Monday, 27 August 2012

Has the wreck of the legendary treasure-laden "Port-au-Prince" been finally found?


A wreck, believed to be that of the historic pirate ship Port-au-Prince, has been discovered by divers off Tonga in the Pacific. The ship, laden with looted treasure, is believed to have been scuttled by the local king in 1806 after she strayed into Tongan waters in search of whales.  The story goes that King Finau Ulukalala II killed almost all the crew before burning and sinking the pirate ship; only iron and cannon was salvaged while the treasure was mysteriously scuttled along with the ship. 

The site of the wreck of the Port-au-Prince has long been the stuff of legend and speculation. Now, with its presumed discovery off Foa Island by local diver Tevita Moala, a treasure hunt will inevitably be sparked in the waters around in the Ha'apai Island group. The Greenwich Maritime Museum and the Marine Archaeological Society have found that the age of the copper sheathing from the site matches the ship's age. 

The story of the French built Port au Prince was spread after one of its four surviving crew, deckhand William Mariner, returned to England after four years in Tonga. He had changed his name to Toki Ukamea- Iron Axe- and wrote a detailed account of the events surrounding the ship and his time in Tonga. The ship had reached the Ha'apai islands on November 9 1806 laden with Spanish and French loot from ships and Spanish Peruvian settlements. She had been at sea for two years, and was laden with silver and gold ore when she was attacked by Tongan locals, who dragged her ashore for its iron before sinking it. 

Sandra Fifita, a tourism official from the Tongan government, said after the find, “If it proves to be the Port-au-Prince then we may have treasure hunters and Tongan locals clambering to find the remains of years of successful pirate raids against the enemies of the British,” she said. 

“Legend tells that the chief salvaged the iron, which was of great value in Tonga at the time, and then sunk the ship and all her bounty. It is believed that a considerable amount of copper, silver and gold is resting with the wreck, along with a number of silver candlesticks, incense pans, crucifixes and chalices.” 

 “This is a significant find for the people of Tonga. This ship wreck will reveal a great deal of information about the history of Tonga and specifically the Ha'apai Islands,” Mrs Fifita said. 

It is still to be confirmed that the wreck is indeed that of the historic vessel. Many Tongans fear that such a confirmation might attract adventurers in droves to the area, and are keen to map and document the site before that happens. Located on a reef known for bad weather, the wreck has been "pounded by 4-5 metre swells for 200 years, so there's wreckage scattered all over the sea floor," according to local resort owner Darren Rice. 

As to the question of whether the wreck is really that of the Port-au-Prince, he says, "Only one ship of that era has ever gone missing in Ha'apai, so if it's not the Port-au-Prince, what is it?"

ONGC looks at the Arctic

Media reports say that Indian public sector giant ONGC wants to team up with Russian petroleum industry leader Rosneft in the Russian Arctic. A formal agreement is being sought by ONGC; the company is reported to have expressed interest in participating in one of Rosneft's international partnerships in the Kara and Barents Seas. 

The Indian company wants the Russian State owned company to reduce its planned stake in projects with ExxonMobil, Eni and Statoil to "give room for third partners," says The Barent's observer. ONGC is also believed to be interested in new ventures in the region in alliance with Rosneft. ONGC Videsh Ltd., the company's international subsidiary has confirmed its interest. 

Observers point out that ONGC- that produces about 77 percent of India's crude oil and around 81 percent of its natural gas- does not have experience in the Arctic. It's willingness to accept a lower stake, as reported in Indian newspapers, may be indicative of a desire to develop expertise in a region that could hold 22% of the world's undiscovered recoverable sources- 90 billion barrels of oil and 1670 trillion cubic feet of gas, as per US estimates. Some experts say that anywhere between $250 billion and $400 billion of investment will be needed in the Arctic if these have to be tapped. 

Shipping heading for doldrums, says Clarksons.

