Saturday, May 16, 2020


Short film released in 2015,
on the occasion of the publication of the book ARCTIQUE
by French photographer Vincent Munier (Kobalann Publishing).

Friday, May 15, 2020

Coronavirus could disrupt weather forecasting

Data on temperature, wind and humidity collected by commercial airline flights has fallen sharply.

From NYTimes by Henry Fountain

The amount of atmospheric data routinely gathered by commercial airliners has dropped sharply as a result of the coronavirus, the World Meteorological Organization announced.

The drop in airline travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic has sharply reduced the amount of atmospheric data routinely gathered by commercial airliners, the World Meteorological Organization said Thursday, adding that it was “concerned about the increasing impact” on weather forecasts worldwide.

The agency said data on temperature, wind and humidity from airplane flights, collected by sensors on the planes and transmitted in real time to forecasting organizations around the world, has been cut by nearly 90 percent in some regions.

In the United States, airlines are operating skeletal schedules and have opted to store much of their fleets rather than continuing to lose money by flying near-empty planes.
(Nick Oxford/Reuters)

In the United States data declined by 75 percent  during the pandemic, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Under the observational program, established in the 1960s, data from 3,500 aircraft operated by Delta, United, American and Southwest, and by the cargo carriers United Parcel Service and FedEx, is transmitted directly to National Weather Service forecasting operations.

Christopher Vaccaro, a NOAA spokesman, said the decline “does not necessarily translate into a reduction in forecast accuracy since National Weather Service meteorologists use an entire suite of observations and guidance to produce an actual forecast.”
That includes data from satellites, radar and other land- and sea-based instruments and radiosondes, small instruments that are launched into the upper atmosphere on a daily schedule and provide data as they descend.

 Aviation-gathered observations via the AMDAR network on Jan 31. (WMO)
 Aviation-derived weather observations on May 3-4, via the AMDAR network. (WMO)

But fewer than 200 radiosondes are launched each day.
Observations from aircraft have been far more abundant, said William R.
Moninger, a retired NOAA physicist who now works at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado.
Not every airplane supplies data, but those that do transmit readings as often as every few seconds, depending on altitude, he said.

At this time last year, Dr. Moninger said, aircraft in the United States provided nearly 600,000 observations a day.
Now, with far fewer flights, on a recent day in April there were 180,000 observations, he said.

The observational data is fed into weather service computer models that forecast conditions anywhere from several hours to days ahead.
Dr. Moninger and some colleagues are currently studying whether short-term forecasts have been affected.
“The short answer is we haven’t seen an unequivocal impact yet,” he said, noting they have yet to complete their analysis.

 The steep drop in aviation observations from various networks, including AMDAR.
(WMO/Canadian Meteorological Center)

The World Meteorological Organization, an arm of the United Nations that coordinates a global observing system for 193 member nations, said that in addition to aircraft data, surface-based weather observations have been affected in some parts of the world, including Africa and Central and South America, where many weather instruments are not automated and must be visited regularly to obtain readings.

The agency said that automated instruments should continue to function well for some time, but that if the pandemic is prolonged, lack of maintenance and repair may become a problem.

Sign up to receive an email when we publish a new story about the coronavirus outbreak.
The agency also said some countries, especially in Europe, were launching more radiosondes to partially make up for the loss of aircraft data.

National weather agencies “are facing increasingly severe challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, especially in developing countries,” said Petteri Taalas, the agency’s director-general, in a statement.

“As we approach the Atlantic hurricane season, the Covid-19 pandemic poses an additional challenge, and may exacerbate multi-hazard risks at a single country level,” he added.

The aircraft data is also used by airlines as they manage daily flight operations both in the air and at airports.
Observations of wind speeds at cruising altitudes of about 30,000 feet and higher, for example, can help plan for refueling needs.  And if observations during ascent or descent show that it is likely that icing conditions may soon occur at an airport, an airline can save money by moving some aircraft elsewhere.

The data can sometimes be a lifesaver.
In a 2003 paper, Dr. Moninger and others wrote about a 1998 incident in which a plane nearing Miami on a flight from Europe radioed that it was nearly out of fuel because it had encountered strong headwinds.
A quick check of data from three other aircraft showed an alternative track, not far away, with calmer air.

For weather service forecasting, observations during take off and landings are especially useful, Dr.
Moninger said.
Data is collected more frequently than at cruising altitude: advanced instruments take readings every 300 feet between the ground and 10,000 feet.
The resulting collection of readings is called a profile and typically there would be about 12,000 of them a day.
On March 23 this year, there were 3,500.

The data can help forecasters better understand the vertical structure of the lower atmosphere and how it may change in the near term.
“If you’re looking for things like the likelihood of thunderstorms, the vertical structure of the atmosphere is important,” Dr. Moninger said.
“I expect the decrease in weather data could also make a big impact on things like predicting when fog is going to break,” he said.

Air-quality experts also use the data to forecast because it can help predict the appearance of near-surface inversions, when air temperatures, which are normally warmest at the ground, flip and become warmer at higher altitudes.
Inversions trap pollutants, greatly worsening air quality for up to a day or longer.

Links :

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Coronavirus: How is the sailing community weathering the storm?

Leisure sailing was effectively banned when the lockdown restrictions were announced 
photo : Nicolas Fichot

From BBC by Stephen Stafford

For Britain's leisure sailors coronavirus restrictions have meant frustration at not being able to head on to the water, while marine businesses face choppy economic waters.

Recreational sailing was effectively banned by the limits on travel and gatherings introduced in March, with marinas advised to close and the authorities keen to prevent extra strain on the emergency services at sea.

More than 2.5m Britons are estimated to take part in boating activities each year but in 2020 popular events such as the Round the Island Race - the country's biggest non-running mass participation sporting event - have been postponed.

Meanwhile Cowes Week - a highlight of the social calendar for almost 200 years - remains under review.

Helping others cope with the challenges of isolation

During the lockdown Dee Caffari has been sharing her experiences of her single-handed voyages around the world 
Image copyright Dee Caffari

"It'll be a season to remember, but not for the sailing," said record-breaking solo yachtswoman Dee Caffari from her home in Titchfield, Hampshire.
"I was on a beach walk and, looking out, there was not a single boat on the Solent - it's unheard of.
"There's been near perfect sailing conditions so it's frustrating for a lot of people.
But it's understandable - there are lots of potential risks on a boat."

