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Thursday, November 14, 2019

MSC cruise line to become carbon-neutral

Well, I am sure I don't quite understand this buying and selling of carbon credits, but it seems, according to a story published in, that MSC is heading in the right direction.

MSC Cruises will be the first major cruise company to become carbon neutral.
Starting on January 1, 2020, MSC Cruises will buy enough credits from companies that absorb carbon dioxide to offset all of the carbon emissions from its 17 ships throughout the year, the company announced Friday. That amounts to 2.2 million tonnes. The credits will only cover activities at sea.
Executive Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago said the announcement is 10 years in the making. The company is still figuring out in which projects it will invest, but plans to prioritise "blue credits", which finance projects in coastal communities.
"It's not just a question of buying credits, but we also want to make it more tangible," Vago said. "The blue credit is a way where we want to invest through the MSC Foundation to create farming in the sea through kelp and algae, which have proven to be one of the best CO2 absorbents today."
Geneva-based MSC Cruises is the world's fourth-largest cruise company; its US headquarters are located in South Florida. MSC plans to build a new US$300 million cruise terminal and headquarter office at PortMiami, with completion by 2022.
The company's decision to pay to offset its environmental impact comes as the industry is trying to reduce its overall emissions. Cruise companies are working to make ships more energy-efficient by redesigning hulls to prevent friction, installing LED lighting and fitting ships with shore power - the capability to plug into local electrical grids while at port and eliminate emissions.
Every MSC ship launched since 2017 has shore power, including two that are currently based in Miami. But, Miami-Dade county's PortMiami does not allow for shore power, meaning the zero-emission technology is wasted as those ships idle their engines next to downtown.
As the industry continues to experiment with the goal of zero-emission cruising, carbon offsets present an opportunity to mitigate the damage in the meantime. They can be a bridge between now, say experts, when nearly all cruise ships rely on a technological workaround to continue using one of the world's dirtiest fuels despite stricter pollution standards, and a future where all transportation is emissions-free.
"We understand the intention is to have a zero-emission society, zero emission maritime industry," Vago said. "We also understand the technology that is available doesn't allow us to commit to totally zero-CO2 performance."
MSC's competitors, Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, have dabbled in carbon offsets, but none of the others have achieved carbon neutrality.
Offsets allow a company to pay a certain amount to even out the amount of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide it emits into the air. Companies like oil-and-gas giant Shell pay to plant trees, which store carbon, to make up for some of its production of global warming-inducing fossil fuels.
Carbon offsets also fund renewable energy plants that displace fossil fuel energy on the grid, like the wind farm Royal Caribbean plans to use to offset up to 12 per cent of its emissions - or 525,000 metric tonnes - beginning in April 2020.
Offsets have become popular across a number of industries. A 2016 report from Forest Trends' Ecosystem Marketplace tracked nearly 250 companies buying offsets, including Delta Air Lines, JPMorgan & Chase and Exxon Mobil.
"They see the real need. A lot of these oil-and-gas and energy companies, they can't just shut off the valve tomorrow," said Stephen Donofrio, director of the Ecosystem Marketplace and founder of Greenpoint Innovations. "What can we do in the meantime while technology and our economics kind of catch up to where our economy is today?"


Some environmentalists criticise offsets as "greenwashing" by companies, a way to say the organisation is doing something about climate change while not changing the parts of the core business model that warm the world. The criticism hits hardest in the transportation sector, which makes up the biggest slice of all carbon emissions worldwide.
The cruise industry in particular has been the target of pushback from environmentalists who say the industry's carbon footprint is less excusable than the shipping industry because it's non-essential. Vago called concerns "fake news".
"A lot of people in this part of the world in Europe have been saying cruise ships are not environmentally friendly. That's the fake news I'm referring to," he said.
The type of credits MSC purchases will determine whether the impact is real.
Research shows that offset programmes often have a poor track record of living up to their hype. A 2017 investigation from a UK-based environmental group found one such programme continued to take money from firms like Virgin Atlantic to protect forestland that was instead developed and sold off.
"It's really completely dependent on what they do," said Timothy Searchinger, a Princeton University research scholar. "They should recognise that offsets have generally been mostly not real. But there have been chances to do better."
MSC's other commitments to lower its carbon footprint include building five new ships that run on liquid natural gas, a cleaner fuel than most ships use currently. But it comes with risks: if leaked into the atmosphere, LNG is much more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.
Smaller cruise companies have been able to make more substantial advancements toward zero-emission cruising than the big players. Expedition cruise company Lindblad, based in Zurich, began offsetting this year the 50,000 metric tonnes of carbon emitted by its 13 ships, all land excursions, employee travel and offices in New York and Seattle, Travel Weekly reported. Norwegian cruise company Hurtigruten launched the first hybrid-electric powered ship this year. Notably, Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam told Travel Weekly, the company will not join Cruise Lines International Association, the industry's lobbying arm, saying the group is not doing enough to address climate change.
CLIA announced this year that the industry plans to cut the rate of global emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, which means each ship gets more efficient, even as the cruise lines continue to increase their total carbon footprint by adding new ships to the fleet.
Cruise ships are expected to draw 30 million cruisers this year on 365 ships, up from 23 million cruisers on 308 ships in 2015, according to CLIA. More than 40 new cruise ships are expected to launch in the next four years.
- Miami Herald

