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Russian on ‘red alert’ in Antarctica attempt

In early April, Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov says he was sailing “blind” in the iceberg-ridden Southern Ocean. “I feel like I’m in a minefield with no room for mistakes. At night I try not think what is ahead of Trading Network Alye Parusa’s bow,” reported the 56-year-old sailor April 3, when he was 68 days and more than 10,000 nautical miles into a circumnavigation of Antarctica. “My paper chart is full of red marks; this is how I color the position of confirmed icebergs based on satellite tracking provided by C-CORE and Polar View. I am on red alert. Yes, it is stressful here when you [are] [un]aware of ice location. Fatigue and sleep deprivation is taking place.”

Konyukhov set out from Albany, Western Australia, Jan. 26 on a solo, non-stop sprint around Antarctica aboard his 85-foot monohull Trading Network Alye Parusa. Konyukhov hopes to establish a benchmark speed for a 14,600-nautical-mile, 360-degree track as a prelude to the Antarctica Cup scheduled for 2009.

The race is open to all ocean mono- and multihulls — crewed or solo — and aims to establish a world speed record for sailing around the continent by beating Konyukhov’s time. Organizers will stage the race during the Southern Hemisphere summer, when favorable weather systems rotate clockwise around Antarctica.

For information and to track Konyukhov’s progress, visit

www.antarcticacup.com or www.konyukhov.ru/eng.

Superyacht ransomed by Somali pirates

The three-masted 290-foot sailing yacht Le Ponant was seized April 4 as it cruised the Gulf of Aden near Somalia, according to the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. Pirates held the yacht and its 30 crewmembers for a week before the French company that owns it, Compagnie des Iles du Ponant, reportedly paid a 1 million pound ($2 million) ransom.

Three days into the standoff, the pirates reportedly opened fire at armed villagers trying to prevent the cruise liner from coming ashore at Garaad, a fishing village in central Somalia. Two villagers were killed during the confrontation. “The international community must mobilize for a determined fight against acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia,” says Bernard Kouchner, French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, in a statement announcing the end of the ordeal. Somalia’s pirates seized more than two dozen vessels in 2007, according to CNN.

After the crew disembarked Le Ponant aboard inflatables, French commandos, also in inflatables, stormed the yacht as the pirates attempted to flee. They reportedly captured six of the 12 pirates and recovered a portion of the ransom. No injuries among the crew were reported, and the captured pirates gave up without a struggle, according to French officials. Passengers aboard Le Ponant, which sails the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea with around 60 guests, had disembarked in the Seychelles islands before the incident.

Boating organization urges legislative action

The Clean Boating Act of 2008 promises to be a practical solution to a looming permit deadline for recreational boaters, anglers and charter operators, according to BoatU.S. A lawsuit targeting oceangoing commercial vessels carrying ballast water prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to require an “operational discharge permit” for all vessels in the United States — including recreational boats — by Sept. 30, 2008. Without a change in law, all boaters will need to obtain this permit.

The bill (S.2766) was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). It follows two bills introduced in the spring and fall of 2007 as the Recreational Boating Act of 2007 by Reps. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), Candice Miller (R-Mich.) and Senator Mel Martinez (R-Fla.).

“S.2766 recognizes the fact that normal operational discharges from recreational boats, such as engine cooling water or deck runoff from rain, should not be viewed under the Clean Water Act as being similar to a commercial ship’s ballast water,” says BoatU.S. vice president of government affairs Margaret Podlich. “This bill does not weaken any existing environmental laws restricting the overboard discharge of oil, fuel, garbage or sewage.”

For information on contacting federal legislators or to learn more about the issue, go to www.BoatBlue.org or www.BoatUS.com/gov .

Tense encounter turns deadly

A recent incident in the Middle East makes clear the dangers of a small boat approaching a U.S. military vessel in this part of the world. Is the small-boat skipper a pirate, a terrorist, a merchant hoping to make a sale?

The Global Patriot, a ship under charter of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command and preparing to transit the Suez Canal in Bahrain, fired warning shots March 24 at an approaching small boat after multiple verbal warnings to turn away, according to a Navy security team. Two days later, the Navy’s Fifth Fleet publicly expressed regret for the shooting death of an Egyptian citizen, and President Bush reportedly called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

“We are greatly saddened by events that apparently resulted in this accidental death,” says Vice Admiral Kevin J. Cosgriff, Commander of the Fifth Fleet.

The area where the incident took place is known for small boats that carry goods for sale. The Global Patriot was approached by several boats, and all but one turned away when warned by VHF radio or warning shots, according to the Navy, which says it is investigating the incident.

In 2000, 17 Navy sailors were killed aboard the USS Cole in Yemen when a small boat laden with explosives was used in a suicide attack on the ship. The terrorist group al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pilot is charged in San Fran spill

Capt. John J. Cota, who was piloting the 901-foot cargo ship Cosco Busan in San Francisco Bay when it struck a Bay Bridge support last November and spilled 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel oil, has been charged with criminal negligence.

A complaint filed March 17 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco charges Cota with misdemeanor violations of the federal Clean Water Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The complaint alleges that Cota failed to pilot a collision-free course; failed to adequately review the proposed course, aids to navigation and the vessel’s navigational equipment; failed to travel at safe speed in heavy fog; and failed to check radar while making the final approach to the Bay Bridge. Cota, 60, a San Francisco bar pilot for 26 years, faces a maximum of 18 months in prison and a maximum $115,000 in fines.

The spill has been linked to the death of some 2,000 birds, including the endangered brown pelican and marbled murrelet. An extensive cleanup effort was required, as the spill fouled approximately 40 miles of coastline.

The City of San Francisco also filed a lawsuit against the Hong Kong company that owns the ship to recover the cost of the cleanup. A trial date hadn’t been set as of mid-April.