Wednesday, January 24, 2007

One sinking ship…one concerned commodities market

The recent grounding of the container vessel MSC Napoli off the southern coast of Devon, England, received some media attention of late. Initially, reports centered on the threat of an oil spill impacting on the coastline. Then came the somewhat amusing tales of scavengers making off with the contents of containers that had washed ashore, a real-life take on the old British film Whisky Galore! (released in 1949 as Tight Little Island in the U.S.).

But notwithstanding the humorous reports of locals finding booty from the sea, the MSC Napoli’s accident has also served as a reminder of the impact just one commercial vessel can have on global economies. When the British-flagged vessel was deliberately grounded by her captain on a reef after being damaged in a storm – run onto the rocks to prevent her sinking – she also set in motion a series of evens among commodity traders.

The 900-foot long MSC Napoli was bound for Durban, South Africa, from Antwerp when she was holed in her starboard side during a storm late last week. The ship had, among her 2400 containers, more than 1000 tonnes of nickel. This vital metal is a key ingredient in the production of stainless steel, and the amount aboard the MSC Napoli represents almost 20 percent of the worldwide nickel inventories monitored by the London Metal Exchange. Those inventories add up to a little more than 5000 tonnes of nickel, or less than two days of worldwide consumption of the metal.

As a direct result of the grounding of MSC Napoli, the price of nickel on the London Metal Exchange hit $38,300 USD on Tuesday (January 23), A few days earlier, nickel had been trading at $36,100 USD a tonne. (The price increase was also influenced by the threat of a strike by nickel miners in Canada.)

All crew members of the vessel were safely rescued from the stricken vessel and, to date, the environmental impact has been limited.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

New Year Perspectives

After a lengthy intermission caused by research on new projects and other work - and the holidays - I am back and will again be posting new entries to the site. The recent delay was partially caused by my involvement in a new book which will see me busy for much of this year. It looks at modern-day piracy on the high seas and I hope to keep you updated as things progress.

Meanwhile, I would like to comment on two recent events, one of which garnered frontpage attention while the other was, for the most part, a secondary new item.

The Saturday before New Year's revealed that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had been executed in Baghdad. The degree to which the media addressed his death was somewhat surprising, though his being sent to the gallows on a Friday made for good copy for weekend newspapers, to say nothing of television or internet outlets. Since his death had been pre-ordained by an Iraqi court weeks earlier, there was ample time to prepare obituaries, in-depth looks at his life and commentaries from journalists and pundits.

There can be little arguement that Hussein was a wicked individual who tormented the lives of millions in the Mideast. Questions do arise as to the morality of killing him in a state-sponsored execution: I, for one, am against the death penalty and would rather have seen Hussein spend the rest of his living days in prison, just as Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess did following the Nuremburg trials after World War Two (Hess committed suicide in 1987, at the age of 93, in Berlin's Spandau Prison). Nevertheless, the former Iraqi leader's death was not a complete surprise; only the actual time of his execution was.

A few hours after Saddam Hussein died, an Indonesian ferry encountered high seas and heavy rains as it sailed from Borneo to Central Java, began to list and eventually sank. According to published reports, the manifest listed 628 people aboard the ferry Senopati Nusantara, with only 177 survivors accounted for by New Year's Eve.

This piece of news, coupled with the deadly crash of an Indonesian airliner at about the same time was heavily overshadowed by Hussein's death, and that's what troubles me. The Iraqi dictator did not - in my opinion - deserve the news it received. If that sounds odd, let me explain: Even if it's considered objective reportage, the coverage of Saddam Hussein's death provides a measure of exposure that can, to some, continue to illuminate his life. If one truly wanted to destroy the myth of Hussein, then he should have disappeared into a prison cell and been forgotten. In an area where martydom can affect politics, publicizing his death offers the potential for glorification.

Meanwhile, the lives of several hundred people who, I would hope, were as honest, hard-working and normal as most of us, ended in watery graves. They join the over 50,000 who die on our planet's waters every year. They will be mourned by a few, remembered by some more and forgotten by most.

And they all deserve more attention than Saddam Hussein got.