Archive for the ‘Maritime’ Category

Mazda: William McDonough called…

William McDonough is, amongst other things, author of the utterly brilliant Cradle to Cradle. Short version: when we recycle, say, a plastic bottle, we do not get another plastic bottle. In fact we downcycle materials, making less and less-robust products with each iteration. We do, slowly, waste resources. McDonough’s call is for pure recycling, or upcycling, in which that plastic bottle gives us another bottle. A car, for example, can have all of its parts recovered (including paint, rubber, plastics, etc.) and used to make the same thing again on the next car.

Introductions over. I discovered another alternative universe for myself, this evening, reading this article in Wired magazine (Techno-Cowboys of the Deep Sea: The Race to Save the Cougar Ace).

Short version: incredible. And this isn’t just because I’m a weirdo who can read entire books about the Beaufort Scale while not actually liking the ocean’s role. It’s an incredibly interesting story.

However. This piece stood out the strongest, for me:

For more than a year, the 4,703 Cougar Ace Mazdas sit in a huge parking lot in Portland, Oregon. Then, in February 2008, the cars are loaded one by one onto an 8-foot-wide conveyor belt. It lifts them 40 feet and drops them inside a Texas Shredder, a 50-foot-tall, hulking blue-and-yellow machine that sits on a 2.5-acre concrete pad. Inside the machine, 26 hammers — weighing 1,000 pounds each — smash each car into fist-sized pieces in two seconds. The chunks are then spit out the back side.

Though most of the cars appeared to be unharmed, they had spent two weeks at a 60-degree angle. Mazda can’t be sure that something isn’t wrong with them. Will the air bags function properly? Will the engines work flawlessly throughout the warranty period? Rather than risk lawsuits down the line, Mazda has decided to scrap the entire shipment.

4,703 cars, reduced to nothing but unusable pills. Not a single part of the automobiles recovered or recycled. Insane.

LFA Sonar, round next

Last time I was making fun of this line:

“The safety of the whales must be weighed, and so must the safety of our warriors. And of our country.”

from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (I never did find out how the average “warrior” felt about whales needing their brains blown up to keep them safe. There’s just something emasculating about it).

Now we’re on to a hold ‘nother frequency (no, seriously):

A federal judge forbade the Navy on Thursday from using a powerful form of sonar within 12 miles of the California coast and slapped other restrictions on naval war exercises in a ruling that could have repercussions in the Pacific Northwest.

U.S. District Judge Florence Marie-Cooper said noise from the Navy’s midfrequency sonar far outstrips levels at which federal rules require ear protection for humans on the job. Whales’ hearing is extremely sensitive.

“The court is persuaded that the (protection) scheme proposed by the Navy is grossly inadequate to protect marine mammals from debilitating levels of sonar exposure,” Marie-Cooper wrote in her ruling.

The Navy offered to reduce the sonar’s intensity when whales approached within about 1,100 yards and power down further before shutting the sonar off when the creatures got within 200 yards. The judge ordered sonar shut off when marine mammals are within 2,200 yards.

By the Navy’s own estimate, it would harass or harm marine mammals, as prohibited by the Endangered Species Act, about 170,000 times, the judge said. The Navy said the series of 14 exercises would temporarily deafen whales 8,000 times and cause permanent injuries in more than 400 cases.

I like those numbers. The Endangered Species Act (1973 and, seriously, Nixon really did do a tonne of cool stuff), by the by (there is also the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972), while we’re on the topic), contains passages such as

The Congress finds and declares that —

  1. various species of fish, wildlife, and plants in the United States have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation;
  2. other species of fish, wildlife, and plants have been so depleted in numbers that they are in danger of or threatened with extinction;
  3. these species of fish, wildlife, and plants are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people;

… the United States has pledged itself as a sovereign state in the international community to conserve to the extent practicable the various species of fish or wildlife and plants facing extinction, pursuant to —

  1. migratory bird treaties with Canada and Mexico;
  2. the Migratory and Endangered Bird Treaty with Japan;
  3. the Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere;
  4. the International Convention for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries;
  5. the International Convention for the High Seas Fisheries of the North Pacific Ocean;
  6. the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora; and
  7. other international agreements;

and … encouraging the States and other interested parties, through Federal financial assistance and a system of incen-tives, to develop and maintain conservation programs which meet national and international standards is a key to meeting the Nation’s international commitments and to better safe-guarding, for the benefit of all citizens, the Nation’s heritage in fish, wildlife, and plants.

