ConocoPhillips in Conditional Support of U.N. Climate Deal

By Reuters 2015-09-05 00:01:36

Oil and gas producer ConocoPhillips on Friday said it would support a U.N. climate change agreement if it met its own policy principles, including creating a “level playing among energy sources and between countries.”

The comments by the Houston-based company were a clarification of its position on the proposed U.N. agreement after it earlier in the week answered “yes” to a question in a climate change survey that asked whether it backed a 2015 U.N. accord.

The company’s partial endorsement comes as pressure grows on U.S. oil majors to follow the lead of European counterparts who backed the U.N. climate negotiation process and called for a global carbon pricing system to tackle carbon emissions.

The survey by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) asked 2,000 companies whether their boards of directors would support a UN deal that would limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees C.

The CDP on Wednesday pointed to “yes” responses by Conoco Phillips and Russian energy giant Gazprom. By Thursday the CDP dropped the mention of ConocoPhillips and changed the company’s “yes” answer on the survey to a blank after the oil major complained the U.K.-based organization had not accurately reflected its position.

“In hindsight, had we known CDP would only include one part of our answer, we would not have responded with an unqualified “yes,”” the company said in a statement.

Among Conoco’s other conditions for supporting a global deal are that an agreement that avoids technology mandates and promotes investment in research and development.


Six European majors, including Shell and Total, tried to get U.S. peers to join them in a global sector-wide response to the climate talks and back a global carbon pricing system, but they declined.

“This move by ConocoPhillips highlights the widening gap between European majors who have called for a carbon price and the North American majors,” said Shanna Cleveland, senior manager at environmental advocacy nonprofit Ceres.

The Obama administration has been reaching out to the U.S. private sector for political and financial support to bolster its quest for a deal at the conclusion of the November 30-December 11 U.N. climate summit.

In July, more than a dozen well-known companies, including Apple, GM and Google, signed on to the American Business Act on Climate Pledge to support U.S. efforts to secure a climate deal. None of those were fossil fuel companies.

Tim Smith, director of shareholder engagement at Walden Asset Management, a responsible investment portfolio management firm, said investors have been pressing ConocoPhillips to improve its climate position by challenging some of the trade groups it belongs to, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber wants to block the regulations needed for the U.S. to meet its Paris emission reduction pledge.

Smith said Conoco faces competing demands from green and investor-activist groups and from industry lobby groups worried that a U.N. deal will call for a total phase-out of fossil fuels.

“They are looking over both shoulders to see where the pressures are coming from,” he said.


Cautious Steps toward Seabed Mining

By MarEx 2015-09-04 21:15:28

By Charles W. Schmidt

The deep ocean was once assumed to be lifeless and barren. Today we know that even the deepest waters teem with living creatures, some of them thought to be little changed from when life itself first appeared on the planet. The deep ocean is also essential to the earth’s biosphere. It regulates global temperatures, stores carbon, provides habitat for countless species and cycles nutrients for marine food webs.

Currently stressed by pollution, industrial fishing, and oil and gas development, these cold, dark waters now face another challenge: mining. With land-based mineral sources in decline, seabeds offer a new and largely untapped frontier for mineral extraction, and companies are gearing up to mine a treasure trove of copper, zinc, gold, manganese, and other minerals from the ocean floor.

Scientists, regulators, and mining companies are now collaborating on frameworks and strategies for mining the seabed responsibly. Cindy Van Dover, director of the Duke University Marine Laboratory and chair of the school’s Division of Marine Science and Conservation, says that’s encouraging, given that seabed mining appears to be inevitable.

“There’s been a lot of engagement on the environmental side,” Van Dover says. “A hundred years from now, people will look back and ask if we got this right. We need to be sure that we do.”

