Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Outlaw ocean

A powerful interview of Ian Urbina, coupled with visuals from The Outlaw Ocean reporting.

This week we tell of the untold stories of what happens at sea, in the context of a forthcoming book by Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, Ian Urbina.
Titled “The Outlaw Ocean”, this compelling new book profiles the most urgent ocean issues facing us today: illegal fishing, human and arms trafficking, slavery at sea, illegal dumping, piracy, and more.

The Outlaw Ocean is a riveting, adrenaline-fueled journey through some of the most dangerous regions of the earth: the high seas, where lawlessness and physical risk prevail. Ian Urbina — Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times — gives us a galvanizing account of the several years he spent exploring and investigating the high seas, the industries that make use of it, and the people who make their, often criminal, living on it.

It is a truism to state how little we know about the ocean.
And we take solace in the efforts, increasing every day, to map and study the water column, the ocean floor, the community of marine species, the systems of circulation, weather patterns, and consequence of changing climate conditions.
We are aware of the transport and trade aspects of the ocean connection in the distribution of goods, people, and ideas.
We may be aware of the communications and financial exchange utility of underwater cables and other evidence of the overt value of the ocean for so many aspects of our lives.

But what we don’t know is the dark side of the ocean, the social involvement of many faceless people the world over who earn livelihood from the sea, build and install the ships and rigs, man coastwise transport and service vessels, and fish the water along shore and on the high seas far from our sight, outside our mind.

As an observer of the world ocean, I am too aware of the shallow spread of our knowledge and understanding of all these involvements: not just the science or the larger implications of globalization on our community living, but also the monetary intricacies of ship ownership, management companies, the use of national flag registries, manning and recruitment, port clearances, insurance, and the resolution of disputes that often take place outside of normal jurisdictions.

But what frustrates me the most is the untold human stories, the invisibility of the maritime worker and his or her life at sea.
Where do they come from?
Why do they engage in what is surely a most lonely and dangerous way to make a living?
How do they find their way to the sea?
How are they paid and treated aboard?
What happens when things go wrong?

Ian Urbina, a prize-winning investigative reporter at the New York Times, has provided answers to these questions in The Outlaw Ocean, to be published in August by Alfred A. Knopf, as a compelling, informed, sympathetic revelation of a reality in which so many of these workers live, the corruption and criminal indifference, the inhuman physical and psychological conditions, the few safety and legal protections in the face of constant dangers, the physical and sexual abuse, and the violations of contracts, protective regulations and laws, and any basic sense of moral obligation and human rights for any workers anywhere.
It is a sordid, sad, infuriating story told by Urbina with thoroughness, responsibility, narrative grace, sympathy, and insight into what is, and what can or cannot be done to illuminate an unknown problem and to rectify an unacceptable situation that underlies every aspect of the maritime contribution to the well-being of the rest of us worldwide.

The contents cover the extent of the problem: a Greenpeace vessel tracking and challenging an outlaw fishing ship in the Southern Ocean; the futility of enforcement even where good laws exist; the invention of an independent sea-based nation; ships and crews abandoned for unpaid bills; smuggling; insurance fraud, wreck thieves and repo men; poachers and conservationists; conflict between deep ocean engineering and conservation interests; sea-bound abortion providers; slavery and human trafficking; illegal waste disposal; violence between ships at sea; piracy; confrontations with whale hunters; and other examples of brutality, exploitation, and criminality in “a floating world where anyone can do anything because no one is watching.”

Urbina bears witness by putting himself in the midst of all this, not as some distant observer, but as real-time participant in events and places where good sense might argue against his need for a story, “a process,” he writes, “that felt both worthwhile and pointless…feeling like an explanation for its own sake: that single abiding certainty at the core of journalism, that there is merit…in giving voice to those who lacked it.”
He wonders, “if these were legitimate motivations or professional delusions.”
“Still, I clung to the hope that by my putting the information out there, other people might use it somehow to change things.”

