Okay, so I got a little carried away with alliteration, but if you’re curious about the nexus of maritime law, international sanctions, and Iran’s attempts to keep its oil economy afloat check out this article at Forbes. It details the symptoms and clues, if not the actual action, of Iran’s efforts to keep its tanker fleet in use through the use of flags of convenience (Tanzania and Tuvalu), where it may or may not have actually registered the vessels. Tuvalu reportedly delisted the Iranian vessels, which then attempted to register with Tanzania. While it is unclear if they successfully registered (The Tanzanians claim not), the vessels are acting as if they had, including responding to radio hails using Tanzanian call signs. The calculus seems to be that if they can’t sail under their own flag, and they can’t sail under no flag (under international law they would therefore enjoy no protection and be subject to immediate seizure), the vessels have taken to faking their flag….
Bonus points if you can point to Tanzania and Tuvalu on a map without searching.
International Maritime Satire Week Warning: The following is a piece of fiction intended to elicit insight through the use of satire and written by those who do not make a living being funny – so it’s not serious and very well might not be funny.
In the midst of heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and fears of war and a closure of the Strait of Hormuz, the Iranian Navy has announced it plans to help the U.S. shoulder the burden of global maritime responsibilities. In addition to the recent announcementsof maneuvers off the U.S. East Coast and expeditions to the South Pole, the naval Teheran’s Navy is poised to expand its role even further.
“Iran is here to help,” said seven-star Admiral Muhammar Narehet, spokesperson for the Iranian Navy, during a press conference in Teheran earlier this month. “With our friends, the U.S. Navy, in heavy seas due to political turmoil at home until November, and pressing budgetary issues in clear sight, Iran stands ready to take over global responsibilities.”
According to those present at the briefing, Iran has its eyes on a number of areas where it would be willing to take on operational and strategic burdens from the U.S. Navy. These include the purchase of the naval base at Naples, Italy, to alleviate both Italy’s and America’s pressing fiscal troubles in the face of the ongoing debt and Euro crises. Security experts in Brussels, seat of the European Union’s governing body, greeted the proposal enthusiastically. Admiral Narehet underlined the importance of the measure, saying, “We are currently in negotiations with officials regarding the establishment of a permanent Iranian presence, which help quell the pirates who ply the waters of the Mediterranean and Barbary Coast, bringing the freedom and prosperity we have enjoyed for so long to the oppressed people of Europe. Of course we have perfected counter-piracy already in our many global expeditionary operations. Moreover, the local businesses in Naples who thus far lived off NATO and allied Sailors’ pay on R&R will be compensated accordingly by us.” The admiral wouldn’t reveal where the money came from.
Another opportunity mooted by the Iranians is to fill the gap left behind after the retirement of the American space agency’s space shuttles. “We learned from various sources that many NASA astronauts were in the U.S. Navy. Thus, we strongly believe that we can fill the void of manned space travel by sending some Iranian navy members to space as well. Photos showed us that all Space Shuttles are now being sent to museums; we are in the process of purchasing one or two for our own fleet, which already consists of several dozen.”
Yet another proposal floated by Admiral Naheret involves advances in the field of popular culture. Acknowledging America’s leading role in advancing the Navy’s cause through media such as the Village People hit “In the Navy,” the 1986 Tom Cruise movie “Top Gun,” and the 1989 music video by artist Cher aboard the battleship Missouri, Admiral Naharet was excited about the opportunities that dominance of worldwide popular culture could offer Iran.
“‘In the Navy’ and ‘Iranian Navy’ have similar rhyme schemes, so it shouldn’t be difficult to make a version of this of our own. Hopefully we can recruit the same amazing band of hard-working, upright citizens. And we will get our remake of ‘Top Gun’ into the movie theaters so that the Americans don’t have to make it themselves. We will use special effects on crucial parts of the film, such as the volleyball match, that’s really central to the plot in my opinion.”