Copper grades, or the percentage of copper per unit of mined substrate, have declined with steadily rising extraction, from a high of 10–20 percent during the late nineteenth century to less than one percent today. By contrast, copper grades in seabeds slated for exploitation in 2018 by the Canadian mining company Nautilus Minerals, lying under 1,600m of water off Papua New Guinea, average 7.2 percent. It’s estimated that 500 billion metric tons of polymetallic nodules—mineral clumps loaded with varying levels of manganese, cobalt, nickel, and copper—lie scattered under waters up to 6,000 m deep in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans.

Proponents of seabed mining assert that extracting minerals from the deep ocean will inflict less environmental damage than mining on land, which displaces communities, removes entire ecosystems, exacerbates erosion, and pollutes groundwater, rivers and streams. But according to Craig Smith, a professor of biological oceanography at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, seabed mining will also stir up vast plumes of sediments, some of which could resettle over areas much larger than the mine sites themselves.

Scientists worry the plumes could cause widespread ecological damage and kill off deep-sea fauna that they know little about. Without appropriate regulations, they say, seabed mining will further erode the ocean’s capacity to provide essential ecological services, adding to what are already acute concerns for the ocean’s overall health.

“Deep-ocean ecosystems can be incredibly fragile,” Smith says. “And it’s possible that after the mining starts, huge areas could be impacted before any one of them has a chance to bounce back.”

ISA in the Decision Seat

To a large extent, environmental prospects for seabed mining hinge on the deliberations of a group called the International Seabed Authority (ISA). The ISA was created by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a treaty ratified by most of the world’s nations (although not by the United States). The UNCLOS governs the use and protection of seabed resources.

Within that context, the ISA has a mandate to organize, regulate and control all mineral-related activities in what’s known as “the Area,” or the international seabed lying beyond the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of specific countries. Any coastal nation may claim an EEZ up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) off the country’s shore, within which the country is responsible for regulating mining.

The UNCLOS defines the Area as a “common heritage of mankind” that is not subject to direct claims by sovereign states. The ISA administers this heritage by issuing mining leases in the Area to countries or corporations that will, in turn, be obligated to pay mining royalties back to the ISA. Because the royalties will come from mining a “common heritage,” the ISA will then redistribute the money to countries in the developing world using procedural mechanisms that are still being developed.

Given the inherent tension between the ISA’s dual mandates to collect and distribute royalties from mining licenses and to protect the marine environment, skeptics have described the organization as a “fox in the henhouse.” Michael Lodge, the ISA’s legal counsel and deputy to its secretary-general, responds that “the system is full of checks and balances, with different interest groups in different chambers.”

Before the UNCLOS came into force in 1994, a so-called pioneer regime was established under the United Nations with the authority to issue “pioneer claims” to enterprises that had already invested in minerals exploration. Lodge says six pioneer claims for minerals exploration were issued in 1984, each totaling an area of 75,000 km2. Those claims transferred into official leases when the ISA became a legal entity 10 years later.

Between 1984 and 2011, Lodge says, the ISA issued no further leases, but then the numbers started surging, coincident with completion by the ISA of regulations for exploration. According to Lodge, the ISA has so far issued 26 exploratory leases covering a total of approximately two million km2 of seabed. Exploitation leases to actually extract minerals will follow when the corresponding regulations are final.

According to Maurice Tivey, a geologist and senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, two converging factors are driving the spike in exploration. One of them is technological innovation leveraged from the oil and gas industries, which are migrating steadily toward the deep ocean. The other factor is a projected surge in demand especially for copper, but also for other minerals, including “rare earth” minerals used in hybrid car components, smart phones, computers, solar panels and many other electronic devices.

Duncan Currie, a legal and political advisor with the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, headquartered in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, says countries and corporations are taking a long view on seabed mining, anticipating mineral shortages and higher prices that will eventually make the practice cost-effective.

