Saturday, December 25, 2021

This incredible animation shows how deep the ocean really is

Just how deep does the ocean go?
Way further than you think.
This animation puts the actual distance into perspective,
showing a vast distance between the waves we see and the mysterious point we call Challenger Deep.

Friday, December 24, 2021

One of the longest-lived ozone holes on record is about to close

Left: Still of animation of the ozone hole on 15th October.
Right: Total column ozone field forecast for Monday 20th December from CAMS showing only a small area with values below 220 DU over the Antarctic.
Credit: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, ECMWF

From Copernicus

Scientists from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service confirm that the 2021 Antarctic ozone hole has almost reached its end, following a season with a considerably large and prolonged ozone hole.
Its closure will occur only a few days earlier than in 2020, which was the longest lived since 1979.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on behalf of the European Commission with funding from the European Union, reports that the Antarctic ozone hole has almost reached its end.
Similar to last year’s season, the ozone hole in 2021 will be one of the largest and longest-living ones on record, coming to a close later than 95% of all tracked ozone holes since 1979.

Vincent-Henri Peuch, Director of Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service at ECMWF, comments: “Both the 2020 and 2021 Antarctic ozone holes have been rather large and exceptionally long-lived.
These two longer-than-usual episodes in a row are not a sign that the Montreal Protocol is not working though, as without it, they would have been even larger.
It is because of interannual variability due to meteorological and dynamical conditions that can have an important impact on the magnitude of the ozone hole and are superimposed on the long-term recovery.
CAMS also keeps an eye on the amount of UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface, and we’ve seen in recent weeks very high UV indexes­ – in excess of 8 – over parts of Antarctica situated below the ozone hole.”
The Montreal Protocol, signed in 1978, is one of the most credited climate action agreements set in place to protect the ozone layer.
The protocol bans harmful chemicals that are linked to ozone destruction and depletion such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
These chemicals remain in the atmosphere for long periods of time and reach the stratosphere, where they contribute to ozone depletion.
Thanks to the Montreal Protocol the concentrations of these chemicals are slowly decreasing.
However, because of their long lifetimes it will still take about four decades for the ozone layer to fully recover.
CAMS is contributing to the international efforts of preserving the ozone layer by continually monitoring and delivering high quality data about its current state.
Computer models of the atmosphere are combined with measurements from satellites and in-situ stations to monitor closely the evolution of the phenomenon.
As the stratospheric ozone layer acts as a shield, protecting from potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation, it is of the upmost importance to track its changes.

“CAMS monitors and observes the ozone layer by providing reliable and free-to-access-data based on different types of satellite observations and numerical modelling, which makes the monitoring of the inception, development and closure of the yearly ozone holes possible in a detailed way.
The compiled data, along with our forecasts, allows us to follow the ozone season and compare its development against the ones of the last 40 years”, adds Vincent-Henri Peuch.

How the ozone hole is formed

Chlorine and bromine-containing substances accumulate within the polar vortex where they stay chemically inactive in the darkness.
Temperatures in the vortex can fall to below -78 degrees Celsius and ice crystals in Polar stratospheric clouds can form, which play an important part in the chemical reactions.
As the sun rises over the pole, the sun’s energy releases chemically-active chlorine and bromine atoms in the vortex which rapidly destroy ozone molecules, causing the hole to form.

More information about the ozone hole, you can find on our website:  
Links :

Thursday, December 23, 2021

US (NOAA) layer update in the GeoGarage platform

Extreme weather demands warp-speed government-private sector response

Cleanup crews work on a street in Mayfield, Ky., on Wednesday. (Austin Anthony for The Washington Post)

From WP by Tim Gallaudet,  Kathy Sullivan and Marshall Shepherd

It has happened again.
Yet another devastating weather event — this time the deadliest December tornado outbreakon record, and probably one of the top 10 deadliest for any month — has reminded us that we’ve entered a new era of environmental extremes.
While we don’t yet know the link between climate change and this particular event, we do know that a warming climate has increased the effects of extreme weather, which scientists agree will only get worse in the years and decades to come.

As a nation, we must meet this moment by doubling down on efforts to improve forecasts and early warnings in the face of what Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell rightly called “the crisis of our generation.”

The Weather Forecasting Research and Innovation Act of 2017, also known as “the Weather Act” and widely viewed as the first comprehensive weather authorization in 25 years, led to several important advances in U.S. weather forecasting capabilities.
These include the establishment of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s tornado warning improvement program to predict tornadoes beyond one hour in advance, greater incorporation of private-sector data into National Weather Service operational models and forecasts, and with subsequent amendments in 2019, the establishment of NOAA’s Earth Prediction Innovation Center to restore U.S. leadership in weather modeling.