… The purposes of this Act are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species, and to take such steps as may be appropriate to achieve the purposes of the treaties and conventions set forth in subsection (a) of this section.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act is as lofty in its ideals (being, after all, an Act that protects even non-endangered species):

The Congress finds that —

  1. certain species and population stocks of marine mammals are, or may be, in danger of extinction or depletion as a result of man’s activities;
  2. such species and population stocks should not be permitted to diminish beyond the point at which they cease to be a significant functioning element in the ecosystem of which they are a part, and, consistent with this major objective, they should not be permitted to diminish below their optimum sustainable population.

Further measures should be immediately taken to replenish any species or population stock which has already diminished below that population. In particular, efforts should be made to protect essential habitats, including the rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance for each species of marine mammal from the adverse effect of man’s actions;

All of this, of course, means less since the military went to war against the environment (not without help, as last year’s series by the Washington Post illuminated).

This is the other problem: speaking Environmental-Economically, there isn’t a great deal on offer, in the way of options. A recalcitrant military, and complicit/compliant legislative/executive branches do not make for workable solutions to serious negative externalities. Particularly over the last 6 years – I’m sure the likes of Inhofe and Stevens (okay, possibly just Inhofe) are honest and sincere men, but to have them in charge of things like this just wasn’t helping. These are the fortunes of democracy.

More generally, though, a government cannot construct a market to solve an environmental problem, when that problem is caused by its own military (still less these days). A government can hardly tax its own military punitively for those actions. All a government can do is regulate itself. If it won’t do that, and we don’t care enough to vote our force (and, let’s face it, we don’t – we still haven’t done a damn thing to stop random mass shootings in this country. How much less do we, as an electorate, care about marine mammals?), there aren’t really any other options. No military commander is likely to turn around and announce that they think they’ve played with their billion-dollar toys long enough for the time being, and anyway dolphins are getting hurt.

Final quote:

The service said exercises off Southern California are important because they give sailors training around undersea mountain ranges like those where they might chase subs elsewhere in the world.

“Despite the care the court took in crafting its order, we do not believe it struck the right balance between national security and environmental concerns,” said Jeff Davis, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon.

Give a person a hammer, and every problem looks like a nail. It’s the definitions of “national security” that deliberately exclude the environment that are the problem.

Britain to claim more than 1 million sq km of Antarctica

First Japan, then Russia. Now Britain:

The United Kingdom is planning to claim sovereign rights over a vast area of the remote seabed off Antarctica, the Guardian has learned. The submission to the United Nations covers more than 1m sq km (386,000 sq miles) of seabed, and is likely to signal a quickening of the race for territory around the south pole in the world’s least explored continent.

The claim would be in defiance of the spirit of the 1959 Antarctic treaty, to which the UK is a signatory. It specifically states that no new claims shall be asserted on the continent. The treaty was drawn up to prevent territorial disputes.

The Foreign Office, however, has told the Guardian that data is being gathered and processed for a submission to the UN which could extend British oil, gas and mineral exploitation rights up to 350 miles offshore into the Southern Ocean.

As we have seen/discussed more or less on an ongoing basis. For all our big talk about international co-operation, none of us have, truly, accepted that we are all in this together (sorry, John F Kennedy. It just isn’t happening). We are friends of only very fair weather, indeed.

The kick is that, like the Russian plan, reliance is upon the Law of the Sea:

Last month the Guardian revealed the UK is working on three other sub-sea claims in the Atlantic: around South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, surrounding Ascension Island and in the Hatton/Rockall basin, west of Scotland. Britain has already lodged a joint claim at the UN – with France, Ireland and Spain – for a large area of seabed in the Bay of Biscay.

The Foreign Office confirmed yesterday that the UK was working to extend sovereign territory into new areas. “There are five claims in total that the UK is hoping to put forward,” a statement said. “They are in the Bay of Biscay, around Ascension, off the British Antarctic Territory, around the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and in the Hatton/Rockall basin.