Legitimate and powerful journalism, without delusion, is the outcome of The Outlaw Ocean.
That these stories are finally, and brilliantly told, is an essential contribution to what we need to know about the ocean and what we must do to protect and sustain every aspect of its human dimension.

Friday, July 5, 2019

'Precipitous' fall in Antarctic sea ice since 2014 revealed

The sea ice circling Antarctica has plunged from a record high to a record low in just three years according to a new report just released by the US space agency NASA.
The study calculates that after 2014 the region lost floating ice larger than the size of Mexico, leaving the scientists baffled

From The Guardian by Damian Carrington

Plunge is far faster than in Arctic and may lead to more global heating, say scientists

The vast expanse of sea ice around Antarctica has suffered a “precipitous” fall since 2014, satellite data shows, and fell at a faster rate than seen in the Arctic.

The plunge in the average annual extent means Antarctica lost as much sea ice in four years as the Arctic lost in 34 years.
The cause of the sharp Antarctic losses is as yet unknown and only time will tell whether the ice recovers or continues to decline.

But researchers said it showed ice could disappear much more rapidly than previously thought.
Unlike the melting of ice sheets on land, sea ice melting does not raise sea level.
But losing bright white sea ice means the sun’s heat is instead absorbed by dark ocean waters, leading to a vicious circle of heating.

Sea ice spreads over enormous areas and has major impacts on the global climate system, with losses in the Arctic strongly linked to extreme weather at lower latitudes, such as heatwaves in Europe.

The loss of sea ice in the Arctic clearly tracks the rise in global air temperatures resulting from human-caused global heating, but the two poles are very different.
The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by continents and is exposed to warming air, while Antarctica is a freezing continent surrounded by oceans and is protected from warming air by a circle of strong winds.

Antarctic sea ice had been slowly increasing during the 40 years of measurements and reached a record maximum in 2014.
But since then sea ice extent has nosedived, reaching a record low in 2017.

As one of the closest countries to the South Pole, South Africa is directly impacted by Antarctica’s temperatures and sea life.
Photo: EPA-EFE / Joel Estay

“There has been a huge decrease,” said Claire Parkinson, at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the US.
In her study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, she called the decline precipitous and a dramatic reversal.

“We don’t know if that decrease is going to continue,” she said.
“But it raises the question of why [has it happened], and are we going to see some huge acceleration in the rate of decrease in the Arctic? Only the continued record will let us know.”

“The Arctic has become a poster child for global warming,” Parkinson said, but the recent sea ice falls in Antarctica have been far worse.
She has tracked Antarctic sea ice for more than 40 years.
“All of us scientists were thinking eventually global warming is going to catch up in the Antarctic,” she said.

Kaitlin Naughten, a sea ice expert at the British Antarctic Survey, said: “Westerly winds which surround the continent mean that Antarctic sea ice doesn’t respond directly to global warming averaged over the whole planet.”

“Climate change is affecting the winds, but so is the ozone hole and short-term cycles like El Niño.
The sea ice is also affected by meltwater running off from the Antarctic ice sheet,” she said.
“Until 2014, the total effect of all these factors was for Antarctic sea ice to expand.
But in 2014, something flipped, and the sea ice has since declined dramatically.
Now scientists are trying to figure out exactly why this happened.”

Prof Andrew Shepherd at Leeds University in the UK said: “The rapid decline has caught us by surprise and changes the picture completely.
Now sea ice is retreating in both hemispheres and that presents a challenge because it could mean further warming.”
He said it would also be important to find if the ice’s thickness has changed, as well as its extent.

Sea ice in Admiralty Bay, King George Island, Antarctica.
Image by Acaro

The new research collated microwave satellite data from 1979 to 2018, providing excellent measurements of sea ice as the different signals from ice and ocean are very distinct and microwaves can be detected day or night and usually through clouds.