In the years since, however, our world has changed dramatically.
Every year brings more disasters to more places, with higher costs.
Local communities don’t have the tools and resources to cope with more frequent and more intense flooding, heat waves, wildfires and other environmental extremes.
The stakes are now higher than ever for how we go about funding and implementing policies and programs that will allow us to adapt to and mitigate severe weather and climate conditions.

Even before the recent tornado outbreak, the United States had been ravaged by multiple compound weather events this year.
A weakened polar vortex caused extreme cold that crippled energy and water infrastructure throughout Texas and the Southeast. Hurricane Ida made landfall along the Gulf Coast, disrupting commerce, oil and gas production, and the daily activities of millions of Americans.
The remnants of Ida also caused disastrous flooding in the highly populated Northeast, as historic rainfall rates overwhelmed storm-water management systems designed for a past century.

While the Weather Service strives to make the United States a Weather-Ready Nation, many remain unprepared for the weather-climate system that we live within.

Congress has acknowledged this and has begun to act.
The bipartisan PRECIP and FLOODS bills aim to revise the Weather Act to improve NOAA’s precipitation estimates and decision support to reduce flood-related impacts and costs.

More can be done, however, especially in view of the inflection point we are at today, where private industry has the technology, capital and velocity to deliver solutions in a fraction of the time and cost than our federal agencies can do on their own.

We believe the following three updates to the Weather Act could accelerate improvement of our nation’s weather and climate resilience:

1) Expand and expedite commercial data sources.
The Weather Act provides NOAA the authority to purchase commercial weather data, place weather satellite payloads on government or commercial satellites, and conduct commercial weather data pilot programs.
While this was a novel concept at the time when the legislation was drafted, language in the bill required NOAA to undertake a three-year evaluation period for each pilot program. Thus, to date, NOAA has awarded only three data purchases for a single type of commercial weather data (radio occultation).

Since 2017, the sources of commercial satellite and in situ data that can be used to improve predictions and warnings have increased by an order of magnitude.
Expanding this provision to additional commercial weather and ocean data and reducing the evaluation period would improve the skill of weather models much sooner than waiting for NOAA’s next generation of weather satellites to launch in the 2030s.

2) Make more use of other transactional authority.
The 2019 amendment to the Weather Act provides NOAA with “additional transaction authority” to enter into agreements with commercial and other organizations for the “construction, use, operation, or procurement of value-adding” platforms and data when NOAA objectives cannot be met otherwise. In the two years since, NOAA has used this authority only once, largely because the language says that NOAA “may” use such authority, rather than “shall.”

By mandating a certain number of agreements with the private sector annually, NOAA would be emboldened to take advantage of the burgeoning marketplace, much like the Department of Defense has to more quickly and efficiently onboard innovative industry capabilities.

3) Tap private-sector innovation for weather and climate services.
The Interagency Council for Advancing Meteorological Services was established by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in 2020 under the authority of the Weather Act “to improve coordination of relevant weather research and forecast innovation activities across the federal government,” with the intent of elevating meteorological services to the highest levels of government.

To help achieve the council’s charter to lead the world in providing societal benefits with information spanning local weather to global climate, Congress should add language requiring it to conduct a study on emerging private-sector capabilities and commercially available off-the-shelf solutions.

Further, the council should be directed to establish an advisory group, similar to the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group, to ensure industry and nonfederal entities are adequately represented.

Collectively, these three adjustments to the Weather Act could be considered the climate equivalent of the National Institutes of Health’s extraordinary response to the pandemic.
Combining a whole-of-government approach and featuring the Department of Defense as a co-lead, NIH forged an ambitious and agile partnership with 20 biopharmaceutical companies to accomplish a moonshot for modern medicine.

Like the pharmaceutical industry, the private weather enterprise can meet critical needs that the government cannot on its own through additional data, cost-effective observational and computational infrastructure, and superior decision-support tools.

This isn’t to say that we advocate for industry replacing the Weather Service by charging U.S. citizens for lifesaving services.
Rather, industry can take on a greater role while the government continues to set standards and provide oversight. 
The idea is for the government to do what only it can do and the private sector to do what it can do better, resulting in better performance and return on investment.

