Saturday, October 12, 2019


I love filming in the ocean more than anything, its not just a job, its a passion.
And sometimes its nice just to document waves without surfers riding them.
The feeling of jumping off the rocks in the dark by myself just to capture the very first rays of light hitting the ocean without another sole in sight is unexplainable, its one of the most amazing feelings ever, its like my own personal therapy.
And to realise that you're the only person on this planet that got to witness these rare moments of absolute beauty as they happen is a really special feeling.
And now im excited to share my experiences with you through my latest passion project "MOCEAN".

Friday, October 11, 2019

Trawler 14 times the size of UK fishing boats is plundering fish from British waters before Brexit

The world's second largest factory fishing trawler, the Lithuanian FV Margiris
(Image: Greenpeace/PA Wire)

From The Telegraph by Steve Bird and Helena Horton 

A super trawler 14 times the size of UK fishing boats is plundering thousands of tonnes of fish from British waters before Brexit, when the Government will be able to kick the vessel out.

The 6,200 tonne Lithuanian-registered Margiris vessel was boarded by Government officials on Wednesday and found to be operating legally under European laws.

However, environmentalists fear it could be endangering short beaked common dolphins and bluefin tuna.
The ship - described as a vast floating fishing factory which can net and process 250 tonnes of fish each day - has been the target of a series of campaigns culminating in it being banned from Australian waters in 2013.

The recent path of the FV Margiris (Image: Greenpeace/PA Wire)

On Friday night it was 14 miles off the Sussex coastline having spent one week fishing in British waters.

While it is fishing mackerel to be sold to Africa, it is believed to be operating in breedings waters for sea bass, which is already overfished.
The ship, which is 465ft long with a net 1,950ft in length and 650ft wide, dwarfs most UK fishing boats.

Under the common fisheries policy set out by the European Commission, each EU country is given a quota of fish it can catch in European waters.
Each country then divides that quota between vessels, allocating set catch sizes along with documentation in the event of an inspection.
A spokesman for the Marine Management Organisation, the government agency responsible for enforcing fishing regulations in UK waters, said it boarded the boat on Wednesday, adding: “No infringements of fishing regulations were found.”

The Margiris, part of a larger ‘freezer fleet’, is owned by the Dutch company Parlevliet & Van der Plas which has 6,000 employees and offices around the world.
A company spokesman said it was behaving perfectly legally in “European waters”, denied its fishing techniques threatened endangered species and had trawled in the area for the last 30 years.
He added: “We fish until Brexit has happened - God knows when that is. But, we always respect the law.”

In the event of Britain leaving the European Union, the UK will have greater control over fishing in its waters.
A government source said: “On October 31 we will become an independent coastal state. This means that for the first time in more than 40 years, we will be able to decide who can fish in our waters and on what terms.”
She added those new powers will apply 200 nautical miles off the British coast, or the median line between our shores and those of any neighbouring country.
“Any access to UK waters will be a matter for negotiation,” she said.

Greenpeace protesters say they confronted the Margiris - previously known as Abel Tasman - in West Africa in March 2012 and in the Netherlands and Australia in 2013.
Its application to fish in Australian waters was rejected.

Chris Thorne, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “Super trawlers are floating fish factories that can process hundreds of tonnes of fish every day.
“They are responsible for much of the over exploitation of our oceans that is decimating fish stocks, destroying marine ecosystems and ruining the livelihoods of inshore fishermen who fish sustainably and are the backbone of many coastal communities.”

A spokesman for the Blue Planet Society said super trawlers have the equivalent capacity of a dozen small-scale fishing vessels.
"Local, smaller fishing boats have to return to port to offload the fish prior to processing.
"We think the super trawler Margiris is targeting horse mackerel and pilchards off Sussex. This will put them in contact with short-beaked common dolphins, endangered bluefin tuna and overfished sea bass."

A European Commission official said: “The Commission is aware of concerns among non-governmental organisations concerning the activity of large trawlers.
“All vessels operating in EU waters, large and small, have to abide by the rules and this is controlled by the Member States' inspection and control services. It is a priority that all Union vessels comply with the legislation in force.”
He added that the Commission requires “concrete facts” regarding any “suspicion” a vessels infringes fishing rules.

Links :

Image of the week : Maheno SS shipwreck on Fraser island

SS Maheno rusted shipwreck on a beach of Fraser Island (East coast of Queensland, Australia) remains as a landmark attraction.
Localization with the GeoGarage platform (AHS nautical raster chart)

 shipwreck displayed in Bing imagery

Imagery on the left, from OneAtlas, shows a shipwreck on the coast of a beach.
The zoomed in image on the right shows a more detailed view of the ship that was once used as a portable hospital in World War I.
The ship also travelled back and forth between local countries during WWI.
During a cyclone in 1935, the ship detached from a tow-line and drifted ashore, where 8 crewmen setup camp and were rescued a few days later. 
images : Airbus OneAtlas

She was built for comfort, but when WWI broke out she went into service, her dining rooms converted into hospital wards, until a cyclone swept her away.

Originally constructed and used as an ocean liner sailing back and forth across the Tasman Sea, the 5,000 ton steel-hulled SS Maheno was called into duty in 1915 to serve as a hospital ship transporting casualties back and forth between Sydney and Melbourne.
She was eventually called to the UK and served the wounded soldiers in Europe, delivering them from France to England via the English Channel.

At the end of the war, the SS Maheno headed home to New Zealand to resume carting perfectly healthy humans back and forth across the waters, and in July, 1935, she was sold to an Osaka shipbreaker.
Unfortunately, she would never reach her new home, for there was a storm brewing.