Sea ice expands in winter and retreats in summer every year, so Parkinson used annual averages to assess the long term trends.
The biggest single year fall was in 2016, when an El Niño boosted human-caused warming to result in record global temperatures.

She said rates of decline after 2014 were three times faster than the most rapid melting ever recorded in the Arctic.
Sea ice extent had a small uptick in 2018, but in 2019 so far there had been a further reduction, she said.

Parkinson said the dramatic plunge was a strong piece of evidence that scientists could use to narrow down the causes of the change.
“As a Nasa scientist, my key responsibility is to get the satellite data out and I hope others will take this 40-year record and try to figure out how these dramatically rapid decreases since 2014 can be explained,” she said. 

Links :

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Deep-sea mining to turn oceans into ‘new industrial frontier’

A robotic arm breaks off a chunk of mineral-rich rock for sampling deep underwater off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
‘The damage won’t stay hidden in the depths. Toxic polution could travel hundreds or thousands of miles.’
Photograph: Nautilus Minerals

From The Guardian by Matthew Taylor

Greenpeace report reveals 29 floor-exploration licences have been granted worldwide

The world’s oceans are facing a “new industrial frontier” from a fledgling deep-sea mining industry as companies line up to extract metals and minerals from some of the most important ecosystems on the planet, a report has found.

The study by Greenpeace revealed that although no mining had started on the ocean floor, 29 exploration licences had been issued covering an area five times bigger than the UK. Environmentalists said the proposed mining would threaten not only crucial ecosystems but the global fight against climate breakdown.

Pictured are hydrothermal vents which could be ruined by deep-sea excavation.
Hydrothermal vents at the Dom João De Castro bank in the north Atlantic Ocean are unusually shallow and support unique communities of organisms, often with special properties that interest both scientists and industry.  
Without proper governance of the seas, mining could remove entire habitats, scientists warn
(photo : Gavin Newman / Greenpeace)

Louisa Casson, an ocean campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “The health of our oceans is closely linked to our own survival. Unless we act now to protect them, deep-sea mining could have devastating consequences for marine life and humankind.”

The licences, issued by a United Nations body, the International Seabed Authority, have been granted to a handful of countries that sponsor private companies.
They cover vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, totalling 1.3m sq km (500,000 sq miles).

If the mining goes ahead, large machines will be lowered on to the seabed to excavate cobalt and other rare metals.

A deep-sea Hydromedusa.
Photograph: David Shale/PA

Campaigners said that, as well as destroying little understood regions of the ocean floor, the operations would deepen the climate emergency by disrupting carbon stores in seafloor sediments, reducing the ocean’s ability to store it.

The industry has said deep-sea mining is essential to extract the materials needed for a transition to a green economy by supplying raw materials for key technologies including batteries, computers and phones.
Its advocates say deep-sea mining is less harmful to the environment and workers than most existing mineral and mining operations.

However, the report said: “The deep-sea mining industry presents its development as essential for a low-carbon future, yet this claim is not substantiated by actors in the renewable energy, electric vehicle or battery sectors. Such arguments ignore calls for a move from the endless exploitation of resources to a transformational and circular economy.”

A subsea mining machine under construction
© Reuters

The environmentalist Chris Packham, writing in the Guardian, said deep-sea mining posed a serious threat to global oceans.
“We’ve already seen the huge destruction ravaged upon our planet by corporations mining on land. Are we really prepared to give the go-ahead to the mining industry expanding into a new frontier, where it will be even harder for us to scrutinise the damage caused?”

The report called on governments to agree on a strong global ocean treaty in the next 12 months, citing scientists, governments, environmentalists and representatives of the fishing industry, who warned of the threat posed by deep-sea mining to marine life.

The report said the UK government held licences to exploit more of the international seabed than any government apart from China.
It accused ministers of positioning the government as a leader on marine protection while simultaneously investing in deep-sea mining.