NOAA is looking to receive nearly $1 billion in funding from the recent bipartisan infrastructure deal and anticipated FY22 appropriations for forecasting capability improvements, with more than $47 billion in the bill designated for climate resilience.
If our combined 100-plus years of service in and collaboration with the U.S. government has taught us anything, it is how slow federal acquisition processes are in allocating resources of that magnitude.

Greater contributions from the private sector can help us improve forecasts and early warnings at the speed and scale our nation needs and expects.
Codifying them in a Weather Act 2.0 would jump-start an Operation Warp Speed for weather and climate, and the lifesaving impact could rival that of vaccines for the pandemic.

The authors consult for multiple weather, ocean and space technology companies.
Gallaudet is a retired Navy rear admiral, former deputy administrator at NOAA, and former assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere.
Sullivan is a former administrator of NOAA, former undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, and was recently appointed to the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.
Shepherd is director of the University of Georgia atmospheric sciences program, former president of the American Meteorological Society, and has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Links :

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Costa Rica’s pristine ‘Shark Island’ now a massive marine reserve

A whitetip reef shark swims inside a cave off the coast of Cocos Island.
Newly announced legal protections will expand the fishing ban around Cocos Island and create more safe habitat for vulnerable shark species like these.
photo : Greg Lecoeur, NatGeo image collection

From National Geographic by Sarah Gibbens

Three times the size of the country’s mainland, the reserve’s abundance of sharks, whales, turtles, and other marine life has been described as an “underwater Jurassic Park.”  
The first time he dove into the waters surrounding Cocos Island, Enric Sala felt like he was in an “underwater Jurassic Park.”
“I remember vividly diving under a school of 200 hammerhead sharks, inside a school of thousands of bigeye trevally, and [being] surrounded by 20 green turtles mating,” says the National Geographic explorer-in-residence, in an email.
Expanded protection
The Cocos Islands National Park has been expanded by 27 times in size with the creation of the new Bicentennial Marine Managed Area
Christine Fellenz, NG staff; Sam Guilford, Charles Preppernau
sources : Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia, Republica de Costa Rica

The crystal waters sheltering that vibrant life, reminiscent of prehistoric eras, are now receiving more protection to keep them pristine.
Costa Rica’s Cocos Island National Park, a protected marine reserve since 1982, will grow 27 times in size.
It will be contained within a new sustainably managed marine reserve called the Bicentennial Marine Managed Area, signed into law on Friday by Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada.

Altogether, the declarations will protect 61,502 square miles of ocean (159,290 square kilometers).
That’s three times the size of mainland Costa Rica.

The announcement means that Costa Rica, famously ambitious in its environmental goals, is now protecting 30 percent of its oceans, compared to just 3 percent before today's announcement.

Earlier this year, 50 countries said they would protect 30 percent of their land and 30 percent of their oceans by 2030.
Separately, the Biden administration has pledgedto work toward a similar goal.
This “30 by 30” target is one scientists have said is necessary to mitigate climate change and prevent rapid biodiversity loss.
Today, less than 8 percent of the world’s oceans are under any sort of legal protection, and Sala says more is needed “if we are to prevent an extinction crisis and the collapse of our life support system.”

The bigeye catalufa grows to 11 inches long and inhabits deep, rocky reefs off Cocos Island.
Photo : Enric Sala, Nat. Geo Society
A tan sea star lays sprawled on rock above the seafloor.
Photo by Nick Hawkins,
A school of bigeye trevally in deep water off Cocos Island.
photo : Greg Lecoeur, NatGeo image collection 
An environmental gold mine 

At the heart of Costa Rica’s newly expanded reserve is “Isla de Coco”—also known as Treasure Island (and thought to have inspired the 1883 book).
It’s remote–more than 350 miles off shore, and unpopulated, though in the 17th century it was visited by pirates who supposedly hid an infamously pillaged loot known as the “Treasure of Lima” that today could be worth $1 billion.
It’s never been found.

With it’s tropical rainforests and jagged, green mountains, some say the island inspired the setting for Jurassic Park.

As the southernmost extension of North America, the island sits in the crook of a current called the North Equatorial Countercurrent, which is at an oceanic confluence of mating, migration, and feeding.
The nine-square-mile island is just the visible tip of a line of submerged volcanoes that tower over the ocean floor and host an explosion of marine life.
At least three species of birds, two fish, and two reptiles can be found nowhere else on Earth.
That’s in addition to the more than 200 different plants and fish, 400 insects, 100 birds, and whales, dolphins, and sea lions that find refuge in the park.
It’s especially rich in sharks—home to 14 different species, three of which are endangered.