Types of Deep-Sea Minerals

Desirable minerals are found in three types of seabed deposits. Located in comparatively shallower waters 1,500–2,500 m deep, the most accessible deposits are called seafloor massive sulfides (SMS). They occur where seawater percolates down through fissures in the earth’s crust—at volcanically active zones called midocean ridges (where tectonic plates diverge) and at submarine volcanic chains.

Cold seawater reacts with hot rock beneath these geologic features, resulting in hydrothermal vents that spew super-heated fluids into the water column. In some cases, hydrothermal vents appear as “black smokers,” chimney-like structures discharging dark clouds of sulfur-bearing material that accumulates into SMS deposits. These deposits typically contain high levels of copper and zinc as well as gold and silver.

Polymetallic nodules are much more widespread deposits. They are spread across the abyssal plains, which cover an estimated 60 percent of the earth’s surface. These vast, flat expanses of the ocean floor lie an average of 3,000–4,000m underwater.

Eighty percent of the exploratory leases for these nodules are located in a vast region called the Clarion–Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCZ), which extends from Mexico to Hawaii and ranges from 4,000 to 5,000 m in depth. The CCZ is estimated to contain several billion metric tons of recoverable nodules, each roughly 5–10 cm in size, lying half-buried on the seafloor.

Cobalt-rich crusts make up the third class of seabed mineral deposits. These crusts are found on undersea mountains, or “seamounts,” in shallower waters; most of the mineable crusts are at a depth of 700–2,500m. Cobalt crusts are formed in areas where iron and manganese has precipitated from seawater over millions of years. They’re also loaded with cobalt, nickel, tellurium, and rare earth metals that aggregate in concentrated layers up to 25 cm thick on hard rock surfaces.

The different mineral types are surrounded by a variety of fauna. Some SMS sites have low biodiversity, but others are populated by a rich assemblage of species, including tubeworms, clams, snails, shrimp, crabs and cold-water corals. The bacteria and other single-celled organisms at the bottom of hydrothermal vent food chains are chemosynthetic, meaning they derive energy from oxidation of inorganic molecules instead of from sunlight, as occurs with photosynthesis.

“It’s possible that all life on earth emerged from these hydrothermal systems,” says Richard Steiner, a marine conservation biologist and consultant based in Anchorage, Alaska. “And since there are only [an estimated] five hundred to five thousand hydrothermal vent systems in the world ocean, each one averaging a square kilometer each, they’re also extremely rare.”

Scientists point out that SMS ecosystems evolved to recover quickly from violent disturbances. Indeed, the Solwara 1 site lies within 500m of an active volcano that, according to unpublished findings from Tivey and colleagues, deposited six million tons of fresh sediments between 2005 and 2011. However, mining has also been proposed for inactive vent sites, which may have lost some of this resiliency and thus may be likely to recover much more slowly, says Lisa Levin, a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Scientists know little about the benthic (deep-sea) species residing in the abyssal plains, but what they’re learning shows them to be highly adapted to an extreme environment, where temperatures hover just above freezing and pressures become crushing. Studies show much of the fauna to be limited in size, slow to mature and with low rates of metabolism, reproduction, and colonization.

Moreover, the addition of new sediments in abyssal plains depends on the gradual rain of particles from the sea surface. These include the remains of dead plankton and other organisms, plus tiny amounts of wind-blown grains of inorganic minerals, mainly quartz. New sediments accumulate in abyssal plains at an average rate of just 2–3cm per thousand years, according to Philip Weaver, managing director of Seascape Consultants, Ltd., in Romsey, United Kingdom. And in the deepest plains, he says, it’s even lower, perhaps 0.5–1cm over the same time scale.

According to Smith of the University of Hawai‘i, the sluggish biology and low rates of sedimentation virtually ensure that abyssal plain ecosystems won’t recover from mining for hundreds of years. Evidence supporting that view is already available: In 1978, scientists performing an experiment scooped polymetallic nodules from the CCZ and left a track in the sediments that was 1.5 km wide and 4.5 cm deep. When a different research team returned to the same site 26 years later, the track was still clearly visible, analogous to the footsteps left by astronauts on the moon. What’s more, nematode populations in the track were still disturbed, with the abundance and diversity significantly lower than in adjacent areas where nodules had not been removed.

