GMI PhD student talks about private maritime security at conference in Gdansk

With his presentation about challenges for private and naval operations in African waters, Dirk Siebels was the GMI’s representative at MAST Europe in Gdansk from 4 to 6 June. His talk was an insight into his PhD research and attracted a number of questions from senior naval officers and defence industry representatives in the audience.

Maritime Systems and Technology (MAST) is one of the most important conferences for the maritime security sector. The tenth edition of MAST was held in Poland’s largest port city Gdansk. More than 700 attendees from 40 nations attended the conference. Presentations included a number of highly specialised topics, ranging from autonomous underwater vehicles to countermeasures against pirate attacks.

In his presentation, Dirk compared developments in maritime security in East and West Africa. Highlighted by the rise of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, he explained efforts undertaken by the United States and the European Union and pointed out future challanges for navies and private security providers.

Regarding the use of private maritime security companies (PMSCs), the main focus was on differences between operations in East and West Africa. Another important aspect for an audience that included senior officers from various European navies was the cooperation between private companies and naval forces in the Indian Ocean.

The next part of Dirk’s presentation were efforts at regulation of PMSCs as well as measuring their performance. Currently, there are very different rules and regulations in different flag states yet there is no data regarding the actual performance of armed guards on merchant ships. For his research, Dirk is cooperating with the Security Association of the Maritime Industry (SAMI) and the Marshall Islands shipping registry. As the third-biggest flag state, the Marshall Islands are taking a keen interest in measuring the quality of security teams onboard their vessels and have developed a questionnaire for ship operators and masters.

At the end of his talk, Dirk gave a brief outlook to the future of private maritime operations. After the industry has grown into a billion-dollar industry within just a few years, it seems unlikely that it will go away as soon as the piracy problems on both sides of the African continent are under control. Oil and gas production is moving more and more offshore, even East African countries such as Mozambique or Tanzania are on the verge of becoming major exporters. It may open up another potential market for private security providers. There are, however, a lot of legal and other challenges involved so it will remain an interesting topic for the foreseeable future.

GMI Responsible for Lion’s Share of Articles in Tier 1 Maritime History Journal

In the May 2013 issue of Mariners’ Mirror, a tier 1 journal, GMI graduates and staff are responsible for a large proportion of the items published.
Dr Peter Skidmore who completed his PhD with the GMI in 2009 had the following article published ‘Vessels and Networks: Shipowning in North-West England’s Coasting Trade in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries’. Dr Skidmore’s PhD focused on the maritime economy on the north west of England in the later eighteenth century.

Mr Ken Cozens, MA Maritime History graduated from the GMI in 2006 has published another article with his colleague Gary Sturgess, ‘Managing a Global Enterprise in the Eighteenth Century: Anthony Calvert of The Crescent, London, 1777-1808’. This builds on previous work and publications that they have completed together on mercantile networks.

Finally there is an excellent review of Dr Cathy Pearce’s book ‘Cornish Wrecking, 1700-1860: Reality and Popular Myth’. Dr Pearce completed her PhD with the GMI in 2007 and is now attached to the Institute as an Honorary Research Associate. She will be contributing to the delivery of a short course on ‘Maritime Crime: Piracy, Smuggling, Wrecking and Water Whodunnits’ on 12th June 2013.

GMI is very proud to have a high proportion of graduates in addition to the current staff that publish frequently in top journals. Look out for the next issue of Mariners’ Mirror which will feature an article by Dr Chris Ware, Lecturer in Naval History.

Suzanne Louail

Mariners Mirror May 13

From Russia with bombs. The marine engineer, the ‘Dambusters’ raid, 16-17 May 1943, and a maritime mission…

On the evening of 16 May 1943 nineteen Lancaster bombers of the specially-formed 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, took off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire. The operation was codenamed Chastise. Its targets were the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams in Germany’s Ruhrgebiet, providing hydro-electric power for the Third Reich’s armaments industry. The dams were very well-defended and could only be breached with massive bombs – bigger than any RAF plane could carry – or by torpedoes fired directly at them below the water. For this reason the Germans had installed multiple torpedo nets in front of all the dams, making placing a big enough charge in the right place impossible. Or so they thought… At the time the average bombing error was five miles. But this was to be a precision attack..