Being the first woman to have sailed single-handed and non-stop around the world in both directions, Ms Caffari is used to self-isolation.
"I had to live with myself 24/7.
We don't know what next week or next month will bring so we're dealing with the here and now - planning and developing routines is critical to your wellbeing."

She has been sharing advice on coping with the "mental and emotional challenge" of the lockdown, and has been drawing on her previous career as a teacher to help produce resources on environmental issues for home schooling.

With crew members in close contact during the rigours of yacht racing and at on-shore social gatherings, Ms Caffari said it would be "some time before things get back to normal".
"Ours is such a social sport and racing is difficult if there is that anxiety about social distancing.
"It's so up in the air, so who knows how it will evolve and adapt to come out of the other side?"

Locked down on a yacht

 Image copyright Nomad Sailing

Lou Bundon has been carrying out maintenance work while in lockdown on her yacht
"It's our business and it's heartbreaking - we've worked really hard for it," said Lou Bundon of sail training company Nomad Sailing as she carries out maintenance work on her yacht.

Rather than return to her home in Hastings, she chose to spend the lockdown living on the company's yacht in an all-but-deserted Gosport Marina.
"I spend most of my life on a boat anyway - and I'd go stir crazy in the house."

With a busy spring and summer season of bookings scrapped, she has been using her time to catch up on maintenance work on the firm's two yachts as well as developing online courses and training videos for clients in the hope they will return when the business can refloat.

"It couldn't have come at a worse time. It's pretty soul destroying at the moment, but our customer base is fantastic. It's about keeping people engaged and giving them something to do in honing their navigational skills."

Sailing to the aid of the NHS 

Image copyright Sanders Sails
Peter Sanders has used his sail-making business to create protective scrubs bags for health workers

"We were keen to keep on working and provide something that hospitals would really want." said sail-maker Peter Sanders, who has turned turned his hand to producing Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for the NHS during the coronavirus crisis.

When the pandemic hit and sail orders "just stopped", Mr Sanders began using his materials and laser cutting and sewing expertise to help make more than 1,500 waterproof bags for medical staff to carry their scrubs in.

They were snapped up by the local hospital in Lymington, Hampshire, and orders were also received from as far afield as the Outer Hebrides, Belfast and Pembrokeshire.

The company is now helping the effort to produce plastic visors and has supplied more than 5,000 protective gowns to Southampton General Hospital.

Despite doing their bit, he fears "there'll be a lot of casualties in the industry".

"We've lost our busiest time of year. Of course if people haven't been out sailing over the summer, they aren't going to need to replace their sails, so it could be a cold winter for us.
"I've never seen anything like this - it's unprecedented and you can't see an end to it.
Personally, I miss being on the water, but you don't want everything to open again too soon - that would be the worst thing."

E-sailors - on the crest of a virtual wave

Image copyright Ripon Sailing Club
Zoom banter adds a social element to virtual racing at Ripon Sailing Club

With its boating lake out of bounds, Ripon Sailing Club in North Yorkshire has embraced virtual racing, with members taking on each other and other clubs around the country.
"We were thinking about retention and keeping members engaged and also taking into account the demographic of our membership.
A lot of them were self-isolating and so maintaining social interaction was really important for them," said commodore Jamie Kerslake.

Meanwhile, in Manchester's Debdale Outdoor Activity Club, commodore Nicola Stockdale, an avid gamer, has been using virtual sailing software as a training resource.
"There is never any substitute for the feeling of being out on a boat, but it does manage to fill that little hole during this trying period that we are in," she said.
"I really hope that even once we are allowed back on the water, that people still use it."

Sailing lessons on YouTube

Image copyright RYA
Jake Elsbury has fronted YouTube videos to teach kids the basics of sailing

"It's crucial to get kids to fall in love with the sport and keep participating," said sailing instructor Jake Elsbury who has been posting tutorial videos on YouTube for young sailors as part of the Royal Yachting Association's Sail from Home campaign.
He said many young sailors had been "disheartened" at the prospect of losing a summer on the water.

The weekly videos, recorded at his home in Southampton, are intended to instil "fun and interest" and cover subjects like tides, buoys and weather.
"It's really important to keep sailing in young people's minds - it gives them life skills like teamwork, confidence and perseverance," he said.
"Most sailors are used to dealing with what we get - we're in a storm and it's a case of battening down the hatches until we can get back out there."

Links :

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Cuba (GeoCuba) layer update in the GeoGarage platform

14 nautical raster charts updated

The day the pirates came

About a group of sailors captured in the Gulf of Guinea, the world's most dangerous piracy hotspot, and how they survived their hellish ordeal.

From BBC by Kevin Ponniah, Design image by Manuella Bonomi; Photos by Sanjeet Pattanaik

For Sudeep Choudhury, work on merchant ships promised adventure and a better life.
But a voyage on an oil tanker in West Africa, in dangerous seas far from home, would turn the young graduate's life upside down.
His fate would come to depend on a band of drug-fuelled jungle pirates - and the whims of a mysterious figure called The King.

The MT Apecus dropped anchor off Nigeria's Bonny Island shortly after sunrise.
Sudeep Choudhury was at the end of a draining shift on deck.
Looking towards land, he could make out dozens of other ships.
On the shoreline beyond them, a column of white oil storage tanks rose out of the ground like giants.

He had breakfast and then made two phone calls.
One to his parents - he knew they worried about him, their only child - and one to his fiancee, Bhagyashree.
He told her that everything was going to plan and that he would call her again later that day.
He then clambered into bed for a sleep.

It was 19 April, 2019.
The small, ageing oil tanker and its crew of 15 had spent two days sailing south from the port of Lagos to the Niger Delta, where oil was discovered in the 1950s by Dutch and British businessmen seeking a swift fortune.
Although he knew that vicious pirates roamed the labyrinthine wetlands and mangroves of the delta, Sudeep felt safe that tropical South Atlantic morning.
Nigerian navy boats were patrolling and the Apecus was moored just outside Bonny, seven nautical miles from land, waiting for permission to enter port.

The warm waters of the Gulf of Guinea, which lap across the coastline of seven West African nations, are the most dangerous in the world.
It used to be Somalia, but now this area is the epicentre of modern sea piracy.
Of all the seafarers held for ransom globally last year, some 90% were taken here.
Sixty-four people were seized from six ships in just the last three months of 2019, according to the International Maritime Bureau, which tracks such incidents.
Many more attacks may have gone unreported.