About 50 miles out from the coast, a severe cyclone whipped itself around the Maheno and the ship towing her, the 1,756-ton Oonah.
The towline was severed, and the crews were unable to reattach it as the ships heaved about in the choppy waters.
The Maheno and the eight men aboard drifted away into the dark waters, as the helpless crew aboard the crippled Oonah could do nothing but watch.

After three hand-wringing days, the ship and her camped-out crew were found beached on the shore of Fraser Island.
Attempts to re-float the liner proved to be futile, and the SS Maheno, the luxury liner that served so many wounded troops, was stripped and abandoned.

The rusty remains of the ship are still visible, but the site is extremely unsafe and is prohibited to visitors.
Links :

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Island reveals rising tide of plastic waste

Volumes of plastic waste washing up on an uninhabited South Atlantic island is worsening, with 15 per cent more bottles drifting onshore each year since the 1980s
This bottle has been colonized by goose barnacles. 

From BBC by Mark Kinver

A remote island in the southern Atlantic Ocean has helped reveal the scale of the problem of plastic waste facing our seas.
Some 75% of bottles washed ashore on Inaccessible Island, in the South Atlantic, were found to be from Asia - with most made in China.

Inaccessible island with the GeoGarage platform (UKHO nautical chart)

Researchers said most of the bottles had been made recently, suggesting they had been discarded by ships.
An estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans each year.

'By 2018, Asian bottles comprised 73 per cent of accumulated and 83 per cent of newly arrived bottles, with most made in China,' the team wrote.
Pictured, 500ml water bottles made by Chinese brand Master Kong, which were the most abundant in 2018, sorted by age

But this figure just covers land-based sources.

The team from South Africa and Canada, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), said that it had been assumed that most of the debris found at sea was coming from the land.

Study co-author Maƫlle Connan inspects bottles to see where they came from.
Researchers compared surveys of pollution on the remote beach from the eighties with those they undertook in 2009 and 2018

However, the scientists said the evidence suggested otherwise.
"When we were [on the island, called Inacessible Island] last year, it was really shocking how much drink bottles had just come to dominate," explained lead author Peter Ryan, director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town.

During litter surveys on the island, which is a World Heritage Site, the scientists examined 3,515 debris items in 2009 and 8,084 debris items in 2018.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) drinking bottles were the most common type of debris and had the fastest growth rate among debris, increasing at 14.7% each year since the 1980s.

The oldest container, found in 2018, was a high-density polyethylene canister manufactured in 1971.

Yet most bottles were date-stamped within two years of washing ashore.

"Once you get into it you can learn quite a lot even from bottles that don't have labels on," Prof Ryan added.
"They've got dates on, they've got manufacturer's marks and once you know different manufacturers you can work out where they come from," he told BBC News.
"What was really shocking was how the origin had shifted from largely South American, which is what you would expect from somewhere like Inaccessible Island because it's downwind from South America to predominantly Asian.
"In fact, during the three months that we were on the island it was 84% of the bottles that washed up were from Asia."

Ship to shore?

The combination of the fact that the bottles were from Asia, particularly China, and the fact that they were manufactured too soon to have drifted there on the global oceanic currents, suggested that they were being discarded by passing vessels.

"My initial thought was that it was going to be fishing fleets. Fishing boats tend to be a little bit more Wild West than the merchant fleets as a rule, but the fact that it's primarily Chinese doesn't really fit with that because the predominant fishing fleets in the South Atlantic are Taiwanese and Japanese," Prof Ryan observed.
"I think the evidence is pretty strong that it's coming from merchant shipping," he suggested.
"It is where we've seen the really big increase in shipping, particularly from South America to Asia over the last decade or so. It came as a bit of a shock to me because I had assumed that the merchant fleets would be reasonably compliant [to international agreements not to throw waste overboard]."

Prof Ryan said that he would be interested to hear what the international shipping sector made of the findings, adding: "I think we need to look quite carefully at better monitoring and enforcement of regulations."

Links :

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Is there room for another ´wet canal´ or for ´dry canals´ in the Americas?

From Pulse by Pablo Rodas-Martini

In November 2013, I gave a conference at St Louis University in Missouri titled: "Is there room for another ´wet canal´ or for ´dry canals´ in Central America?"
At the time I was working as an economist at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) in Washington DC.
Occasionally I met the Director at the Bank from Nicaragua, and one of the topics that sometimes we discussed was the Nicaraguan canal.
He even wrote a novel and gave it to me to comment before its publication.
He was one of the main promoters of the alternative canal in his country, a canal that was supposed to be built by Chinese investors; I hold the opposite view, but our disagreement was always amicable while also talking about many other issues in between.

Although he knew my position, he asked my boss, the Manager for Mexico, Central America, and the Dominican Republic, if I could present in an event, he was going to participate in St Louis University, Missouri.
After receiving the authorization of my boss, I prepared a PowerPoint presentation of 19-slides PowerPoint, which I presented in about 30 minutes or so at the workshop.
Since my position was not ambiguous at all on the issue, and against the eternal aspirations of four Central American countries (Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), I did not use the PowerPoint template of the IADB, and I made clear in the second slide: “This presentation does not represent the official position of the IADB.”
As we said in Spanish “guerra anunciada, no mata soldados” (an announced war does not kill soldiers).