By contrast, the seamounts where cobalt crusts are found tend to be high in biological productivity, Levin says. “The physics is such that you have a lot of water motion, and that favors the growth of corals and fish,” she explains. But these ecosystems also grow slowly, she says; some fish can be more than 100 years old. “At this stage,” Levin says, “we expect these ecosystems will also recover slowly from disturbances.”


Cobalt crusts, being stuck to rock, could be challenging to remove. Miners will have to somehow recover the crusts without collecting too much rocky substrate, which would dilute the quality of the ore. According to the ISA, only the Japanese have invested substantially in technologies to recover cobalt crusts. Elsewhere, the technology remains in its infancy.

Substrate challenges are less daunting at SMS sites, where remotely operated vehicles will grind and cut their way through mineral deposits up to 30m thick. These sites also have a relatively small footprint. Nautilus Minerals’ site off Papua New Guinea, for instance, called Solwara 1, reaches 20–25m into the seabed, yet the site occupies only 0.11–0.14km2 of ocean floor, says Renee Grogan, the company’s environment manager. Grogan says that compared with terrestrial mining, “this is a very small footprint for what we anticipate will be a very large yield of ore.”

Polymetallic nodules, meanwhile, will be “vacuumed” from the top 5–10cm of sediment on the seafloor. According to the ISA, polymetallic nodules are only profitable when the yield exceeds 10 kg/m2. By one estimate, a profitable site will mine one km2 of the seafloor every day, and a mature industry will disrupt up to 12,000 km2 around the world every year. “But then again,” Smith says, “abyssal plains are probably the most widely distributed ecosystems on the planet. So the percentage impacted may be quite small, especially if [extraction is] well managed.”

Regardless of where it occurs, seabed mining will stir up some amount of sediment, creating plumes that in some cases could fall out over areas larger than the mine sites themselves. These plumes could have a variety of potential impacts. Plumes released near the surface may reduce light penetration and temperature and thus impair plankton growth, with rippling effects on the food web. Sediment also might smother benthic organisms as it settles, particularly those living in abyssal plains, which never evolved to cope with such large amounts of sediment sinking from above.

Furthermore, the plumes could be toxic, especially those generated from mining SMS sites, which, according to Duke’s Van Dover, may liberate harmful levels of lead, arsenic, copper, and other elements that were once trapped in the deposits. Van Dover points out that copper is an antifouling agent—“if it’s mobilized in the water,” she says, “then organisms will have to fight off the effects of the contamination.”

Plumes in some locations could have lesser impacts. According to Grogan, modeling suggests that plumes generated from mining Solwara 1 will deposit within 600m of the extraction zone, making it “a very small off-site impact.” She adds that Solwara 1 is located next to an active volcano, which produces a significant plume of its own, reducing the impact of mining on organisms that have already adapted to these eruptions.

One research program that’s now studying the possible ecotoxicological effects of seabed mining plumes is MIDAS (Managing Impacts of Deep-Sea Resource Exploitation). Funded by a three-year grant from the European Commission, MIDAS conducts broad-based research in a number of areas with the aim of developing best practices for the deep-sea mining industry.

According to Nélia Mestre, a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Algarve, Portugal, who works with the program, much about how the plumes could affect life in the deep ocean remains unknown. High pressure and low temperatures might influence the bioavailability of toxic elements, she says, and deep-sea species may be either less or more susceptible to plume toxicity than species in shallower waters.

“The tolerance difference could go both ways,” Mestre explains. “For instance, SMS species are adapted to chemicals released by black smokers at levels that could be toxic to shallow-water species. We hope that by the end of the MIDAS project we will have an indication of the potential hazard of chemicals present in plumes to local fauna in comparison to shallow-water fauna.”

