- - Monday, April 7, 2014

Kaalbye Shipping International is an established maritime company. It has been trusted by the U.S. government, but that didn’t stop a self-appointed Washington outfit that monitors “conflict and security issues” from accusing Kaalbye of using one of its ships to move Russian arms to Syria in that country’s civil war.

This group, C4ADS, on its website home page proclaims it specializes in “data-driven analysis.” Last September, it issued a report that the Ocean Fortune, a Kaalbye ship, was loading Russian armaments at the Ukraine port of Oktyabrsk.

The Washington Post swallowed the report, and on Sept. 8 said the ship moved through the Black Sea and “slipped” through the Bosporus, headed toward the Mediterranean, “then it disappeared … not a trace of the ship was seen for two months.” According the article, the ship’s automated transponder was inoperative, so the ship could not be traced.

This was based on an allegation in the C4ADS report, which also claimed that a Kaalbye ship’s transponder was not functioning during a 2012 voyage to Venezuela.

Although Western sources think some Russian arms were transshipped out of Oktyabrsk, the Post article gave no proof that this involved the Ocean Fortune.

C4ADs had provided none, because there wasn’t any. The group in its website points with pride to the fact that it uses “open source” information. This means it gathers information from sundry sources, but seems to have no resources to separate fact from fiction.

After protests by Kaalbye, The Post investigated details of its September article.

On Feb. 6, it published a correction: “Information supplied by the manager of Ocean Fortune — and subsequently verified by The Washington Post through independent sources — confirms that the ship’s automated transponder was functioning normally as it traveled through the eastern Mediterranean during an extended voyage in early 2013. An analysis of third-party data indicates that the ship … made no stops at Syrian ports during the journey … The Post also confirmed through third-party data that automated transponders on Kaalbye vessels were functioning normally when they traveled to and from Venezuela in 2012. In addition, the article incorrectly stated that Ukrainian ship owner Vadim Alperin is a Kaalbye business partner.

As to arms trafficking and transfers, C4ADS, on its website, asserts, “We understand what data is (sic) available, where to find it publicly, commercially, in the field, and how it can best be utilized.”

Apparently, however, in its zeal, the C4ADS people forgot to apply Ronald Reagan’s dictum “Trust, but verify.”

Had they bothered to look into Kaalbye’s track record, they would have found that it regularly transfers NASA rockets for the Orbital Sciences Corp., and the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command engaged Kaalbye to transfer a mine-countermeasures ship to Japan (2009) and a coastal security ship to Cyprus (2012).

Kaalbye is a respected company, with a fleet of eight large vessels under its management (including Ocean Fortune). It says it offers comprehensive services to other ship owners, such as “brokering, forwarding and survey.” Since 1999, It has been certified as being compliant with the requirements of the International Safety Management Code regarding dry cargo vessels.

The certification has been renewed annually since then. The volume of transported cargo by Kaalbye last year was more than 800,000 tons.

To its credit, The Post corrected its errors. Alas for Kaalbye, though, other publications picked up the original incorrect story, but not the correction. Nor has C4ADS issued a correction.

C4ADS failure to admit its shortcomings, and the widespread publication elsewhere of the misinformation have damaged Kaalbye’s business relationships. Moral: Media outlets and their information suppliers should employ the same high standards they expect from the businesses they cover.

Peter Hannaford is a member of the board of the Committee on the Present Danger.

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