The bountiful oil found here could have made the people of the delta rich, but for most it has been a curse.
Spills have poisoned the water and the land, and a fight over the spoils of the industry has fuelled violent crime and conflict for decades.
In the villages above the pipelines that have netted billions for the Nigerian government and international oil companies, life expectancy is about 45 years.

Militant groups with comic book names like the Niger Delta Avengers have blown up pipelines and crippled production to demand the redistribution of wealth and resources.
Oil thieves siphon off thick black crude and process it in makeshift refineries hidden in the forest.
The level of violence in the delta ebbs and flows - but the threat is always there.

Sudeep woke up a few hours later to yelling and banging.
The watchman in the ship's command room, high above the deck, had spotted an approaching speedboat carrying nine heavily-armed men.
His cry of warning ricocheted around the 80m-long ship as the crew scrambled.
They couldn't stop the pirates, but they could at least try to hide.

Sudeep, just 28 but the ship's third officer, was in charge of the five other Indian crew working on the Apecus.
There was no oil on board, so he knew the pirates would want to take human cargo for ransom.
Americans and Europeans are highly prized because their companies pay the highest ransoms but in reality, most sailors come from the developing world.
On the Apecus, the Indians were the only non-Africans.

With less than five minutes to act, Sudeep gathered his men in the engine room in the bowels of the ship before running upstairs to set off an emergency alarm that would notify everyone on board.
On his way back down, he realised he was only wearing the underwear he had gone to sleep in.
Then he caught his first glimpse of the attackers, who were wearing T-shirts and black face coverings, and brandishing assault rifles.
They were alongside the vessel, confidently hooking a ladder onto the side.

The Indians decided to hide in a small storeroom, where they crouched among lights, wires and other electrical supplies, and tried to still their panicked breathing.
The pirates were soon prowling around outside, their voices echoing above the low hum of engine machinery.
The sailors were trembling but stayed silent.
Many ships that sail in the Gulf of Guinea invest in safe rooms with bullet-proof walls where crews can take shelter in exactly this kind of situation.
The Apecus didn't have one.
The men heard footsteps approaching and the bolt slid open with a clang.

Get up.

The pirates fired at the floor and a bullet fragment struck Sudeep in his left shin, lodging itself just an inch from the bone.
The men marched the sailors outside and up onto the deck.
They knew they had to move very quickly.
The captain had put out a distress call and the gunshots might have been heard by other ships.

The attackers ordered the Indians to climb down a ladder onto the waiting speedboat, which had two engines for extra speed.
Chirag, a nervous 22-year-old on his first deployment at sea, was the first to comply.
With the pirates' guns trained on them the others followed, as did the captain.

The six hostages - five Indians and one Nigerian - squatted uncomfortably on the overcrowded boat as it began to motor away.
The remaining crew, including one Indian who had managed to evade the attackers, emerged onto the deck.
They watched as the pirates sped off towards the delta with their blindfolded captives, leaving the Apecus floating in the tide.

The text message from the shipping agent arrived in the middle of the night.

Dear Sir, understandably Sudeep's vessel has been hijacked.
The Greek owner is co-ordinating the matter.
Don't get panicky.
No harm will come to Sudeep.
Please keep patience.

Pradeep Choudhury and his wife Suniti, sitting in their bedroom, were left reeling by this perfunctory message.
They had spoken to their son just hours earlier.
Pradeep began forwarding the text to family members and Sudeep's closest friends.
Could this really be true? Had anyone heard from their son?

Sudeep, as anyone who knows him will say, was mischievous growing up.
He was restless, always wanting to get out of the house for an adventure.
And his parents, especially his mother, would constantly worry about him.
They have lived in Bhubaneswar, a small city in the state of Odisha on India's eastern coast, for most of Sudeep's life.
It's a place that Indians living in the centres of power and influence - Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore - rarely, if ever, think about, but running a small photocopying shop from the front of their home gave the Choudhurys a comfortable life.

On the busy pavements near their home in central Bhubaneswar, the faces of deities stare out from modest shrines.
But before he left for Africa, Sudeep didn't really believe in any kind of god.
Life would be what he and Bhagyashree could make of it.
They met when they were teenagers.
Now a software engineer, she has the air of a girl who would have been popular at school.

The couple are the kind of aspirational young Indians whose dreams far eclipse the stable, traditional family lives that their parents craved.
There are tens of millions like them in India, armed with degrees and certificates but coming of age in a lumbering economy that continues to churns out many more graduates than well-paying jobs.

For Sudeep, a job in merchant shipping promised an escape from all of that.
He was lured by stories of good money, plenty of work and a chance to see the world.
And he's not alone - after Filipinos and Indonesians, Indians make up the largest contingent of global seafarers, working as deckhands, cooks, engineers and officers.
Some 234,000 of them sailed on foreign-flagged vessels in 2019.

But getting the right qualifications is complicated and Sudeep studied for five years, set on a path that cost his family thousands of dollars.
At the age of 27, he finally qualified as a third officer and got a tattoo on his right forearm to celebrate: a little sailing boat bobbing on a cluster of triangles representing the sea, with a large anchor cutting straight through the middle like a dagger.

On the first morning after the sailors were kidnapped, dozens of men emerged from the forest and fired their guns into the sky for nearly half an hour to celebrate.
The five Indians, who had been left on a car-sized wooden platform floating on a mangrove swamp, stared hopelessly at the brown water below them.

To get to their jungle prison they had been taken on a snaking, hours-long boat ride through the waterways of the delta.
In those first days, the message from the pirates - reinforced with occasional beatings - was clear: if no-one pays a ransom, we will kill you.

 Sudeep' parents

Sudeep was still living in his underwear and itched all night under buzzing mosquitoes that left his skin dotted with bites.
He hadn't been given a bandage for the wound on his leg, so he had pushed mud into the hole.
The humidity of the jungle meant the men were never dry.
They shared a single dirty mat for a bed, and would snatch brief minutes of sleep before jolting awake and remembering where they were.

Early on, the pirates had dragged a skeleton up from the swamp to show the sailors what had supposedly become of a former hostage whose boss had refused to pay.
That wasn't the only macabre threat.
On another day, they were shown a pile of concrete blocks.
Try anything and we'll strap these to your legs and drop you in the ocean, the pirates told them.