A school of scalloped hammerhead sharks swim in blue ocean.
The waters surrounding Cocos Island are a refuge for sharks often hunted for their fins.
 Photo : Enric Sala, Nat. Geo Society

“It’s known as the shark island,” says Carlos Manuel Uribe, president of Friends of Cocos Island, an environmental group started by former Costa Rican president Rodrigo Carazo Odio in 1994.
“The first time I jumped into the water, I saw myself surrounded by sharks.
There’s such biodiversity all over you.”
Animals and plants of all different sizes are tucked inside its coral reefsand caves; Cocos Island has some of the tropical world’s densest biomass, a scientific term for living organisms.
While the region has been legally protected by Costa Rica for 39 years and has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1997, a 2009 survey by National Geographic environmental advocacy group Pristine Seas, led by Sala, found that the species populating the area were being threatened by nearby fishing vessels.

A subsequent National Geographic documentary was produced about the region’s biodiversity and fishing threats, and christened Cocos Shark Island.
The team found that the unprotected seamounts encircling the island were littered with fishing lines.
The region’s waters are full of lucrative tuna, its sharks are targeted by poachers, and a 2018 report by a local environmental group found that illegal fishing was a significant and growing threat.

New protections will send a message that Costa Rica is serious about safeguarding its biological assets, says Andrea Meza, Costa Rica’s environment minister.

“It’s very important to give clear signals to illegal fishers that there will be more control and monitoring of the ocean,” she says.
“For this reason expansion was very important because we can increase control and monitoring.”
While the larger Bicentennial Managed Area will have managed fisheries—the details of which are a work in progress—fishing in the smaller Cocos Island park will be banned.
Globally, just under 3 percent of oceans are strictly protected by bans on fishing or other “extractive” industries like mining.
A frogfish, disguised as its rocky seafloor perch, lays in wait for a potential meal.
The fish can change texture and even color to blend with its surroundings.
It can also lure potential prey with a fleshy “fishing rod,” complete with a wormlike lure.

 Photo : Enric Sala, Nat. Geo Society
Good for the environment, good for people

At the November UN climate conference in Glasgow, where world leaders met to negotiate policies to curb climate change, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador agreed to protect 193,000 square miles (500,000 square kilometers) of the Eastern Tropical Pacific, the corner of the Pacific Ocean between North and South America.

In addition to conserving habitats in local waters, the agreement aims to protect the migratory routes followed by sharks, whales, sting rays, and turtles.
Already, Colombia has announced it will expand its marine reserves, as will Ecuador, home to the famous Galapagos Islands.
While announcements have been ambitious, Meza says more work will be needed to ensure these marine reserves are more than just “paper parks,” parks where protections aren’t actually enforced.

“We have to be aware that what we’re doing … is creating a paper park,” says Uribe.
“Our next goal is to go from a paper park to a well controlled and protected area.
For that we need funding and to use up-to-date satellite surveillance to intercept illegal fishing.”
Uribe says the park will need a large endowment, presumably from foreign donors.
Meza roughly estimates that the government will need around $10 to $15 billion for the next five years alone.
But according to Meza, Costa Rica’s economic future lies in protecting its resources, and the new marine reserve is part of what she calls the country’s new blue economy.
Studies done on shark diving tourism in Florida and Palau estimate that over time a shark is worth more when it’s alive, viewable to divers, than dead, on a dinner plate.

“When tourists come to Costa Rica, they want to see nature.
With these protected areas, we have been able to develop different businesses,” she says, noting that eco-tourism encourages everything from diving tours to car rentals and restaurant traffic.
Costa Rica has already reversed deforestation, pledged to reach net-zero emission status by 2050, and is now looking for pathways to electrify vehicles and retrofit buildings—all part of Meza’s vision for a new, green economy.
She hopes to extend that to businesses operating around the new marine reserve, paying fishers to operate sustainably, similar to how the country pays landowners to protect their forests.

“Ocean conservation is good for business, good for the environment—it's good for people,” she says.
“Working for the conservation of the ocean is a critical part of the climate agenda.”

Links :

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Giant kite will pull a ship across the ocean next month

A rendering of an Airseas Seawing being deployed.
Gif: Airseas

From Gizmodo by Molly Taft

A boat being propelled by the wind may sound familiar, but next month's test could help the shipping industry in its quest to clean up carbon emissions.

Starting in January, a huge boat will attach itself to an enormous kite in a first-of-its-kind test to try and alleviate harmful carbon emissions from toting stuff to and fro across the high seas.