My thesis at that meeting, and which I will repeat and develop here is the following: 1) the Nicaraguan canal will never be built, 2) any dry canal across the isthmus of Tehuantepec, the Central American isthmus, or the Northern tip of Colombia will never take any real business from the Panama Canal, 3) the main competition to the Panama Canal has been and will continue to be the intermodal transport (trains and trucks) from the west coast to the east coast of the US, and 4) the Panama Canal will confront an enormous challenge in a few decades, a challenge that could hit the canal much more than the intermodal transport in North America.
Let´s take one by one each of these points, as I did in my presentation.

First, the Nicaraguan canal will never be built.
Nicaragua lost its chances at the beginning of the XX century when the US Senate voted between the two finalist routes for the construction of the canal: either to buy the rights from the French company that had started and failed in the construction of the Panama Canal, or to start from scratch across Nicaragua (the two routes are shown in Map 1, but the Corp of Engineers of the US analyzed even a few more options).
Nicaragua and Panama had been competing since the Gold Rush times in California in the mid-XIX century: between traversing the entire length of current US for about six months through lands controlled by native Americans, many of the future miners decided to go by boat all across the American continent up to the Strait of Magellan at the tip of the South American continent but, of course, some entrepreneurs realized soon that they could offer to those eager travelers to pass through the Central American isthmus rather than going all the way south and, for that, the two best places were Panama and Nicaragua.
In the beginning, the crossing was possible only by mules in Panama and, in the case of Nicaragua, going upstream the San Juan River by boat up to a point, then by mules, then by boat again through the Nicaraguan Lake, and then again by mules.
The Nicaraguan route was longer, but it was competitive due to the use of boats in two main segments.
However, the construction of the Panama train killed the Nicaraguan route (see Pictures 1a-1b).
The decision by the US Senate was the coup the grace of the Nicaraguan dream; by the way, there is a famous story about how a Frenchman fooled the senators with a stamp of the Momotombo volcano in eruption to convince them that a canal in Nicaragua could be very risky despite the volcano was not close to the planned route of the canal (see Picture 2, which, shows the most famous post stamp in the world).
Once the US built the largest construction the world had ever seen in history (maybe just the Chinese Wall could be comparable, because the canal was an even bigger endeavor than any of the pyramids of Egypt) there was no way to compete against Panama, well, the US since the US administered the canal from 1914 until the year 2000, when it was returned or, better say, it was given to the Panamanians since it had never before belonged to them.
How can you compete with the biggest infrastructure investment in the world?
The Chinese may have billions of dollars to invest across the world, but they will not waste their money building an alternative canal when there is no market for that.
And this takes me to my second point.

Map 1 Possible routes for "wet" or "dry" canals across Mesoamerica

Pictures 1a-1b.
The Panama railroad built in the XIX century

Picture 2.
The most influential and famous postal stamp in the world

Second, the expansion of the Panama Canal a few years ago annihilated any future competition by either Mexico, the other Central American countries, or Colombia (Colombia also has a route where a canal could be built).
In addition to the huge initial investment in the canal by the US over a decade: they re-started the construction of the canal in 1904 and finished it in 1914, investing a total of 375 US million dollars which at current prices would be about ten billion dollars, the Panamanians spent more than five billion dollars between 2007 and 2015 to expand the canal.
The expansion of the canal was necessary for two main reasons: world trade has increased almost every year at a higher rate than the world GDP, which means that more ships need to transit the canal, otherwise they would have to anchor for days on either side of the canal waiting for their turn, which would have forced many shipping companies to change towards the intermodal transport in the US; Graph 1 shows an increase in the number of unsuccessful reservation slots before the expansion of the canal, which means that a large percentage was unable to receive a slot and had to transit on a first-come-first-served basis, which translated into more prolonged waiting times (this and the following three graphs are taken from the Master Plan for the expansion of the Canal, a document presented by the Panama Canal Authority in 2004 to convince the people of Panama about the advantages of expanding the Canal).
The other reason is that the yearly increase in trade has increased the size of newbuildings, many of which could not use the canal; the Panamax had to give place to bigger vessels: the now called Neopanamax or New Panamax (even Suezmax have crossed the expanded canal).
Of course, there will always be even bigger vessels that will not be able to transit the expanded canal: Capesize, VLCC, and ULCC, but the Panama Canal has a limit it can expand and those ships are not designed for the Panama Canal.

Graph 1.
Vessels that requested a reservation slot

Below I include some other graphs to illustrate what the expansion means.
Graph 2 shows the volume of cargo through the canal since its construction until 2005 before the expansion started.
Graph 3 shows the increase in the capacity of the expanded canal.
Graph 4 shows how the expansion of the canal almost tripled the capacity per volume in from 4,500 to 12,000 TEUs.
The expansion of the canal was not a minor widening or dredging, but it was an infrastructure work designed to cover the demand of world trade through this route for several decades into the future.
What all this implies for the Nicaraguan canal?
It means that if before they had to compete against a giant, now they must compete against a super-giant, and when you even do not exist, that is an insurmountable feat.
From an economic perspective the construction of an alternative canal is … wishful thinking, nonsense: there will not be demand for another canal at all since the current one could perfectly serve the need of the shipping companies.
As you can imagine, the Nicaraguan canal has not really started despite it was announced with great fanfare about ten years ago.
When you explain to the Nicaraguans these facts and show to them that a new canal has no economic base, they would shift to the geopolitical front: the Chinese would like to invest in the canal to put pressure in the US to compensate the influence that the US has exerted in the Far East since the end of the II World War and, when you argue that if the Chinese would have a geopolitical interest in the Caribbean due to the proximity to the US, the cheapest and best decision would be to build a huge military base either in Nicaragua, Cuba or Venezuela: even the biggest military base in the world would cost one-tenth of a new canal and would have a much greater impact on the geopolitics in the Americas than a new canal.

