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Programming IT Technology

Offshoring to a Ship in International Waters 800

Posted by samzenpus
from the geek-loveboat dept.
JasdonLe writes "Sourcing Mag posted an article about Roger Green and David Cook, who hope to avoid US visa regulations that usually accompany outsourcing, with their company SeaCode, and a used cruise ship, sitting in international waters three miles off the coast of Los Angeles.""
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Offshoring to a Ship in International Waters

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  • by TimeTraveler1884 (832874) on Wednesday April 20, 2005 @11:49PM (#12299519)
    Let me be the first to say, "Holy Shit!" Is it me, or is off shoring getting out of hand?

    Apparently, they have plans for 600 software engineers on this ship. Their major point of having them on the ship appears to be that they can maintain low costs to produce software, while only being 3.1 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. I am assuming they don't have to pay corporate taxes to any entity.
    From SeaCode.com:

    SeaCode presents an innovative service which offers the reduced costs of a distant-shore software development operation while providing the operational benefits and accessibility of a U.S. based onshore location.

    Another SeaCode benefit is that 90% of revenue comes back to the U.S. instead of flowing out of the U.S. to distant-shore outsourcing locations.

    But this just seems to be asking for a lot of trouble. Humanitarily speaking, since they are not actually in any country, who protects the rights of those 600 laboring software engineers? Does anyone have the authority to make sure that it's not (child) slave labor? No government agency can make sure that working conditions are safe and healthy.

    From SourcingMag:

    Before you think, "sweat-ship," hear them out. These workers, they say, will each have private rooms with baths, meal service, laundry service, housekeeping and access to on-board leisure-time activities. Picture the Love Boat with a timecard. Staff can make the three-mile voyage into town in their off hours by calling a water taxi. Or they can spend time shopping in the on-board duty-free shop.

    SourcingMag says that SeaCode will treat their workers fairly. That's great and all if we suddenly believed that corporations are honest and will regulate themselves. How many times have companys ran sweat-shops and claimed that they were treating their worker's fairly?

    At first, I thought this was a joke. I am still unsure if it is.

  • Wow (Score:2, Interesting)

    by michaelhood (667393) on Wednesday April 20, 2005 @11:49PM (#12299522)
    Admittedly, I don't have much to contribute to this born and raised in the States, but it's not often we see something actually using a fair amount of ingenuity.. this is a cool idea. :)
  • TaskMaker (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 20, 2005 @11:49PM (#12299526)
    Is this is the same David Cook who created the infamous TaskMaker game [kentlaw.edu] for the Mac platform?
  • by neonfreon (850801) on Wednesday April 20, 2005 @11:58PM (#12299616)
    I must have missed the part where it said they were forcing people to work here? With the workers being 3.1 miles off of one of the biggest media laden metropolitan areas of the world, I doubt these people are going to try and hide very much.

    This is probably the oppurtunity of a life time for a lot of people to get out of their home country for a while and see the U.S. a little bit.
  • by stfvon007 (632997) <enigmar007NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @12:06AM (#12299679) Journal
    Would it be cheaper, to use an abandoned offshore oilrig instead?
  • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatmanNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @12:09AM (#12299698) Homepage Journal
    This is probably the oppurtunity of a life time for a lot of people to get out of their home country for a while and see the U.S. a little bit.

    And what VISA are they going to use to gain enterance to the US? The article contradicts itself on this point:

    "...and run a 24-hour-a-day programming shop, thereby avoiding H-1B visa hassles while still exploiting offshore labor cost..."

    -verus-

    "Staff can make the three-mile voyage into town in their off hours by calling a water taxi."

    I smell something rotten here. Specifically the usage of the word "staff". As in "American Employees can go ashore when they need a break." Gee, thanks.
  • by craXORjack (726120) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @12:11AM (#12299723)
    I think the 200 Mile Economic Zone was intended to settle fishing disputes but I can imagine the politicians using it as the basis for taxing this venture. Another question I have is whether the country that the ship is registered in has the rights already to tax commerce that takes place on the ship. Are cruise lines not liable for taxes? Is there no Sales tax on a cruise booked on-line? Obviously there would be no Use tax.

