Saturday, August 5, 2017

Friday, August 4, 2017

The hijacking of the Brillante Virtuoso

The Brillante Virtuoso, an oil tanker carrying $100 million in cargo, was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden in 2011 (July 6th)
Six years later, the twisted legal, financial and criminal tale has yet to be untangled.
And it may never be.

From Bloomberg by Kit Chellel and Matthew Campbell

 A mysterious assault.
An unsolved murder.
And a ship that hasn’t given up all its secrets

Nestor Tabares must have known the hijackers were out there, waiting.
It was his 13th day at sea aboard the oil tanker Brillante Virtuoso, and as the ship turned east, into the pirate-strewn waters off Somalia, the 54-year-old chief engineer would have understood that it made for an obvious target.
With a top speed of less than 13 knots and stretching 300 yards from bow to rusting stern, the black-hulled Brillante was plodding into the world’s most dangerous shipping lane with a cargo worth $100 million.
It was July 2011, and the threat of Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden had never been more severe.
The Brillante’s crew of 26 Filipinos, including Tabares and the ship’s captain, Noe Gonzaga, 57, set up the standard deterrents.
Around the deck’s perimeter they fitted coils of razor wire, aimed eight high-pressure hoses for blasting attackers off the hull, and propped up a scarecrow in overalls, to suggest the presence of a watchman.
Deep inside the tanker, they stocked a mechanical space with food, water, radios, and medical supplies—a panic room in the event pirates did come aboard.
Most of the crew had faith that would never happen.
They knew the ship’s owner, a company called Suez Fortune Investments Ltd., had arranged for a small security team to rendezvous off the Yemeni port of Aden, as an escort through the most dangerous part of their journey.
On the evening of July 5, Gonzaga ordered the crew to cut the engine and drift while they awaited the guards’ arrival the next morning.
They were 12 nautical miles off the Yemeni coast.
It was calm, partly cloudy, and silent, apart from the hum of generators and the sloshing of breakers.
A 40-year-old able seaman named Allan Marquez stayed up to keep watch on the bridge.
Just before midnight, he saw a blip on the port-side radar, approaching fast.
He reached for a pair of binoculars.
A motorboat was moving in the moonlight.
As it came closer, Marquez could make out seven people—six of them in desert-style camouflage, holding what looked like rifles.
His superior on the watch, Second Officer Roberto Artezuela, rang Gonzaga in his cabin, and Marquez made his way to the deck.

Bloomberg examined the case of the 2011 hijacking of the oil tanker Brillante Virtuoso, which pointed to former Yemeni security forces or mercenaries someone hired in the country being involved in what might have been more than one elaborate high seas insurance frauds. 

“Who are you?” Marquez yelled down to the boat, trying to sound friendly.
One of the men produced a megaphone.
He said they were the security team, members of the crew would later recount, and asked to board.
Marquez didn’t know what to do.
Something seemed off.
This was too many men, at the wrong time, and one wasn’t even wearing shoes.
Letting armed strangers onto the ship went against every antipiracy protocol.
Marquez radioed up for instructions.
After a few minutes an order came back: Lower a ladder.
Six men climbed up.
They had light brown skin and wore red-and-white keffiyehs and blue hospital masks.
Their rifles looked like Kalashnikovs, and they carried black pistols in holsters on their thighs.
When Marquez asked for ID, they refused, seized his radio, and demanded to be taken to the captain.
Gonzaga was still in his stateroom when Marquez appeared at his door, trailed by one of the armed visitors.
“Gather all of the crew in the television room,” the gunman said.
Marquez went cabin to cabin, rousing sleepy crewmates.
After all 26 were assembled in the small TV room, now fully aware that they’d lost control of their ship, the six gunmen split up.
Two took Gonzaga to the bridge, two marched Tabares to the engine room, and two stood sentry outside.
For a long time, the 24 sailors remaining in the TV room sat there, wondering what was happening to their captain and chief engineer, until a clatter of gunshots suggested the worst.
They dared not open the door.
At one point, the Brillante’s engine roared to life; the ship was moving, but no one knew where.
Suddenly, at around 3 a.m., an explosion sounded within the tanker, knocking out the electricity and setting off alarms.
Fearful of their guards, the crew waited in place—but when smoke began to fill the room, a few crept out and discovered that the intruders had fled.


The Brillante was built like two rectangles joined at a right angle: one vast, flat, hollow shape that held the liquid cargo, and one smaller, upright stack that contained mechanical systems and crew spaces.
The fire was underneath them, and rising.
Guided by dim emergency lights, Marquez and several other crewmen rushed to the top of the block, where they found Gonzaga on the bridge, alone and unharmed, bound by plastic ties.
They sliced him free.
As smoke poured out of the tanker’s funnels, sailors made a distress call that was picked up by the USS Philippine Sea, a guided-missile cruiser on pirate patrol nearby.
Gonzaga gave the order: Prepare to abandon ship.
On deck, the crew counted off.
Twenty-five men—all but Tabares.
Panic set in.
The fire had reached their level, and they could hear loud, ominous cracks from metal buckling in the heat.
Inside the Brillante, the temperature in some rooms was approaching the melting point of copper, testing the fireproofing that for now kept 141,000 metric tons of oil from igniting.
A search party went back for Tabares, but the smoke was too thick.
At 4 a.m.
the crew gave up and took to the gulf in a large, orange lifeboat.
As they did, the thrum of rotor chop beat down from above—it was a U.S.
Navy Seahawk helicopter, launched by the approaching Philippine Sea.
From the air, the American crew saw fireballs rising from the stricken tanker and felt the percussive boom of explosions within.
They trained infrared cameras on the hull seeking signs that the oil—four times the volume of the Exxon Valdez spill—would pour into the water.
When the Philippine Sea was close enough, it sent two inflatable boats to collect the rejoicing Filipinos.
Then, at 5 a.m., the helicopter crew saw movement on deck—Tabares was alive, waving a flashlight.
The flames were too intense for an aerial rescue.
He leapt into the sea.
Seeing a Navy boat, he reached out with both hands and was pulled to safety.
Aboard the cruiser, Gonzaga began to tell the Americans what had happened while he’d been separated from the crew.
The hijackers, he said, ordered him to turn over $100,000 and sail for Somalia; they’d fired their weapons at the ship’s safe when he was slow to open it.
He couldn’t say what caused the explosion.
When Tabares arrived to share his tale, he said he’d managed to disable the Brillante’s engines when his captors weren’t looking, then escaped, hiding for so long that he missed the evacuation.
The Philippine Sea searched for fleeing pirates, but the motorboat was long gone.
Sunrise turned the sky gray and then powdery blue.
A tugboat arrived from Aden and pumped seawater onto the Brillante, taming the fire until the dead tanker drifted serenely in the morning light, low in the water, trailing a thick column of smoke.
Barely seven hours had passed since the gunmen had taken the ship.
But already an international cast was activating: salvors from the region’s cutthroat ports, to scavenge millions from the wreckage; U.S.
military investigators, to determine if Somali pirates had adopted brutal new tactics; and most urgently of all, an operative from the stony world of London insurance, to discover what really happened aboard his clients’ $100 million liability.
Because if the hijacking of the Brillante Virtuoso wasn’t a case of fumbled piracy, it would be the most spectacular fraud in shipping history.
The events of July 6, 2011, set in motion a tangle of lawsuits and criminal investigations that are still nowhere near conclusion.
Six years after it was abandoned, the Brillante Virtuoso is an epithet among shipping veterans, one that reveals their industry’s capacity for lawlessness, financial complexity, and violence.
This account is based on court evidence, private and government records, and more than 60 interviews with people involved, almost all of whom asked not to be identified, citing the sensitivities of nine-figure litigation and, in some cases, concern for their own safety.
Everyone at sea that night survived.
But the danger was just getting started.