"Shipping is heading for the doldrums if not for the dole queue," says Clarkson Research Services, one of the most well known maritime market intelligence setups in the world. With too many vessels, limited cargo and muted demolition cited as big reasons, Clarkson implies that rock bottom earnings are here to stay for a while.

A historical graph showing the average cargo tonnage carried per DWT by oil tankers and bulk carriers points to other interesting- albeit disturbing- findings as regards productivity of the fleet. "For oil tankers, productivity was at its lowest in the early 1990s when the first Gulf War impacted on their performance. But in the nine years 1994-2003 hardly any growth in the fleet, but a 30% increase in trade, meant they had to work much harder (or smarter?) and productivity soared to over 9 t/dwt pa. During the next nine years to 2012 trade expanded by a further 19%, but the fleet by more than 50%. Productivity of the fleet slipped back to 7 t/dwt pa," writes Cliff Tyler of Clarksons.

Bulkers seemed to be in line with this trend until 2008, thanks to expanding Chinese demand, touching 8½ t/dwt pa over 2004-07. Unfortunately, mushrooming new buildings in this sector "saw capacity grow at almost three times the rate of cargoes" thereafter, says Clarksons. The result? Productivity dropped to under 6½ t/dwt pa.

Admitting that economic slow steaming and long periods waiting for cargo are major influences reducing vessels’ productivity, the firm sees the growth of cargo volumes as the only way out. However, the tone of the analysis is certainly bearish. "The dip of growth in the European, American and Chinese economies does not bode well for demand in the short term," it says.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Fresh water 'swamping' increases tropical storm's intensity by up to 50%, new research says

Phenomena could increase with climate change.

pic source: NASA
Large amounts of fresh water dumped into sensitive areas of oceans around the world are making tropical revolving storms (TRS) - commonly called typhoons, cyclones or hurricanes - up to 50% more intense and deadly, says research published in the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition (PNAS). The organisation, set up in 1914, claims to be one of the world's most-cited multidisciplinary scientific publications, and says it brings into focus "cutting-edge research reports" in biological, physical, and social sciences. 

Their analysis, a collaborative effort between scientists based in China, the US and elsewhere, says that the possibility of the two synchronous events- a TRS and the affected ocean being swamped with fresh water- are relatively small, at between 10 and 23 percent, but the outcome is significant in terms of the large effect they can have on storm systems.  They can also have a huge impact on human populations, according to Karthik Balaguru at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the scientist who authored the report. “Sixty percent of the world’s population lives in areas affected by tropical cyclones,” he says, adding, “Cyclone Nargis killed more than one hundred and thirty eight thousand people in Burma in 2008." Examples of areas particularly at risk from fresh water swamping include the Indian Ganges River system in the Bay of Bengal, the Amazon River system and the western Pacific Ocean, where storms are usually accompanied by heavy rain. 

A TRS system normally weakens with time because the water cools off, thanks to the strong winds prevalent. However, in conditions when a TRS blows over an area where a large amount of fresh water is flowing into the ocean (often about 50 meters below the surface) from rivers or due to rain, the fresh water forms a 'barrier layer' that insulates the surface layer from the denser (and colder) water below. As a result, the cooling effect is reduced by as much as 36 percent, effectively making the ocean pump up to 7 percent more heat into the cyclone. The end result: A TRS that may be 50 percent more deadly. 

Researchers say that climate change is having an effect on the 'ocean water cycle'-water movement between the oceans and the atmosphere- and studies will have to be conducted again as climate patterns change in a warmer world. They point out that climate change is making the phenomena accelerate, as melting glaciers and the amount of rain falling over oceans has a direct effect on the salinity of water- and, indirectly, on 'barrier layers.'

In the present study, scientists studied 587 TRS systems over two decades in the Atlantic, Pacific and the Indian Oceans before coming to a conclusion. They are now hoping that the new findings will help predict TRS systems better. "We can predict the paths cyclones take, but we need to predict their intensity better to protect people susceptible to their destructive power,” said Balaguru.

 “A 50% increase in intensity can result in a much larger amount of destruction and death."