Enter the nutty professor … well, Barnes Wallis, the marine- and aero-engineer who had designed the Wellington bomber and the R100 airship with their revolutionary geodetic frames, exploiting the immanent strength of the triangle. Wallis (1887-1979) had left school at 17 to start an apprenticeship at Thames Engineering Works at Blackheath, but later transferred to J Samuel White‘s boatbuilders at Cowes in the Isle of Wight. In 1913 he left J Samuel White’s when an opportunity arose for him to work on airship design – a logical enough move – and then aircraft design at Vicker’s.

Early in 1942, Wallis began experimenting with skipping marbles over water tanks in his garden at home, leading to his April 1942 paper “Spherical Bomb — Surface Torpedo”. Except these would not be stones, but four-tonne bombs, shaped like oil drums (not spherical, as in the 1955 film – the design was still top secret when the film was made!). They had to be dropped from a very precise height – 50 feet (18 metres)(!), which was beyond the capabilities of altimeters. While the RAF were pondering the solution, one of the 617 Squadron officers went for a night out in the West End to see a show and saw spotlights intersecting on the stage. Bingo! When two angled lights on the Lancaster’s belly formed a figure of eight on the surface of the water, the aircraft was spot-on. Then, the bombs would spin anti-clockwise, to the direction of travel, which would ensure they bounced correctly, over the torpedo nets, and also push them against the dam when they touched it and descended. At nine metres depth, they would detonate. What they started, the pressure of millions of tonnes of water would finish.

It was a triumph of creative imagination and ingenuity, although only two of the dams were actually breached. But the casualties among the bomber crews were very heavy, and Wallis was devastated. The damage to German war industry was not as great as hoped, but it was portrayed as a timely triumph at a time when war-weariness was at its most intense. An air reconnaissance photograph was emblazoned all over the front of the Daily Telegraph on the morning of 18 May, showing water pouring through the breach in the Mohne dam. How many times have you seen an air reconnaissance photograph on a newspaper front page? One wonders who authorised such an irregular press release. Could it have been someone who was a former journalist? Like Churchill…

Mohne Dam
The Mohne dam in the aftermath of Operation Chastise.

As an élite precision attack force, 617 Squadron was used for special missions. After the Dambusters mission, it began to attract ridicule as ‘The Squadron with one op’. Barnes Wallis, however, came up with another revolutionary bomb, the 5.443 tonne (12,000 pound) Tallboy. The bomb was extremely aerodynamic, designed to be dropped from 18,000 feet (5,500 metres). That meant it hit the ground at 750 mph (1200 kph), which created a crater 30 metres wide and 24 metres deep. The idea was to produce an ‘earthquake’ effect so that if the target, such as a concrete bunker, was not itself smashed to pieces, it would just fall into the great big hole.

The Tallboy entered service on 8 June 1944 and was first used against the Saumur rail tunnel that night. The line was destroyed — one Tallboy drilled through the hillside and exploded in the tunnel about 18 metres below, completely blocking it. They were subsequently used against V-1 cruise and V-2 ballistic missile launch sites and facilities, and the V-3 supergun.

But Wallis’s background as a marine engineer resurfaced in September that year. Major surface combatants remained lethal adversaries, even though they were obsolescent in the face of submarine and air power. Throughout the war the German battleship the Tirpitz had evaded British attempts to destroy it, skulking in north Norwegian fjords. At 42,900 tonnes, she had been sister ship to the Bismarck. She remained a potential threat to the convoys supplying Russia, although by 1944 those were not as crucial as they had been. On 15 September1944 the ‘Dambusters’ Squadron launched Operation Paravane, attacking the monster from airfields in northern Russia under a special agreement with the Russian Allies, who obviously had an interest. At the time she was moored in the Kåfjord (Kaa fjord), south-west of the Altenfjord (Altafjord), at 69o 56’ 22” N, 23o 03’ 42” E. The Kåfjord was out of range of bases in Britain. Although Tirpitz was not sunk, she was crippled sufficiently to prevent her ever posing a threat again.