The Brillante Virtuoso in May 2010, in an image taken by a crew member.
Photographer: Dimitris Tamvakos

Anytime a commercial vessel is lost, the incident is recorded with a quill pen in a leatherbound book at Lloyd’s, a London institution that blends age-old ritual with modern finance.
Contrary to common belief, Lloyd’s isn’t an insurer, or even a company in the usual sense of the word.
Since its origins in a 17th century coffeehouse popular with traders who funded sea voyages, Lloyd’s has evolved into something like a stock exchange for risk, where actual insurers come to buy and sell exposure.
These companies form syndicates and get insurance of their own from even larger re-insurers, who are re-re-insured in turn.
These layers constitute one of the world’s most essential and least understood markets, where premiums alone generate about $40 billion a year.
Anything that might be lost or cause a loss, from Bruce Springsteen’s voice to a Virgin Galactic spacecraft, can be insured via Lloyd’s, but shipping remains at its core.
Some 80 to 100 major vessels are lost each year, and the Brillante was one of the largest of 2011.
After a shipwreck, insurers and insured alike have an interest in preserving as much value as possible, so they turn to salvage.
Under Lloyd’s rules, salvors are entitled to a percentage of anything they save from destruction, and it’s widely assumed that some shipowners steer business to favored companies in return for a cut of their compensation.
Just minutes after the Brillante’s distress signal went out, the tanker’s owner, Suez Fortune, contacted a company named Poseidon Salvage International, which got two of its boats in Aden to the scene by 7 a.m.

The last voyage of the Brillante Virtuoso.

Four days later, Suez’s owner, a Greek named Marios Iliopoulos, flew to Aden—a chaotic city on the verge of revolution.
He secured the Brillante’s crew in a hotel and gave each sailor $200 for new clothes.
On a rather larger scale, Iliopoulos also prepared to submit a claim for his ruined tanker.
But before the insurers would pay, they would want a better understanding of the hijacking.
And for that, they would need David Mockett.
Every port, no matter how remote, has a small corps of marine surveyors, without whom Lloyd’s and global shipping would cease to function.
Surveyors are hired to establish the facts of incidents from routine collisions to deadly storms; their assessments often make the difference between payment or denial of a claim.
Many are former captains, who develop the skills of private investigators and execute them in perilous situations.
Mockett was the top surveyor in Aden.
Born in 1946, Mockett grew up poor in a small town near the English port of Plymouth.
Looking for a ticket out, he signed up with a merchant shipping line, and in the 1970s he joined a flood of Westerners seeking better prospects in booming Saudi Arabia.
He lived mostly apart from his wife and two daughters, whom he regularly visited at home in England.
Few outsiders take to the strictures of life in an Islamic theocracy, but Mockett found his pleasures, scuba diving to Red Sea coral reefs.
In 1998 he moved to Yemen.
Compared with orderly Saudi Arabia, Yemen was like another planet—the poorest country in the Middle East, riven by sectarian conflict, with huge ungovernable areas.
Men carried Kalashnikovs as standard accessories, as well as jambiyas, curved daggers with ornate handles.
Mockett, with his ruddy face and thunderous laugh, was hardly inconspicuous.
Locals joked that he was the tallest man in Yemen, with hands that a colleague described as like “giant plates of meat.”
He soon learned how dangerous his new home could be, when al-Qaeda suicide bombers in the port of Aden killed 17 U.S. sailors aboard the USS Cole.
One day the next year, getting out of a car at his office, Mockett heard a pop and felt a sharp pain.
He’d been shot at, and a bullet had ricocheted off a vehicle behind him and gone clean through his neck.
“Being a good surveyor,” he later joked, “I made sure I got the bullet.” He never found out why he’d been targeted.

Mockett (right) poses with a friend and two Yemenis, after comparing scars.
Courtesy of Adam Greaves Tomlinson

A significant portion of the world’s maritime trade passes within a short distance of Aden’s harbor, so the city offered plenty of work for an able surveyor willing to put up with its harder edges.
Mockett found ways to soften them.
He became a regular at the sole Chinese restaurant, Ching Sing, which served foul Eritrean gin and whiskey in defiance of the virtual prohibition on alcohol.
And he developed a certain rapport with the locals.
Driving along the coast with a friend in 2008, he pulled over to photograph the ocean.
A beat-up car stopped alongside, and three men stepped out.
“Are you American?” they asked.
Mockett indicated that he was British.
The men shook hands, but that turned out to be all the English they knew.
Mockett’s companion pointed at the pistol one Yemeni wore on his belt, and then to the small, round scar on Mockett’s neck.
The Yemeni lifted up his robe to go one better: A large chunk of his leg was missing.
Soon they were posing for pictures and joking with the Kalashnikov that the Yemenis, inevitably, were carrying in the trunk of their car.
When the Arab Spring spread to Yemen in early 2011, friends urged Mockett to leave, at least temporarily.
He refused, arguing that people back home were overreacting to the images of turmoil on TV.
Yemen was safe, he said, as long as you stayed out of trouble.

When Mockett got the Brillante assignment later that year, Poseidon’s head salvor, a gnarled Greek diving expert named Vassilios Vergos, refused to give him access to the wreck for almost a week—an unusual and unexplained delay.
Finally, Mockett chartered a fishing trawler to get to the tanker, where Vergos insisted on accompanying him on his rounds.
The ship, groaning in heavy seas, had a deceptive appearance—the exterior was largely intact, while the mechanical and crew sections within were a total ruin.
As Mockett began exploring, his boots splashed through deep puddles of oily seawater left behind by three days of firefighting.
Inside the accommodation block, the beam from his flashlight swung left and right, illuminating blackened metal contorted by heat and crusted with soot.
Every few steps, he paused to take photos.
The engine room, near where the fire had begun, was half-flooded, with ladders that descended into inky sludge.
It was too dangerous to go deeper.
Mockett spent the night on the trawler.

 Gulf of Aden with the GeoGarage platform (NGA chart)

On his way back to Aden, he contemplated the strangeness of what he’d seen.
As a rule, pirates don’t set fire to valuable ships—they hijack them and hold their crews and cargo for ransom.
Nor do they abandon vessels after doing the difficult work of getting on board and taking control.
Over the next several days, Mockett expanded on his suspicions over tea in his office with friends, paging through hundreds of photos on his laptop.
He had a reputation as a careful, by-the-book surveyor, hesitant about inference or speculation.
“Evidence, dear boy, evidence,” was one of his stock phrases.
The Brillante evidence didn’t add up.
There was no sign that the attackers had used rocket-propelled grenades—one of the few pirate tactics he could think of that could realistically cause an explosion and fire.
And when Mockett reviewed accounts given by the crew, he found them bizarre.
It was hard to believe an experienced captain would invite armed men onto his ship in the middle of the night, in the world’s most dangerous waterway, if there was any question about their identity.
The entire rendezvous was suspicious: The Gulf of Aden is an area to accelerate through, not dawdle in.