A rotating cast of guards kept watch from the riverbank, 10 or so metres away.
They spent their time fishing, smoking marijuana and drinking a local spirit made from palm sap called kai-kai - but they also watched the hostages closely, occasionally training a gun on them and yelling out a warning, as if their captives might suddenly dive into the murky water and swim away.

Over time, Sudeep would try to strike up a relationship with some of these men.
He would gently ask them how they were, or if they had children.
But the response was always silence, or a blunt warning.
Don't talk to us.
They appeared to be under strict orders but never referred to their leader - who seemed to be based elsewhere in the jungle - by name.
He was just "The King".

Sudeep and the other men - Chirag, 22, Ankit, 21, Avinash, 22, and Moogu, 34 - had little choice but to try to conserve their energy and wait for something to happen.
Their lives fell into a kind of lethargic routine.
Once a day, normally in mid-morning, they would get a bowl of instant noodles to share between the five of them.
They would carefully ration the meal, passing around a grimy spoon and each taking one mouthful.
They would repeat the ritual in the evening and hand back the empty bowl.

They were given nothing to drink except muddy water, which was often mixed with petrol.
Sometimes they were so thirsty they drank saltwater from the river.
The Nigerian captain was kept separately in a hut nearby.
He was treated better and the Indians began to loathe him for it.

To pass time, the five men would talk about their lives back home and their plans for the future.
They would watch the nature around them - snakes slithering up trees, birds taking flight through the mangroves.
They would pray.
If the pirates spotted a monkey, the quiet would be broken.
The Indians would watch them scramble after it, spraying the animal with bullets.
It would later be cooked over a bonfire but the meat was never shared with them.

The sailors tried to keep track of each passing sunset by etching small arrows into the wooden planks that they slept on.
They were at times delirious - some of them, including Sudeep, contracted malaria.
In whispers, they would imagine a scenario where the pirates came to kill them and they fought back.
If they were going to die, they could probably kill at least three of them on the way down, right?

At moments like this they laughed, but it was a constant battle not to sink into despair.
During the many quiet hours in which they would simply lie under the beating sun, Sudeep would think over and over what he could do to get them out, and what he would tell the Indian High Commission or his family if he got a chance to call.
In his head, he was still trying to plan his wedding.

The pirates' initial demand was for a ransom of several million dollars.
It was an exorbitant sum and one they must have known was unlikely to be paid.
But these kinds of ransom kidnappings involve complex and drawn-out negotiations, and in the undiscoverable warrens of the Niger Delta, time always seemed to be on their side.

About 15 days after the attack, the pirates took Sudeep on a boat to another part of the forest, and handed him a satellite phone so he could appeal directly to the ship owner, a Greek businessman based in the Mediterranean port of Piraeus called Captain Christos Traios.
His company, Petrogress Inc, operates several oil tankers in West Africa with swashbuckling names like the Optimus and the Invictus.

Sudeep knew little about Capt Christos but had heard he was an aggressive, bad-tempered man.
"Sir, this is terrible.
We are in a very bad condition.
And I need you to act very fast because we might die here," he told him.
His boss, furious about what had happened, was apparently unmoved.
The pirates were incensed.
"We just want money," they would say over and over again.
"But if your people don't give us money, we will kill you."

Their business model is dependent on the compliance of ship bosses who, usually covered by insurance, will pay significant amounts to free their crew after weeks of negotiations.
But in this case they were up against a stubborn ship owner.
The key now, the kidnappers knew, would be to reach the families.

Back in India, Sudeep's parents spent their nights lying awake.
They knew so little about what had happened that their minds veered towards the worst in those hours before dawn broke, when the streets of Bhubaneswar would briefly be still.
They feared their son would never emerge from a pirates' den that they could scarcely imagine.

There was no way the family could afford to pay the pirates directly and it was never considered as a serious option.
The Indian government doesn't pay ransoms but they hoped it would help them in other ways - by assisting the Nigerian navy to find the pirate camp, or forcing the ship owner to pay up.
Bhagyashree and Swapna, a formidable cousin of Sudeep in her mid-30s, took charge of this effort.
They corralled the family members of the kidnapped men into a WhatsApp group so they could co-ordinate efforts to get their boys freed.

It soon became clear to Bhagyashree that the pirates would gain nothing by killing the sailors.
But she was nervous about how long their patience would last.
Pressuring the ship owner from all directions seemed the only feasible way to get her fiancee out.
And so in the car, in the bathroom stall at work, and at home lying in bed, she was online, tweeting, firing off pleading emails to anyone who might be able to help.

After three weeks of near-silence, on day 17, the families had a breakthrough.
A sister of one of the kidnapped men, Avinash, received a call from her brother in the Nigerian jungle.
He told her that all the men were alive but they really needed help.
The other families would go on to receive calls from their sons in the coming days - but not Bhagyashree and the Choudhurys.

Strange relationships began to be forged.
A relative of one of the sailors who works in the shipping industry, a man called Captain Nasib, began calling the pirates regularly on their satellite phone to check on the men's condition.
But the tinny audio recordings he posted in the WhatsApp chat did not reassure the families.
The ship owner "does not care" about the lives of his men and is "playing around", a pirate angrily told Capt Nasib in one phone call.

On 17 May 2019 - day 28 - the pirates gave Sudeep the chance to speak to Capt Nasib, who assured him that the ordeal would only last a few more days.
But Sudeep, as the ranking officer, was told he had to keep everyone's morale high in the meantime.
"I'm trying," Sudeep can be heard responding in Hindi in a crackly recording of the call.
"Tell my family that you talked to me."

Every few weeks the Indians were moved from one jungle lair to another.
As negotiations with Capt Christos seemingly broke down, The King himself began to visit them.
He would never say much, but the other pirates treated him with a reverence that suggested fear.
His status as the group's leader almost seemed a consequence of his sheer size.
All the pirates were muscle-bound and threatening but The King was especially hulking - at least 6ft 6in.
He carried a much larger gun than the men under his command, and a leather belt filled with bullets was always strapped around his massive frame.