“We believe these five meet the geological conditions required. The claims are based on article 76 of the UN convention of the law of the sea.”

…meaning the US can’t, for now, play. For now. The fact that the US is not in the game has never stopped them ruining such games before (International Criminal Court, anyone?), and no country in this game is pretending any of their own niceties will last, either:

The UK claim on Antarctica will be its most controversial because it depends on proximity to the British Antarctic Territory which overlaps rival land claims by Chile and Argentina. The environmental protocol to the Antarctic treaty, agreed in 1991, currently prohibits all mineral related activity, other than for scientific research.

The stakes are perceived, simply put, to be too high. The US has been documented as taking on Iraq (a) for oil, and (b) because they could (as opposed to the far tougher tasks of Iran or North Korea). We are seeing, and will see, most countries doing what they can to get what they can while they can. The basic behaviour is not that different. One wonders whether it’s even changed since the Ardipithecenes (no, no apologies to the creationists).

It shall be interesting, to say the least, to observe just how much lip-service our governments pay to how many international treaties, and how many nasty lawyers are brought to bear to stretch them how far. No?

“The safety of the whales must be weighed, and so must the safety of our warriors. And of our country.”

No, I’m not kidding. That was a quote from a 3-person panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It seems the on-again-off-again (ad infinitum) resumption of low-frequency active sonar is on again. For now.

Seriously, our warriors? I can guarantee the safety of our warriors. Don’t make them. I ran through a small collection of the immorality of this, last time (opinions differ, of course). Since then the move was halted, and has now been un-halted. Or rather, un-re-un-halted. God knows.

I give you your judiciary (it was 2-1. I say the 2 were Bush recess appointments. I’m cynical, like that):

“We are currently engaged in war, in two countries,” said Judge Andrew Kleinfeld in the majority opinion, joined by Judge Consuelo Callahan. “There are no guarantees extending from 2007 to 2009 or at any other time against other countries deciding to engage us, or our determining that it is necessary to engage other countries.

“We customarily give considerable deference to the executive branch’s judgment regarding foreign policy and national defense,” the court said.

In dissent, Judge Milan Smith said the nation’s environmental laws apply to the armed forces. He said the Navy is conducting similar tests all over the world and would suffer no hardship by delaying its Southern California exercises until it adopts adequate protective measures.

“There is no ‘national security trump card’ that allows the Navy to ignore (the environmental law) to achieve other objectives,” Smith said.

Anyone who can say, in earnest, that they “give considerable deference to the executive branch’s judgment regarding foreign policy and national defense” ought to be placed a million goddamn miles from any sort of decision-making. They shouldn’t even be trusted to feed themselves.

The ruling can be read here (.pdf).

I think when your country is engaged in war in two countries and, say, Hitler and Hirohito aren’t around, your executive has pretty much fucked up on diplomacy and national defense. In this instance, though, the judges get to be the judge. Literally. Also hilarious was the reason for over-turning the ruling of the lower court:

In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper said the underwater sound waves could harm nearly 30 species of marine mammals, including five species of endangered whales. She said the Navy’s planned protective measures were “woefully inadequate and ineffectual,” and cited the Navy’s estimate that the tests would cause 466 permanent injuries to whales.

The appeals court said Cooper had failed to consider the need for military preparedness.

Finally, someone is being criticised for failing to consider the need for military preparedness. Wait…

Just to round out:

There are many steps the Navy could take to lessen the harm to the whales and other marine life, Jasny said, including measures that foreign navies and even the U.S. Navy itself have used in the past.

The Navy had been allowed to conduct sonar tests in the area in previous years while taking such steps as using lookouts and reducing sound levels when whales were spotted, or during conditions that allowed sound waves to travel farther than usual.

Navy officials have dropped most of those measures from the current tests, apart from the continued posting of lookouts. The California Coastal Commission, which reviewed the testing plans, concluded in January that additional protections were needed, such as steering clear of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and the annual migration path of the gray whales.

The Navy said it was not bound by those conditions and declared that its tests would cause no harm to marine mammal populations.