A world away at Lloyd’s, tens of millions of dollars in insurance payouts hinged on Mockett’s findings.
As he prepared his report, he shared his misgivings with some of the other shipping hands—some local, some from overseas—assembling around the tanker, including one hired to offload its oil.
On July 19, Mockett emailed the man to say he’d begun to suspect that the supposed Somali pirates were neither Somali nor pirates, but rather rogue elements of the Yemeni coast guard or navy.
He promised to explain more soon.
The next day, at about 1 p.m., Mockett took his laptop, left his office, and climbed into his Lexus SUV.
He made the short drive to his small house in a neighboring district every day for lunch.
On the corner was a store selling sweets; it would normally be crowded with children, but that afternoon it was empty.
Mockett had driven a short distance onto Ma′alla, Aden’s main street, when the bomb that had been carefully placed under his seat detonated.
The blast was focused and powerful, loud enough to be heard blocks away.
It killed Mockett instantly, almost blowing his door off its hinges.
As the car burned, belching smoke into the hazy sky, a crowd of locals in traditional white caps pushed toward the flames, shouting.
Mockett’s body lay on the street next to the broken door, one arm extended, bent at the wrist, as if reaching for the gearstick.

The murder was shocking even in a city accustomed to bombings.
A small crowd held a procession a few days later, carrying placards bearing Mockett’s photo and chanting, “God be merciful, God receive him.” The Yemeni Ministry of the Interior ordered an investigation, and local police asked one of Mockett’s closest friends in Aden, a fellow Brit named Roy Facey, to write a report.
Facey’s contacts in the area warned him not to include anything too inflammatory.
In the document, which he submitted on July 23, Facey described discussing the Brillante with Mockett just before he died and hearing him dismiss the story of Somali pirates.

Mockett’s car after the bombing.
Facey suspected Mockett had been killed because of what he’d learned—and he now possessed the same dangerous knowledge.
On July 25, Facey was awakened at 1:30 a.m.
by a call from the British embassy in Sana′a, the capital.
A woman told him his life was in danger.
She wouldn’t describe the threat or how the embassy knew about it, only saying he should hide until someone could retrieve him—and then leave the country immediately.
Facey locked himself inside his apartment for more than 36 hours.
Late in the afternoon on July 26, kids playing on the street outside stopped to stare as two shiny 4x4s rolled up.
A group of burly men with American accents emerged, wearing civilian clothes and pistols on their belts.
They bundled Facey into one of the vehicles, eventually depositing him at the airport.
The men didn’t identify themselves, but Facey thought he knew who they were.
U.S. special forces were active throughout southern Yemen at the time, coordinating drone strikes and commando raids on al-Qaeda-linked militants.
Facey flew out of Aden without ever learning who wanted him dead.
(He declined to comment.)
Another British citizen soon arrived to investigate Mockett’s murder.
Jonathan Tottman, a detective seconded to the British foreign service from London’s Metropolitan Police, looked less like a cop than a diplomat, partial to elegant suits.
But he had a broad record investigating corruption, terrorism, even soccer hooliganism, and ample experience in the Middle East.
He’d need it.
The rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s authoritarian president, seemed like it was about to collapse, and the country was tearing itself apart.
A suicide bomber killed nine soldiers at an army checkpoint just before Tottman landed, and he could move around the city only with a phalanx of heavily armed Yemeni guards.

There wasn’t much to investigate.
The authorities had cleared the site of the car bomb almost immediately, collecting little evidence; Mockett’s laptop disappeared into police custody.
Al-Qaeda had menaced Westerners across Yemen, but Tottman and others believed the murder was extremely unlikely to have been an act of terror.
No militant group claimed credit for killing Mockett, and the blast had been relatively small, injuring no one else on a busy street.
In the weeks after the bombing, another of Mockett’s longtime friends asked a Pakistani surveyor in Aden to see what he could find out about the Brillante.
The Pakistani was soon arrested.
Yemeni officials took his passport and detained him for five days in a shabby building near the harbor, locking him in a small room with only a bucket for drinking water.
After his release, the man fled the country, and Mockett’s friend took the incident as a warning to stop asking questions.
Ultimately, too much money and too many actors were involved for the Brillante’s ruin to go unexamined.
Other inquiries continued.
The U.S. Navy wrote up skeptical reports, based on the efforts of the Philippine Sea.
One summary noted that pirates typically start fires to lure crew out of a fortified hold, yet on the Brillante the hijackers had control of everyone on board.
“Highly suspicious that pirates would even try to attack a ship so late at night with very little illumination,” the document continued.
Navy personnel also noted that, curiously, Gonzaga and Tabares had requested to board one of Poseidon’s tugs almost immediately after being rescued.
They did so, then refused officers’ requests to return to the Philippine Sea for more interviews.
Pirates in the Gulf of Aden are generally dark-skinned Somalis who speak the distinctive language of that country.
But the Brillante’s crew told Navy investigators that almost all the gunmen had lighter skin and spoke “an unidentified form of Arabic.” And the tanker’s black-box-style data recorder indicated that the vessel had traveled west during the incursion, when Somalia was due south.
True Somali pirates, seamen of the hardest kind, would have noticed.
By late August, what remained of the Brillante was anchored in safe waters off the United Arab Emirates, towed there by another Greek-run company, Five Oceans Salvage, that had partnered with Poseidon.
With the tanker finally secure, its decks bustled with small teams of inspectors taking measurements and photos.
Among them were agents from the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service; if pirates were getting in the habit of burning commercial ships, the Navy wanted to know about it.
They were joined by fire and explosives experts, people hired by the companies that owned the ship and cargo, and the insurers of both.
Previously, a surveyor hired by Suez Fortune had argued the fire was caused by an errant pirate grenade.
Now one of the explosives experts entered a space adjacent to the engine room, which had been drained and looked like the inside of a barbecue, and spotted an unmistakable bulge in a metal plate on the floor.
It could only have been left by a bomb, he thought—something focused and powerful.