Prior to the actual raid, some 38 Lancaster bombers took off from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. Most were 617 Squadron but some were from 9 Squadron. One turned back and, after an eleven hour flight, the other 37 tried to land at Yagodnik airfield (64o 22 N, 40o 42 E) in north Russia, on the Northern Dvina river, close to Arkhangel’sk, which was designated as a temporary RAF base. Yagodnik was just 600 miles from the target. The base was drenched by heavy rain and thirteen of the British aircraft could not find the airfield and landed at various remote places across north Russia. Colonel Loginov, Chief of Staff of the White Sea flotilla, made determined efforts to find the aircraft and recover their crews, including one crew who were guided on foot to a lake where a sea-plane could pick them up and take them to the Yagodnik base. Two of 617’s aircraft and four of 9 Squadron could not be retrieved from the marshes where they had landed, but seven were recovered, plus, very importantly, all the crews. Without Loginov’s heroic efforts and those of his boss, Maj.-Gen. Dzymba, Chief of the White Sea Flotilla Naval Air Forces, the attack on the Tirpitz would have been much weaker. As a result the RAF later recommended Loginov, Dzymba and Vice-Admiral ‘Pantaleyev’ (Panteleyev), the Commander-in-Chief of the White Sea flotilla, for British honours. Panteleyev, as a Vice-Admiral, got the Companion of the Bath (CB), while Dzymba and Loginov were made Commanders of the British Empire (CBE).


The German battleship Tirpitz at sea


The Altenfjord

In the Kåfjord, surrounded by mountains and anti-aircraft batteries, Tirpitz was exceptionally well defended. There were also enough smoke diespensers to fill the fjord with a veil of smoke in just eight seconds. But One 12,000 lb Tallboy struck the ship 50 feet aft of her prow, pierced the bow compartments without detonating and came out under the waterline on the starboard side before exploding. This underwater explosion very close to her hull, plus those from other Tallboys exploding nearby did severe damage to her machinery and engines.
Though she remained floating, the Tirpitz was immobile and could only be repaired in a big dry dock, and it would be impossible to get her to one in Germany in the face of British naval and air superiority.
A German report recovered by the Allies after the war stated the Kriegsmarine’s conclusion: “It was eventually decided at a conference on 23 September 1944 at which the C-in-C – Admiral Dönitz – and Naval Staff were present, that it was no longer possible to make Tirpitz ready for sea and action again…” They tried to move her south to use as a floating battery for the defence of Tromso, but did not realise that this would bring her in range of bombers based in Scotland. The British did not know how badly they had damaged her and launched two more attacks. The first, Operation Obviate, inflicted no further major damage. But on 12 November 1944 the RAF launched a final attack, this time again beginning with a ‘C’, Operation Catechism. In a joint attack by 617 and IX Squadrons the Tallboy bombs hit her magazine, and she capsized with the loss of most of her crew.
Although Barnes Wallis is best known as an aero-engineer, who went on to develop the swing-wing concept used on the F-111 and Tornado, he began his long and creative career as a marine engineer. There was a certain irony in the use of his earthquake bombs to finish the Tirpitz. Like the underwater monster, the kraken, they wrested the great battleship from below, and pulled her beneath the deep…

Chris Bellamy

Too Many Ships in the World Merchant Fleet

For ship spotters and maritime historians, it was an event of great significance. Back in 2005 the world fleet of cargo-carrying ships reached the symbolic 50,000 number. Today there are many more, and their capacity has risen enormously. For shipowners and market analysts, this enlargement is also significant, but has worrying overtones: expansion in many categories has greatly exceeded the growth of seaborne trade and demand for these vessels. The result has been varying degrees of depressed shipping markets over much of the past few years.

The world merchant ship fleet is very large, probably larger than most people would guess. But just how many vessels are there? What is their cargo carrying capacity? How did this fleet develop in recent years and why? And what is the outlook for the future? The answers to these questions are of interest not only to those participating in, or merely observing, this remarkable industry; they are scrutinised intensely within academic maritime studies at GMI.

Fleet statistics weave a fascinating pattern. By mid-2011 the world’s entire fleet of all types of commercial ships over one hundred tons had increased its gross tonnage to 1 billion. At the end of last year the total reached 1.09 billion GT, numbering 86,300 ships. This gigantic armada includes not only the vast fleets of bulk carriers, tankers and container ships, but also a wide range of other types. General cargo vessels, multi-purpose ships, car carriers, roll on-roll off vessels, gas carriers, reefer tonnage, cruise ships, offshore service vessels and others (such as tugs and dredgers) are represented. Many perform services which do not involve carrying cargo, of course.