A Framework for Protection

During its July 2015 session, which ran for two weeks in Kingston, Jamaica, the ISA began to consider a draft framework for the exploitation of seabed resources. Also in July, Smith and 10 colleagues published a paper in Science recommending a precautionary approach to seabed mining that would emphasize the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), and calling on the ISA to “[suspend] further approval of exploration contracts (and not approve exploitation contracts) until MPA networks are designed and implemented for each target region.” Smith argues that MPA networks are needed to guarantee that a significant proportion of the global deep-sea ecosystem remains intact and viable.

A provisional environmental management plan protecting roughly 1.4 million km2 was established for the CCZ by the ISA in 2012. However, an environmental management plan has not been established for regions of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans, where the ISA continues to issue exploration leases.

Smith and his coauthors are concerned that MPAs might be spaced too far apart, without the connectivity needed to prevent localized extinctions. “We don’t want to be overly critical of the ISA, but they really need to get these regional MPA plans in place soon,” he says. “Exploration claims in the CCZ are already compromising our ability to create MPAs in some areas.”

In response, Lodge counters, “There is no basis for either suspending contracts or placing a moratorium on exploration, since exploration provides the only means for gathering environmental data. A suspension of exploration would be self-defeating.”

According to Lodge, the ISA is now reaching “saturation on exploration leases.” He says there are perhaps 10 other promising areas that haven’t been leased for exploration yet, but the industry appears to be consolidating around a limited number of projects. If exploitation ultimately succeeds in these areas, he says, then deep-sea mining is likely to experience a huge amount of growth.

The hope among scientists and other environmental stakeholders is that this growth is matched by successful efforts to protect key habitats. Van Dover says these efforts might focus especially on protecting thermal vent communities, which she describes as “beautiful, rare and important.”

Smith views potential extinctions in moral terms, pointing out that “the deep sea is raw material for evolution—large-scale extinctions would profoundly affect what makes our planet unique.” And like other endangered habitats, such as tropical rainforests, the deep ocean likely harbors untapped biological resources that might one day be used to develop new drugs and other products that benefit humankind. “We’re talking about the largest and least understood biome on earth,” says Steiner. “And right now very little of it is protected.”

Charles W. Schmidt, MS, an award-winning science writer from Portland, ME, has written for Discover Magazine, Science, and Nature Medicine.

Source: Environ Health Perspectives; DOI:10.1289/ehp.123-A234

The opinions expressed herein are the author’s and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.


Big Lift for West African TEN Project

By Wendy Laursen 2015-09-04 20:14:14

The offshore oil and gas TEN Project off Ghana is nearing completion. This month, four subsea manifolds and two riser bases, fabricated by FMC Technologies in Houston, were loaded out onto a transport vessel on their way to Ghana to be installed on the seabed in the TEN fields.

Tullow’s production and development projects in West Africa include the company’s flagship operated asset, the Jubilee field in Ghana, the TEN Project which is the group’s second development in Ghana and a portfolio of non-operated production assets in five further countries across the region.

The TEN Project will produce up to 80,000 barrels of oil per day, and is on track and on budget for first oil in mid-2016.

In June, the project celebrated another milestone when the turret was lifted into FPSO. The TEN FPSO is currently under construction in the JSL Shipyard in Singapore and the turret is one of the most significant modules to be installed. Weighing approximately 3055 tons, the turret is currently the biggest external turret in the world.


Polar Cruise Ship Designed with Solar, Battery Systems

By MarEx 2015-09-04 19:09:16

Naval architects Knud E. Hansen have designed a luxury expedition cruise ship for worldwide operation including Arctic and Antarctic regions. The vessel features a range of energy saving and emissions reductions technologies including solar and battery power provisions.