 Graph 2. The volume of cargo transported through the Canal

Graph 3.
Increase in capacity with the third set of locks

Graph 4.
Comparison between Panamax and Post-Panamax vessels

Third, the dry canals will not be more than toys compared to the Panama Canal.
As I said before, dry canals could be built across Mexico, Colombia, or any of the other five Central American countries.
Mexico tried in the past through the isthmus of Tehuantepec (the shortest distance they have between the two oceans) and failed.
Mexican engineers even designed crazy ideas such as the pulling of ships through land! (see Pictures 3a-3b-3c).
Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and also Nicaragua have dreamed since their independence in 1821 with creating dry canals that can serve as an alternative way to Panama (first to the Panamanian train and later to the canal).
Almost with each new president in one of those three countries, the idea is revived, and after some months it dies, just to be revived with the next president.
A dry canal will never work there for three reasons: A) Across those countries the terrain is not flat between the two continents (that is why the Panama Canal has locks, contrary to the Suez Canal that was built at the sea level).
The topography elevates significantly between the two oceans in all places, which difficult the transport of cargo by either trucks and or trains.
You would need thousands of trucks to carry the equivalent of one boxship, or you would need an extremely very powerful train to go up the hill with dozens of containers or wagons.
Since the terrain tends to be high to the sea level, the speed and costs for land transportation would be enormous compared to transport the same volume of cargo through the Panama Canal.
B) Any dry canal would confront a logistical problem impossible to solve: a ship would deposit its cargo in one port and, assuming that the cargo could be transported to the other ocean, will there be a ship of the same size… empty and ready to take the cargo?
Of course not.
That is not the way the logistics in the world works.
That was exactly the problem that the people that wanted to become miner during the Gold Rush in California were confronting in the mid-XIX century when they were arriving from the East of the US to either Nicaragua or Panama to travel to California: they had to wait weeks or even months in Panama City or San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua to be able to board a ship that could take them to California.
The proponents of the dry canals think only in terms of roads or railways, never in terms of logistics.
When you tell this to them, they will say that in that case most of the trade could end in the same Central American countries, well, then you are not talking at all about a dry canal which by definition would imply that you upload the cargo in the other ocean, but you are referring only to a better road to the one that currently exists (or to build from scratch a railway) to carry goods from the small ports in the Caribbean towards the main cities of those countries: Guatemala city, Tegucigalpa, or San Salvador.
C) But there is even a third reason why any dry canal will not work: Panama already has two dry canals, and they are shorter, flatter, and faster than any dry canal that Mexico, Colombia, or any of the other Central American countries could ever build.
Panama still has the train (it was rebuilt in a different route after the construction of the canal), which transport cargo from one ocean to the other (it also has a passenger that provides a majestic view in a classical train, and it also has a highway that connects both oceans in barely one hour or so since its length is only about 80 km (see Pictures 4 and 5).
Any road or railway through any of the other countries would take at least three times that time.
Do the Panamanians make such a fuss about their two dry canals?
Not at all.
They do not call them dry canals: for them, they are only accessories to real and only one canal: the wet, the watery one (see also the map below which shows the canal, the railway, and the highway).
If you realized, I have no mention Costa Rica at all; they have never talked about dry canals: they know that there are highlands between the two oceans.
Costa Ricans tend to focus on what matters for human development and economic growth, and, as a consequence, their development is much superior to the rest of Central America (by the way, I must say that I am neither Panamanian nor Costa Rican).

Picture 3a-3b-3c.
The proposal to transport ships through the isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico (see the sequence)

Picture 4.
The highway between Colon and Panama City.

Picture 5.
The commercial train between Colon and Panama City

Fourth, the real competitor of the Panama Canal is the intermodal transport between the west and the east coasts of the US.
Graph 5 shows how big is the intermodal transport in the US and how the Panama Canal has gradually increased its share.
The figures for 2004 (before the expansion of the canal started) was 61% by intermodal transport, 38% by the Panama Canal, and 1% by the Suez Canal (see Map 2); yes, it is true that a small percentage of the trade from the Far East (or most probably from Bangladesh and the east coast of India) to the east coast of the US takes place through the Suez Canal.
Hence, the real competition for the Panama Canal are the ports in the west coast of the US, in particular, the Port of Long Beach, Port of Los Angeles, and Port of Richmond in California, the Port of Oregon in Oregon, and the Port of Seattle and Port of Longview in Washington.
The modernization of those ports and the improvement in the transportation by trucks and trains towards the center or the east of the US is the real competition of the Panama Canal.
In this case we are not referring to a dry canal because the cargo is not loaded again into another ship in the Atlantic: the final destinations are cities or locations in the US.
And there is another competitor for the Panama Canal: not significant, but one that could grow if the Panama Canal does not keep a continuous improvement: the Port of Ensenada in Baja California, Mexico, a port that almost touches the border of the US (just 125 km from San Diego in the US) and that in logistical terms could be another critical entrance point for the intermodal transport to the east coast of the US (mainly towards the southern states) since Mexico has in place the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the US and Canada, a trade agreement that has been renegotiated under the name of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and whose approval is still pending by the US Congress.
The west coast of the US has the disadvantage of a long land transportation of the cargo towards the East but the faster and fossil fuel trains and the electric and autonomous trucks of the future will be keeping their costs and, in addition, has two significant advantages compared to the Panama Canal: huge vessels such as the VLCC or the ULCC can berth in the Pacific ports, and in trade economies of scale reduces costs significantly, and those ships are much bigger than the New Panamax; the other reason is that shipping companies do not need to pay a costly fee as they have to do with the Panama Canal, all that they need is to unload the cargo in one of the ports, a smaller payment than transiting the Canal, and a cost that ships would have to pay anyhow in a port in the east coast if they were choosing the alternative way.