Having watched a fascinating program about the MSC ship Meraviglia last night, in the very good series "Mighty Ships," I cannot help but fear for the future of the cruise ports that have to face the descent of huge crowds, let alone the power demands of those ships that are fitted to take shore power

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Moby-Dick and the sinking of the Essex


On a clear, bright morning in November 1820, a giant bull whale rammed and sank the 238-ton American ship Essex, stranding the 20-man crew in a remote tract of the equatorial Pacific, 2250 kilometres (1400 miles) from the nearest land.

This kind of disaster, while certainly unusual, was not unknown.  Alexander Starbuck, the great 19th-century chronicler of American whaling, itemised six instances of vessels being sunk by whales.  Three factors lifted the Essex disaster out of the common run of such incidents, however.

First, the whale’s attack was a deliberate act of revenge for the harpooning of three members of his pod.  “He came directly from the shoal which we had just before entered — and in which we had struck three of his companions,” wrote the first mate, Owen Chase, “as if he were fixed with revenge for their sufferings.”

Second, five survivors of the appalling three-month whaleboat voyage that followed kept themselves alive by eating the bodies of dead companions — one of whom was shot after lots had been drawn to determine who would be sacrificed to feed the rest.

Third, the Essex incident provided much of the inspiration for the dramatic ending of Herman Melville’s epic novel, Moby-Dick.

It was not just the ending that gave the novel its resonance with the reading public, however.  The descriptions, incidents, and characters that populate the book were inspired by Melville’s own experiences on the whaleship Acushnet, and the tales he heard from whalemen on other ships and in shoreside taverns.  And it was through this that he achieved something remarkable. 

Up until 1851, when Moby-Dick was published, the  whaling business had been largely ignored by the American public. If they knew anything about it at all, they regarded it as dirty but necessary work, and that the people involved in it were equivalent to common laborers (unless, of course, you were in Nantucket or New Bedford, where money, oil, and religion were the three tenets of the town).

Melville’s novel changed all that, because he made people aware of the sheer scope of the whaling venture — the immensity of the oceans traversed, the long months of waiting for prey, the frictions of life on board the small, cramped vessel, the brute strength, stamina and courage required to harpoon and kill great whales, and the grinding hard work and stench of turning those whales into oil for lamps and machinery, and elastic bone for buggy whips and corset stays.

Up until then, it would be fair to say that whaling had been glamorized, with its promise of adventure and tropical isles.  Melville, instead, told the truth — that whaling in the days of sail was a grim and primitive struggle, which tested men to the limit.  He did not have to describe the small-boat ordeal of the survivors of the sinking of his fictional Pequod, because he had already made his point.

Illustrations by Ron Druett

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

What is Moby-Dick worth today?

Though Melville didn't give precise dimensions, Moby-Dick was definitely a very large whale.  While sperm whales measuring over 100 feet (30 meters) have not been recorded these days, back in 1841, when Melville crewed on the Acushnet, "100-barrel" whales were common. 

The whaleman's barrel was a rather vague figure, but it was generally reckoned that one foot of whale equaled one barrel, so a 100-barrel whale was one hundred feet long, give or take a few inches or more.  So that means that Moby-Dick was the same length as the fictional Pequod, whaleships being generally one hundred feet long, give or take another few inches.

So, if Moby-Dick was ever killed and then flensed of its thick coat of blubber, and that blubber turned into oil, the oil would fill one hundred barrels, again with some give and take, barrels not being all the same size and shape aboard ship.  How many gallons were in one barrel was another fairly vague figure, but experts tend to agree that it was thirty-three.  So Moby-Dick would have boiled out 3300 gallons.  And, on the New York market at the time, good spermaceti oil fetched $1.77 a gallon.

So Moby-Dick was worth $5,841.00 in the currency of the time.  Today's equivalent is $204,601.54 in good hard modern cash.