The vessel is designed for unrestricted ocean voyages and strengthened for Ice Class 1A service. It is designed for itineraries up to 21 days with 300 passengers on board, and is the result of increasing interest in smaller size vessels for specialized and customized cruising and expeditions.

The hull is ice strengthened and has a double hull covering all hull machinery and service spaces. The ship is specifically designed to operate safely in heavy seas and high winds as well as narrow passages and small ports. There are three main fire zones and the vessel exceeds safe-return-to-port requirements.

Propulsion and maneuverability is provided by two Azipod units and two bow thrusters. The diesel-electric power plant includes four medium-speed diesel generators in two separate engine rooms. The engines can be specified for Tier 3 NOx emission levels without exhaust gas treatment. Solar cells help offset the vessel’s electrical load and space is reserved for battery systems to provide true emission free and silent sailing for extra sensitive areas.

Engine heat recovery systems provide all of the vessels heating requirements and innovative HVAC systems reduce energy consumption. Advanced LED lighting and smart control systems contribute further to the overall low electrical load of the vessel. The green philosophy has also been considered by a combination of highly insulated windows and outside window walls combined with latest solar power technology.

All public facilities are concentrated on two decks, including an observation lounge with 360 degree views. Above the observation lounge a heli-deck is arranged. A unique feature is the glass aircraft hanger. The ships helicopter can be lowered by lift into a fire and explosion proof glass enclosure in the middle of the observation lounge, making for a fascinating showpiece. Passengers can also enjoy stunning panoramas from two Jacuzzis on the top deck, primarily heated by solar energy.

The vessel has 150 standard passenger cabins arranged on three decks and crew accommodation on two lower decks. All passenger cabins have outside views and the cabins on the bridge deck are all with balconies. A number of the standard cabins can, by the newly developed proprietry FlexCabin system, be transformed to suites for special luxurious voyages. For increased passenger comfort active stabilizer fins are also fitted.

For short passenger excursions, a large sea garage and retractable overhead davit is arranged at the transom for easy launching and retrieval of up to 15 Zodiac type boats and jet-skis. A tender boarding station for the watercraft is arranged close to the waterline at the after ship. The tender station includes a lobby, disinfection area and expedition store. The tender station is connected with the passenger accommodation by both elevator and stairway.

An ROV with camera equipment is installed for observation of the underwater environment up to 3,000 meters below the sea, such as coral reefs and aquatic sea-life. The high definition video images can be displayed throughout the vessel on the big-screens in the passenger lounges and also cabins via the ships integrated video system.

As far back as the 1960s, Knud E. Hansen has designed the first vessel specifically for transport of passengers in polar regions: the Lindblad Explorer. More recently, the company has designed the polar expedition vessel Fram and two ferries for the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, also for sailing in heavy ice conditions.

Principal Dimensions

Length overall: 139.40m

Length between perpendiculars: 120.20m

Breadth moulded: 20.50m

Design draught: 4.80m

Deadweight at design draught: abt 1350t

Service speed: 18 knots


Diver Jailed for Taking Historic Artifacts

By MarEx 2015-09-04 18:43:58

After a two year investigation by the U.K. Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA), a commercial diver has been jailed for two years and ordered to pay £35,000 ($53,000) after recovering historic cannons off the U.K. coast.

Vincent Woolsgrove of Ramsgate, Kent, pleaded guilty to fraud at Southampton Crown Court after he reported to the Receiver of Wreck that he had found and recovered five historic bronze cannons from two different shipwreck sites.

Two of the bronze cannons were English and had been recovered from the wreck of the Warship London. The other three cannons were also bronze, but were Dutch and were reported as having been recovered from an unidentified wreck site outside of U.K. territorial waters.

The cannons recovered from the Warship London were both very rare bronze cannons, one by gunfounder Peter Gill, thought to be the only surviving example of his work and the other bearing the Commonwealth crest and thought to be the only surviving example of a bronze gun of the Commonwealth.

