses the 12 mile limit? When it enters port? As it passes another foreign vessel at anchor where smoking is not prohibited? And what if a vessel on innocent passage decides to enter an English port?

3. The MSA makes no distinction between English, Welsh or Scottish ships. To give effect to the consultation intention to apply the restrictions to vessels calling at ports in England only, but to all vessels within the 12 mile UK limit (and there is no such thing as a 12 mile English limit), the regulations would have to exempt vessels from the restrictions when they enter a Scottish or Welsh port. Ports have a particular meaning; there are about 100 ports in the UK. A Scottish marina where a charter fishing boat may be based will not be a port. This section is too muddled to make legislative sense.

More later. This makes my brain ache.

Oh what a tangled web they weave ....
Looking at the inland waterways powers under the MSA95, it appears that the DfT believe they have powers to make regulations because (deep breath) SI 2001 No.54 amended SI 1997 N0.2962 by removing from it a reference to inland waterways vessels being covered by SI 1992 No.2051. They say "
The first amendment implements recommendations 27.35 and 27.36 in the Interim Report which called for the rationalisation of health and safety legislation in relation to non-seagoing ships. The effect of the amendment is to apply merchant shipping health and safety legislation to non-seagoing ships, thereby allowing effective enforcement by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency"

Any lawyers out there?
Cabinet Office Guidance in full

Since the .pdf version of this at the Cabinet Office website is still unavailable, it's lucky I saved a copy. The rest of you move along there, nothing to see here.

Cabinet Office Election Guidance 2007

New free biscuits windfarm for the Gabbard

Alastair Darling today gave the go ahead for 140 new wind turbines on the Gabbard and Galloper banks off the Suffolk coast. Well, apart from being bang in the way if you're heading for Holland, and just another thing for French trawlers to ram when they're making passage on autopilot with no lookout, I suppose the idea is OK.

The rumour is already common in boatish circles that the turbine towers have a 'refuge chamber' in case maintenance crews get caught in rough weather. And that this contains emergency supplies such as hob-nobs and instant soup - an irresistible lure for day fishers and others. So that's good news, then.

Peckham Crew, sir? Cash will do nicely.

Following a few links from the Disposal Services Agency will bring you to Witham Specialist Vehicles, disposers of ex-government vehicles. Five grand in rolls of notes in a JB Sports bag will buy you an armoured Vauxhall Omega 'Driver and passengers protected for 7.62. Also Roof and floor protection for blast and shot ... run-flat tyres etc.'

Just the thing for a spot of crack dealing. Or a drive-by. And those tyres will mean you can run over police 'stingers' with immunity.

(Tx to dizzy for the DSA press announcement heads-up)

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Another Gold Star for David

Today is the second anniversary of the Hunting Act coming into force. David Cameron has announced that a Conservative government will abolish it with a one-line Bill. Excellent. The act was never about hunting - it was about state control and the chance to put the boot into a group seen as toffs. But which turns out to be not really toffs at all.

Right, down to the boat with a smile.
Bad form, chaps

Nisshin Maru is stuck in the Southern Ocean about 100 nm off Cape Adare. Details are scarce, but a seems a major fire below decks has taken out both her engines and generators. She could also be taking in water, as it has been reported that she is strapped between two of the daughter ships to keep her stable. She is carrying about 1ooo tonnes of gas oil.

She has refus
ed an offer of a tow from another vessel in the area. And that's very bad form. It doesn't really matter that the offer is coming from an ex Russian ocean going tug currently being operated by Greenpeace. Or that the Nisshan Maru is a whaling mother ship without which her brood of four whale catching daughter ships can't continue to catch. It's a sea thing.