Emissions from shipping are a huge problem.
About 80% of all the world’s goods are transported on around 50,000 ships, which use a particularly dirty fuel known as “bunker fuel.”
It’s estimated that this cheap fuel is responsible for more than 2% of global carbon emissions, and between 10% to 15% of the world’s sulfur oxide and nitrous oxide emissions, both major public health menaces.

Seawing is an automated kite designed to tow commercial ships using the unlimited, free and renewable power of the wind.
Our first system, built for our partner and early customer Airbus, was installed in December 2021 on a first commercial vessel. It took only 12 hours to lift and seafast Seawing on Louis Dreyfus Armateurs' Ville de Bordeaux.
Enter the humble kite.
The parafoil kite that will be used is made by a company called Airseas.
It measures around 5,380 square feet (500 square meters) andwill be attached to a ship 505 feet (154 meters) in length called the Ville de Bordeaux.
The ship is a “roll on/roll off” vessel, which refers to the fact that these ships usually carry wheeled cargo.
(The shorthand term for this type of ship is, incredibly, a “Ro-Ro.”)
This particular boat carries airplane parts between France and the U.S.
The ship will test out the sail—er, sorry, kite—technology for six months before being used for its regular route.

Airseas said it “was founded out of the need to act urgently for our planet and climate” and is “committed to provide all ships with the means to harness free and unlimited wind energy.” That sounds an awful lot like a fancy way of saying “sailing,” which, in case you were unaware, is something we used to use a lot back in ye olden days to get our stuff around.

It’s important to note that unlike the cargo sailing ships of old that relied on their big sails, the Airseas kite isn’t meant to be the sole source of power for ships.
The Ville de Bordeaux will still use its engine.
But the kite, which Airseas calls a Seawing, is meant to reduce fuel use on the journey.

Airseas has promised a super-sized version of the Seawing that measures 3,280 square feet (1,000 square meters) and flies 984 feet (300 meters) above the boat on a figure-8 track, has the potential to reduce emissions on shipping trips by up to 20%.
Computer technology helps the kite move around to maximize the carbon-free wind energy being used to propel the ship.

What’s more, the company says the installation process is pretty easy.
You basically mount the kite to the ship’s deck, where it can pop out into the air with the touch of a button.
The company says the kite kit can be retrofitted to basically any type of ship type.

A 20% cut to emissions might sound small, but the shipping industry has been really struggling to figure out how to clean up its act.
Some of the alternative fuels that the industry has developed that are intended to lower emissions have raised new environmental questions.
Shipping products for just four companies alone—Amazon, Walmart, Target, and IKEA—accounted for 20 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over the past two years being dumped into the atmosphere.
Emissions could rise even more sharply in the coming decades;some analyses predict that cargo volumes could grow by as much as 130% by 2050 as online shopping becomes more and more popular.

Simply buying less stuff might be one of the best options, but obviously that’s a lot harder on a larger scale than attaching an enormous kite to a boat.
In lieu of larger-scale solutions, if that big kite is going to help cut emissions, even just a little, fly away, sailors.

Links :

Monday, December 20, 2021

Leaking hull, hazardous cargo: aboard a stranded ship no one would help

Impoverished nations supplying flags offer little help to crews on abandoned vessels; ‘an urgent solution is needed before it’s too late’Crew members on the Haj Abdullah.
From WSJ by Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw
LIMASSOL, Cyprus—The cargo ship laden with 3,000 tons of flammable sulfur was stranded off the coast of Somalia and taking on water.

With “SOS” in the subject line, an Oct. 26 email from the crew of the MV Haj Abdullah said the hull of the 260-foot vessel was cracked and seawater was sloshing over the deck and into the diesel fuel.
The sailors were almost out of food, and months had passed since the ship’s owner had last paid them.
The waters around them were notorious for piracy.

For more than two months, the Haj Abdullah’s requests for assistance had ricocheted around the international shipping system without any help responding.
The ship’s London-based insurer canceled its coverage, saying the vessel was unseaworthy.
The ship’s Lebanese, Egyptian and Syrian crew had been abandoned by a Lebanese owner.
They were sailing under the jurisdiction of Sierra Leone, whose tricolor flag fluttered above the deck.

The Sierra Leone Maritime Administration regulates hundreds of ships transporting billions of dollars of cargo, relying on a management company operating on the outskirts of Limassol, Cyprus.
The crew petitioned the Cyprus office for help.
Under the laws of the West African nation, its maritime authorities weren’t required to do much for the Haj Abdullah.

