Kemplon Engineering looks back at the whirlwind year that was 2016 – which was, for all its strokes of bad luck and bold brilliance, certainly a year for the history books. Here are a few of the news and major issues that grabbed maritime industry headlines over the last twelve months:
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS.2016 had started off with a proverbial bang, with January seeing the apprehension of American sailors who had inadvertently strayed into Iranian territorial waters. The situation was rapidly diffused amid improvements in U.S. – Iran relations.
Diplomacy is not faring very well on the other side of the world too, with China’s Territorial Ambitions running afoul of its neighbors’ economic and sovereign interests. Just like the previous years (territorial disputes in Asia is no stranger to our Year in Review lists), rightful ownership of small islands is contested by various country claimants, with incredible stakes – national pride, for one, but also exclusive economic zones for fishing, control over crucial shipping routes, strategic military outposts, and a potential wealth in untapped natural resource deposits.Far less rosy is the picture of United States – Russia relations. The tumultuous year saw a number of tense, Cold War era-type interactions between the two superpowers, among them a June encounter between Russian Navy frigate Yaroslav Mudry and the United States’ USS Gravely and USS Harry S. Truman, on top of failed efforts to cooperate and help end the civil war in Syria. 2016 ends with sanctions and the expulsion of Russian diplomats, amid allegations of interference in the United States’ November elections. This situation is still developing.
There’s a long list of countries enmeshed in disputes, and an even longer list of tensions and encounters over 2016, which thankfully did not escalate to violence. Among them, China’s infrastructure developments on contested islands, increased military spending among nations, freedom of navigation patrols by the United States, and a litany of illegal fishing by Chinese nationals clashing with the authorities of various nations. Facing up to Chinese military and economic might can be daunting, and the countries threatened by their territorial ambitions are coping however way they can.
Vietnam was rumored to have moved rocket launchers into their holdings in the disputed Spratly Islands, near Chinese assets, while Japan lodged a protest in August, against 230 Chinese fishing boats and six Chinese Coast Guard ships spotted in Japanese-controlled waters around the disputed Senkaku Islands.
In Indonesia, the controversial practice has been to sink seized foreign vessels previously involved in illegal fishing, which serves as a symbol of their sovereignty, and proof of their hard stance to defend their maritime interests. The year 2016 proved no exception to this, with as many as 60 foreign ships sunk in a single month, including those coming from China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The Philippines took their territorial battle to international courts, to potentially game-changing results. In July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled China had no legal basis to claim historic rights in vast areas claimed by their “Nine-Dash Line,” and that they had violated the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. The enforceability of this is doubtful, however, with China refusing to recognize the ruling, and having the military and economic might to continue their activities however way they saw fit. The decision, however, may still prove to be a turning point of sorts, especially in leveraging bilateral talks. The Philippines’ new administration, with a China-friendly President elected into office this year, may also have a positive impact in bilateral talks.
South Korea had tried to combat illegal fishing by innovation, reportedly using “razor reefs -” artificial structures used to snag nets as a deterrent to Chinese and North Korean fishermen. The measure was mean to avoid tense confrontations, though one such encounter found them later in the year anyway. In October, South Korea’s Coast Guard had fired warning shots at Chinese fishing boats suspected of illegal fishing. One of the country’s Coast Guard vessels also sank, allegedly from ramming.
Also making a reappearance in the Year in Review is the Migration Crisis, which by now is certainly among the most defining humanitarian issues of our time. This year saw thousands of deaths, as desperate people fleeing war and/or hardship in the Middle East and North African countries braved treacherous water crossings on overloaded or defective ships in a bid for a better life in Europe.
With European entry points like Italy and Greece overwhelmed, the international community is struggling to find a unified response to handle the massive inflows of arrivals. 2016 saw an agreement facilitating the return of asylees and migrants back to Turkey, for which the country would receive funds and visa-free European travel for its citizens. Time will tell how the controversial deal will affect the situation. Other ways of curbing the crisis were explored this year, such as going after human traffickers, and a plan for a European Union Border and Coast Guard. The issue is definitely in the hearts and minds of the international community, with the United Nations holding a refugee and migration summit in New York.