Graph 5.
Competition in the route between Asia and the US East Coast

Fifth, the Northwest Passage will become -regrettably- the main competitor to the Panama Canal in future decades.
I must say that I say regrettably not because I prefer the Panama Canal, but I used the word because, for me, commercial shipping through the Northwest Passage is a tragedy: the tragedy of climate change.
The Northwest Passage has not one but many possible routes through the Canadian Arctic since the islands form one of the largest archipelagos in the world (Map 3 shows the three main routes).
Some expeditions tried to cross the Passage in the XIX with no success and most ending in tragedy.
The most memorable of all was the failure of the large two-ship expedition commanded by Sir John Franklin, which ended in the dead of the entire crew; it is believed that most by starvation or scurvy.
It was not until 1906 when Roal Amundsen in a small herring boat and with a crew of only six mariners was able to cross the Northwest Passage after a voyage that took them three years: they appeared in the Pacific when most people in Norway had assumed that he and his crew had also died.
They found a Passage almost impenetrable, packed with ice, and mainly thick- multi-year ice.
Amundsen and his crew reached the pages of history for that incredible voyage that they would have not survived without the help of Inuit people.
The tragedy in the long term for Gaia, for plants and animals, and for us, the human race is that all the multi-year ice has disappeared from the Canadian Arctic, basically from most of the Arctic with only a few pockets remaining in other parts of the Arctic.
The ice created every winter lasts until the spring since it is thin and melts during the summer; at the beginning of the autumn, the Canadian Arctic is just water.
While Amundsen´s crossing took three years, currently, an ordinary ship (no need of an icebreaker ship moving in front) may take just a few days to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific or vice-versa.
The Arctic is warming at a rate almost twice the global average.
The warming of the Arctic is creating an enormous vicious circle because it is attracting large investments in mining and fossil fuel exploration, which at a due time will increase global warming even more.
Entire ecosystems will die, and our economic “victory” will be short because after some more decades a hotter earth will take revenge not against us, but Greta Thunberg´s generation, and that explains her immense rage: there is an incredible inter-generational injustice, we, the adults, take most of the benefits, while today´s teenagers and children will pay most of the costs.

Map 3.
Main routes to cross the Northwest Passage

Similar to mining and oil and gas companies, the shipping industry has also put its eyes on the Northwest Passage, not yet as much as with the Northeastern Sea Route across the Scandinavian and Russian Arctic, but its eyes are already on the Northwest Passage.
Some shipping companies must already be figuring which of the three or two main options through the Canadian archipelago could be the best for container ships, dry-bulk ships, and tankers.
Canada would love to ban the commercial traffic through its islands because the risks of an environmental disaster is enormous: an oil spill could take years to clean o could never be cleaned due to the remoteness and the non-hospitability of the region, besides, the economic cost of monitoring such a long route would be enormous for the Canadian budget: we are not talking about crossing the Panama, Kiel, Gota, or Suez canals (80 km, 98 km, 190 km, and 193 km, respectively) or even the Strait of Malacca (800 km); the Northwest Passage, depending of which could it be the best navigable route, could range from 1,450 to 2,400 km.
With dozens of vessels crossing the Passage, initially during summer and autumn, but in some decades maybe also during late spring and even early winter, the risks of maritime disasters similar or even much bigger to Exxon Valdez is a real threat.
And let´s make it clear: the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground at less than 61o, but the commercial ships will be crossing the Canadian Arctic much farther north: between 70o and 75o, which explains why the challenge to clean any oil spill would be almost impossible.
Finally, experienced pilots take control of the ships when they transit the Panama or Suez canals; the crossing of the Northwest Passage would require a similar mastery due to the myriad of islands that the ships will face, but will Canada have enough expert pilots to do that?
Will the shipping companies pay for that service if Canada is not able to regulate the transit?
And this takes me to my last point.

Sixth, Canada will never be able to ban the transit through the Northwest Passage.
Canada will never be able to ban the transit, and just with great efforts may be able to impose rules for navigating through those waters.
The regulations on NOx, SOx, or ballast water, to mention only three, are minor endeavors compared to the challenge to regulate the crossing of the Passage.
But the topic takes us to another dimension: the diplomatic world.
Canada has tried for decades that the US and the rest of the world accept that the waters of the Canadian Arctic are internal waters of Canada and that consequently Canada has its sovereignty and can impose any regulation it may want for the transit of ships, and may even close it for the transit of commercial vessels.
However, the US, the European countries, and almost any maritime country in the world refuse to accept that those are internal waters and since they connect the two oceans claim that the Canadian Arctic is an international strait where any vessel has the right of transit passage.
If the latter is accepted, Canada could never close the crossing to foreign vessels, and maybe only with great difficulty could impose some regulations.
The dispute has many ramifications; two of the most relevant are that the US wants to have free transit from the east coast to Alaska, and the waters are of critical geopolitical importance (Soviet and later Russian submarines have navigated the waters).
In brief, if Canada will not get the support of the US, other countries will never accept it either: Russia, China, and Japan, among the largest players.
Hence, ships from weakly monitored countries, such as the flags of convenience, will also be able to cross the Northwest Passage; I am referring to countries such as Liberia, Marshal Islands, Bahamas, Malta, Cyprus, Antigua, Bermuda, St Vincent, Cayman Islands, and same Panama.
It has been shown once and again that ships of flags of convenience are worse than ships from other countries for categories as the following: working conditions, basic rights, pay scale, insufficient compensation, improper work schedule, and future prospects, all conditions related to working conditions for the crews.
Do the same apply regarding the age and quality of the vessels?
Either from flags of convenience or from other countries, having at the beginning dozens and years later hundreds of ships crossing the Northwest Passage would be equivalent to a time bomb.
And let´s be frank about Canada too: Canadian companies are also eager to exploit the minerals and fossil fuels of the Arctic, which means an oil spill could also take place because of increased shipping activity by the same Canadians.