Gureck, the Pacific Fleet spokesman, said the Navy “employs extensive mitigation measures, approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, to minimize the risk to marine life whenever active sonar is used.”

That’s the same National Marine Fisheries Service, by the by, that’s being sued by the Natural Resources Defense Council, “about an incident of mass stranding of whales under the Freedom of Information Act because the Council thought it had to do with navy sonar use. The Service did not want to release the materials, saying they were protected from disclosure because they were discussions of agency decision-making.

Hey, look on the bright side. At least you’re not a whale.

East River Turbines Face Upstream Battle

From the Gothamist, following up a story about which, for some reason, I never heard (my wife emailed this story to me). I did not know there were turbines hanging about in New York’s East River. Possibly not for long, though:

The alternative energy company that has plans to install hundreds of turbines in the East River to harness tidal energy and generate zero-emission electrical power is running into trouble due to the massive amount of energy they are dealing with. The small number of turbines already placed in the East River by Verdant Power have been temporarily removed as the strong currents continue to overwhelm the physical construction of the underwater “windmills.” The six turbines that were placed in the water last December and were capable of supplying 1,000 daily kilowatt hours of power and serving the Gristedes supermarket on Roosevelt Island could not withstand currents.

The East River is not actually a river; it’s a tidal strait, and one can easily observe the current moving in opposite directions with the tides. Verdant Power’s plan is to install a field of turbines anchored to the bottom of the East River and use the currents to generate pollution-free electricity for the city. The currents have proven so strong, however, that the turbine propellers have been sheared off a third of the way down, and stronger replacements were hampered by insufficiently strong bolt connections to the turbine hubs.

Well, that’s …promising? Hydro-electric has a couple of basic forms: tidal, meaning windmills underwater, and non-tidal(?), meaning the Three Gorges Dam or Niagara Falls. In the case of the former, the river is dammed, such that water that is allowed through comes through with sufficient pressure to spin the turbines. In the case of Niagara, some of the water (about 80%, I’ve been told) is piped off to the turbines, using simple speed and gravity (rather than placing the turbines on the falls themselves), and piped back to the river afterwards.

The environmental impact of dams hardly needs to be discussed. As I understand the mechanics of the hydro-electric engines at Niagara, environmental disruption is minimal-to-nil.

Here, though? For a start, the scattered pieces of broken turbine probably ought to be swept out of the river. But allowing for the eventuality of turbines strong enough (with strong enough bolts) being stuck in the mud, ready to go. How much tide do they stop? Oddly enough, this testing phase of the East River project was, in part, designed to figure that out, so I guess we still don’t know.

I do know of studies on on-shore or basin tidal energy projects, where the consensus is that wave heights, though not tide heights, are affected. Suggesting that the water would still go up and down the East River, but the current will dissipate, possible significantly. Sadly, I just don’t know enough about the river to say what that means. As long as the river still actually runs, it should be fine. If it slows down too much, it will most likely just start dumping crap at the end and not taking it back out – it will also demonstrate that turbines in rivers defeat their own purpose.

I imagine, also, that the true impact will depend on the river, how fast it goes and what is at either end. According to Eco-Geek:

Preliminary site approvals for in-stream turbine farms have already been given for 25 sites along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the US, and a further 31 sites are under consideration. Other companies are developing other forms of tidal turbines, some with as much as 1 megawatt capacity.

I don’t know what that suggests. I don’t much like the idea of all that commercial pressure building up on one side of an as-yet undetermined environmental impact debate, though.

Finally of interest – I noticed that the turbines in this story:

gothamist turbine

match the conventional windmill-type, but not others, such as the ones seen in this 2001 article on tidal energy:

Double-helix turbine

I believe that is the Gorlov Helical Turbine (designed by the author of the article). It’s an adaptation of another type again, the Darrieus Turbine:

Darrieus Turbine

I wonder if replacing the tide-mills (no, that doesn’t work at all) with the Helical Turbine would make a difference to the problem of being over-powered? Amongst other things, the Gorlov adaptation can be moored-and-floating, which would help protect against being sheared off at the bottom by the current.

Importers attack US bill to scan containers

Legislation is afoot! To scan containers entering the US! Actual security of ports! The legislation itself still requires congressional approval proper, but I cannot express my surprise that such legislation was even formed. Six years is better late than never, right?