The London was a warship originally built in Chatham dockyard in 1654 for the Commonwealth Navy, later it became part of Charles II’s Restoration Navy. In 1665 the Warship London accidentally blew up and sank off Southend, probably due to an explosion in the powder magazine.

All three of the Dutch bronze cannons that were reported as being found outside of U.K. territorial waters were 24lb guns which clearly showed the crest of the City of Amsterdam and were dated between 1600 and 1617.

In 2009, Woolsgrove was awarded title to all three Dutch cannons. At that time, the MCA had been unable to identify the current legal owner or the identity of the wreck site, and Woolsgrove maintained that they had been recovered from an unidentified wreck site outside of territorial waters.

The Dutch cannons were eventually sold at auction to a private collector for a sum in excess of £50,000 ($75,000).

In 2011, fresh information was received and a joint operation was undertaken by the MCA, Kent & Essex Police & Historic England. A search warrant was obtained for Woolsgrove’s house in Ramsgate and three further bronze cannons of the 16th century were found, along with a considerable amount of other wreck items including copper, lead, tin and glass ingots, ship’s bells and portholes.

Had Woolsgrove reported the cannons correctly, as is required by the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, he would have been entitled to a substantial salvage award.

In passing sentence, Judge Ralls said: “Mr Woolsgrove persistently misled officers of the crown, and these items have now been lost to the nation. It is to great credit that the MCA and those they instructed, have been able to identify these canons and show without any doubt where they came from.”

Alison Kentuck, Receiver of Wreck, Maritime & Coastguard Agency, said: “Our message is clear: all wreck material found within or brought within U.K. territorial waters must be reported within 28 days to the Receiver of Wreck. It is not a case of “finders keepers,” the rightful owner is always entitled to have their property back and this case shows that even where wreck artefacts are nearly 400 years old, there is still likely to be a legal owner.”


Saving Our Reefs With An Underwater Drone

By MarEx 2015-09-04 16:44:54

Australia’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has developed the world’s first autonomous robot designed to seek and kill the crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), which are devouring the world’s coral reefs.

Conceived by QUT doctors Matthew Dunbabin and Feras Dayoub, the COTSBot drone patrols just a foot or two off the seafloor and is outfitted with stereoscopic cameras to give it depth perception. It is also equipped with five thrusters to maintain stability and a GPS system. The drone is designed to patrol for up to eight hours, and when it encounters its target, the COTSBot injects it with a fatal dose of bile salts using a syringe. The robot can deliver more than 200 lethal shots of bile, which are harmless to everything else on the reef.

“Human divers are doing an incredible job of eradicating this starfish from targeted sites, but there just aren’t enough divers to cover all the COTS hotspots across the Great Barrier Reef,” Dr. Dunbabin said in a statement. “We see the COTSBot as a first responder for ongoing eradication programs – deployed to eliminate the bulk of COTS in any area, with divers following a few days later to hit the remaining ones.”

Due to overfishing of the marine life that eats them, the COTS population has exploded recently and allowed the starfish to feast on the world’s coral reefs. Research suggests that COTS are responsible for about 40 percent of the Great Barrier Reef’s coral loss.

One feature of the COTSBot that separates it from other drones is its ability to learn. The robot has been trained to identify COTS by using thousands of images of COTS collected on the reef. If is unsure about whether something is actually a COTS, it will take a photo of the object rather than injecting it. The photo will then be examined by a human and the feedback will be incorporated into the robot’s memory.

The COTSBot completed its first sea trials earlier this week in Queensland’s Moreton Bay to test its mechanical parts and navigation system and is expected to begin working the reef autonomously in December.


Development of Louisiana Offshore Megaport Underway

By MarEx 2015-09-04 14:55:47

After seven years of planning, development of a deepwater port off the coast of Plaquemines Parish is underway. On August 31, the Louisiana International Deepwater Gulf Transfer Terminal Authority (LIGTT) announced that LIGTT Midstream Holdings would construct the port’s first phase, a dry bulk terminal, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.