He would turn up every four or five days and calmly smoke some marijuana before the captives.
He would say that Capt Christos was still not playing ball and that this would have consequences.
The King spoke deliberately, and with better English than the other men.
After many weeks in captivity, the sailors were becoming bony and thin; their eyes were a pale yellow and their urine was at times blood-red.
Each visit from the King felt like it brought them closer to the fate of the skeleton they had seen pulled from the mud.

Then events took a more bizarre turn.
Up until this point, what had happened to the Apecus seemed to be just another opportunistic ransom kidnapping.
But in late May, unbeknown to the men who sat festering on those planks in the swamp, machinations were unfolding that seemed to point to a far more complex series of events.

The Nigerian navy had publicly accused the tanker company of being involved in the transport of stolen crude oil from the Niger Delta to Ghana.
The attack on the Apecus and the kidnapping, according to the navy, had actually been provoked by a disagreement between two criminal groups.
There had even been arrests.
The ship company's manager in Nigeria had apparently confessed to being involved in illicit oil trading.

Capt Christos, the ship's owner, fervently denied this.
In emails seen by the BBC, he blamed the Indian government for getting the Nigerian navy to detain his vessels and staff in order to force him to "negotiate with terrorists" and pay an "incredible" ransom.
Indian authorities dispute this version of events.
The Nigerian Navy didn't comment.

It was a precarious situation for the captives.
But the accusations - which put Capt Christos's tanker operations in Nigeria at risk - did seem to spur him to reach a resolution with the pirates.
And so on 13 June, Sudeep's family finally learned from a government source that negotiations were complete and that payment was being arranged.
At the same time, the sailors in the jungle were told that their ordeal might be coming to an end.

The men woke up on the morning of 29 June 2019 like they had almost every day for the previous 70 days.
At mid-morning, after handing over the bowl of noodles, one of the guards beckoned Sudeep over and whispered that if things worked out, this could be his last day in the jungle.
Two hours later the guard returned with confirmation: the man bringing the money was on his way.

The frail Ghanaian man in his mid-60s who approached in a boat that afternoon, nervously clutching a heavy plastic bag with US dollars peeking out of the top, did not look like a seasoned negotiator.
Within minutes of his arrival, it was clear something was not right.
A group of pirates began beating the old man.
The King, bellowing about the money being short, pulled a small knife out of his belt and stabbed him in the leg, leaving him writhing on the muddy ground.
He then approached the Indians and told them that while the Ghanaian would be staying, all six captives were free to go.
His men wouldn't stop them, but if another pirate group picked them up, they were on their own.
He looked Sudeep in the eye: "Bye-bye."

The men did not hesitate.
They ran to the water's edge, where the fishing boat that had brought the bag man was parked.
Sudeep told the driver to take them where he had come from.
After more than two months he was still in his underwear, though the pirates had given him a torn T-shirt to wear.
The boat rocked unsteadily from side to side as it motored away.

After nearly four hours, the driver said he was out of fuel and stopped at a jetty.
In the distance, on the outskirts of a small village, a group of barefoot men were playing football.
The ragged sailors approached them.
When they explained they had been kidnapped, they were ushered into a house and given bottles of water which they gulped down one after the other.
Three of the village's biggest men kept guard outside the guesthouse they were housed in during the night.
The Indians, though weak, finally felt safe.
"It was as if God himself appointed them as our saviours," Sudeep said later.

The men were soon in bustling Lagos, waiting for a flight to Mumbai.
Alone for the first time in his hotel room, Sudeep poured himself a cold beer, ran a bath and examined his scars.
A pirate had inflicted a fresh wound with a fish cleaver on his shoulder a few days before, which stung as he gingerly lowered himself into the steaming bath.
An Indian diplomat had given him a packet of cigarettes and over the next hour, he smoked 12 of them one after the other, staring at the ceiling as the water around him slowly cooled.

It's been eight months since the men were released.
Suniti, wearing a yellow sari, sits on the kitchen floor, rolling chapatis on a round block of wood.
A few metres away her husband watches the Indian cricket team play New Zealand on TV.

"Sudeeeeeeep!" Suniti calls her son to come downstairs and eat but it sounds like a cry of yearning, as though she's checking he's still here.
He lost more than 20kg in the 70 days that he spent in the jungle and returned with sunken cheeks.
His mother weighed him every few days for the first month, feeling buoyed with each kilo gained.

Bhagyashree passes her mother-in-law a metal plate, her red and gold wedding bangles sliding down her arm as she does so.
"I was confident he would return," she says.
"It's just the start for us, so how can I spend life without him? I believed in the Almighty - that he would come, that he had to come.
Nothing can end like this."

They finally got married in January.
The couple have their own space upstairs, but every evening the four of them eat as a family in the small living room on the ground floor.
On this night cousin Swapna - who campaigned ferociously for Sudeep's release - is visiting, and sings a 1960s Bollywood love song after dinner.

Back in his tight-knit family and community, Sudeep appears to have found stability.
He is working at the local maritime college, teaching young sailors about safety at sea, although he has put his own ocean-faring days behind him.
He shows flashes of joy with his family and friends, but it's hard to tell what mark months in a pirates' den has left behind.
They rarely talk about it.

"The trauma is still there," he tells me, as we drive around the dark streets of Bhubaneswar with pop music playing on the car speaker.
"But it's okay.
I got married and all my friends and family are here...
If I go to the sea then that thing will come again in my mind."

The ordeal is over but Sudeep and the other men remain tangled in a bureaucratic mess to try to get someone to take responsibility for what happened to them.
Since returning, they have not received their salaries, nor any compensation.
Sudeep reckons he's owed close to $10,000 in wages for the more than seven months he spent on the ship and in captivity.
Capt Christos did not respond to detailed questions about the kidnapping, whether he disputed that he owed Sudeep money and about the fate of the Ghanaian man left behind with the pirates.

He said in an email: "All the kidnapped personnel was safely released and return [sic] to their homes, thanks to Owners ONLY!" The company continues to deny that the Apecus was involved in the purchase of illegal oil, and instead argues it was at Bonny Island for repairs and to pick up supplies.
A court case is pending in Nigeria.

What happened to Sudeep underscores the vulnerability of those who find themselves in trouble or exploited at sea - a frontier where regulations and labour protections in theory exist but are difficult to enforce.
Seafarers are on the front line of global trade - Nigerian oil ends up at petrol stations across Western Europe, including the UK, as well as India and other parts of Asia.
Stories like Sudeep's, of which there are many, also reflect the human cost of security failings in the Gulf of Guinea.
Unlike Somalia, Nigeria - the largest economy in Africa - will not allow international navies to patrol its waters.