 U.S. Navy photo by Chief Intelligence Specialist Raynald Lenieux/ Released

Scuttling or damaging a ship for the insurance money is, in some respects, an ideal crime: There might be no witnesses, no evidence, and no law enforcement.
The odds of getting away with it are good.
Even when an accident has the odor of foul play, Lloyd’s insurers almost always pay something.
The unwritten law of maritime insurance is to avoid the unpleasantness of customer conflict and keep the premiums rolling in.
But if the Brillante wasn’t a genuine hijacking—if it was an inside job, with a coverup that extended to murder—then it had no precedent in scale or theatricality.
Fifteen months after the attack, a second Brit in Aden died in mysterious circumstances.
Roger Stokes, a soft-spoken lawyer and friend of Mockett’s, had tried to collect an unpaid Brillante fuel bill.
On Oct. 7, 2012, his driver found him in his apartment, bleeding severely from a head wound.
He expired on the way to a hospital.
Stokes’s family believed his death was accidental.
But in shipping circles, Stokes belongs on the list of those who have dealt with the Brillante and then found their life in danger.
In London, four months later, two groups of insurers were facing major Brillante claims and needed to decide whether to fight or write checks.
The first claim concerned the oil cargo.
The lead salvor, Five Oceans, was asking for about $30 million from a group of three underwriters—Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Group, Zurich Insurance Group, and Allianz—as a reward for saving the payload.
The second claim involved the Brillante itself.
Suez, the owner, wanted ultimately to recover about $100 million, covering the hull, machinery, and forgone profits, plus interest, from a group of 10 companies led by Talbot Underwriting Ltd.
In February 2013, about 30 people gathered to discuss the case on the 11th floor of Lloyd’s headquarters, a landmark of modern architecture—an eruption of exposed steel gantries, undulating staircases, and ventilation pipes rising from the heart of the City, London’s financial district.
Around a large table sat representatives of both insurance groups, their lawyers, and four police detectives who’d been invited to attend.
The cargo insurers were reluctant to pay, they explained, adding that if the City of London Police intervened, they might be able to delay a decision.
More time would be useful for their private investigators, who were still tracking down witnesses.
But a representative from Royal & Sun, which had recently fought a nasty legal battle with a different Greek shipowner, expressed fears that the company could get a reputation for hostility if it faced off against another client.
A few weeks after the meeting, the cargo insurers folded, paying out the $30 million to the salvors.
(The insurers declined to comment.)
The Talbot syndicate took a more aggressive approach, denying Suez’s claim for the ship.
Suez sued in response.
To prepare for trial, the insurers sent investigators to the Middle East, to dig into the attack and salvage, and to Greece, to find out more about Suez’s owner, Marios Iliopoulos.
The investigators learned that one of Iliopoulos’s ships had been in trouble off the coast of Aden before.
On May 26, 2009, a fire broke out in the radio room of a 90,000-ton oil tanker called the Elli.
While the crew fought the blaze, the ship ran aground on a sand bank.
Tugs pulled it clear, but three months later the Elli suffered an unexplained accident in the calm waters around the Suez Canal, splitting in half like a watermelon.
The resulting claim, for about $35 million, was disputed by the ship’s insurers and ended up in litigation; the parties settled before trial.
The Elli’s chief engineer on the day of the fire was Nestor Tabares.
Two salvage companies responded to its accidents.
When the ship ran aground, Poseidon was first on the scene.
And when it later broke in two, Five Oceans attended to the wreck.
Poseidon’s manager, Vergos, didn’t respond to more than half a dozen calls and emails to the company’s Greek office requesting comment.
Five Oceans Managing Director Nikolaos Pappas said in an interview that his company’s only role in the Brillante case was to secure the ship, and that he’s unable to comment on the attack or what happened to the Elli.
“It’s not for the salvor,” he said, “to play Sherlock Holmes.”

Marios Iliopoulos had kept his name out of the Elli litigation.
He’d owned the tanker—as he did the Brillante—through a web of anonymous offshore companies.
He’s probably 50 years old, is based near Athens, and controls one of the city’s fast-ferry services to Mykonos.
In Greek media reports, Iliopoulos is known as “Super Mario” for his skill at rally-racing, a sport that involves hurling supercharged production cars along dirt tracks and mountain roads.
It’s a pursuit defined by scenic locations, crowds of passionate fans, and fearless drivers, who risk a one-way trip off a cliff if they lose control.
Although trade publications indicate that Iliopoulos has owned as many as eight large ships at once, he was for years virtually unknown to his insurers, even as his vessels sometimes came to tragic ends.
In 1994, the Iron Antonis, an aging freighter Iliopoulos owned with his two brothers, was due to be scrapped.
The brothers sent it on one last journey, hauling ore from Brazil to China.
It sank in a storm 2,000 miles west of Cape Town, one of the most remote places on the planet, killing all 24 of its sailors.
Greek authorities charged the Iliopouloses with causing the deaths by negligence.
Marios and Ioannis Iliopoulos were cleared, but their brother, Antonis, was convicted in 2001; the case was dropped on appeal.
In 2015, after more than two years of preparation, the Talbot insurance syndicate accused Iliopoulos of orchestrating the assault on the Brillante Virtuoso.
“There was no attack by Somali pirates,” they said in documents filed in a London court.
“Any such attack on the Vessel was staged,” they continued, “with the involvement and connivance of the Owner” and members of the crew—specifically, Captain Gonzaga, Second Officer Artezuela, and Chief Engineer Tabares.
The insurers claimed the fire was strategic: started by a bomb in a chosen location, stoked by an accelerant and open airways, and intended to cripple the ship.

Iliopoulos poses while enjoying one of his hobbies.
Talbot seized on inconsistencies in the sailors’ statements.
According to U.S. Navy chat transcripts, the first account of the incident by a third party, the crew initially said the attackers had posed as their security team.
Yet in subsequent statements—given in Aden, after Iliopoulos had arrived, as well as in Manila—the story changed.
Gonzaga, Tabares, and Marquez, the sailor who let the men aboard, all said instead that the gunmen had claimed to be from “the authorities.”
The revised account would seem to resolve a key logical flaw: How could Somali pirates have known the tanker was expecting an escort?
Seeking to establish a motive, the insurers said that Iliopoulos was deeply in debt, having borrowed $60 million or more to buy his ships, and that the Brillante was hemorrhaging money, in the red by about $4 million in the first six months of 2011.
Talbot alleged that as his finances deteriorated, Iliopoulos began to plan the destruction of the Brillante.
Iliopoulos responded by accusing the insurers of “unfairly and irresponsibly endangering my reputation.” He denied the “unfounded and wrongful allegations,” adding in a court statement: “I am a respectable businessman, welcomed by such individuals as the Archbishop of Athens and the Vice-President of Greece.”
In April 2016, Iliopoulos was summoned to a London courtroom to answer questions about an important pretrial issue: Electronic records from a company managing the Brillante appeared to have gone missing.
The court was brightly lit, and lawyers for both sides lined up at long tables as Iliopoulos took the stand.
With a scruffy beard, oily hair, and an untucked shirt that struggled to contain his ample figure, he looked an unlikely shipping tycoon.
He spoke in Greek, through an interpreter.
Accused of deliberately withholding the emails, Iliopoulos jabbed his finger in the air.
He thumped the table and glowered across the courtroom at his opponents, ignoring questions and accusing them of having “committed crimes” in the course of their investigations in Greece.
Judge Julian Flaux warned him to stop being evasive.

As the hearing stretched into a second day, an older woman with short, gray hair was watching from a chair in the back of the courtroom.
It was David Mockett’s widow, Cynthia.
She looked on as Talbot’s lawyer, Jonathan Gaisman, told the judge that someone had hacked into the emails of a Greek lawyer hired by the insurers.
Those messages, he said, found their way to Iliopoulos.
Turning to the shipowner, Gaisman accused him of ordering the hack.
Iliopoulos responded quietly.
Staring at Gaisman, he told the lawyer that those allegations might draw “consequences.” Judge Flaux, a small man with thick glasses and a reputation for toughness, had heard enough.
“You will not use this courtroom to threaten counsel or English lawyers,” he shouted down from the bench.
“You will behave yourself!” When Iliopoulos left the stand, he apologized to Flaux, saying he was an emotional man trying to protect his reputation.
Iliopoulos strolled downstairs toward the lobby.
There, waiting in the space between a set of metal detectors and the building’s glass doors, were four uniformed officers from the City of London Police.
The tallest one spoke.
“Mr. Iliopoulos, I’m arresting you for conspiracy to commit fraud,” he said, taking him by one arm.
Eyes widening with surprise, Iliopoulos said nothing as the officers hustled him into an unmarked blue sedan.
Iliopoulos was questioned for hours at a nearby police station before being released without charge.

