Monday, January 6, 2020

As Tensions Between US and Iran Rise Comes a Human Story from the Deck of a Container Ship

After Nineteen Days Adrift Rescue Comes Thanks to a Perceived Enemy
Shipping News Feature
GULF OF ADEN – As tensions spiral between the two countries comes the somewhat ironic news of a rescue at sea of three Iranian seamen found drifting in the waters of the gulf by a US flagged container ship, the Maersk Kinloss, and who had been left to their own fate by other passing vessels.

The 6,200 TEU, 85,000 dwt box ship was positioned of Salalah when she came across the men who were reportedly stranded at sea for almost three weeks. News of the rescue came to light via the United States Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) service. The men were being repatriated to Iran via the Omani authorities after being taken in hand by the Omani Coast Guard.

The Maersk Kinloss is operated by Maersk Line Limited (MLL), the Norfolk, Virginia registered company which operates non-combatant ships for the US government and charters a fleet of tankers to deliver a wide range of government and commercial cargoes around the world.

Some years ago NATO developed and implemented the Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS) concept to provide an interface between military operations and merchant shipping. NCAGS is employed to enhance the safety of participating merchant ships in the operations area while supporting military objectives.

In November 2019 the US Navy upscaled support to provide an expanded interface between military and merchant shipping as part of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC). The IMSC is a multinational maritime effort created to increase monitoring and surveillance of critical waterways, safeguard freedom of navigation and ensure maritime security in order to enable the free flow of commerce in the Middle East Region.

To ensure the authorities know the details of position, heading and eta of merchantmen in the area the IMSC gets its information on US flagged ships from the NCAGS. NCAGS is made up of Naval reservists, many of whom are professional merchant mariners and who monitor over five and a half thousand vessels every day, including around 100 US ships. Ed Hanley, vice president of labour and marine standards for MLL, commented:

“Rendering assistance to save lives if possible is not only international law and custom of the sea, but it is also the right thing to do. Sadly, the Iranians said that in the course of being adrift over 19 days, several other ships had stopped, provided them with food and water, but refused to take them aboard. Whether this was to avoid the cost of delays associated with rescue efforts or for other reasons we can never know.”

Photo: What the castaways had to contend with. A view from the guided-missile destroyer USS Farragut (DDG 99) as she transits the Gulf of Oman at night during a lightning storm.