Casson said: “We need the UK government to show strong global leadership and champion ocean protection. They have backed the call for global action to safeguard our oceans but they are also a leading advocate for deep-sea mining. Such hypocrisy is unacceptable.”

A government spokesperson said: “The UK continues to press for the highest international environmental standards, including on deep sea mineral extraction. We have sponsored two exploration licences, which allows scientific marine research to fully understand the effects of deep sea mining and we will not issue a single exploitation licence without a full assessment of the environmental impact.”

Links :

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

How to sink the pirates plaguing West Africa

Pirate hunters.
Photographer: Sia Kambou/AFP

From Bloomberg by Tobin Harsaw 

After a crackdown near Somalia, the crime wave just shifted to the Gulf of Guinea.
Local nations and their allies can end it.

Remember those Somali pirates?
Earlier this decade, they brazenly hijacked giant oil tankers, demanded ransoms in the millions of dollars, and gave Tom Hanks yet another chance to play the everyman overcoming a life-defining crisis.
Now, thanks to a multinational naval crackdown and tighter security measures by shippers, they’ve been forced back to dry land.

But as often happens with crime waves, the problem wasn’t really eliminated; it just popped up in a more vulnerable location.
And for pirates, the treasure hunt now takes place in the Gulf of Guinea, which stretches off West Africa from Senegal to Angola, nearly 4,000 miles of shoreline.

 Gulf of Guinea with the GeoGarage platform (UKHO chart)

 source : IMB Piracy Reporting Center
note : Boarded doesn't mean an attack was successful

Last year, 40 percent the world’s reported incidents of seaborne attacks occurred there, including every ship hijacking and 78 of the 83 crew members taken for ransom.
In reality, things are probably much worse: The International Maritime Bureau, which tallies these statistics, also estimates that half of incidents go unreported.
The waters off Somalia, meanwhile, had two attacks total reported.

No ship has been unluckier than the fuel tanker MT Maximus, which was taken by pirates in the gulf three times between 2011 and 2016.
At least the final group of modern-day buccaneers had a sense of humor: They painted over the ship’s name on the hull and renamed it the Elvis 3.

The background causes for this West African crime spree are largely the same as what spurred the Somali pirates off East Africa – lack of jobs, food shortages, armed conflict, corrupt or failed governance – but the crimes themselves are very different.
While the Somalis often asked for millions of dollars to release their hostages or hijacked ships, the Gulf of Guinea culprits more typically seek only a few thousand, which many oil and shipping companies simply pay and write off as a cost of doing business.

And while the Somalis made daring attacks in wooden fishing boats on huge oil tankers or luxury yachts in deep sea, the West Africans more typically use inflatables towed by trawlers and attack softer targets.
These include the ships that ferry men and equipment to and from the gulf’s offshore oil rigs, as well as slow-moving tankers and cargo ships as they enter and leave major ports such as Cotonou in Benin, Abidjan in Ivory Coast and the Niger Delta of Nigeria.

  source : IMB Piracy Reporting Center

But even these smaller-scale crimes add up: According to the nonprofit Oceans Beyond Piracy, the economic cost of seaborne crime off West Africa – including such things as lost goods, contracted security, insurance and “captivity pay” to crew members held hostage - totaled $818 million in 2017.
(It’s suspected that in many cases the ships’ crews are in cahoots with the pirates, in exchange for a cut of the loot.)

And, as my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Admiral James Stavridis likes to say, the oceans are “the world’s largest crime scene,” in large part because many gangs involved in hijacking and kidnapping are often engaged in other illicit activities: illegal fishing, human trafficking, and smuggling of arms, precious gems and drugs.
Two-thirds of South American cocaine that ends up in Europe transits through West Africa, according to the 2017 United Nations World Drug Report.