All cargo going into the US on ships would have to undergo thorough screening at foreign ports under new legislation agreed by key congressional committees, in a move attacked on Wednesday by the shipping industry as a recipe for chaos.

The US Senate and House homeland security committees reached a deal late on Tuesday evening over legislation aimed at implementing recommendations made by the 9/11 commission established to investigate the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US.


James Carafano, a homeland security expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said the requirement was “political theatre” because there was not a sufficient threat to justify the draconian move, which he said would unnecessarily antagonise US allies.

By “not a sufficient threat”, does he mean his boss just doesn’t have a gut feeling about it? The only theatre involved here is the absurd one in which we’re to believe the Department of Homeland Security is competent. Speaking of which, a little later in the Financial Times’ article:

Erik Autor, vice-president for international trade at the National Retail Federation, said there would be significant technical challenges in meeting the bill’s requirements.

He questioned, for example, whether the Department of Homeland Security had the resources to examine promptly the millions of images that would be created annually of containers scanned at overseas ports.

Yes, six years on and there’s the risk that proper legislation aimed at securing US ports may not work because the Department of Homeland Security, with its under-funding for actual operations and 25% vacancy rates, just can’t do the bloody job.

Personally I think this is furphy more than legitimate criticism. Like many countries ports are too slow, labour is too expensive to hire more (of), etc. This is about the bottom line of importers, not the bottom line on security. Should the legislation proceed, the clamouring for government hand-outs (true conservatism at work: hand-outs for industry while 83-year-old steam pipes in Manhattan blow sky-high) to firms ‘hurt’ will drown out anything else. That sound you just heard was the collective erections on K-street.

Low-Frequency Active sonar blows out the brains of whales

I was disappointed (though not surprised) by the email I just received from the Natural Resources Defense Council (“the Earth’s best defense” – give me a job?):

The American people have rejected it. The federal courts have ruled against it. But the U.S. Navy won’t take NO for an answer.

It’s bringing back a sonar system so powerful it can impact whales 300 miles away with its ear-splitting noise. Its effects are so far-reaching — and so unknown — it could threaten the survival of entire populations of marine mammals.

Now the Navy wants to deploy this Low- Frequency Active (LFA) sonar system across a staggering 70 percent of the world’s oceans. And the Bush Administration has given the public only 15 days to register our opposition.

I feel obliged to keep my words civil, given the proximity to semester – I don’t want to telegraph to my new students the fact that any sailors in our classroom will run out, holding their ears (I’m Australian; we swear a lot?). Actually, I should have spotted this story a week ago. Good thing I sign up to mailing-lists.

LFA sonar and the military

For those who came in late: Low-Frequency Active sonar was in the news rather a while ago. The US military is exempt from environmental ‘rules’ that would otherwise prevent this sort of thing, making for fractious debates between the save-the-world-invade-a-country and the save-the-world-plant-a-tree crowds.

Military active sonar works like a floodlight, emitting sound waves that sweep across tens or even hundreds of miles of ocean, revealing objects in their path. But that kind of power requires the use of extremely loud sound. Each loudspeaker in the LFA system’s wide array, for example, can generate 215 decibels’ worth – sound as intense as that produced by a twin-engine fighter jet at takeoff.

Some mid-frequency sonar systems can put out over 235 decibels, as loud as a Saturn V rocket at launch. Even 100 miles from the LFA system, sound levels can approach 160 decibels, well beyond the Navy’s own safety limits for humans.


LFA sonar and marine mammals

Imagine trying to function with a jackhammer thundering on and off outside your window, night and day.

Pierce Brosnan has had a long involvement with environmental concerns. Dismiss this because he is voicing it over and I shall have a very low opinion of you, indeed.

From the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society:

European veterinary pathologists have recently published an alarming article in the journal Nature that identifies unusual lesions and a possible mechanism for noise-related injury in some of the animals stranded around the UK and those from the Canary Islands, including deep diving beaked whales and Risso’s dolphins as well as common dolphin and a harbour porpoise.