But why would shipping companies like to travel through the Northwest Passage rather than through the Panama Canal?
Two fundamental reasons: the distance from Japan, South Korea, and the north of China is much shorter than a trip that forces ships to travel southeast from Asia to Panama since Panama is at a much lower latitude than ports in those places.
Besides, as airlines know very well: to fly through the Arctic is much shorter than to do it at lower latitudes, and it is not just because of the advantages of flying tailwind with the jet stream from Asia to America.
That is the quid for the Panama Canal: if dozens and later hundreds of ships decide to cross the Northwest passage, the demand for the Canal will drop.
The transit through the canal will remain, of course, because for ships from the south of China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia or Singapore, the Canal will still make economic sense, and even more if the ports of call for some ships are in the south-east of the US such as Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, or the Carolinas, and even more for the any ship departing from even southern countries such as Australia and New Zealand towards any place in the east coast of the US (by the way ships from these two last countries will always prefer the Canal and never the Strait of Magellan between South America and Antarctica because as you could imagine by simple geometry: the hypotenuse of a triangle will always be shorter than the sum of the opposite and adjacent sides).
But what if the Northwest passage takes from Panama half or at least one-third of its traffic?
The increase in traffic through the Arctic will affect Panama and Suez canals, in the former case because of the Northwest Passage, and the latter because of the Northern Sea Route.

In summary, returning to my original thesis: 1) the Nicaraguan canal will never be built, 2) any dry canal across the isthmus of Tehuantepec, the Central American isthmus, or the Northern tip of Colombia will never take any real business from the Panama Canal, 3) the main competition to the Panama Canal has been and will continue to be the intermodal transport (trains and trucks) from the west coast to the east coast of the US, and 4) the Panama Canal will confront an enormous challenge in a few decades, a challenge that could really hit the canal even more than the intermodal transport in North America: the Northwest Passage.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Welcome to the Arctic: degraded radios, poor satellite geometry and sea charts dating back to Capt. Cook

The amphibious dock landing ship Comstock transits the Gulf of Alaska on Sept. 16.
(Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nicholas Burgains/Navy)

From NavyTimes by Geoff Ziezulewicz

As a changing climate melts sea ice and the Arctic Circle opens to ships from all nations, the U.S. Coast Guard and other armed forces will be called to assert American power in the polar region.

The U.S. Senate’s Fiscal Year 2020 defense bill calls for the Pentagon to study the best strategic port locations for the Arctic, but experts warned House lawmakers on Thursday that planners will confront many problems building bases there designed to counter growing Russian and Chinese presence up north.

“Equipment has to be hardened for extreme cold weather. High-frequency radio signals can be degraded due to magnetic and solar phenomena. GPS can be degraded due to poor satellite geometry,” Luke Coffey, a national security and foreign policy analyst with the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, told the Homeland Security Committee’s Transportation and Maritime Security Subcommittee.

And the Navy and Coast Guard will need better maps to chart their way across some waterways
“Some of Alaska’s shipping lanes have not been surveyed properly since Capt. James Cook sailed through in 1778,” Coffey said.
“You can’t build a port, you can’t ship oil or gas…unless we have fully charted oceans,” added Michael Sfraga, the director of the Wilson Center think tank’s Polar Institute.
“Especially around Alaska…those are lacking.”

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer voiced his support for a strategic U.S. Arctic port last year, noting that Russia had reopened five Arctic Circle bases and stationed 10,000 Spetsnaz special forces in the region.

USS Harry S. Truman © Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Navy

The aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman entered the Arctic Circle in October, the first U.S. flattop to venture that far north in two decades.

Tensions with the Russians in the Arctic remain low for now, but that could change, Coffey said.
“This is not about preparing for war,” Coffey said. “This is about just preparing for the future.”

Asked how Russia gained an upper hand in the Arctic, Coffey pointed to differences between NATO members about the alliance’s role there and a lack of awareness in much of the United States about America’s northern interests.
“We do not promote ourselves as an Arctic nation,” he said.
“We are thousands of miles away from Alaska and those voices aren’t heard.”

As for those Alaskan voices, it remains unclear how well lawmakers and the Pentagon will protect critical fisheries while big Arctic projects are being built, not to mention how local workers might benefit economically from the increased security spending in an era of profound climate change, said Victoria Herrmann, the president of the nonprofit Arctic Institute.

Going forward, she urged “robust partnerships” between U.S. armed forces, Alaska first responders, foreign friends and scientific researchers.
“The impacts of climate change are already forcing the region to undergo an unprecedented transition,” Hermann said.
“Arctic air and sea temperatures are warming at more than twice the rate of the global average. The Arctic Ocean has lost 95 percent of its oldest documented sea ice.
"This new, more dangerous normal poses the greatest threat to human safety, to marine ecosystems and to our capacity to respond to maritime emergencies.”