Given the importance of maritime commerce to these nations – oil accounts for about 10 percent of Nigeria’s economy and 90 percent of its foreign exchange – one would think they would clamp down harder.
But there are a number of catches, including that each of the roughly 15 nations on the coast has its own claim to sovereignty or a sphere of influence over the waters of its shores, many of which overlap.
The nations also have varying legal systems based on the traditions of the European colonial powers that once controlled them.
The result is a logistical and law-enforcement mess.

The best effort to overcome these hurdles was the Yaounde Code of Conduct, a 2013 pact that introduced a common code for fighting piracy and established a regional coordination center for maritime safety in Yaounde, Cameroon.
Another big step has been a series of naval exercises involving the gulf’s nations, European countries and, most importantly, the U.S.
Navy and Coast Guard.
The biggest, held annually since 2010, is called Obangame Express.
This year’s, co-hosted by U.S. Naval Forces Africa and the Nigerian navy, involved 33 nations, 2,500 personnel, 95 ships and 12 aircraft.

"Comparing the exercise from 2010 to now is night and day," said Admiral James G. Foggo III, commander of all U.S. naval forces in Europe and Africa. In his words, those nations had suffered from “sea blindness."
"When we began the exercise in 2010, many African countries lacked the facilities, capacity, ships or maritime operation centers to monitor what was occurring within their coastal domains,” Foggo told me in a recent telephone call.
“Today, the West African nations have a series of facilities and radars that enable them to coordinate and collaborate."

Foggo also emphasized that while ending the attacks is vital, it needs to be a “proportionate response”: This isn’t about Navy Seal sharpshooters picking off pirates like the Somalia effort, but calm negotiation, capture and prevention.
One goal should be no deaths.

While coastal states in the Gulf of Guinea have taken steps to increase their naval capacity, resulting in a few high profile arrests and a reduction in the number of hijacking for cargo theft, they have failed to establish effective systems for prosecution. 
This coupled with a lack of accurate reporting has resulted in a situation where pirates are able to operate with relative impunity.

Still, given the vast size of the gulf and relative poverty of many of the countries on it, all these efforts can go only so far.
What more could be done?

Many of the gulf countries are game to take on the pirates – the tiny, impoverished island nation of Sao Tome and Principe is a prime example – but don’t have the money for ships, sailors or even gasoline.
Nigeria is the only state with a powerful military, but it can’t be expected to shoulder the burden alone.
In May the navy of Togo showed its stuff, quickly recovering the hijacked petroleum tanker Djetona 1 and apprehending eight pirates who had boarded from a rented canoe.

The European Union has helped out, most recently allotting $10 million on a project to improve port security and $7 million to improve cooperation in combating drug smuggling, among other long-term initiatives.
Some Western nations have donated decommissioned military vessels, but this isn’t effective unless they can provide continuing training for crews, money for fuel and a supply chain for replacement parts.
It would also help if the oil, shipping and fishing companies would report all incidents so antipiracy groups could have an accurate picture of the scope of the problem.

But in the end, as with so many of Africa’s ills, there will be no end to it without economic development.
Nine of the Gulf of Guinea’s countries rank among the poorest 30 in the world, according to the World Bank.
If you want to get the pirates off the high seas, you’ll have to get them jobs on the dry land.

Links :

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Japan resumes commercial whale hunting after more than 30 years

Those hoping for a revival of the country’s struggling whaling industry may be disappointed

From The Economist

Should whales be hunted for profit?
Japan is one of a handful of countries that says yes. In December the country announced it was leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC)—its first withdrawal from an international body since the second world war—and would no longer abide by a global moratorium imposed by the IWC in 1986.
Today Japanese whaling vessels set sail to hunt whales commercially for the first time in more than three decades.