“An urgent solution is needed before it’s too late,” said one email sent on behalf of the crew to the Cyprus office.
“Good day,” said one of the responses from the Cyprus office.
“Pleas [sic] be informed the matter is being investigated and currently being resolved.”

The trouble aboard the Haj Abdullah reflects the dysfunction at the core of an industry responsible for 90% of global trade.
Last year, a record number of seafarers on cargo ships were abandoned, meaning they went more than two months without pay.
This year is on track to be worse.
At present, more than 1,000 sailors are stuck on ships without wages and in many cases provisions, according to the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency.

All cargo ships have to fly the flag of some nation.
Shipowners agree to pay nations for what amounts to a license to fly their flag.
Many of those nations, in turn, hire management companies to oversee the ships.

The bridge of the Haj Abdullah, which flew the flag of Sierra Leone.

Nearly all of this year’s abandoned seafarers were on ships that sailed under the flags of small, often poor nations, whose governments lack the resources to intervene when one of their vessels is in trouble.
Some, including Sierra Leone, haven’t signed international treaties that require ships to have insurance to pay and repatriate sailors stranded at sea.
Much of the world’s cargo sails under such flags.

For shippers, the benefits include lower taxes and fewer rules.
For crews, there are mostly risks.
If a ship is abandoned by its owner, they often are on their own.

“We have been here on the deck for three months,” one sailor aboard the Haj Abdullah said in a text message to The Wall Street Journal.
He sent a picture of his crewmates holding sheets of paper reading: “HAJ,” “ABDULLAH,” “HELP,” “US.”

The Journal spent weeks trying to contact the Lebanese company that owns the ship, Al Marwa Shipping Ltd., visiting Beirut addresses and trying phone numbers listed in shipping registries.
On Dec.
8, reporters reached Ghassan Bakri, who said he is the owner.
He said he had stopped paying the crew because they had damaged the ship’s bathroom, kitchen and cabins, and had lost $50,000 worth of diesel at sea.

“I tell them, ‘You tell me how we lose $50,000 in diesel,’ ” the owner said.
“I tell them, ‘OK, I stop the vessel.
I don’t pay salary.’ ”

In an email, the crew called the owner’s allegations ridiculous.
It said the damage resulted from a storm.

The crew pumped the seawater sloshing over the Haj Abdullah's deck into the ocean through plastic hoses.

This week, Mr. Bakri said, he paid some of the crew’s wages.
The sailors, though, say none have been paid in full and they remain on the ship, reluctant to leave until they’ve been paid in full.

Journal reporters also visited the Cyprus office of the company the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration hired to oversee its flagged ships.
An official there said the staff was too busy to meet.
The company declined to comment further.

The Sierra Leone Maritime Administration is the government agency that regulates Sierra Leone seaborne traffic from the capital of Freetown.
When the Journal visited that office, there were about 20 officials tapping on mobile phones or seated behind old desktop computers.
Several staffers said they had never heard of the Haj Abdullah, had no idea how many ships in the world fly Sierra Leone’s flag, and were surprised to learn the organization was administered from Cyprus.

Several days after that visit, a spokesman for the agency, Mohammed Kamara, said in an interview that all ships flying Sierra Leone’s flags are carefully scrutinized and monitored, and that this responsibility lies with the company in Cyprus.
The West African country lacks qualified personnel, he said.

Sierra Leone’s government forwarded written questions from the Journal to the Cyprus office, which responded in a letter to the government, which was reviewed by the Journal.
“We have been actively involved in this case as usual,” it said.
“We would like to assure you of our full and continuous cooperation and express our appreciation for the incessant support we receive from the Government of Sierra Leone.”

Sierra Leone’s transportation and aviation ministry is responsible for the maritime administration.
Balogun Koroma, who ran that ministry until 2017, said he never was told the details of the contracts with ships flying the nation’s flag, including basic information such as how much Sierra Leone was paid per ship.
Six senior officials of the maritime administration were indicted on corruption charges in June by Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission.
“What goes on in that place is close to being a mafia operation,” Mr. Koroma said.
The agency spokesman denied that allegation.

Maritime House, in rear, site of the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration offices in Freetown.
‘Difficult situation’

The first email from the union representative of the Haj Abdullah’s crew reached the Cyprus office of Sierra Leone’s flag administrator on Sept. 15.

“We are contacting your office to bring to your attention as the Flag State administration of vessel, the very difficult situation of the crew,” the representative wrote.
The men on board hadn’t been paid for four months, were running out of food and had been abandoned off the Somali coast, the email said.
The flag state had a responsibility “to meet the seafarer’s basic rights,” it said.