While Iranian sources admitted it would be hard to find someone even remotely like former movie star and recording artist Cher, and that the Iranian Navy doesn’t possess capital vessels such as battleships to serve as an appropriate backdrop, plans are already in the works regarding a re-recording and re-filming of the video for “If I Could Turn Back Time.”
“If you think about it, it was really a wonderful political move to justify the 600-ship Navy of the 1980s – the song title clearly makes its case for getting the Iowa-class battleships out of mothballs, literally turning back time. And back then, Cher was really hot – what with her leather costume, garter belt, and thong,” said the Admiral, staring above the heads of reporters. “Cher, oh Cher,” he added. Phoned the next day to specify plans about a proposed 601-ship Iranian navy and to give a timeline, Admiral Naharet could not be reached for comment.
This new piece from Foreign Policydiscusses the current efforts of Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to enhance their naval capabilities in the Caspian Sea. Global economic crisis aside, there seems to be a promising market in selling ships/boats and aircraft to states asserting their economic interests in resource-rich maritime regions.
The Maersk Texas repelled a pirate attack on Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman around noon local time, before continuing on its voyage to the U.S.:
Maersk Line, Limited confirms its U.S. flag vessel, Maersk Texas, thwarted an attack by multiple pirate skiffs at noon local while transiting the Gulf of Oman, northeast of Fujairah. All hands onboard are safe and unharmed, and the vessel is proceeding on its voyage. Numerous skiffs with armed men in each boat quickly closed on Maersk Texas. Maersk Texas activated defensive measures per the U.S. Coast Guard-approved Vessel Security Plan. Despite clear warning signals, the skiffs continued their direct line toward Maersk Texas and the embarked security team fired warning shots. The pirates then fired upon Maersk Texas, and the security team returned fire per established U.S. Coast Guard rules of engagement.
Of particular note:
Many small craft and fishing boats were in the area and were not involved in the incident.
According to gCaptain the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence issued a warning for the area following the attack, and while it doesn’t specifically mention the Maersk Texas, seemed to indicate that pirates may be using “white” merchant traffic to blend in and disguise their presence:
Merchant vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Somali Basin are advised to maintain vigilance against and report abnormal or atypical small boat behavior, to include potential surveillance. This includes merchant vessels at anchorage either in or near territorial waters. Merchant vessels are encouraged to differentiate between fishing vessels from potential bad actors intertwining themselves within legitimate fishing activity. If fishing gear or actual fishing activity is not observed, take all appropriate counter-piracy and force protection measures to prevent piracy, illegal boardings, and/or waterborne attacks. In accordance with Best Management Practices (BMP), please maintain communications with UKMTO and report any abnormal incidents.
The incident is also notable due to early rumors surrounding the attack, including on one hand that up to 20 skiffs took part in the engagement, and on the other, according to EU NAVFOR, that there were no pirates.
The response to the incident is also a sign of the strength of the spirit of international maritime cooperation in the region. While HMAS Melbourne launched a helicopter to aid the Maersk Texas,it was beat out by the Iranian navy, which was the first to respond to the ship’s distress call. ThinkProgress states that the Iranians “offered guidance to the crew of the ship by radio,” (but was never physically on scene).
Although the value or necessity of this guidance is debatable given the Maersk Texas’ on-board security team and U.S. Coast Guard transit preparations, the symbolism of the assistance comes at an opportune time for Iran, in the midst of another round of nuclear talks. Like the U.S. Navy’s earlier rescue of Iranian fishermen this year, this episode demonstrates that the shared value of aid to mariners in distress at sea can help humanize some of the most wary of adversaries.
A final interesting tidbit from gCaptain:
Maersk Line, Limited reportedly employs Trident Group security teams onboard their vessels, the same group shown in a viral video shooting “warning shots” at approaching pirate skiffs. If it was a Trident team on the vessel, we know there is some video of the attack that will likely be reviewed, and up to Maersk on whether or not it will be released.