No small sum.  Today, however, it is claimed that Moby-Dick would be worth much, much more, as a carbon sink.  About three million dollars, in fact, according to a fascinating article posted in

A great whale is worth US$2 million (NZ$3.1 million).
The size of that number so terrified Ralph Chami, the economist who appraised the whales, that he sought refuge in a church for the first time in 30 years. Inside St. Matthew's Cathedral here, a few blocks from Chami's office at the International Monetary Fund, the economist said he had "a conversation with the Maker. I said: 'If you aim to humiliate me, there are other ways of doing it.' "
Chami had, after all, veered outside his lane to make a first-of-its-kind claim. He studies macroeconomic policies in developing countries, not ecology. After deleting his whale calculations three times, and three times arriving at the same answer, Chami enlisted an IMF researcher, Sena Oztosun, as well as two outside economists, Thomas Cosimano and Connel Fullenkamp. They consulted whale scientists and research papers. The world population of whales is worth more than US$1 trillion, the researchers concluded in a recent report, due to whale tourism, the nutrients whales disperse and the carbon captured by their massive bodies.
"They didn't get cute with the problem. They made the perfectly sensible suggestion that, as a store of carbon, whales ought to be valued when alive on the basis of their carbon content," said Partha Dasgupta, an environmental economist at the University of Cambridge who was not involved with this work. Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is a greenhouse gas, but carbon stored in a whale body does not contribute to climate change.
"It's really exciting and a really creative approach," said Andrew Pershing, a climate change ecologist at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Pershing and his colleagues calculated, in a 2010 study, that the restoration of great whale populations to preindustrial levels would be equivalent, in tons of carbon captured, to the growth of a forest the size of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Climate change separates wildlife into survivors, including vines that thrive when carbon dioxide levels rise, and victims, such as bird species that are threatened by habitat loss and other disruptions. A few species are emitters, such as methane-belching cattle. Great whales occupy another category: sequesterers. An average great whale, a hypothetical animal that blends the characteristics of large baleen whales and sperm whales, traps 33 tons of carbon dioxide in its body, Chami said. A car releases about 4.6 tons of carbon dioxide a year.
"These animals are really good at pulling carbon out of the environment and storing that in tissues, in blubber," Pershing said. Demand for carbon-dense whale oil helped fuel the commercial whaling industry. During its height, between 1900 and 1999, 2.9 million whales were killed.
Three years ago, Chami, who counts naturalist David Attenborough as a childhood hero, travelled to Mexico's Sea of Cortez to volunteer with an organisation called Great Whale Conservancy. At night, after spending days at sea on a research boat following blue whales, the conservationists introduced Chami to the marvels of whale ecology.
"Some people call the baleen whales the first farmers on Earth," said Michael Fishbach, the Great Whale Conservancy's executive director. Whale excrement is so rich in iron and nitrogen that whale bowel movements trigger blooms of microscopic phytoplankton. Krill eat the plankton, whales eat the krill, the whales poop, the phytoplankton bloom and the cycle continues.
Long-distance transfers are key. "What's really special about whales is they live a life on this grand, global scale," Pershing said. If a whale feeds in the same place where it digests and excretes, the ecologist said, "it's not really adding to the system." But whales are mixers. They shift nutrients up the water column, a process called the whale pump. They shuttle across latitudes, from their feeding zones at the poles toward the equator, where whales give birth. (Even their placentas stimulate local ecosystems.)
And when whales die, they sink.
Most whale carcasses drop to the sea bed because whales with emptied lungs are slightly negatively buoyant. That process, known as a whale fall, delivers carbon to the ocean depths.
An ecosystem blossoms from the whale's flesh and bones. "By dying, they're creating something new - a new kind of life," said Craig Smith, a University of Hawaii marine biologist and whale fall expert.
Obscured by the deep ocean, whale falls are rarely spotted by humans. Scientists have observed only about 75 of them, Smith said, including experimental whale falls (in which beached whales are towed to sea, weighted and sunk). The Navy found eight in the 1990s while searching for a lost missile off the California coast.
Smith and his colleagues predict whale falls are actually abundant, considering whale mortality rates and the persistence of whale remains. Bones, jutting from an otherwise flat ocean bottom, can serve as habitats for decades. "There are clearly hundreds of thousands of whale fall ecosystems on the bottom of the ocean," Smith said.
On October 16, marine biologists aboard the research vessel Nautilus discovered a whale fall. "There was a lot of screaming, and loud voices exclaiming 'Whale fall!' and gasps," said the cruise's lead scientist, Chad King, a research coordinator at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The vessel's underwater robot located the whale, which came to rest on the underwater slope of an extinct volcano named the Davidson Seamount. It was a baleen whale, which had died a few months ago, about 18 feet (5.4m) long.
The whale left a fatty halo in the sediment. A bed of worms and bacteria surrounded the body. Fish, squat lobsters and other scavengers picked at the carcass. Red bone worms bored into the whale's ribs. Octopuses, perhaps hunting snails and crabs, mobbed the scene. When the Nautilus crew hoisted the robot out of the water, its casing was slick with whale oil, King said.
"At last count, there were at least 100 species that we find in great abundance on whale falls and don't find anywhere else," Smith said. Worms named Osedax mucofloris, which roughly means "bone-eating snot-flower", were discovered on the body of a experimentally sunk minke whale in 2004. The worms are such specialised scavengers, they don't have stomachs; instead, they leach fat and protein from whale bones via acid secretions and digestive bacteria.
The carbon and its consumers will remain at the seabed for years to come. Whale falls in the Southern Hemisphere could trap 70,000 tons of carbon annually, according to Pershing's 2010 study, if whale populations returned to historical size.
In exchange for data on whales and carbon, Chami and his economist colleagues have provided scientists with a weapons-grade talking point. Dollar values persuade policymakers in ways that appeals to biodiversity cannot, Chami said.
The valuation of whales was a conservative minimum, the authors of the report emphasised. "The results we have now are based more or less on a composite whale. We're looking to break this down by species," said Fullenkamp, an economist at Duke University.
"Even if they got the details not quite right, their estimate seems right as a ballpark figure," Dasgupta said. Notably, a living whale is valued "far higher than the market price of whales when dead".
The price of a whale as a public good will also rise with the price of carbon. IMF recently proposed taxing carbon at US$75 per ton. At that value, a whale jumps to US$5 million or US$6 million, Chami said.
The reception to this approach has been so positive that conservationists asked him to calculate the value of wild elephants and British salt marshes. Earlier this year, Chami received a letter. The whale appraisal "is a potent and valuable revelation", the note read. "I shall most certainly quote it whenever it seems appropriate." It was signed by Attenborough.
Originally published in the Washington Post. Illustrations by Ron Druett