“We will contact the managers,” the Cyprus office responded.
“Once we have any updates we will inform you accordingly.”

The Haj Abdullah, a rusting, 44-year-old bulk carrier, had been sailing from the Persian Gulf to Tanzania, helmed by an 11-man crew and carrying about $750,000 of sulfur, when a storm opened a crack in the hull.
Water began filling the recessed walkways around the deck, according to crew members and their union.

The diminishing diesel supply was being spoiled by seawater.
A shipping agent in a small port town in northern Somalia agreed to front the crew enough fuel to reach Mogadishu, in barrels delivered by fishing boats.
When they reached the Somali capital, the fuel bill hadn’t been paid, so the ship couldn’t get any more.
The Haj Abdullah was stranded.

“I have been sailing for 35 years, and nothing like this has happened to me,” said one crew member.

The Haj Abdullah was manned by a crew of 11 and carrying about $750,000 of sulfur.

On board, the men wanted to go home, but the port of Mogadishu wouldn’t let them leave the ship.
The port lacked the facilities to manage a derelict cargo ship loaded with sulfur.
The owner had stopped responding to the crew.
The embassies of Lebanon and Egypt, whose nationals were aboard, didn’t intervene.

The last option was Sierra Leone.
On Oct. 6, the flag state office in Cyprus indicated in an email that the matter would be resolved imminently.
“We shall revert with our updates the soonest,” it said.

Until World War II, most cargo ships flew the flags of the nations where they were based.
Half flew the Union Jack. U.S. shipping companies enjoyed protection from the U.S. Navy but had to hire unionized American workers.

Although flying another country’s flag meant forgoing American protection at sea, it also meant companies could skirt U.S.
regulations and pay lower wages to nonunionized sailors.
After WWII, more of them went that route.

Flags of convenience

Today, more than 40% of the world’s cargo sails under three flags: those of Panama, Liberia and the Marshall Islands.
In recent years, other developing countries have entered the business, offering less expensive registry, tax benefits, and less scrutiny.

One of the fastest-growing flags in the world is Mongolia, a landlocked country.
San Marino, another landlocked nation, opened a registry this year.

Sierra Leone flagged ships now carry twice as much cargo—almost two million tons a year—as they did in 2012, according to U.N. data.
Last year, bulk carriers flagged to Sierra Leone carried three times the tonnage of those flying American flags.

Governments of low-income nations often are unwilling or unable to help abandoned sailors.
The growth of a few giant shipping companies has squeezed smaller players, which tend to fly low-cost flags and are often one mishap away from being unable to afford their ships.

Sometimes when owners abandon ships, ports require the crew to stay aboard.
More often, sailors choose to do so, believing the only way to get paid is to wait until the owner sells the vessel.

Since 2013, ships have been required by governments that have signed the Maritime Labour Convention to retain insurance for abandonment.
When they do, insurance companies usually step in to give sailors four months wages and a ticket home.
In practice, owners often stop paying their premiums as soon as they get their flags, according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation, a trade union.
When that happens, flag states are supposed to delist the ship, but in practice they often don’t, according to the ITF and maritime-law specialists.

“Abandonment is the cancer of the shipping industry,” ITF said in a written statement.
“The only way we will see change is if the flag states start to own up to their responsibilities.”

One-third of the nearly 400 ships flying the flag of Togo currently lack insurance, according to an unpublished ITF report.
That West African country had more ships abandoned in 2019 than any other nation, the report said.
Togo’s maritime agency didn’t respond to requests for comment.

One of them was the MV Onda, which was sailing along the coast of Cameroon in 2020 when the owner abandoned it.
The mostly West African crew spent more than a year aboard, unpaid and unable to make their way home.
To survive, they drank rainwater and cooked fish they caught over small campfires on deck.

“I am tired of the conditions we are living through,” gaunt crew member Luis Alberto Veloso said via video in January.
“I cannot endure these conditions any longer.”

The company administering the Togo flag, jointly based in Greece and Lebanon, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Alco Shipping Services LLC, a United Arab Emirates-based owner of 12 cargo ships, abandoned crews seven times over a four-year period, according to the ITF.
In 2018, the Indian government blacklisted Alco after dozens of its citizens were abandoned on several of the company’s Panama-flagged ships for 22 months.

In January, one of its vessels, a Panamanian-flagged cargo ship, ran aground on a beach in Umm Al Quwain emirate, a popular weekend getaway spot outside Dubai.
The crew had been living aboard the abandoned ship for four years before a storm broke its anchor line and sent it adrift, according to the crew.
Another of the company’s ships—also flagged to Panama—floated for three years, abandoned off the coast of Tunisia, before the sailors went home in 2019.
Alco Shipping didn’t respond to requests for comment, nor did Panama’s Maritime Authority.