    And while you're at it, why not just drop a super long anchor out at sea, declare your cruise ship to be an artificial island, and petition the U.N. to recognize you as an autonomous state? [luf.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 21, 2005 @12:18AM (#12299779)
    Countries can claim up to 200 miles as an "Exclusive Economic Zone". In other words, the US can't put an oil rig in the Persian Gulf 25 miles off the coast of Iran, and the Russians aren't supposed to send fishing boats to park 52 miles off the eastern coast of the US and/or Canada.

    Countries can claim up to 24 miles as "territorial waters" which are then treated as being within that country. Pretty much. There are exclusions for ships merely transiting such waters to go somewhere else.

    The US currently claims 12nm as territorial waters.

    And there is a lot more backing that up than the US Navy. There is a whole series of treates going back at least half a century, and a body of international admiralty law going back 500 years or more.
  • by screenrc (670781) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @12:23AM (#12299809)
    Finally, the parent post has some clue where International waters start. I personally thought they start at 12 miles, but only 6 miles around islands.

    Furthermore, since I think Reagan, the US (unilaterally) declared that its waters extend for 200 miles: the first 6 miles belong to the state, and the rest 194 miles belong to federal government.

    Either way, 3.5 offshore is not International waters.

  • by cHiphead (17854) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @12:27AM (#12299830)
    it sounds like a good platform for testing tidal generators, solar panels, AND that kite based wind generation technique...
  • Tax Issues (Score:3, Interesting)

    by patio11 (857072) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @12:31AM (#12299849)
    The IRS will point out to the proprietors that, while it was an amusing idea the first time it was tried (decades ago -- "Hey, if we operate a casino on the high seas then we don't have to tax winnings!"), they're still responsible for federal income taxes on income earned in places America has no soverign jurisdiction over. Thats why, for example, I have to file a tax return every year from Japan. Of course, the ship could just try to ignore them, but they'd have bank accounts and shore leave in places where the long arm of the law reaches quite easily.
  • A thousand oceans (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Etherael (651533) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @02:08AM (#12300288)
    I've wanted to do something similiar on a small scale for a *long* time now, I run my own consultancy and do most of my work for clients remotely, there's no real reason I need to be land based to do any of that stuff, so I started looking into maybe buying a houseboat on a local river, with the advent of wireless internet it was entirely practical to do so, and I thought that I could travel up and down the river and drop anchor closer to clients and thus have a shorter commute in the event that I ever did need to make onsite visits. That turned out to be a fairly feasible idea with no obvious gotchas, you run diesel generators for excess power requirements with a large battery pack hooked up to solar and wind generators, and you're fairly self sufficient when it comes to low end energy requirements.

    This is from a twenty five year old guy that had lived all his life on land, and I have to say I consider myself a fairly practical person, so something about the entire idea just kept hitting me the wrong way, it had that "no, this is pie in the sky, it can't happen" feeling to it, and I just couldn't figure out why. I went into dramatic levels of detail in speccing out the lifestyle, you can purchase water generators which will create freshwater from seawater using nothing but energy (provided from the aforementioned power infrastructure) and there's plenty of storage room in a houseboat for food, which is pretty much the only thing you cannot harvest directly from your immediate environment.

    That last statement triggered my attention and I thought, well, what about the ocean? What does it really take to make ocean passages on the high seas? or even just clinging to the eastern coast of Australia? If all the provisioning you've done so far works for a houseboat, why wouldn't it work for an oceangoing vessel?

    So I looked into that some more, and found it very interesting indeed, there's an entire subculture, admittedly mostly of retired people, that live onboard their sailing yachts, travelling the world mostly at leisure. They had all the facilities that I had imagined you would need for a life at sea, large capacity batteries, solar and wind generators, backup diesel capacity, watermakers, etc etc etc, and lived almost entirely self sufficiently, travelling where they wished, when they wished.

    This sounded like a pretty ideal lifestyle to me, I'm actually currently in the process of saving up enough money to buy a suitable vessel for precisely this purpose, investigating further I found that catamarans provided a very good level of stability and comparitively low preparation time, as monohull vessels would tend to have a more severe angle of keel whilst under passage, catamarans were a better choice for a real working environment.

    The only remaining hurdles are *absolute* global internet access, and raising enough money to buy the catamaran itself, I've tentatively decided on a Perry 57 catamaran, as I figure if I intend to spend the rest of my life on a vessel, I had best get something I'm not soon going to tire of.