 A captured minke whale is unloaded from a whaling ship at a port in Kushiro, Hokkaido Prefecture on July 1, 2019.
Japanese whalers brought ashore their first catches on July 1 as they resumed commercial hunting after a three-decade hiatus.
 The Fisheries Agency said the hunts will stay within the country's exclusive economic zone
[see Kyodo via Reuters]

Environmentalists and whale enthusiasts may despair, but some believe Japan’s decision may in fact be a face-saving admission that its long, expensive campaign to reverse the IWC’s moratorium is over.

courtesy of Reuters

As Patrick Ramage of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, a conservation charity, recently told the Associated Press, “what we are seeing is the beginning of the end of Japanese whaling.”

courtesy of FT

For a start, Japan will no longer send ships on “scientific” whaling expeditions to the Antarctic, a practice criticised internationally as commercial whaling in disguise.
Future hunts will be restricted to Japanese waters, and within the country’s exclusive economic zone. To prevent overhunting, commercial fishermen will be subject to a quota, currently set at 227 whales through the end of the year (in 2015 Japan reported taking 520 whales).

Whaling ships which are set to join the resumption of commercial whaling at anchor at a port in Kushiro, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan, June 30, 2019.(Reuters)

Such quotas may be unnecessary.
In the mid-1960s, Japanese fishermen hauled in nearly 25,000 whales (see chart).
Since then the country’s whaling industry has shrunk to just a handful of small companies employing barely 300 people.

Most Japanese, outside a handful of coastal towns, have lost their appetite for whale.
Annual demand for whale meat has plummeted from 200,000 to 5,000 tonnes (equivalent to roughly 40 grams per person).
Much of that piles up unsold in supermarket freezers.

Links :

Monday, July 1, 2019

The next global tech disruption will happen where few expect it

image : Globe staff

From BostonGlobe by Captain John A. Konrad V

The profound impact of shipping on modern life cannot be overstated.
Ninety percent of everything we own has spent some time on a container ship.
Consider your furniture, your clothes, your computer.
Likely all those things traveled across an ocean at some point in their lifecycle.
Pop your car’s hood and look at your engine.
Each component inside was likely shipped between multiple ports before being assembled, shipped again, and bolted inside.

According to the World Bank, no other industry has pulled more people out of poverty worldwide.
And if the world’s ships were to suddenly stop, billions of people would go hungry.
Yet most of us give very little thought to the 50,000 cargo ships at sea right now driving the global economy.
Likewise, the modern maritime industry, responsible for moving $9 trillion of goods around the oceans every year, has been mostly ignored by policy makers, innovators, and venture capitalists.

No doubt tech has largely avoided shipping because historically, the industry has been notoriously slow to adopt new technology.
Thousands of years of experience has convinced those who make their living at sea that if something fails, people die.
It’s easier to keep things the way they are than to tinker with new ideas.
And because shipping is slow to change, it will be the last major industry to undergo 21st century-style tech-driven disruption.
When tech finally does take hold, the global consequences will be unprecedented.

The sheer scale of modern cargo ships is astounding: The world’s biggest ships are hundreds of feet longer than the largest aircraft carrier; each one can ferry up to 23,000 containers across oceans.
That’s more than double the number of trucks crossing the world’s busiest bridge, New York’s George Washington Bridge, each day.
A single supertanker can carry over 42 million gallons of oil.
One of the largest bulk ships can carry over 300,000 tons of coal.

And one new algorithm or design tweak that makes sea-bound vessels just a fraction of a percent faster will vastly reduce carbon emissions and change the cost of things throughout the world.

But in our data-driven world, shipping lags far behind other industries.

Here are a few facts that might surprise you: Due to the lack of cargo and ship location information available, according to the insurance specialist Allianz, 46 large ships were lost in 2018 — that’s nearly one ship lost every week.
Just last month, the International Transport Workers Federation discovered 12 starving crew members on a ship off the coast of Tunisia.
(While the International Maritime Organization mandates that all large ships carry a satellite phone and GPS tracking device, companies can order captains to unplug the devices and no organization is tasked with finding ships that suddenly go dark.)
The crew had spent more than a year marooned on the ship, left to die by owners who refused to pay them or allow them to dock.

