In and out of Namibia.

As I understand it, the two ports’ combined berth capacity is of 12-13 ships, with Luderitz being limited to ships with a DWT (deadweight tonnage) of 5.000 tons. Walvis Bay is better, as it’s a fairly deep port and can handle modern cargo ships. Of course, most people will think “I want out of here ASAP” and given the choice, will take the road to Windhoek. It shouldn’t be left up to them because if it is, they will overcrowd Windhoek, turn the local population against them due to the insupportable pressure on the city’s infrastructure and roads along with food supply, and possibly even cause epidemics to run rampant. Somebody will have to determine the optimum ratio of traffic to be directed towards each destination, and that has to be done by the border of Namibia at the latest. There will be mayhem. People will complain, many will try to disobey orders. I think deadly force will have to be used to control the disruptions and threats such disobedience will pose. The Namibian Defence Force is estimated to be around 12.500. They won’t be able to withstand 4.000.000 angry and desperate people, but they will probably try. By far, the best option is to allow the convoy security elements to handle traffic and discipline issues, and where they fail, to be backed up by Namibian troops with authorization to shoot to kill those who deviate from instructions. Bloody though this is bound to get, it’s preferable to the consequences of upsetting the Namibian people and their government, who may very well ask for military help from South Africa and possibly Botswana. Those governments will not hesitate to kill, and the situation can quite easily turn into a wholesale slaughter.

Chances are that once on Namibian territory, a lot of the country’s white citizens will join their government’s efforts to help the refugees and will provide food, water, fuel and possibly transportation to the three destinations. This effort will cause serious disruptions to Namibian society and economy, but the more they help, the sooner the refugees will leave. There is another problem which needs to be addressed, and that is the matter of shipping. Currently there are 5.291 container ships, 10.428 bulk carriers, 17.314 general cargo, 10.829 dry bulk and 3.749 passenger ships as part of the global fleet. For the purpose of transporting refugees, we can rule out bulk carriers, dry bulk carriers and perhaps the majority of passenger ships (most are coastal or fresh water ships unsuitable for oceanic voyages), as well as oil tankers. I think the best choice is to use a mix of container and general cargo ships, with empty Conex containers to be used as accommodation for the refugees. Given that a modern ship can carry up to 19.000 containers and assuming 4 or 5 refugees per container along with their supplies for a 3 week sea voyage (100 liters of water, around 25 MREs, necessary medication for chronic illnesses, Scopolamine or anything else for sea sickness, anti-diarrhea pills, at least 3 rolls of toilet paper per person), we could be looking at 50 large container ships to carry 4.000.000 people.

That still poses two sets of problems. First, most ships are not idle- they are actively carrying cargo. This means they will have to dump all of their cargo and take on the maximum number of empty containers they can handle at the closest port, then steam for the Namibian coast at top cruising speed. This will cost a lot of money, certainly tens of billions of dollars, cause disruptions to the global trade network and damage to clients and shipping firms due to unfulfilled shipments. It will also take time, depending on where the ships are at that moment and how quickly they can dump their cargo. Military fleets are a no-go. Currently, the entire U.S. fleet of fighting ships (including submarines) is at most 289. Most of these vessels have classified areas which need to be secured, are subject to limited space for accommodation and carry food and water for their crews’ needs, not refugees too. Furthermore, there is the matter of current fleet deployments, maintenance and crew rest. Withdrawing fleets from Asia, especially the area around China and North Korea is not feasible right now, and it’s unlikely the Atlantic and Mediterranean fleets can be re-tasked due to strategic commitments. Submarines won’t be available either. They look big from the outside, but are extremely cramped inside and in the case of SSBNs (nuclear missile subs), they won’t take on refugees unless crews are held at gunpoint. Hell, even then they won’t, because we are talking about the security of nuclear weapons…

The second problem set has to do with the ships and crews. They will be privately owned and operated. As such, governments will have to ask the owners’ permission, crews will have to be armed for their own safety, and ship convoys guarded to and from the Namibian coast. There’s also the matter of timing. If this happens in late January or early February, the Atlantic will be fearsome to cross due to severe storms and low temperatures in the northern hemisphere. Most South Africans dress like Eskimos when temperature drops below 20 degrees Celsius, but because it’s summer in January, chances are the vast majority of them will not have cold weather gear. Unless one wants to see scenes of thousands of people dead from hypothermia, cold weather clothes will have to be brought to Namibia and handed out to passengers. If this happens in June-July, temperature will be an issue due to heat in the northern hemisphere and worsened by summer storms off America’s East Coast. Then there’s the matter of shipboard security for the passengers and crews. On the one hand, ship controls and critical areas have to be kept secure. On the other, passengers will have to be kept safe from the depredations of crew members who might take advantage of passengers’ vulnerability on the high seas. To that end, it would be desirable to have military security teams (from the naval reserves) with weapons and satellite communication capabilities as well as embedded observers- on each ship. This will go a long way towards keeping to a minimum any stories of rapes, murders and robberies aboard ships.

The bulk of refugee transport will have to be done by sea. There really is no better way of doing it because of the huge number of people involved. Even if we assume this will require 50 large container carriers, the loading process will easily take a week, probably working 24/7. This will pose a serious problem for the Namibian port authorities and national economy, but it’s not insurmountable. By far, the biggest problems will be faced by the ships themselves. I think carrying 80.000 passengers is way too much for safety reasons. If the number is reduced to 2.000 or 3.000 passengers, that raises the number of ships required to around 2.000. The disruption to global trade will be even worse. Furthermore, there will be on-board problems with sewage and health-related issues that will be exacerbated by the close quarters, and illnesses will spread like wildfire. Another problem is the multi-faceted issue of what will happen to the refugees once they arrive in their countries of destination.

It’s safe to say the security and immigration services of countries such as United States, Great Britain, France and possibly Holland will be stretched to the maximum, especially in the many cases of refugees who won’t have any identity papers. In that situation, global databases will be extremely busy for months while searching for proof of people’s identities through millions of social media accounts and so on. Furthermore, as we’ve seen with the waves of Syrian and Libyan refugees, malefactors will insinuate themselves among the refugees and this will mean anything from criminals to intelligence agents. The security risks will be intolerable. Worse, there are bound to be white South Africans whose membership of right wing organizations will make them undesirable to the left wing media, politicians and members of the electorates of these countries. The governments will be under immense pressure to deny them entry and these people can easily find themselves in situations far worse than that of detainees released from Guantanamo Bay’s Camp X-Ray. To be continued…

Mircea Negres

Port Elizabeth

South Africa