    I hope by the time I purchase the vessel broadband global satellite access may be a step closer to reality, if not it will likely be mostly hugging various coasts for doing actual real work rather than wandering the ocean blue at a moments notice and entirely on a whim, but even that is a hell of a lot more freedom than a five day a week desk job back on terra firma.

    All I can say is, it sounds crazy, but it isn't. The only reason I can come up with that this deep seated belief that it really is insane remains with me is that we're conditioned from birth to believe that the infrastructure modern society and government provides us with in order to aid our survival is so complex that we could never hope to sever that link, because if a large amount of people really did do this, it would greatly reduce the current "democratic" and utilitarian justifications for the absolute power of modern government.

    Don't take my word for it, though, if you're feeling restless, ill at ease, whatever, investigate it yourself, you may be pleasantly surprised at the results of your enquiries.
  • by AHumbleOpinion (546848) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:06AM (#12300538) Homepage
    um... you do realize it's a freaking pleasure ship, pleasure being the primary word here. The entire boat was designed for people to have fun on, you make it sound like a jail.

    The pleasure does not derive from the ship itself, it derives from the crew that is there to care for you and to provide you with luxury. The pleasure also derives from the ship being something new and different.

    If you want a ship that is a more appropriate comparison think the navy. You get food, quarters, laundry, exercise room, etc. Yet the chaplains have to keep an eye out for the kids on their first cruise getting suicidal. A shipboard workplace gets old very fast.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:07AM (#12300542)
    Big datacenters like 365 Main in san francisco run their own big generators anyway. So does Stanford University.

    At some scale, it's cheaper to run your own diesel generators than run off the grid. (obviously... because power companies make money)

  • by alekd (580693) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:28AM (#12300596)
    they're going to need a LOT of diesel just to keep the lights on. On land, you'd sinply run off the grid. But on a boat, their entire power capacity is going to be supplied by the ships engines or generators.

    This does not really add to the cost of doing business compared to what it would be in India as the power grid there is so unreliable that most IT shops need their own generators. Ships often use cheaper bunker oil instead of diesel so it might even work out to their advantage.

  • by Myself (57572) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:35AM (#12300611) Journal
    Wow, I've been suggesting this for years, specifically to get around draconian copyright restrictions. I'd show movies on it, offer a helicopter-ferried dinner-and-theater package. :)

    Anyway, as far as data service goes, send it straight! If international waters start 3 miles out, I'm sure you can name a few radio technologies that have no trouble covering more distance than that.

    So you can only reach the users who live near the shore, big deal! Most of the population lives near the coasts anyway. It'll be a special perk of oceanfront property. And once you're into a shoreside connection, VPN out to wherever.

    Anyway, who needs an ocean liner to run a server? I'd love to see someone pack enough processor and storage into a satellite. Launch the world's most expensive Freenet node. The trouble is, FCC regs prohibit amateurs from using encryption, so ground stations in the US would have to hit the thing with part 15 gear. I'm sure it's possible. :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 21, 2005 @04:20AM (#12300753)
    I'm not a tax lawyer, but US Citizens who earn money overseas are still supposed to report this income. (There's a form for this, I'm sure you can find it.) The enforceability of this is questionable, however. I've also heard that the US is the only country in the world that come after their own citizens in this manner.
  • by scupper (687418) * on Thursday April 21, 2005 @04:26AM (#12300772) Homepage

    you have to worry about attacks.........

    Sealand Fights Off Invaders (Wins War)

    In August of 1978, a number of Dutch men came to Sealand in the employ of a German businessman. They were there to discuss business dealings with Sealand. While Roy was away in Britain, these men kidnapped Prince Roy's son Michael, and took Sealand by force. Soon after, Roy recaptured the island with a group of his own men and held the attackers as prisoners of war.

    During the time that he held the prisoners, the Governments of the Netherlands and Germany petitioned for their release. First they asked England to intervene in the matter, but the British government cited their earlier court decision as evidence that they made no claim to the territory of Sealand. Then, in an act of de facto recognition of Sealand's sovereignty, Germany sent a diplomat directly to Sealand to negotiate for the release of their citizen.

    Roy first released the Dutch citizens, as the war was over, and the Geneva Convention requires the release of all prisoners. The German was held longer, as he had accepted a Sealand Passport, and therefore was guilty of treason. Prince Roy, who was grateful that the incident had not resulted in a loss of life, and did not want to bloody the reputation of Sealand, eventually released him as well.