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Use of Electronic Charts and publications in lieu of paper charts, maps, and publications

 The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is responsible for establishing regulations that govern nautical chart and publication carriage requirements in U.S. waters.
image : NOAA

USCG – use of electronic charts and publications

The US Coast Guard issued a notice announcing availability of Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 01-16 Change 2 – Use of Electronic Charts and Publications in Lieu of Paper Charts, Maps, and Publications.
Comments must be received by 4 November.
84 Fed. Reg. 49545 (9/20/19)

The Coast Guard announces the availability of Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 01–16 Change 2 together with a Deregulatory Savings Analysis.
This NVIC provides that U.S. vessels may access navigation publications electronically, through underway connectivity, to meet domestic carriage and Safety of Life at Sea certification requirements.

Discussion Navigation publications have always been a principal source of voyage planning information.
Mariners researched books of tide tables, the United States Coast Pilot, local notices to mariners, and other information sources to glean relevant information for a particular transit.
Although such publications have historically been required to be kept on board a vessel, the Coast Guard has formally recognized that a mariner engaged in voyage planning might not need an entire publication at all times.1Since 2010, the Coast Guard has allowed U.S. vessels to carry certain navigation publications electronically to meet U.S. domestic regulations and Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) certificate requirements.
This is an acceptance of common industry practice.

In response to recommendations from the Navigation Safety Advisory Council and the public, the Coast Guard is updating its policy on electronic carriage of the Inland Navigation Rules and electronic publications in general.
Currently, the Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency are providing marine safety information in an updated electronic format, some of which is now graphical and geographically selectable.
Electronic devices (both hardware and software) have improved such that a mariner can efficiently access navigation publications when needed.
Furthermore, the Coast Guard recognizes that the maritime industry and mariners in general have made substantial investments to ensure vessels maintain internet connectivity, even while underway.
Because mariners use navigation publications primarily for voyage planning purposes, the Coast Guard sees no safety barriers preventing vessels from accessing required navigation information via the internet on an as-needed basis, versus keeping a publication or extract onboard.
To encourage the use of electronic voyage planning products, the Coast Guard is allowing vessels to meet the publication requirements via internet access.

Therefore, Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 01–16 Change 1 is revised to allow publications required by 33 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) parts 83, 161, and 164 and various parts of Title 46 CFR and SOLAS Chapter V regulation 27 to be accessed via web services.
If a mariner uses this NVIC for a publication that must be available as a ‘‘ready reference’’, as cited in 33 CFR parts 83 and 161, the publication must be displayable within 2 minutes.
The Coast Guard has prepared a Deregulatory Savings Analysis for NVIC 01–16 Change 2 that identifies and examines the potential costs and cost savings associated with implementing the new equivalency determination for carriage.
This Deregulatory Savings Analysis is available in the docket.
We request your comments on any concerns that you may have related to these policy changes or the economic analysis thereof.
NVIC 01–16 is not a substitute for applicable legal requirements, nor is it itself a rule.
This Notice is published under the authority of 5 U.S.C. 552.

Monday, October 7, 2019

U.S. Intelligence Agency eyes the Navy's MQ-25 drone for maritime surveillance missions

The Navy's primary task for this unmanned aircraft will be aerial refueling, but it's clear that there is interest in expanding its mission set.

From TheDrive by Joseph Trevithick

The U.S. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, or NGA, wants to know if Boeing could transform the MQ-25 Stingray tanker drone that it is developing for the U.S.
Navy into an unmanned maritime intelligence platform using a modular sensor pod.
This highlights continued interest within the Navy, and elsewhere in the U.S. military, in utilizing the Stringray, a test article for which flew for the first time just last month, for missions beyond just aerial refueling.

NGA awarded the sole-source contract to Boeing's Phantom Works advanced projects division, the value of which is not disclosed, on Sept. 27, 2019, but only announced it had done so three days later on the U.S. government's main contracting website FedBizOpps.
Under the deal, which Aviation Week was first to report, Phantom Works will conduct a study into what it would take to integrate "NGA's Maritime Program capability" into the MQ-25, as well as the manned P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, via Boeing's proprietary Multi-Mission Pod (MMP), according to a so-called Justification and Approval document.
U.S. government agencies need to submit this type of document when requesting authority to give a contract directly to a specific company or companies without going through a competitive bidding process.

It’s all hands on deck! Meet the Boeing MQ-25 team who’s ready to get our unmanned refueler off the ground and onto the flight deck so the U.S. Navy can execute their missions.

"The MQ-25 itself is still in early development containing much Boeing proprietary information," the Justification and Approval, which NGA lawyers and contracting officers cleared between May and June 2019, explains.
"Only the suggested source can perform the study as required, to the exclusion of other sources, because Boeing is the direct manufacturer of the system and maintains the unique intellectual knowledge of these systems."

Boeing first announced it was working on the MMP as a private venture specifically for the P-8A in 2016.
At the time, the company said that the pod, which it had flight tested twice already, would incorporate signals intelligence systems (SIGINT) and added communications and data sharing equipment, among other capabilities.
This sounds very much like a pod with a dense antenna farm that appeared underneath a P-8A testbed in 2015.
The Navy's Poseidons already have powerful SIGINT and other intelligence-gathering capabilities, which you can read about in more detail here.

A US Navy P-8A Posiedon maritime patrol aircraft.