It may also surprise you to learn that at a time when you can track every mile of a package of Hanes boxer shorts as it travels from the Amazon warehouse to your door, we lack the technology to track a 40-foot-long shipping container carrying thousands of the same shorts from China to the US.

The World Shipping Council reported that an average of 1,582 shipping containers were lost every year between 2008 and 2016.
Some of these lost containers held cheap and harmless goods, but others concealed expensive and/or hazardous chemicals.
We only know where a handful of these overboard containers are located, and hundreds more are lost on land each year.

On the high seas, huge, unmonitored ships and underfunded coast guards conspire to destroy our oceans.
Each lost ship and container leaks pollutants into the ocean, but without a standardized way to collect information, we don’t know the specific chemicals, plastics, and hazardous materials dumped into our waters each year.

Last January, an oil tanker carrying one million barrels of toxic light oil condensate crashed into another ship causing a large oil spill.
Days later, officials at the Global Fishing Watch (GFW), a project funded by Google to track fishing vessels, found large trawlers pulling fish out of the toxic water; they continued to fish knowing that buyers had no way of knowing that the food was tainted.

Because US Customs lacks the tools to view the history of where a shipping container was loaded, drug cartels have been emboldened.
A few days ago, $1 billion worth of cocaine — 17 tons — was discovered aboard a ship docked in Philadelphia.

Even the largest and most visible ships are difficult to monitor once they’re at sea.
Just last month, Princess Cruises acknowledged violating probation terms from a 2016 dumping case.
According to filings with the Justice Department, operators of the 951-foot-long, 3,142-passenger ship Caribbean Princess dumped plastic into the ocean, falsified records, and dispatched cleanup teams ahead of inspectors to avoid environmental violations.

Lack of tracking tech has hampered our military as well: In the summer of 2017, the USS Fitzgerald hit a giant container ship, killing seven sailors.
Nine weeks later, the USS McCain crashed into a commercial ship killing 10 sailors off the coast of Singapore.
Despite boasting the world’s most advanced radar systems and many safeguards aboard, these warships failed to identify and avoid the huge and slow-moving commercial ships.

Even more troubling is the fact that the Navy can’t effectively monitor its own ships.
The McCain’s crew didn’t even know their ship was sinking until the ship got close enough to shore for a crew member to call the mayday in on his cell phone.

These are just a few of the chronic problems facing the maritime industry which technology could potentially solve.

But people are starting to pay attention.
On June 20, Connecticut-based maritime publisher Marine Money hosted its first ever pitch day in the United States.
Marine Money chairman Jim Lawrence acknowledged in his opening remarks that the field is so new they didn’t even know what to call it: “Financial technologies are called Fintech, Medical Technologies are Medtech, but what do we call technology for shipping? Some say it should be Bluetech, others Shiptech, or Martech for maritime technology. Nobody can agree on even the name.”

One of the most promising startups presenting at the forum is built on a simple idea: If one could know what is being shipped, and where, on a global scale, one could potentially predict major market shifts before they occur.

This video (click on the picture to launch it) shows the movements of commercial ships larger than 10,000 dead weight tons in 2018.
One second of the video equals four minutes of actual time; the entire year unfolding over 36 minutes.
The “tail” of the ship represents the distance it sailed over the previous 24 hours.