  • by hachete (473378) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @04:35AM (#12300794) Homepage Journal
    Any ship up to Lloyds A+ should be able to do this, and cruise-ship are supposed to have slightly better tech anyway - all those lives at risk etc. Of course, the titanic...You'd probably tick the engines over once in a while.

    Offshore refuel and repair is relatively easy. The ship would have to be dry-docked occasionally. You could do that in Mexico. But it's still expensive.

    Technically feasable but would the "savings" be worth it? I think not.

  • by pommiekiwifruit (570416) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:08AM (#12301000)
    Considering that the military had no qualms boarding and shutting down ships (e.g. radio caroline) that broadcast "pirate" radio stations, when they were reluctant to do that to ships running hard drugs or terrorist arms, I don't think that would be a wise idea. Remember, copyright infringement is one of the most serious crimes in the world!
  • by mikael (484) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:48AM (#12301110)
    Look up the specifications for any cruise liner Mercury project [ship-technology.com]. There is enough redundancy for this never to happen.

    PROPULSION

    The vessel is propelled by four MAN B&W L48/60 non-reversible, four-stroke engines. Two have an output of 9,450kW and two of 6,300kW at 500rpm. Each gearbox is additionally provided with a power take-off for a 5,200kW shaft generator for electric power supply during the voyage. Depending on the required ship's speed, different propulsion modes can be operated. The engines are connected to the Renk gearboxes via flexible Vulkan-Rato couplings. The engine speed is controlled by digital, redundant, freely programmable engine governors that work together.

    The vessel has two controllable pitch propellers, three bow thrusters, two stern thrusters and two active rudders that are operated by a joystick. For the ship's propulsion and manoeuvring operations, an integrated redundant, computer-aided, decentralised system is used, which is connected via field bus to the automation system. Each propeller plant, transverse thruster and rudder has its own self-sufficient process station, connected by a redundant bus with the bridge station. For seakeeping, installed stabilizers are capable of reducing the ship's rolling motion by 90% at a speed of 18 knots.

    Electric power is supplied by four MAN B&W, type 6L40/54 auxiliary diesel generator sets, as well as two shaft generators driven by a gearbox.


  • by thogard (43403) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @07:56AM (#12301320) Homepage
    This ship [divingcairns.com.au] lives off the coast of Australia. It comes in to port about 2 weeks a year and all other supplies are taken out using other boats. Sure its only 55 people in total but the supply issue is only about 10 times worse for the bigger ship.
  • by StarKruzr (74642) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @09:18AM (#12301780) Journal
    I doubt the engines will even be engaged on this ship. Engines require a buttload of maintenance. More than likely they'll tow her out to location, anchor her 500 different ways, and use generators combined with solar or some other energy source to keep her systems going.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the engines get stripped out of the ship altogether. Ships that don't go anywhere get emasculated on a regular basis - witness the USS Intrepid, which is literally bolted to the harbor bottom.
  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DavidTC (10147) <[slas45dxsvadiv. ... ] [neverbox.com]> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @09:47AM (#12301962) Homepage
    There's certain laws of the sea that only work if you fly a flag.

    For example, if a US ship (be it military or civilian) tries to board a Canadian ship, and a Mexician ship is wandering by, it has the right to try to stop the US.

    But any ship not flying a flag can, as far as I know, be legally attacked by anyone, not just the military. (By legally, I mean 'internationally'. I suspect US law, for example, would prohibit US civilian ships from attacking any other ships, even flagless ones.) Flagless ships have no 'rights' at all under international law and conventions of the sea. It's the truest form of anarchy...you can do anything to anyone, and not legally answer for it, but anyone can do anything to you, and not legally answer for it, at least not internationally.

    If a US ship is attacking a flagless ship, no one can stop them. Flagless ships are classified as 'pirates', and not only are they allowed to be attacked, it's assumed they'll be attacked. Meanwhile, any ship with a flag attacking them can't be, itself, attacked. (Well, your own government can attack you.)

    Which is why, if this project gets off the ground, they'll be flying some flag. Otherwise they're risking some ship from, say, Panama, legally boarding them and stealing all their stuff and their ship. And even if other nations want to stop them, they can't, because they are not allowed to fire on Panama's ships. (Well, without actually declaring war.)

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