POLITICS. In the meantime, the lack of solutions is stoking anxieties in European communities fearful of terrorists, economic burdens and changes to their culture, stemming from unprecedented foreign inflows. In the French town of Calais, concerned truckers, farmers, residents and local business owners protested a nearby migrant camp of 10,000 people, which they found to be bad for business and dangerous to drivers making hauls to the United Kingdom, as some migrants have resorted to violent measures to smuggle themselves in with the cargo.
Migration fears have also been credited as one of the reasons behind the historic results of the United Kingdom’s EU Referendum in June. “Leave” or Brexit, won at 52%. The road forward and potential EU response is still unknown, but is sure to make waves across industries around the world.
The United States had its own controversial vote in November, which brings President-Elect Donald Trump into the highest office of the land. The next few months will show the effects of his campaign promises on the maritime industry (versus the outsourcing of jobs to cheaper foreign markets, criticizing international trade agreements, calling for China to be labeled as a currency manipulator, etc.), particularly with trade and shipping, as well as foreign policy and defense.
Change has come to South Korea’s leadership too, with the ouster of President Park Geun-Hye following a corruption scandal and thousands of citizens protesting in the streets of Seoul. This occurred shortly after Hanjin Shipping’s Bankruptcy Filing in August. The effects of the latter echoed well beyond South Korea, as “the largest container shipping bankruptcy in history,” (as it has been described in the news) left merchants, shippers, seamen, ports and even retailers scrambling for ways to manage the fall of one of the world’s biggest container shippers.
MARITIME HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY. A tumultuous 2016 is leaving many eager to move forward into the New Year, but before we head on to the future, let us also look back at our history, which the past few months have illuminated with stunning maritime finds from all over the world.
Boston’s Seaport District had yielded a 19th Century shipwreck during construction activities; Israel was the site of a priceless haul of metal coins and statues from the 1,600-year-old wreck of a merchant ship from the Roman era; the Italian Navy discovered a 1795 wreck from the famous Battle of Genoa; Canada found the long-lost HMS Terror, of the infamously ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845; the legendary Mary Rose is fully unveiled in the United Kingdom after decades of restoration and 500 years after it sank in 1545; and in Sweden, warship Kronan, lost in 1676, is discovered to hold 340-year-old cheese in a tin. Even more stunning? Greece’s famed, 2,000-year old Antikythera Wreck yields another priceless treasure, over a century after its discovery in 1900: a well-preserved set of ancient human remains with potential for DNA information.
More recent historical wrecks were found, too. Norway discovered the HMS Warrior, the last shipwreck of the epic World War I Battle of Jutland, which had claimed some 8,500 lives. In Denmark’s waters, a Swedish firm detonates World War II mines in preparation for the installation of a wind farm. It is believed thousands of mines leftover from World Wars I and II are still in these waters.
Our current migrant crisis has already left tragic shipwrecks of its own, too. The Italian Navy is bringing up a doomed ship that had taken over 800 lives in 2015, as part of a mission to recover and identify bodies.
THE ENVIRONMENT. Thankfully, the year managed to pull in a couple of wins for the environment. The U.S. Navy deployed its “Great Green Fleet” with warships powered by alternative fuels; the Buckingham Palace Declaration vs. illegal wildlife trafficking saw signatories from 40 companies involved in transportation, shipping, airlines and customs; similarly, China’s largest shipping company, COSCO, pledged a total ban on the transportation of shark fin; in U.S. Courts, Alaskan Polar Bears are granted 187,000 square miles of protected area, while a review of the US Navy’s permission to use low-frequency active sonar has been ordered by an appeals court due to whale protection laws; the European Union came together for Legal Guidelines on Certified Shipbreakers, and a proposed integrated policy on the Arctic, both which includes environmental provisions; and the EU plus 24 other countries agreed on the creation of a 1.55 million square km marine park on the Antarctic Ocean – the world’s largest marine park.
As the final chapter closes on this historic year, we at Kemplon Engineering greet the coming 2017 with hope, and best wishes for our loved ones, our clients, and the industry we are so proud to be in. Happy New Year from Kemplon Engineering!
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