The investigation into his involvement with the Brillante continues, according to people familiar with the probe, though its scope is narrow.
Officers are focused on determining whether the insurance claim was fraudulent, which could carry a penalty of as many as eight years in prison.
Iliopoulos never received his $100 million.
Judge Flaux denied his claim after the witness box confrontation, writing in a 2016 judgment: “Mr.
Iliopoulos clearly lost his temper and effectively threatened the insurers and their legal representatives from the witness box in a disgraceful manner.… With this intemperate and menacing evidence, Mr. Iliopoulos lost any remaining shred of credibility.”
The underlying lawsuit, though, limps on: A bank that originally lent his companies money is entitled to continue it.
Talbot has submitted evidence of what it says is yet more suspicious Brillante activity—a conspiracy to mislabel its oil to avoid tax.

In 2011, when Tottman, the London detective, returned from investigating Mockett’s death in Aden, he was immediately summoned to brief the British government in Westminster.
Officials asked who’d set the bomb: Criminals? The government? Terrorists? In Yemen, Tottman said, it could be all three at the same time.
In an interview, Gerald Feierstein, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 2010 to 2013, agreed with that assessment.
“Corruption was endemic in the military and the civil government,” he said.
Strapped for cash, the Yemeni navy was also hiring its ships and men out for private security jobs in the Gulf of Aden, Feierstein added.
“It was a time of complete political chaos.”
It’s only gotten worse.
Yemen is in a state of near-anarchy, and building a murder case would be impossible for even a committed team of detectives.
British police aren’t investigating Mockett’s death.
Apparently, no government agency is.
The only formal inquiry into his murder was held by a local coroner in Plymouth, Mockett’s hometown, in 2012; it recorded a verdict of “unlawful killing,” without identifying suspects.
(Cynthia Mockett declined to comment.)
Another photo of the tanker taken by a crew member before its destruction.
Photographer: Dimitris Tamvakos

The investigation into the Brillante has its limits as well.
As of July 19, 2017, City of London police hadn’t yet spoken to Allan Marquez—the man who first spotted the Brillante’s attackers and helped them aboard.
That night, on the eve of the six-year anniversary of Mockett’s killing, a Bloomberg Businessweek reporter reached Marquez on a ship that was just entering a French port.
His words came pouring out in rapid English, his second language.
He’d been waiting a long time, he said, to tell his story.
Marquez alleged that after the attack, Iliopoulos sought him out at his hotel in Aden and threatened him.
The shipowner wanted him to alter or omit parts of his account of the hijacking when giving statements to investigators, Marquez said.
He added that Tabares confronted him, too, at a hotel in Manila weeks later.
Marquez elaborated over multiple phone calls, online chats, and an in-person interview in his native Tagalog.
To explain his reasons for going public, he wrote at one point that he was no longer afraid of “both of them,” meaning Iliopoulos and Tabares.
Now, he wrote, “im afraid to god.
How long I can hide the truth in my conscience.” Before signing off, he wrote, “I hope that justice must prevailed.”
Iliopoulos didn’t respond to multiple, sustained interview requests sent via his London lawyer and his secretary or to emails and faxes.
A letter brought by courier to his office in Piraeus, Greece, was refused.
Suez didn’t respond to a letter sent to its registered address in the Marshall Islands.
Tabares didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Neither did Gonzaga or multiple members of the Brillante crew.
The Brillante Virtuoso’s final destination was Gadani Beach, a shipbreaking yard on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast.
The ship was hauled onto the sand, stripped of anything of value, and torn apart, piece by piece, by workers who make a few dollars a day.
Iliopoulos continues to be active in Greece.
Local newspapers reported earlier this year that he was bidding for a stake in Hellenic Seaways, a major ferry company.
Meanwhile, it’s likely that he has at least one more major vessel at sea.
Atop Gonzaga’s Facebook page is a photo of another tanker, the Despina Andrianna.
That ship’s registered owner, according to maritime databases, is an obscure company with an address opposite the ferry terminal in Piraeus.
Iliopoulos has testified that the same address is his own.
At press time, the Despina Andrianna was moored in Cuba, preparing to sail with an unknown number of souls.

Links :

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Is technology making ships too complex?

From Ship Technology by Garet Peters

Maritime safety company Propel suggests that human failure is still top of the agenda when it comes to improving safety.
However, in an age where ships are becoming more complex, is technology partly to blame?

“I was on a ship and in order to look at the read outs of equipment and to operate [it], you had to be like an octopus.”
It comes across as slightly tongue-in-cheek, but Allan Graveson, senior national secretary at Nautilus International, is deadly serious.
“When you come to the bridge layout itself, a pair of running shoes wouldn't go amiss. I'm just surprised there aren't more accidents.”

Graveson is speaking on the topic of human failure on ships; the hook being a report from maritime safety company Propel that claims human failure is still top of the agenda when it comes to reducing accidents at sea.
Speaking in June, Benedikte Wentworth, Propel CEO, said: “Collaboration, trust and engagement of all personnel – ship and shore – are vital to reduce major accidents. The whole industry needs to change its focus when it comes to improving maritime safety.”

It’s a bold assertion and one that opens an interesting thread of debate: technology on ships is seen as par for the course in the 21st century, but is the environment becoming too complex for seafarers?

 In the chess match that has global powers looking for new ways to move goods around the world, the Mary Maersk and nine other sister ships are the biggest pieces.

Bigger ships, added complexity: a dangerous combination?

It’s imposing, making man and woman seem insignificant in its wake: the OOCL Hong Kong, classed as an ultra large container vessel.
At 399.87m long and with a capacity of 21,413 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU), it stands as the world’s largest container ship.

Of course, not all vessels reach such Olympian heights, but the OOCL Hong Kong represents a new breed, one that over recent years has become known as the ‘megaship’.
But what of the humble seafarer who has to work on these floating giants of steel?

“As ship sizes and complexities of operations increase, the risk of major accidents has increased due to higher potential consequences,” Wentworth said in June.
But what are the consequences?
“Looking at the data, we have reduced the total loss frequency [of ships],” explains Didrik Svendsen, partner and senior consultant at Propel, “but if you look at the consequences, it's the size and reputational [problems] that have gone up. It's more a risk now than it used to be.”

As Svendsen alludes to, total vessel loss has decreased.
The Allianz Safety & Shipping Review 2017 states that 85 large vessels (of 100 gross tons) were reported as total losses in 2016, down 16% compared with a year earlier, and 50% over the last decade.
Casualties have also declined year-on-year by 4%, with 2,611 reported in 2016.

Taken on its own, it is promising, but there’s genuine concern in some quarters that seafarers are struggling to adapt to an ever-changing work environment – both the size of ships and complexity onboard, such as electronic chart displays for navigation.
According to the Allianz review, human error accounted for “approximately 75% of the value of almost 15,000 marine liability insurance claims over five years; equivalent to over $1.6bn.”

“I'm just surprised there aren't more accidents,” says Graveson, who adds that people often “focus on the immediate cause of an incident, not the roots causes of it”.
And, then there’s the potential for over-reliance. Captain Rahul Khanna, global head of Marine Risk Consulting at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, spoke of this earlier this year, saying that “the shortcomings and limitations of technology” must be understood, adding: “Sometimes replacing common sense decisions with digital inferences is not such a good idea.”