A Panamanian-flagged cargo ship, the MT Iba, ran aground in Umm Al Quwain emirate.PHOTO: STAFF/REUTERS

The ITF consistently ranks Sierra Leone one of the world’s worst flags, based on sailor pay, lack of ship inspections and abandonment.
It says none of the vessels flying the Sierra Leone flag are based in the country.
The union calls it an “end of life” registry, one of the few nations willing to flag decaying ships other jurisdictions consider unsafe.

Last year, 18 Syrian mariners were abandoned for five months aboard the Sierra Leone-flagged MV Hannoud-O, a livestock carrier transporting thousands of sheep.
Ten sailors from China and Myanmar were abandoned on the Sierra Leone-flagged Xiang Fa cargo ship from July until last week, according to the International Labour Organization, a U.N. agency.

The flag business was intended to raise revenue for Sierra Leone, one of the world’s poorest countries.
Details of the contract between its government and the Cyprus-based flag administrator aren’t public.
One government official in Freetown said Sierra Leone receives 40% of the revenue, while the Cyprus-based company receives 60%.
Outside of its headquarters, a billboard states that an annual shipping license costs $900 and can be processed in one to three days.

The maritime administration recently proposed a bill to improve safety, and asked for a 20% budget increase “so that the administration can meet its core functions,” said the spokesman, Mr.
Life jackets, for example, cost $80 each, Mr. Kamara said, an unmanageable expense if the government has to buy them for the thousands of sailors under Sierra Leone’s flag.

Pleas for help

On the Haj Abdullah, then marooned off the Somali coast for nearly two months, the food supply was dwindling.
The foul-smelling mix of seawater and fuel was washing across the deck.
The crew took turns pumping it through a plastic hose into the ocean.
Daytime temperatures neared 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The fuel was almost gone.
The sailors were sleeping in life jackets in case the ship sank in the darkness.

Panicked calls from their families were coming in at odd hours, asking the men if they had made it off the ship.
Seawater was lapping into burlap sacks of sulfur, spoiling the yellow powder, which was exuding an acrid odor.

On Oct. 18, the ship insurer, the global agency Thomas Miller, ended its coverage.
Now there was no underwriter to help pay for repairs, wages and getting crew members home.

On Oct. 25, the union sent another plea to Cyprus: “We would like to inform and get in touch with you again in regards of the extreme situation of unsafety,” the email began.
“The seafarers are in total lack of food and provisions and the owners are not responding.”

Nearly 24 hours later, the Cyprus office replied.
It was in contact with Thomas Miller “and trying to find a solution for this matter,” the email said.
The trouble was in Somalia, it said.
“It seems that the port authorities do not cooperate,” it said.

By mid-October, the wire shelves in the ship’s pantry were empty save for a few scattered onions, limes and potatoes.
To eat, the crew rationed the potatoes and cast lines into the sea.
“If we caught fish, we would have great joy,” one crew member told the Journal.

The nearly empty pantry on the Haj Abdullah was one of the crew's complaints.

Mr. Bakri, the owner, said Wednesday that he had spent thousands of dollars buying food for them.
He said he doesn’t believe the crew.

On Nov.4, at 1:11 a.m., the union sent another plea: Water was now rushing in faster than it could be pumped out.
“The situation on the ship has suddenly aggravated,” it said.

Later that day, an official from the flag-state office in Cyprus responded with its first concrete offer of help: It would send an inspector.
According to the crew, no such inspector ever arrived.

With no insurance or help materializing, Safe Sea Services, the Beirut-based company the Lebanese owner hired to manage the vessel, paid $27,000 for divers to mend the cracked hull.

Recently, the repaired ship was able to continue to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam.
It is currently anchored there, awaiting a berth to discharge its hazardous cargo.
The crew, living mostly on watermelons, eggplants, onions and eggs, is still on board.

In an email Friday, the crew said: “We need to get paid the rest of our salaries and be repatriated to our homes.
We are tired, very tired, and we have never suffered like this in our lives.”
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Sunday, December 19, 2021

Image of the week : Strait of Gilbraltar

nice #Sentinel2 image instead  Internal waves in the strait of Gibraltar with a surface signature, as the crests of the waves show more whitecaps than the troughs 
Gibraltar with the GeoGarage platform (IHM ENC vector chart)