Boston-based CargoMetrics is using Amazon’s high-performance computing network to do just that: consolidate and crunch all available shipping data — GPS, cargo manifests, and satellite tracking — to gain a global understanding of the movement of raw and finished goods in real time.
This big-data approach to trade could transform both shipping and markets.
CargoMetrics’s tools offer an unprecedented level of freight-pricing transparency to shipping companies, many of which currently rely on a paper manifest system overseen by a few international brokerages and middle men.
Access to the big picture could help shippers find more fuel-efficient routes, which in turn could make an enormous impact on global emissions and freight pricing.
Founder Scott Borgerson is patenting various ways to understand the vast amounts of information CargoMetrics is collecting, and he’s turning to stakeholders to direct his inquiry.
Maersk Tankers, for example, uses CargoMetrics to overlay weather and performance data so that the company can reposition its tankers to respond to incidents, like the recent tanker explosions in the Persian Gulf.
Last year, the huge Danish shipping company installed rotor sails — large spinning cylinders that convert wind into energy to propel and power ships — on three of its tankers, and CargoMetrics will collect data to determine whether the company should invest further in the technology.
If CargoMetrics chose to, it could help identify distressed ships, like the one caught off the Tunisian coast, or help locate the dozens of ships lost each year.
These finer uses of supercomputing have yet to be explored.
As is often the case, profit comes before labor.

But Boston-based Shipin Systems is using tech to protect mariners.
The company develops visual tracking systems that it hopes will reduce accidents aboard ships by giving companies a way to monitor their staff and equipment at sea.
In the future, Shipin Systems’s monitoring might prevent a massive oil spill by sounding a warning if a crew member turns the wrong valve on a supertanker.
Monitoring could also help prevent collisions like the oil tanker and US Navy ship disasters cited above.

German startup Closelink is helping companies manage something else: their lubricants.
It may sound unglamorous.
But remember that ships are basically small cities which need to create electricity, manage sewage, pump water, and perform countless other tasks.
Each pump and every piece of machinery aboard needs some type of lubrication, so the savings could be considerable.

An undated image made from a video by the National Transportation Safety Board shows the stern of the sunken ship El Faro.
(National Transportation Safety Board via AP)

The use of Closelink could also save lives.
In October 2015, the American container ship El Faro lost propulsion in the midst of a hurricane because she had sailed from Jacksonville with dangerously low oil levels.
Thirty-three mariners died when the ship went down off the Bahamas.
This past March, the Viking Sky cruise ship, loaded with 1,373 passengers and crew, lost power in a storm due to low oil levels.
A daring helicopter rescue saved all aboard, but it was an expensive and elaborate operation.

Chances are, before we have automated cars, we’ll have fully automated ships.
Boston-based Sea Machines, founded in 2013, offers remote control operation of large commercial boats like tugboats, fireboats, and ferries.
The company is also developing an artificial intelligence-powered situational awareness system for container ships.
This system will help ship operators identify hazards — like small boats that can’t be seen on large ship radar systems.

The question is not if maritime technology can improve the world.
Nor is it a question of when innovative bluetech companies will make money, because they already are.
The question is where the maritime tech hub will establish itself.

And there’s a strong case that it could be in Boston.
With its rich maritime history on par with New York and San Francisco, Boston has a vibrant startup community and a solid foundation of venture capital.
Its robust network of maritime-based academic offerings include MIT’s prestigious Center for Ocean Engineering.
Many ship owners are graduates of Harvard Business School, including Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and her sister, Angela Chao, CEO of the shipping line Foremost Group.
Nearby Woods Hole is home to the preeminent school for oceanography.
The Mass Maritime Academy in Bourne trains professional mariners.
Also nearby: the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Maine, and the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
The ship financing capital of the United States is Stamford, Connecticut.
With all this in mind, Boston’s first innovation hub dedicated to BlueTech startups, SeaAhead, was founded last year by Mark Huang, a veteran of cleantech venture capital funds.
The hub has already signed partnerships with shipping companies like the tugboat company Moran, marine science hubs including the New England Aquarium, academic institutions including Tufts, and several venture capital firms.
Boston’s most successful startup accelerator, MassChallenge, is getting in on maritime innovation, too.
We’ve seen myriad industries transformed by tech in the past two decades.
Keen observers will be able to watch this one unfold in real time.

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sailing around the World trailer

Who are we? What are we doing? Where do we come from?
Why are we doing this or how everything started will be answers you will find on this trailer of our production of 22° South, Sailing around the world