According to figures compiled by shipping information providers Clarksons, another (nautical) milestone was attained recently. The world’s fleet of vessels actually carrying cargo – which had numbered 50,000 over seven years ago – reached 1 billion GT in September last year, and since then has grown to 1.01 billion, comprising 57,400 ships, today. It is especially significant that this achievement resulted from cumulative growth of an astounding 43 percent over the past five years, averaging 7.5 percent annually.

Looking at the fleet statistics in more detail reveals some impressive performances over the past few years. Expansion rates in the largest sectors have been rapid. Measured by deadweight volume, the tonnage measurement normally used in the bulk markets, the world fleet of bulk carriers has grown by 73 percent in the past five years. At the end of 2012 there were 9,500 bulk carriers totalling 679 million dwt. The tanker fleet’s growth was 29 percent during the same period, to a total of 515 million dwt (13,500 ships, including 7,700 small tankers below 10,000 dwt). In the container ship sector, where the standard measurement is TEUs (twenty-foot-equivalent units), the world fleet reached 5,100 ships totalling 16.2 million TEU at the end of 2012, after growing by 50 percent over a five-year period.

Why is all this a problem? Unfortunately (for shipowners and their bankers), expansion of transportation capacity in the main fleet sectors has outpaced the growth of global seaborne trade and demand for shipping services. The market’s two sides are often out of balance, to some extent, but in the present cycle the imbalance (oversupply) is particularly large and persistent and is having a brutal impact on freight earnings and profitability.

Contrary to many perceptions, international cargo movements have been growing quite vigorously in recent years. There has been a good recovery from the damaging setback experienced in late 2008 and 2009, when the global financial crisis caused the ‘Great Recession’, which severely but temporarily reduced world economic activity and trade volumes. The upwards trend in seaborne trade resumed and continues, with most forecasts suggesting further strengthening through 2013. A positive trade scene is therefore evolving; some other factors which affect shipping demand have been beneficial as well. On the other side of the balance sheet, enormous amounts of new shipping capacity coming in to the marketplace (partly offset by higher scrapping) has greatly swelled the fleet, as discussed. Much of this new tonnage, or ‘newbuildings’, was ordered at shipbuilding yards in better times when the shipping markets were booming. The result – more rapid fleet expansion than needed – is still unfolding and signs suggest it will continue.

Where do we go from here? Forecasters in this notoriously hard-to-predict industry are frequently wrong-footed by unanticipated events. If the world economy soon takes off again and stays there, boosting trade, surplus shipping capacity could be quickly eliminated, but few expect that to happen. Although China’s economic growth appears to be reviving, the USA is picking up, and Japan could start regaining momentum, Europe’s economy is still in the doldrums and probably will remain there for a while. Political events could disrupt trading patterns and potentially add to demand for ships, but these circumstances are essentially unpredictable. There are other factors, of course, but no indications at present of a quick solution to the fleet over-capacity problem. The scale of the problem, although diminishing, is still so large that adjustment towards a better balance may yet take some time to complete.

Richard Scott
GMI visiting lecturer and MD, Bulk Shipping Analysis

Public Seminar – European Diplomatic Shifts and the Development of Plymouth Naval Base 1717-1730

The next public research seminar of the 2012-13 programme will be taking place on Wednesday 20th February 2013 and will be presented by our very own, Dr Chris Ware.

Abstract: Between 1715 and 1727 Britain sent nine substantial squadrons to the Baltic to safeguard its interests. However, as the situation in the north of Europe began to settle, distrust began to increase again between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar and trade in the West Indies. Fighting at Gibraltar in 1727 led to an extended period of tension. In 1732 for instance, Spanish military preparations resulted in British fears of a Jacobite invasion. This talk traces the development of Plymouth naval base against this diplomatic background, not only of the dockyard, but of the victualling and ordnance yards and the naval hospital. There was significant and continuous investment throughout these years, often regarded as a period of quiescence. Plymouth was not only a ‘fully-fledged’ dockyard by the beginning of the 1739-48 war, but also a significant naval base.