After all he's been through, it seems cruel that Sudeep should need to go through another fight.
But he says that he wants to pursue it until the end.
"I faced this and that means I can face anything in my life," he says on another late-night drive.
"No-one can break me down mentally.
Because for me it's a second birth, I'm living another life."

I ask him if it really feels that way.
"It's not feeling that - it is my second life," he replies.
We park outside his house - it's past 11pm but the lights are still on inside.
Bhagyashree and his parents are waiting.

Links :

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Norway (NHS) layer update in the GeoGarage platform

109 nautical raster charts updated

Satellite images show armadas of vacant cruise ships huddling together out at sea

Ships with reported cases of coronavirus found on board in 2020

From The Drive by Tyler Rogoway

With the cruise industry on life support, fleets have put to sea for an indefinite stay with many of their crewmen trapped on board.

Of all the industries that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the cruise industry has probably been hit the hardest.
Not only are their operations shut down, but they became the face of a global nightmare early on, with hulking pleasure ships being turned into floating prisons rife with infection.
Now, according to satellite imagery and transponder tracking data, with no revenue and nowhere to go, cruise ships are seeking refuge in clusters out in the Caribbean and Atlantic, attempting to ride out a storm that they were never designed to handle.

Storing cruise ships in port is not a cheap proposition, nor is there enough space to accommodate them in traditional berths.
Beyond that, the international crews that man these huge vessels are not allowed to step on land due to infection risk.
With the vast majority of these ships flagged in relatively small and poor countries that have little capability to impact the situation, the only place for them to go is out to sea.
And that's precisely where many of them have been.

One armada, in particular, off Coco Cay and Great Stirrup Cay—the former is owned by the Royal Caribbean cruise line and the latter is owned by the Norwegian cruise line—in the Bahamas is remarkably large.

The sad flock of cruise ships is spread out loosely in three groups spanning some 30 miles—from one just off the islands, to another roughly ten miles west, to another some 30 miles west.
Check out the satellite photos below to get an idea of just what we are talking about.
Keep in mind that it seems these groups are in constant flux, with the formation and general makeup of the ships in each group changing fairly regularly.

Satellite image of Coco and Great Stirrup Cays taken on May 5th, 2020.
Eight cruise ships are visible off the islands and in port at Coco Cay.

This image, taken on May 2, shows that 10 miles to the west of the islands, another group of cruise ships is located.

This image, taken on May 5, shows that 30 miles west of the islands there is a group of at least eight cruise ships, some of which are the biggest of their kind, sitting idle.

The westernmost group is made up of Carnival cruise ships.
The two other groups are mainly made up of Celebrity and Royal Caribbean cruise liners—Royal Caribbean owns Celebrity.
This is what the locations of the various ships looked like via's satellite transponder data on May 7, 2020:

All the blue dots are cruise ships.

About a dozen cruise liners, such as the Ruby Princess, have been sitting off the coast of the Philippines
When we looked over a broader area, we noticed that there are multiple other little huddles of cruise ships that can be found throughout the Caribbean.
More are anchored just off major embarkation points along the Florida coastline and elsewhere, as well.
Overseas there are similar huddles of ships that spot the map.

In this photo provided by the Philippine Coast Guard, cruise ship MV Ruby Princess, second from left, stays anchored with other ships waiting for clearance from the Bureau of Quarantine before they dock in Manila, Philippines on Thursday, May 7, 2020.
A cruise ship being investigated in Australia for sparking coronavirus infections has sailed into Philippine waters to bring Filipino crewmen home.

Although there are no passengers aboard these ships, some of which cost well over a billion dollars to build, there are plenty of people still on board.
Much of their crews are literally trapped on these vessels.
As the world cut back travel due to COVID-19's explosive spread around the globe and cruise ships became very unwanted guests at long-established ports of call, cruise line workers were trapped at their floating workplaces far from home.

Many of the countries they hail from are not wealthy enough to repatriate them even if they could, so for now, they are stuck in a hellish paradise of sorts on gargantuan pleasure boats that have been banished to the sea—barely moving islands onto themselves.
Meanwhile, they too have loved ones to worry about back home, but have no way of impacting their situations directly.

CNN writes what it is like for crewmen trapped on the vacant luxury liners:

Isolated, denied the swift repatriations offered to passengers and, in some cases, made to endure tough conditions without pay, some of those sequestered at sea have been describing the bureaucratic tangle that has trapped them, often within meters of shore.

"I'm hoping we don't get forgotten about, to be honest," says MaShawn Morton, who works for Princess Cruises.
"It seems like nobody cares what's happening to us out here."

As of May 5, there were over 57,000 crew members still aboard 74 cruise ships in and around US ports and the Bahamas and the Caribbean, according to the US Coast Guard.
Many more hundreds were stuck on vessels elsewhere across the world's oceans.

With no passengers to look after and their quarantines completed, the employees are left wondering why they haven't been allowed home.


American Alex Adkins, a senior stage technician on Freedom of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean ship, has been waiting at sea since mid-March when the vessel's guests were offloaded in Miami.
"Since then, we've had no guests and we've just been floating off the coast of Barbados," he says.

For the first week, the crew took advantage of the Freedom of the Seas' pool and the gym, enjoying facilities empty of guests.
Then, they went into a mandatory two-week self-isolation, says Adkins.

Adkins tells CNN that crew members have since been told that they're no longer considered working employees and they were paid out through the end of April.

CNN's report does note that some repatriation efforts are beginning to take shape, but that exactly how they will play out for all the crewmen on board these ships remains unclear.
The reality is, these big vessels need a sizeable crew onboard to exist, especially without a port to dock in.

On March 13th, due to the quickly unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, the cruise industry shut down all operations.
This was at first supposed to be a 30-day measure, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S.
subsequently issued a do not sail order that could last for months to come.
As a result, the future of the industry is very much in doubt.