The contracting document does not offer any insight into how Boeing might integrate the MMP onto the MQ-25.
The company does plan to equip the Stingray with underwing hardpoints to support the Cobham aerial refueling pods required for the tanking mission, which could potentially accommodate an external sensor system.

Boeing computer-generated rendering of an MQ-25 with a Cobham aerial refueling pod under its left wing and a regular drop tank under its right wing.

An addition, the unmanned aircraft's design is a direct evolution of the one Phantom Works had developed for the Navy's abortive Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program.
That effort, which the service subsequently abandoned in favor of an aerial refueling focused drone, envisioned a true unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) that would carry munitions inside internal payload bays.
It might be possible to insert a MMP into that payload space in a way where it flush with or semi-recessed in the fuselage, similar in general concept to the installation of the Pave Tack targeting pod on the F-111 Aardvark.

The exact configuration would no doubt depend on exactly what capabilities NGA is interested in inserting into the MQ-25.
There is no clear public reference to a "Maritime Program" on NGA's website, but the agency is responsible for a Maritime Safety Information program.

Despite its mundane name, this division's mission is to "provide global maritime geospatial intelligence in support of national security objectives, including safety of navigation, international obligations, and joint military operations," according to NGA's website.
This includes collecting and fusing intelligence relating to maritime threats to military and commercial vessels, from terrorists and pirates, as well as nation-state actors.
Tracking other types of hazards and maintaining accurate nautical charts for U.S. military and civilian use are also among NGA's Maritime Safety Office's jobs.

As such, the most likely sensor payloads that NGA would want to integrate into the MQ-25 would be wide-area surveillance systems capable of capturing either still imagery or full-motion video, day or night.
The drone will already have a sensor turret with electro-optical and infrared cameras, giving it some ability to find and fix targets of interest.
The pod could include additional optical sensors or radar or laser imaging systems.
An inverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR) with geo-location and ground moving target indicator functionality could be particularly useful for the maritime surveillance mission.
The AN/ASQ-236 Dragon's Eye radar pod and the AN/ZPY-5 Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar (VADER), which are already in service with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army respectively, are good existing examples of what a sensor system like this could offer.

A view view of the feed from an AN/ZPY-5 VADER radar imaging system, with the red and green tracks representing moving targets.

However, it's unclear whether the MQ-25 would have the altitude and range performance typically associated with these types of broad area missions.
The Navy, for instance, is focused on fielding a manned-unmanned team of P-8As and MQ-4C Triton high-altitude long-endurance unmanned aircraft to meet its own similar maritime intelligence and surveillance needs.
The service has already been employing older, ex-U.S. Air Force Block 10 RQ-4A Global Hawks, known as Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrators (BAMS-D), in this role.
Iran notably shot down one of these unmanned aircraft in the Gulf of Oman in June.

An overview of the MQ-4C Triton's capabilities.

That being said, the Navy has itself envisioned a secondary intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance role for the Stringray, even after abandoning the more robust UCAV requirements it had outlined in the original UCLASS program.
When the service officially asked to change the future unmanned aircraft's designation from RAQ-25A to MQ-25A in 2016, this is how it described the ISR requirements in the request packet, which the author previously obtained via the Freedom of Information Act:
"The UAS [Unmanned Aerial System] is envisioned to be an integral part of the future CVW [Carrier Air Wing].
During periods of flight when it is not executing the tanking mission, the UAS will be available for ISR tasking.
As an ISR asset, it will provide the CSG [Carrier Strike Group] commander an organic, long-endurance ISR capability.
It will be capable of providing Maritime Domain Awareness via SIGINT [Signals Intelligence], AIS [Automatic Identification System], and EO/IR [electro-optical/infrared].
The UAS will also be capable of performing dedicated ISR missions in support of the joint, component, or task force commander.
Sensors will be controlled from the CVN-based [carrier-based] UMCS [Unmanned Carrier Aviation Mission Control System] and by various work stations afloat or ashore depending upon the type sensor.
Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) control will be accomplished based on the DSO NTTP [Defensive Systems Operator Navy Tactical Techniques and Procedures].
Based on the data collected from its sensors, the UAS will be capable of transmitting and receiving tactical data link tracks, with associated processing and exploitation capabilities afloat (airborne, surface, and sub-surface) or ashore."

It is possible then, that NGA may be simply interested in inserting some more limited maritime surveillance capabilities on the MQ-25, and then linking it more directly to its own networks, as part of a more distributed means of acquiring maritime intelligence.
The would allow carrier strike groups in the future to be regularly feeding a variety of data, including just basic mapping information to help with maintaining nautical charts, back to NGA during routine operations, as well as those in support of responses to actual crises or contingencies.

The inclusion of SIGINT in the Stingray's potential ISR capabilities could similarly lead the Navy to incorporate the drone into its plans for replacing its EP-3E Aries II aircraft.
The service has already stated that it intends to supplant those ISR planes with a mix of P-8As and MQ-4Cs.
Giving Carrier Strike Groups additional organic SIGINT capacity that personnel afloat or ashore could immediately process and exploit, as well as disseminate onward to other U.S. military or Intelligence Community elements, could only help American commanders get a more complete picture of activity within their area of operations.

As The War Zone has highlighted before, the Navy's decision to abandon the UCLASS effort has long seemed like a particularly egregious missed opportunity.
Still, the decision to choose an MQ-25 design directly based on one of those earlier proposals only left the door open for potentially reinserting capabilities more in line with a UCAV down the line.

NGA's new contract with Boeing shows that various elements within the U.S.
military are already looking at additional roles and missions for the Stingray, even with the unmanned aircraft still in the early stages of development.

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