Technology for maritime training

This school of thought is backed by Mark Johnson, counsel in the shipping group at Reed Smith, who argues that information can be misunderstood, as people “add their interpretation to it”.
He continues: “Modern technology does assist people, but only if they get the right training. You shouldn't be making your decisions based on one bit of information here or there. It's about looking at the bigger picture.”

Training is, therefore, a key plank of the debate – it has to keep pace with technological change.
In essence, it actually calls for more technology to be used, most notably simulators, to enable seafarers to understand the look and feel of systems before they board a ship.

“How effective is training?” asks Svendsen.
“Are we measuring learning? I think we are still in compliance mode. If an inspector finds a gap in competence, you are sent on a training course. Although if that course doesn't provide the training you need, it's not effective.

Navigation Bridge of a Mega Ship - A Closer Look at the Command Center

"Simulations are [important]. There's a bunch of new technology coming in to improve training. I think one thing is to [change the habit] of ticking boxes and seeing training as just compliance.” Svendsen also believes “we have to get deeper into learning analytics” to understand how people learn.
There are, he adds, some mandatory training courses that are more about compliance and not necessarily the need.

Adopting a human-centred design approach is also paramount
‘User-friendly’ is not the most attractive of statements, but it goes to the heart of what is required. “You might implement something that is counterintuitive,” adds Svendsen. Johnson, a former mariner, agrees: “As more systems are coming onboard, the way that information is presented is improving. Again it comes back to how it is set up.”

The drive for autonomy: a drop in human error?

The well-documented prospect of autonomy is also part of the mix.
As ships become ‘smarter’, it’s realistic to expect more training to cope with the myriad of systems onboard, but also consider that less direct human-interaction will be needed as autonomy takes over.

"If you remove humans you will by definition reduce human failure,” says Johnson, “but as you do that you will expose the element of system failure. There could still be elements of human failure associated with how something is implemented into a system, or how a human interacts with a system if we're talking about remote control. If you go fully autonomous it would be more machine failure.”

There’s a mixture of fascination, intrigue, but also apprehension.
The state of flux is keenly felt.
No one quite knows how it will play out – cue plenty of ifs, buts, and maybes.

“Smart shipping, as it becomes more integrated, might be some assistance,” says Graveson.
So, is he confident human failure will reduce?
“No. I don't see that being the case in 20 to 30 years. Technology will take time to develop, embed and be accepted. There's that hurdle to move against.”

Graveson is also concerned about the wellbeing of seafarers.
“I don't think they are very happy. It's been a long, long while since I met a happy seafarer. There's no problem attracting people to the sea, but retaining is a very difficult issue. It could be an awful lot better than it currently is. We should not have to deal with this in the 21st century.”

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

One of the first examples of a local nautical map from Hispanic America

Image of the map of Tlacotalpa
Relación Geográfica map of Tlacotalpa. Francisco Gali, 1580.
Source: Royal Academy of History, Madrid 

From Eurekalert

It is the map of Tlacotalpa by the Sevillian navigator Francisco Gali, which was made in 1580 at the request of the Spanish crown

In the last third of the 16th century, the Spanish crown set in motion a project to obtain a complete map of the New World.
The method thought up for this was to use surveys, known as Relaciones Geográficas.
A questionnaire with more than 50 questions was sent to each settlement.
These also had to be completed with a map of the local region.
These maps, known as pinturas (paintings), mainly lacked ground measurements and therefore scale, as well as geographical coordinates.
Only a few were done following the norms of European mapmaking.
Among these, some of the most important are the maps created by the Sevillian Francisco Gali, navigator, explorer, cosmographer and cartographer.

 Dibujo de la costa del golfo de México desde la península de Florida hasta Nombre de Dios
(Sketch of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico from the Florida peninsula to Nombre de Dios), 1519.
Source: Archivo General de Indias, Sevilla

In this context, Manuel Morato, researcher from the Higher Technical School of Engineering (ETSI) of the University of Seville, has published a scientific article on the map of Tlacotalpa, one of the first examples of local nautical cartography in Hispanic America, which Francisco Gali did on behalf of some mayors who had to complete the Relaciones questionnaire, as ordered by Philip II.

Location of the area depicted on the Gali’s map in current satellite image. 
hey have located Coatzacoalcos and Tehuantepec, where Gali also made a map for the Relaciones Geográficas.
Image prepared by the author
Tlacotalpa, today Tlacotalpán, is a small river village in the southeast of the state of Veracruz, within the limits of the Papaloapan region, in Mexico.
"These local civil servants, instead of getting a local artist to draw the maps, made the most of the fact that Gali, a sailor with knowledge of cartography, was travelling through the area towards the Pacific coast in an attempt, on the orders of the King, to find a route to the Philippines from the west coast of Mexico", explains Morato.

Relación Geográfica map of Tlacotalpa.
Redrawn version. Detail.
Identification numbers are shown
Gali’s map versus current satellite image.

It is a hand-drawn nautical chart from February 1580, done with great exactness for the standards of the time.
It shows in great detail the coast, the estuaries, bays, capes, lagoons and rivers, and in some areas indicates the depth of the water.
Both the chart and the text of the Relación are kept in the Royal Academy of History in Madrid. According to the text of the Relación, in the local tongue náhuatl-Tlacotalpa means divided land, which refers to the fact that the village was founded in the Pre-Hispanic era on an island in the river Papaloapan, as is represented on the map.

 Control points and segments to compare distances and calculate errors

 Distortion grid and displacement vectors on Gali’s map.
Eight control points have been used, corresponding to places whose latitudes are listed in map legend. (image with 18 points)
Each mesh corresponds to a surface of 5000 by 5000 m in the new reference map.
Produced by MapAnalyst

 Gali’s map versus current satellite image.
Based on the displacement vectors calculate by MapAnalyst.
Image prepared by the author

 NGA nautical raster chart overlayed on Google Maps imagery
in the GeoGarage platform

"The Gali map has been compared with current satellite photographs and the images are practically the same, apart from the distances of the time and the growth of the populated areas, like the city port of Veracruz and its surroundings", adds the researcher.
So, the planimetric deformation of the map, compared with a current one, could be due to the fact that, the article postulates, that Gali did not take sufficient measurements or that he did so but too quickly, as he was only passing through the area.
North American experts like Barbara Mundy suggest that these deformations could be due to Gali having used an existing padrón (a master map that was updated as new lands were discovered), which already included these deformations, leaving the author of the map only having to complete the information by adding places and detailing geographical features.
Manuel Morato maintains that this hypothesis is quite unlikely due to the secret nature of the Padrón Real, which was jealously guarded in the Casa de la Contratación in Seville and of which obsolete copies were destroyed so that they did not fall into the hands of foreign powers.
Other causes could have been motivated by the lack of in situ measurements and by the impossibility to determine geographical length in the 16th century.

Francisco Gali is known worldwide for his Trans-Pacific voyages, but little or nothing is known about him before his appearance in America.
He discovered the Acapulco route to Manila in 1583 and, according to the data kept in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville.
He explored the islands of the archipelago of Hawaii, the coast of California and San Francisco Bay, which he was the first explorer to see, though he did not cross it, for which reason its discovery has historically been attributed to Gaspar de Pórtola in 1769 and to Juan de Ayala, who was the first to cross the bay in his schooner on the 5th of August 1775.