The Disney Wonder cruise ship, right, sits at anchor in front of Celebrity Cruise's Millennium cruise ship, as people pass on the beach Thursday, April 30, 2020, in Coronado, Calif.
The ships are just two of many cruise ships sitting idle along the country's coastline, as the travel industry feels the effects of the battle to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and others say they will start operating again this summer, while Norwegian now says the entire industry might not survive, at least in the form it once was.
It isn't clear how restarting cruise operations would be possible with the virus still widely circulating.
These ships become huge liabilities during an outbreak and end up being geopolitical footballs that nobody really wants to touch.
There is also the factor of direct legal liability for operators that are embarking passengers that could potentially die from a disease that has proven to be very hard if not impossible to contain aboard once it rears its ugly head.

So, as you can see, the viability of the cruise industry and the massive ships—big moneymakers during the best of times, but huge money pits when cruisers are not on board—is far from certain.
It is hard to imagine what would happen to all of these ships, some of which are modern marvels, if they simply had no demand for their services on the horizon.
Few industries exist where such huge capital outlays can turn into equally large liabilities under these highly unique circumstances.
Whereas air travel and hotels, both industries that are in great jeopardy, still serve a necessary service during a pandemic and during the economic recovery that hopefully follows, these decadent and hulking ships serve no purpose other than entertainment.

More than 800 cases of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases occurred during outbreaks on three cruise ship voyages, and cases linked to several additional cruises have been reported across the United States, the CDC found.

The Covid-19 Cruise Tracker is tracking in real-time all the cruise liners currently stranded outside ports around the world.

So, unless the COVID-19 situation takes a miraculous turn for the better, it's hard to imagine a set of circumstances where throngs of cruise ships aren't left out to sea.

Links :

Monday, May 11, 2020

10 ECDIS questions SIRE inspectors ask and how to deal with it?

From MySeaTime by Capt Rajeev Jassal

I cannot tell you how much do I enjoy writing on ECDIS.
I truly feel that ECDIS has made the navigation so much safer.

Well, many still do not agree with this statement and I respect their opinion too.
There is definitely merit in their opinion if that is based on the fact that not many officers are trained to handle the ECDIS in the right way.

I personally have seen a few officers sweat out in front of SIRE (Ship Inspection Report Program) inspectors when they ask the questions related to ECDIS.
But they sweat out because they have not been adequately trained.
 And even if they wanted to self-train themselves, there is hardly any user-friendly information available.
But not anymore.

No more sweating out for ECDIS questions.
In this blog, we will discuss all that SIRE inspectors ask a 2nd mate during his bridge inspection.
And I will discuss these with respect to JRC ECDIS.

So let us start with our first question.

Question 1: Can you show me the last passage plan on ECDIS?

This is the first question and this is the most important one too.
The passage needs to be accurate must follow all the company requirements and must be in accordance with the industry guidelines.
I have covered the general passage planning in this blog and ECDIS passage planning in this one.
Do read these two blogs to get to know about the passage planning.
But you must cover these areas in the passage plan on ECDIS.
  • The route
  • Parallel index lines
  • No-Go Areas (not excessively marked)
  • Wheel over position
  • Abort point
  • Marking of bridge watch levels
  • Position plotting interval and method at each leg
  • Security levels and the points where vessels need to be hardened.
  • Point for notice to the engine room and calling the master

Question 2: Do you perform a route check? How do you do it?

Route check is a function of the ECDIS which checks the route and gives all the alarms for which the route is passing through any dangers.
The 2nd mate then can check each of these alarms to see if the route needs to be amended.

To perform the route check, open the route in the table editor and click on the “Safety Check”.

route check option

This would give all the errors in the route.
If we select on an error and click on “Jump” the ECDIS screen will jump to the area of that error.

2nd Mate can then see if that error is applicable to us or if the route needs to be amended to avoid that.
2nd Mate needs to check each of these errors one by one to ensure that our route is safe.

Question 3: How do you make sure your ENCs are corrected up to date?

To check if the ENCs are corrected up to date on JRC ECDIS, go to 6.Chart -> ENC update report.

ENC update report menu JRC ECDIS

This will show you the status of all the ENCs and the week number these ENCs are corrected up to.

Go to Summary and it will show you the total number of ENCs and how many of these are up to date and how many are not up to date.

summary of ENCs update status_JRC ECDIS

If you would like to see the status of ENCs for a particular route only, make sure to tick the “route filter” and choose the route from the “select route” dropdown.

route filter ENC status

This will give the ENC status report for the ENCs for the chosen route.

Question 4: How do you know if you have all the required ENCs for the route?

The ENC ordering process depends upon your ENC provider.
For example, Chartco would have a different procedure for ordering the ENCs and NAVTOR has a different procedure.
But once you have ordered, received, and updated ENCs in ECDIS, we need to check if the ECDIS has all the ENCs for the next voyage.

Ideally, when we check the ENC update report with route filter and if any ENC is missing, it would show that in this report.
ENC not up to date route filter

And when we go to “Status Report”, this would give a clear reason for the “ENCs not up to date”.

ENC missing Status report Route filter

But with this function, it is only checking ENCs for the route with the set “Cross-track error” in the ECDIS for that route.
So if we have set the cross-track error as 1NM, this would only check the ENCs for 1NM from the route.
But that is not enough.
We need to have the ENCs for up to at least for few miles from our route.
I prefer to have ENCs for at least 50NM from our route.
This would mean that in case we need to deviate the ship for any unforeseen reasons, we still have the ENCs for at least 4-5 hours of the deviation.

One way of checking this is to temporarily increase the cross-track error limit in the route plan.
Then check the ENC status report with route filter.

cross track error ECDIS_opt

If the report shows all ENCs up to date then the ECDIS has the ENCs for the route and up to the (large) cross-track error set in the route plan.
But some ECDIS has a limitation of maximum cross-track error that can be set.

So the other way is to get the list of all the ENCs for the route from ENC provider software (Chartco/Navtor etc) and check physically if these are available in the ECDIS.
If your company subscribe to PAYS (Pay as you go), you only need to check this for ENCs that are not available under PAYS.

Question 5: How do you plot the Navigation warnings

I have covered this topic in detail in a different blog.
Read it if you have any doubts about how to plot navigation warnings on ECDIS.
Most of the SIRE inspectors would want to see the navigation warnings being plotted with “manual update”.
But I and you know that at least on JRC ECDIS, it is much easier to plot the navigation warning with the user chart.
The problem with the user chart is that it would not generate an alarm during the route check feature or when you are using the look-ahead feature.
So if you are plotting the navigation warning with the user chart, you must have an answer ready for the SIRE inspector.
The answer for “how do you make sure that route does not pass through dangerous navigation warning plotted with user chart”.
And your answer could be that you check that manually during the passage planning stage.