Location: Edinburgh Room (075), Queen Anne Court, University of Greenwich, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London, SE10 9LS

Time: The seminar will begin at 6pm with refreshments available from 5.30pm

Anyone is welcome to attend this free event and no booking is required. If you would like any further information however please telephone the GMI Office on 020 8331 7688 or email

Plymouth Image

The Role of Classification Societies in the Maritime Regulatory System

Classification societies are maritime organisations that make and verify standards for the construction and operation of sea-going vessels and off shore rigs. Their genesis can be traced back to the 1700s when maritime insurers wanted to ascertain whether the ships they were underwriting were sound or not. Edward Lloyd established the first register of shipping in 1764 to satisfy the businessmen’s need.

The Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, as Edward Lloyd’s establishment was called, rated the construction and condition of a ship’s hull by conferring the grade A, E, I, O or U. – and graded equipment as G, M, or B – good, middling or bad. Hence, any vessel that received AG was thought to be in an excellent state to ply on sea. Today’s system is different: vessels are either in class or out of class (IACS, 2012).

As the classification systems developed and spread in the nineteenth century, their function changed from merely classifying to setting standards. Currently, there are well over 50 classification societies operating worldwide, some eminent, others obscure. The largest one in term of tonnage is the International Association of Classification Society (IACS). It has more than 90% of global tonnage. To date, it has thirteen affiliated members worldwide.

Classification societies’ cardinal business is to heighten safety of life and property offshore. Ideally, this role starts well before a vessel is built. The business person wishing to construct a ship selects a society, which authorizes the standards to which the new building should be constructed and supervises all facets of the construction, eventually ‘grading’ it before it sets sail. Thereafter, the society inspects it at regular intervals to make certain that it is seaworthy and ‘fit for purpose’. Indeed, classification societies are the hub of technical expertise in the shipping industry.

Unquestionably, a ship that meets internationally accepted standards gets classified quite easily by a reputable classification society. The reverse is true for a substandard ship. In fact, the owner of such a ship tends to stay clear of high quality classification societies – and this often dictates the type or cost of insurance he gets.

The requirements on which classifications are based are derived from a number major of sources, namely:
• National and regional requirements (i.e., EU regulations and directives)
• International/IMO statutory agreements (i.e., SOLAS and MARPOL)
• Rules created by classification societies
This latter category has given rise to ‘class hopping’ by ship owners and flag states. It has also given rise to an intense competition among classification societies (in much the same manner flag states compete).

It is worth noting that these societies do not cover how ships are being operated. This is intended, one may rightly argue, to discourage liability lawsuits.

An increasing number of flag states are engaging classification societies to inspect and certify ships in their fleets. This is particularly true in respect to tonnage measurement and load lines, the transportation of dangerous substances, SOLAS, MARPOL, among other key IMO guidelines. And this is proving to be a major source of income for these non-governmental – ‘non-profit’ organizations.
Insurance companies, flag states and governments continue to use the services provided by classification societies. However, we have to mention that the societies themselves do not have legal power of enforcement.

Gola Traub, MA International Maritime Policy Student

GMI Interviews Women in the Fishing Industry

Researchers from the Greenwich Maritime Institute, Dr Minghua Zhao and Esther Copete, spent two weeks in Belgium and the Netherlands during August 2012, conducting fieldwork which investigates women’s role and contribution to fisheries in the EU. The research is part of a three-year, €4.6 million project, Geography of Inshore Fishing and Sustainability (GIFS), funded by Interreg Iva 2 Seas.

During the fieldwork the researchers had the opportunity to meet the president of the Women in Fisheries Network in the Netherlands who spoke about their activities and their concerns about the industry’s future.

More than 20 interviews were conducted in selected fishing communities in the two countries. In Breskens the team had the opportunity to interview three fisher wives who spoke about their lives and answered questions related to the components of social cohesion. They expressed their views on the women’s roles in their communities and their main concerns regarding their husbands’ jobs, providing the researchers with an insight into the community’s views of the fishing sector.

The researchers also had the opportunity to interview the female Sales Manager of a Breskens-based company supplying fish to wholesalers and retailers across Europe. They also met and talked to the only local fisherwoman in the history of Breskens and her family members who have continued with the business.

The School of Fishing is located in Vlissingen and several students were interviewed as well as their partners. This provided the team with an idea of the younger generation’s view of and level of confidence in the sector.

The GMI research team received strong support from the local partners in both countries. They would like to take this opportunity to register their most sincere thanks. 

More information about the work of GIFS can be found on their website


Dr Minghua Zhao