In 1585, this Sevillian navigator wrote the book, 'Voyage, discoveries and observations from Acapulco to the Philippines, from the Philippines to Macao and from Macao to Acapulco'.
The manuscript was sent to the Viceroy of Mexico, but for unknown reasons, ended up in the hands of the Dutchman Jan Huygen van Linschoten (1563-1611), who published it in Dutch as 'Defeat of the Indies' (Amsterdam, 1596, 1614, 1626).
It was also translated into English (London, 1598), to German in the same year, into Latin (The Hague, 1599) and into French (Amsterdam, 1610, 1619 y 1638).
It was, however, never published in Spanish.
In addition, the whereabouts of Gali's original remain unknown, another of the mysteries that surround the life of this man.

Early colonial era map showing Tlacotalpan as an island
at the Salvador Ferrando Museum

Gali worked as a cartographer on three Relaciones Geográficas:
Tlacotalpa (February 1580), Coatzacoalcos (April 1580) and Tehuantepec (September-October 1580).
The first two maps are signed by their author, while the Tehuantepec map is anonymous, "although it has an unmistakable similarity to the other two maps by Gali.
However, this map is not given much credit as it is incomplete, it is clear that it wasn't made using the same measuring techniques as Gali used on his other two Gulf maps", explains Manuel Morato.

Morato, together with experts from the School of Hispanic American Studies (EEHA) at CSIC (Council of Scientific Research), has been working on the study of the representation of the territory from a historical perspective since 2010, using 16th-century maps, especially those related to the discovery and colonisation of the Americas.
To help with this project, he has had the help of Carmen Maso, head of cartography and graphic arts at the Library of the Royal Academy of History in Madrid, and of Michael Hironymous, head of rare books and manuscripts at the library of the University of Texas in Austin.
"Much of our work has also been carried out in the Archivo de Indias in Seville, which is an endless source of freely accessible knowledge, which is there for all but sometimes seems undervalued", says the University of Seville researcher.

Links :

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"Inaccurate" charts or not?

This is the track of the Deerfoot 62 Moonshadow when she was headed toward a reef off Huahine.
Fortunately, it was daylight and one of the crew noticed the problem
Photo Courtesy Moonshadow
© 2017 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

From Latitude 38

French Polynesia and the South Pacific 

Following our Friday ‘Lectronic report on the loss of the Ventura-based Leopard 46 catamaran Tanda Malaika on a reef off Huahine in French Polynesia, allegedly because of inaccuracies in a Navionics electronic chart, we asked South Pacific veterans for their opinions of the accuracy of Navionics charts.

View of the reef off West coast of Huahiné
with the GeoGarage platform (SHOM 6434 1:30,000 chart, overlaid on Google imagery)
with warning : from 0 to 5 m of water for the reef with many coral potatoes...

ENC view (SHOM FR464340, scale 1:29,986)
with Bing satellite imagery on the GeoGarage platform

All charts of French Polynesia and the South Pacific, not just Navionics charts, are inaccurate, was the overwhelming response we got.

The one exception was from Alan and Laura Dwan of the Los Angeles-based Herreshoff 36 Nereia, who did the 2013 Pacific Puddle Jump and who are currently in Fiji.
“We use Navionics on our iPads and find it very accurate,” they write. However, their ‘first rule' is, “We don’t sail at night when near any island. We heave to and wait until daylight.”

Alan also wonders if Navionics charts for iPads are more accurate than the Navionics version for chartplotters.
“I have wondered about this, as virtually all of the reports of boats hitting reefs because of inaccurate Navionics charts were from boats using chartplotters and not iPads.”

Tanda Malaika being battered on the reef as seen from the French Navy helicopter.
Photo Courtesy Tanda Malaika
© 2017 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Tanda Maliaka is currently at 16° 49' 47" S, 150° 59' 41" W, which is very close to but not exactly where she went aground, as she’s been pushed farther onto the reef by waves. (see Google Maps)
We at Latitude, and a lot of others, would like to see what N avionics and other charts show for those coordinates.

Kudos to the French Navy for a textbook nighttime rescue.
Photo Courtesy Tanda Malaika
© 2017 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

For everyone who wants to accuse the Govatos/Willis family — Danny and Belinda, and children Jude, Mycah, Aidan, and Emma — of being fools or incompetent, there are very experienced South Pacific cruisers who are cautioning not to judge so quickly.
Among them are John and Debbie Rogers of the San Diego-based Deerfoot 62 Moonshadow, who also came close to going aground on a reef at Huahine.
As they explain, there is a little more to reading electronic charts than some people think.

“On Moonshadow, we have Garmin chartplotters, Navionics charts on our iPads, various electronic charting available through the iNavX iPad app, three iPad apps that utilize Google Earth and/or Bing Satellite imagery, paper charts, and radar.

"We have found that, at times, all the navigation products are accurate. But,in the South Pacific we've also found that they sometimes disagree, and sometimes all of the charting products are laughably inaccurate.

"In Fiji, which has many reefs, we've found that the satellite imagery-based navigation apps are indispensable. But they have their limits, too, such as clouds right over the route you are planning to take!

At first glance during daylight, Tanda Malaika didn't look to be in that bad a condition.
But her bottom was already damaged beyond repair.
Photo Courtesy Tanda Malaika
© 2017 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"The tragic end of Tanda Malaika's passage to Huahine reminded us of our passage to Huahine last year. We had plotted a route that kept us outside the 300-foot depth contours, but as our GPS track shows in the accompanying graphic, we had to make an abrupt turn to port to give us more sea room around the reef that juts out from Huahine’s western shore.

"We only did this after my son asked if we weren’t getting a bit close the the surf line. We looked up, and to our horror found that we were only about 900 feet from the surf! Had it been nighttime, we almost certainly would have ended up in that surf.

"Despite all of our resources mentioned above, we had become a bit complacent, relying only on the Garmin chartplotter to plan the course for this passage. As the accompanying images show, Garmin shows depth contours of 200, 328, and over 600 feet — in the same area where we found 10-foot breakers!

Photo Courtesy Moonshadow
© 2017 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"To their credit, Garmin placed a thin dotted line where the reef exists, but users of the product only learn the meaning of the dotted line by hovering the cursor over the line, which calls up the warning 'Danger Line'.

"How they get away with showing those deep depth contours inside the reef is beyond me.

 Navionics chart

"Our Navionics electronic charting does a better job of showing the reef, but we didn’t cross-check the route for this passage. But we wonder if this might not be the same place where Tanda Malaika came to grief.

"Two important reminders on this subject: First, many chartplotters will only show important hazards below a certain zoom level, so it is important to routinely zoom all the way into the closest scale, then back out.

"Second, the water on these reefs is usually just one wave deep, not the massive acreage of white water you typically find along California’s coastal surf spots. Viewed from seaward, these huge waves are blue, and do not look like surf until you’re in them or really close. And once you're on those shallow reefs, it's almost impossible to get off.

"Finally, let me share some advice I learned way back in 1971 from the legendary South Pacific skipper Omer Darr upon our arrival at Huahine aboard the 58-ft gaff schooner Fairweather: Never approach South Pacific Islands at night. Omer was an extremely experienced and respected schooner captain who’d made scores of trips to the South Pacific aboard big schooners such as Te Vega and Wanderer. Aboard Fairweather, Omer had us heave to well offshore in the lee of Huahine when we arrived before dawn. So aboard Moonshadow, we always plan our departures to arrive after sunrise. If we arrive at a destination too early, we’ll heave to rather than push on into an unknown anchorage.”