The terminal will serve as a cargo transfer point for megaships that are too large to navigate the lower Mississippi. Using a hub-and-spoke distribution system, the transfer terminal will be capable of offloading eight 18,000-TEU ships simultaneously. And while the average U.S. port has a depth of 35 feet, the transfer terminal will have water depths of more than 80 feet.

The $25 million terminal is being financed through a combination of traditional and investment capital from an unnamed joint venture. The full development is expected to cost about $10 billion. According to LIGTT officials, the decision was made to develop the least costly phase of the port first to begin generating revenue that could eventually entice investors to finance the port’s more expensive phases. The megaport is expected to be completed in 2020.

Officials plan on submitting applications for the necessary permits with the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shortly and anticipate that they will be properly licensed in a year.

LIGTT Midstream Holdings is led by attorney Tom Thornhill and developer Jim Woodworth. Bechtel Corp., Evans Graves Engineers and Waldemar Nelson are providing engineering, design and permitting services.


Suez Canal Sets One-Day Record

By MarEx 2015-09-04 14:39:10

Less than one month after its inauguration, the newly expanded Suez Canal appears on track to hit Egypt’s lofty projections for increased canal traffic. The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) announced that the canal hit a new one-day record on September 1 by crossing 70 ships with a capacity of 4 million tons.

According to SCA, 34 ships passed through the canal from the north entrance and 36 from the south.

In a statement, SCA Chairman Mohab Mamish stated: “The increasing number of crossing ships sheds light on the importance of the establishment of the new Suez Canal to raise the capacity to handle the expected increase in global trade.”

Already the fastest route between Asia and Europe, the expansion has cut transit time from 18 to 11 hours. The canal’s upgrades include the construction of a 23-mile channel that allows two-way traffic and reduces waiting time.

The publicly-funded expansion cost about $8.5 billion, and Egypt expects it to establish the nation as an international trade hub. Egypt has also invested in new infrastructure such as mega-ports and terminal facilities to complement the canal and attract investment.

More than 17,000 ships transited the canal in 2014, which is about 50 ships per day. Egypt expects the expansion to increase traffic to 97 ships per day­­—34,000 annually—by 2023. Prior to expansion, the 120-mile canal earned Egypt about $5.3 billion annually and handled eight percent of the world’s sea trade. The SCA expects the upgraded canal to eventually boost annual revenue to $13.5 billion.


Vessel Sinks In Xiashimen Channel

By MarEx 2015-09-04 14:29:24

The Chinese-flagged M/V Zhe Pu 01833 sank after striking a reef as it approached China’s Ningbo-Zhoushan port via the Xiashimen Channel on September 3. According to reports, the allision occurred after the vessel experienced a power failure and lost propulsion. The Ningbo Port Group received a distress call shortly after and deployed one of its tugboats at about 7:30 am local time to rescue the ship and its five crewmembers.

The Zhe Pu’s hull sustained serious damage due to the allision and began taking on water. The vessel’s crew and attempted unsuccessfully to pump the water out while awaiting the rescue team.

The 40-meter Zhe Pu was transporting about 300 tons of cement from Taizhou to Ningbo-Zhoushan.


Controversial Vessel Up For Sale

By MarEx 2015-09-04 14:17:44

The M/T Morning Glory has been put up for auction by the Libyan government. The tanker was seized by U.S. Special Forces off Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean in March 2014. The state-less vessel’s crew was discovered transporting crude oil from Es Sider to a Libyan port held by anti-government rebels. The ship is set to be auctioned on September 10.

Prior to the incident, the Morning Glory was sold to a Libyan national close to Eastern Federalist leader Ibrahim Jathran, who had seized control of three Libyan ports in 2013.

Jathran ended his blockade of the port a few weeks after the failed attempt to export oil and is now allied with Libya’s official government in Tripoli.