Internal damage – holes in tissues – that can lead to death in cetaceans is reported and appears to be caused by a condition known in humans as decompression sickness or ‘the bends’. It is currently unclear whether this happens as a result of fright response as an individual attempts to swim away from the sound and exceeds its physiological tolerances as it comes to the surface, or as a direct result of the physical impact of the sound.

Whatever the mechanism of injury, the authors of the article show that the damage is caused to vital internal organs, in particular the liver of the animal, and this leads in some cases to death.

From the NRDC:

Evidence of the harm such a barrage of sound can do began to surface in March 2000, when whales of four different species stranded themselves on beaches in the Bahamas after a U.S. Navy battle group used active sonar in the area.

Investigators found that the whales were bleeding internally around their brains and ears. Although the Navy initially denied responsibility, the government’s investigation established with virtual certainty that the strandings were caused by its use of active sonar.

Since the incident, the area’s population of Cuvier’s beaked whales has all but disappeared, leading researchers to conclude that they either abandoned their habitat or died at sea.

whale pic

A map of the mass stranding of Cuvier’s beaked whales in 1996. The red arrows are the tracklines of the NATO vessel – the orange arrows display areas of beaked whale strandings.

Numerous mass stranding events and whale deaths across the globe have been linked to military sonar use.

October 1989: At least 20 whales of three species strand during naval exercises near the Canary Islands.

December 1991: Two Cuvier’s beaked whales strand during naval exercises near the Canary Islands.

May 1996: Twelve Cuvier’s beaked whales strand on the west coast of Greece as NATO ships sweep the area with low- and mid-frequency active sonar.

October 1999: Four beaked whales strand in the U.S. Virgin Islands during Navy maneuvers offshore.

May 2000: A beaked whale strands in Vieques as naval exercises are about to begin offshore.

May 2000: Three beaked whales strand on the beaches of Madeira during NATO naval exercises near shore.

April 2002: A beaked whale and a humpback whale strand near Vieques during an offshore battle group training exercise.

September 2002: At least 14 beaked whales from three different species strand in the Canary Islands during an anti-submarine warfare exercise in the area. Four additional beaked whales strand over the next several days.

May 2003: As many as 11 harbor porpoises beach along the shores of the Haro Strait, Washington State, as the USS Shoup tests its mid-frequency sonar system.

June 2004: As many as six beaked whales strand during a Navy sonar training exercise off Alaska.

July 2004: Approximately 200 melon-headed whales crowd into the shallow waters of Hanalei Bay in Hawaii as a large Navy sonar exercise takes place nearby. Rescuers succeed in directing all but one of the whales back out to sea.

July 2004: Four beaked whales strand during naval exercises near the Canary Islands.

January 2005: At least 34 whales of three species strand along the Outer Banks of North Carolina as Navy sonar training goes on offshore.

Trade, tankers and pollution in Australia

We’ve come across Australian ports as the bottle-neck of Australia’s export chain previously, if briefly. Recent events in NSW, in particular, have brought the picture into much sharper focus. The port of Newcastle, just a touch above Sydney:

google map, Newcastle

is the setting. About a month ago (the 8th of June), the area copped the worst storm it had had for 30 years. This broke the supply chain of coal from the mines to the port in Newcastle – but not the supply of ships heading to the port to pick it up. They wait outside the port: at their peak they numbered 80, and they wait on average 32 days. At the moment 66 are still waiting, and it will take until September for the queue to number less than 30 again.


Bloody impressive, what?

The Sydney Morning Herald ran the numbers for this, figuring that, with 20 to 30 crewing each collier ship, around 2000 or so were sitting out there. The result?

Surfers along a 120-kilometre stretch of coastline between Newcastle and Sydney’s northern beaches have noticed little sachets of soy sauce coming in on the tide.

Other rubbish, such as food wrappers, discarded maritime odds and sods, magazines and other items bored crewmen might absent-mindedly drop overboard appeared about the time that the fleet that was going nowhere began growing alarmingly along the horizon.

The chairman of Surf Rider Foundation Australia, Chris Goal, said yesterday it was feared the fleet was causing far more pollution than most people realised.

“While we’d like to believe the ship and their crews comply with the various regulations and the requirements but we wonder about compliance,” Mr Goal said.