Update: Just before posting this 'Lectronic, we received the following email message from Ted Simper of Roundabout II, who has been cruising in the South Pacific for several years:

"We are familiar with the reef where the catamaran went on the reef at Huahine. I feel very sorry for the family, but the reef is clearly and accurately shown on our up-to-date Navionics charts for the iPad. Even our 2011 version of Navionics on our C80 chartplotter seemed very accurate in French Polynesia. It certainly showed the reef in question off Huahine, so when we went by at night, we stood several miles off for safety."

We’ll have more on this subject, such as what can be misleading about electronic charts and how to use satellite imagery to check charts, in future ‘Lectronics and the September issue of Latitude 38.

Links :

Meet the man who has lived alone on this island for 28 years

Mauro Morandi has lived alone on Budelli Island for 28 years.
“What I love the most is the silence,” he says.
“The silence in winter when there isn’t a storm and no one is around, but also the summer silence of sunset.”

From National Geographic by Gulnaz Khan (Photographs by Michele Ardu)

Mauro Morandi's failing catamaran was carried to Budelli Island nearly three decades ago by chance.
He never left.

Budelli island in the North of Sardegna
with the GeoGarage platform (Navimap/IIM)

Seventy-eight-year-old Mauro Morandi often walks along the rocky shores of Budelli Island and looks out over the disconsolate sea, feeling dwarfed by the phantom forces that tug and twist the tides.
“We think we are giants that can dominate the Earth, but we’re just mosquitos,” Morandi says.

The Spiaggia Rosa, or Pink Beach, derives its rosy color from microscopic fragments of corals and shells like Miriapora truncata and Miniacina miniace.

In 1989 on a stretch of water between Sardinia and Corsica, with a crippled engine and anchor adrift, Morandi’s catamaran was gripped by these same inexorable forces and carried to the shores of Budelli Island.
When he learned that its caretaker was retiring from his post in two days, Morandi—long disenchanted with society—sold the catamaran and took his place.

Sunlight drenches Morandi's porch, where he likes to dine and read during the summer.

He has lived alone on the island for the past 28 years.

Maddalena Archipelago National Park is comprised of seven islands, and Budelli is considered the most beautiful among them for its Spiaggia Rosa, or Pink Beach.
The rose-colored sand derives its unusual hue from microscopic fragments of corals and shells, which have been slowly reduced to powder by the relentless shifting of the waves.

Morandi waves to a passing boat from his porch.
Although the beach was closed to tourists in the nineties, visitors can access limited parts of the island.

In the early nineties, Spiaggia Rosa was dubbed a place of “high natural value” by the Italian government.
The beach was closed off to protect its fragile ecosystem, and only certain areas remain accesible to visitors.
The island rapidly went from hosting thousands of tourists per day to a single heartbeat.

In 2016, after a three-year legal battle between a New Zealand businessman and the Italian government for ownership of the land, a court ruled that Budelli belonged to Maddalena National Park.
The same year, the park challenged Morandi’s right to live on the island—and the public responded.
A petition protesting his eviction garnered more than 18,000 signatures, effectively pressuring local politicians to delay his expulsion indefinitely.

Morandi practices tai chi on the beach in the morning, absorbing the sun's rays and inhaling in the salty air.

“I will never leave," Morandi says.
"I hope to die here and be cremated and have my ashes scattered in the wind.”
He believes all life is eventually reunited with the Earth—that we are all part of the same energy.
The Stoics of ancient Greece called this sympatheia, the feeling that the universe is an indivisible, unified living organism endlessly in flux.

Morandi is an avid reader, especially during the winter months.

This conviction in our interconnectedness propels Morandi to remain on the island without compensation.
Every day he collects wayward plastic that washes up on the beach and tangles with the delicate flora and fauna.
Despite his aversion to people, he guards Budelli’s shores with fervor and educates summertime visitors about the ecosystem and how to protect it.

Morandi gathers herbs behind his home.
He has a companion who delivers groceries to the island every two weeks.

“I’m not a botanist or a biologist,” Morandi says.
“Yes, I know names of plants and animals, but my work is much different than this. To be able to care for a plant is a technical task—I try to make people understand [why] the plant needs to live.”

Morandi spends many hours looking at the sea.
He believes Budelli Island is the quintessence of beauty.

Morandi believes that teaching people how to see beauty will save the world from exploitation more effectively than scientific minutiae.
“I would like people to understand that we must try not to look at beauty, but feelbeauty with our eyes closed,” he says.

During the winter, Morandi likes to watch the monstrous sea swells that are created by strong winds.

Winters on Budelli are particularly beautiful.
Morandi endures long stretches of time—upwards of 20 days—without any human contact.
He finds solace in the quiet introspection it affords him, and often sits on the beach with nothing but the operatic sounds of the wind and waves to punctuate the silence.

“I’m sort of in prison here," Morandi says of his seclusion,
"but it’s a prison that I chose for myself.”

Morandi collects juniper logs and shapes them into sculptures.
He sells them to tourists and donates the money to NGOs in countries from Africa to Tibet.
Though he inhabits a small piece of land, he is acutely aware of the world at large

Morandi passes the time with creative pursuits.
He fashions juniper wood into sculptures, finding faces hidden in their nebulous forms.
He reads zealously and meditates on the wisdom of Greek philosophers and literary prodigies.
He takes pictures of the island, marveling at how it changes from hour to hour, season to season.

During all his years on the island, Morandi says he has never gotten sick, a quality he attributes to "good genes."

This is not unusual for people who spend extensive periods of time alone.
Scientists have long posited that solitude generates creativity, as evidenced by scores of artists, poets, and philosophers throughout the ages who produced their greatest works in seclusion from society.

Morandi is silhoutted against the light of the dying sun—his favorite time of day when the world seems to grow quiet.
"We think we’re super-humans and divine creatures, but we’re really nothing in my opinion," he says.
"We must adapt to nature.”

The benefits of solitude may not be universal. “Solitude can be stressful for members of technologically advanced societies who have been trained to believe that aloneness is to be avoided,” explains Pete Suedfeld in Loneliness: A Sourcebook of Current Theory, Research and Therapy. However, there are still cultures around the world in which solitary life remains a venerated tradition.
Buddhist monasticism, for example, encourages spiritual devotion and scholarly pursuit above seeking bodily pleasures.

Morandi says he never feels lonely because he is constantly surrounded by life.

But amidst rapid globalization, humans' ability to experience true solitude is perhaps a thing of the past.
In response to increasing development of the region, an internet company established a Wi-Fi connection on Budelli, connecting Morandi and his beloved piece of paradise to the world through social media.
Embracing this new form of communication is his concession on behalf of a larger purpose—to facilitate a bond between people and nature by exposing them to its beauty.
A bond Morandi hopes will motivate people to care for the withering planet.

 Red Desert ( Il deserto rosso) is a 1964 Italian film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and starring Monica Vitti with Richard Harris.
The film is about a woman struggling to hide her mental illness from her husband while trying to survive in the modern world of cultural neurosis and existential doubt.
Her relationship with her husband's business associate helps her confront her isolation.
Red desert was Antonioni's first color film, one of the filming location was the little island of Budelli in Sardinia.

“Love is an absolute consequence of beauty and vice versa,” Morandi says.
“When you love a person deeply you see him or her as beautiful, but not because you see them as physically beautiful … you empathize with them, you’ve become a part of her and she’s become a part of you. It’s the same thing with nature.”