Friday, July 22, 2016

Bigger than the weather: A corporate cover-up on the high seas

In 2015, 3 South African seamen disappeared in the Southern Ocean.
What happened to them ?
(Bansi cyclone)

From Daily Maverick by Kevin Bloom

In 2015, after three South African seamen went missing somewhere in the vastness of the Southern Ocean, their families tried to trace their final movements.
Uncovering the truth would require going to war with the world’s largest tourism conglomerate, a €20-billion-a-year monolith that had no interest in fielding questions.

Sailing routes and Cyclone Bansi path.
Credit: Andrea Teagle/CARTO

On 12 January 2015, when the International Space Station was 400km above the eastern fringe of the African island of Madagascar, an image was beamed down to earth.
Unscrambled by computers at Nasa’s Earth Observatory, the picture looked like a scene from a sci-fi film.
Perhaps the swirling violet abyss at the photograph’s focal core reminded Nasa’s engineers of the wormhole into which Hollywood astronauts occasionally disappear – and if so, at least for the families of those caught in the vortex, the analogy was apt.

The churning neon thing was the lightning-lit eye of Cyclone Bansi, which had formed the day before and was now gusting at 185km per hour, or 99.89 knots.
It would crest twice over the next few days, into category 4 (113 to 136 knots) and category 5 (137 knots plus), before petering out into a weak extra-tropical system by 19 January.

A view of Cyclone Bansi from the International Space Station.
Credit: NASA

Into this maelstrom sailed a new Leopard 44 catamaran, assembled in Cape Town by boat builders Robertson and Caine.
Under different circumstances, the yacht would have taken the slower and safer route from Cape Town to the Thai island of Phuket, but TUI Marine, the world’s largest yacht charter operator – and the new owner of the Leopard 44 – had a reputation for getting its assets delivered fast.

An image of the upturned hull of what was likely Moorings A5130, Indian Ocean, May 2015; co-ordinates 27-26.4S and 064-30.0E

Saturday, 23rd January. Catamaran hull located adrift at sea:
At 15h30, Saturday, 23rd January, NSRI Agulhas duty crew launched a Sea Rescue craft to attempt to locate a capsized catamaran reportedly sighted approximately 42 nautical miles off-shore of Agulhas. NSRI Hermanus launched a sea rescue craft to stand-by in the area as back-up.
The floating capsized casualty Catamaran has reportedly been sighted on numerous occasions and hopes are that she is the Catamaran Sunsail that has been missing for a year.
On arrival on the scene, following a brief search, the upturned hull of the Catamaran was photographed by NSRI and NSRI rescue swimmers free dived to investigate markings and as much as could be investigated under the hull. NSRI could not positively identify her as Sunsail.

Video by NSRI Agulhas.

The South African office of TUI Marine, which traded as Mariner Yachts, was after all just a tiny outpost in a global operation headquartered in the state of Florida, US – and TUI Marine, in turn, was a tiny subsidiary of the Hanover, Germany-based TUI Group, the world’s largest travel and leisure conglomerate, with 76,000 employees, more than 300 hotels, over 140 aircraft, and turnover for the 2014/15 financial year of €20-billion.

For delivery skippers out of South Africa, as for hotel staff, travel agents and cruise ship crews the world over, TUI had become synonymous with employment itself.
If a contractor had issues with a weather forecast – even one as potentially catastrophic as a tropical cyclone – it was odds-on that he’d be replaced.

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