Question 6: What IHO presentation library your ECDIS uses? Can you show me?

In layman’s terms, the IHO presentation library is the set of instructions to the ECDIS manufacturers about how the various symbols must be displayed on the ECDIS.

For example, what color, size, and shape of the symbols must the ECDIS show on ECDIS.
ECDIS manufacturer needs to develop its software as per these set of guidelines developed by IHO.
From 2nd mate and seafarer’s point of view, we must know what presentation library version our ECDIS has.

And if that is the latest IHO presentation library?
If the vessel is not able to show this information on the ECDIS, not only this be a SIRE observation but during PSC inspections this can be detainable deficiency too.
So let us check what presentation library this JRC ECDIS has.

On the ECDIS screen, right-click and choose “S-57/C-MAP/ARCS Information”.

ECDIS Presentation library_opt

Go to “Chart legend” and there you will get the “Presentation library version”.

presentation library ECDIS_opt

Apart from this, you need to know what is the latest version of the presentation library so that you know your ECDIS has the latest version .
We can get the information about the current version of the presentation library from the IHO website, by contacting the ECDIS maker or simply by asking your company.

Question 7: How do you plot position from sources other than GPS?

We need to be able to plot position on ECDIS from sources other than GPS.
The sources like visual bearings, range/bearings, and celestial observations.
While the procedures may be different on different ECDIS but if you are actually using these features to plot positions, it would be easier for you to show it to the SIRE inspector.
Here is a blog that I wrote on position fixing sometime back that includes position fixing on ECIDS.

Question 8: What ECDIS safety settings are entered during arrival to this port?

Here is a detailed article on ECDIS safety settings that I had written earlier.

I assume that you know everything about ECDIS safety settings.
Like what are these safety settings and what value to set for these settings in the ECDIS.
If you have any doubts, do read the blog on ECDIS safety settings first.
But even when 2nd mate knows about safety settings, there is one mistake that I see them making repeatedly.

The mistake is to keep the safety settings constant for the voyage.
The ECDIS safety setting needs to be dynamic.
These need to be changed during the voyage even when the vessel’s draft remains the same.

Usually, the safety settings are calculated with zero height of the tide.
At the open sea, the vessel’s route must be in safe waters with these safety settings at zero height of the tide.
But that is not the case with port arrivals and departures.

If the vessel needs to use the height of tide for compliance with the company’s UKC policy, then the safety settings need to be changed to include the height of tide too.
Mere doing the UKC calculation with the height of tide is not enough.

Let us say that for a river port we did the UKC calculation with the height of tide as 3 meters and UKC is complying with the company’s UKC policy.
Now, this is the ECDIS route for this river port with initial safety settings (without the height of tide).


This would be a SIRE observation.
Because while navigating at no point in time we can pass over the depth less than safety depth.

Let us say the safety depth calculated and entered here was 13 meters. And if the height of tide while passing this point was 3 meters, we need to adjust (reduce) the safety settings by 3 meters.

In this case, the same ENC would look like this.


As a practice, we can prepare a list of points (waypoints) where the safety setting needs to be changed (taking into account the tide).

Question 9: What procedure you follow when the route crosses safety contour?

A vessel outside the safety contour is in safe waters.
But that does not mean that all the waters in the safety contour are not safe.
For example, if we have calculated safety depth as 11 meters then the nearest safety contour will be 15 meters.

But what if the depths inside the safety contour are in the range of 13 to 14 meters.
These depths are still safe for us because these are more than our safety depths.

On ECDIS, the unsafe depths (depths less than safety depths) are shown in dark black color and safe depths are shown in grey color.
ECDIS is supposed to give an alarm when the vessel crosses a safety contour.
But after the vessel has crossed safety contour there would be no alarm in case the vessel is about to run into danger such as crossing an unsafe depth.

For this reason, we are required to define the procedure we would follow after crossing the safety contour to ensure that ship navigates safely.

There are two methods to choose from :
  • Method 1: After crossing safety contour, Navigator needs to be more alert and ensure that the vessel does not run over a depth lesser than safety depth.
This method is based on the careful review of the navigator while navigating in the area after crossing the safety contour.
  • Method 2: Or we can use the 2nd method where during the planning stage, 2nd mate draws a line with a manual update separating the safe and unsafe areas.
In this case, we need to use the manual update feature so that we can get the alarm on the ECDIS if the vessel crosses this line.


It is also required that the company must document in their procedures as to which method the bridge team should use.
Some companies may direct the master to choose any of the above two methods.

Question 10: What is scamin and how do you use it?

Let us consider a buoy in an ENC.
ENC maker would have defined a minimum (SCAMIN) and maximum (SCAMAX) scale of ENC at which this buoy would be visible on the ENC.
Let us say the minimum scale set by the ENC maker is 1:50000.
This means that if you zoom the ENC scale to less than 1:50000, this buoy would not be visible on the ENC.

Likewise, there could be so many other features (certain soundings, buoys, pipelines, cables, etc) for which ENC makers have defines a minimum and maximum scale for its visibility.

However, if we keep the SCAMIN setting to off, irrespective of how much you zoom in or zoom out, none of these features will disappear.

Let us first see how to switch it on or off on JRC ECDIS.

Go to Menu 6.Chart -> Settings -> S-57/C-MAP/ARCS Information

SCAMIN on and off_opt

From the option “View Common”, you will find the option to turn on/off the Scale min under “Chart Symbol”.


But why this feature is given at all?
This is to give an option to the navigator to de-clutter the screen so that it is more user-friendly during the navigation.

Now the question is what is the correct way to use SCAMIN.
During the passage planning stage, we do not want to miss any of the features or buoy, etc as we do not want to have our courses run over these.
So during the planning stage, we are expected to keep the SCAMIN off.
During navigation, we can keep the SCAMIN to “on” to declutter the ECDIS screen however if we need to go away from our intended route for some reason, we must turn off the SCAMIN to review the area.


Nowadays, ECDIS is the main area of interest for SIRE inspectors when it comes to bridge/navigation rounds.
Though it may sometimes seem too much to cover in ECDIS but if you have your basic questions about ECDIS covered, there is nothing to sweat about for ECDIS.