“Many of the ships fly flags of convenience and it’s understandable that crews being forced to hang around for weeks waiting in a queue to get into Newcastle will drop stuff overboard – we’ve been getting word from surfers all along the coast that stuff is coming in off the boats.

“Then there is the question of ballast. The ships are pumping out ballast in order to get into port faster and get loaded and there’s no knowing what’s in the water that has been sitting in the bottom of the vessels.”

Flags of Convenience, to save you looking elsewhere, refers to the practice of registering tankers in countries with less-than-stellar regulation of things like safety.

A famous (Australian) recent example of course is the Pasha Bulker, who was told to anchor farther out than she did, did not listen, and ended up on Nobby’s Beach for the duration:

Pasha Bulker pic

flickr 2

flickr 3

To be fair, it proved to be a fine tourist attraction while it was playing at immense environmental hazard. Owned by Japanese company Fukujin Kisen, registered in Panama and with a Filipino/Korean crew. If that isn’t globalisation, then I just don’t know what is.

So. Trying to find out just how many ships kick about the ports and waters of Australia. I found a report from Spill Con 2000, via the Australian Marine Oil Spill Centre and the Australian Institute of Petroleum. It contained this map:

Shipping density map

Telling me that I need to incorporate maps into my own research somehow. Those dots are not encouraging. Funnily enough, the nature of the routes makes Western Australia at the biggest risk. In terms of Australia specifically, though, I have only seen much on the Great Barrier Reef. One very interesting paper, Marine Policy: Shipping and Ports, contains a lot of information. Such as that 90% of international trade today is carried by maritime shipping. And that Tthe world’s seaborne trade is carried by an international fleet of about 25,000 ocean-going commercial cargo ships of more than 1,000 gt displacement, and growing:

Maritime Policy Table 4

Interestingly, it also told me that Panama is the largest registrar of ships, and the others at the top of the list don’t strike me as likely to be better. Given which, I wonder whether it isn’t time to pay more attention to the waste, of various types, our oceans receive from maritime shipping.

New Chinese Ballistic Missile Submarine Spotted

I don’t have a tag for this, but I cannot imagine that it is worth creating a new one, for the purpose.

I mentioned a couple of times the Chinese investment in US Navy-capable submarines to take back the Western Pacific, forcing each future US President to dread being made to play the role of Chamberlain.

Well, some bloody genius has found pictures of the new Jin-class submarine, bumming around on Google maps. Coordinates: 38°49’4.40″N, 121°29’39.82″E.

FAS-spotted jin-class

I’d complain that some people have all the luck, but it’s the Strategic Security Blog of the Federation of American Scientists, so. Not luck, so much.

In fact someone else mostly uncertainly spotted one a year ago.

First spotted Jin-class

It is rather easy to find, now that the map has been ‘tagged’. Partly this is purely me-being-a-boy. Partly it is how excited I get at the prospect of diplomacy when the gunboats become more evenly-matched. Another Cold War is out – our news media is utter shit, but they’re still good enough to defeat state secrets of that magnitude, Dick Cheney or no Dick cheney. My country is also involved – tied to the US via the ANZUS Treaty, just as the US is kind-of tied in turn to Taiwan via the US-Japan Security Treaty.

I say kind of: that treaty, as far as I’m aware, only includes Taiwan if Japan and the US decide it does (we join immediately if the US is engaged in any form. Our Prime Minister was the first to pledge assistance after 9/11, in fact – he was in Washington at the time). Our Foreign Minister also thoroughly embarassed himself a while back, promising that the security of Australia and China was made jointly-dependent, thanks to our enormous (around AUD25bn or so, over 25 years) Gas-and-Uranium trade, exchange deal.

I think it is actually a couple of deals, tied together to prevent people understanding the extent to which we’re selling Uranium, the magical, final natural element, to China (on the Periodic Table, Uranium is the last naturally-occurring element, meaning the ‘heaviest’. Everything higher than 92 was made by throwing protons at atomic nucleii to see what would stick).

See what I mean, about how quickly things become less easily understood? Precisely. Hence my renewed interest. China has already embarassed the US Navy with its Song-class submarines, and that could well have been by accident. They’re playing these cards very close to their chests, indeed.