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

"Unknown" Captain Cook portrait snares record price


rare portrait of Captain James Cook has sold at auction for $227,621.
Christie's, the famed London auction house, had estimated it would fetch between £100,00 and £150,000 (NZ$200,000-$300,000).
The price includes the 25 per cent buyer's premium, meaning the £112,500 price was lower than hoped.
Christie's asserted the oil painting was by John Webber, the official expedition artist on Cook's third and final Pacific voyage. It's thought he finished the portrait in London after the voyage was over and Cook was dead.
But he knew Cook "intimately", according to Christie's, and the portrait may depict the true man compared to Cook merchandise painted later.
The painting was owned by wealthy California collector Richard Kelton. The identity of the new owner was not disclosed.
The portrait was unknown until Christie's sold it in 1998.
At the time, the auctioneer didn't think it was by Webber but experts detected his "hand" in Cook's face.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Storm shifts boat stranded at Niagara Falls for more than a century

She was just a humble coal-carrying scow.  Then she became part of a world-famous natural venue.  She was stuck at Niagara Falls.  But still, she was pretty well forgotten.  Until Halloween, 2019.

From USA Today, as reported by

A boat that has been grounded in shallow rapids near Niagara Falls since 1918 became dislodged on Halloween night and moved downriver about 50 metres.
The development was reported by Niagara Parks, an agency of the government of Ontario, Canada, in a video posted to social media on Friday. At the time, the boat was again grounded in a new location.

The agency says the boat, an iron dumping scow, became stuck after an incident on August 6, 1918, where the barge broke loose from a tugboat.
Two men were rescued in a joint effort between the US Coast Guard and local authorities. The men opened dumping doors in the bottom of the barge in a successful attempt to slow the boat from being carried away by the current, the agency says.
Since then, the boat has been remained about one-third of a mile from the edge of the Horseshoe Falls and about one-tenth of a mile from Canadian shores, according to the agency.
That is, until the night of Halloween, 2019.
Overnight severe weather and heavy currents resulted in the boat being "turned and twisted," according to Jim Hill, Senior Manager of Heritage for Niagara Parks Commission. He said the boat had also flipped on its side.
"We think it's about 50 metres downriver from its original location," he said.
The boat had been deteriorating badly, he said. The commission extensively documented it last year to mark the 100th anniversary of the rescue and grounding of the scow.
As for how long the boat will remain in its new location: "It's anyone's guess," Hill said.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Did the great Herman Melville bowl in ten-pin alleys?

Well, it seems that after Herman Melville jumped ship from the Acushnet, and eventually arrived in Honolulu after other misadventures, he worked as a "pin boy" in a bowling alley, and with surreptitious practice became quite adept.

It seems plausible enough, as his whaling experience would have included learning how to heave a harpoon, and keep look out with a sharp eye, but how strange!

And here is a very amusing and well researched meditation on the subject by Christopher Benfey.

During the summer of 1843, when he was twenty-three and had not yet published a word -- it begins -- Herman Melville worked as a pinsetter in a bowling alley in Honolulu and, according to the Melville authority Hershel Parker, “at quiet times picked up some skill as a bowler.” During the ensuing years, Melville, whose 200th birthday we are celebrating this year, became our most eloquent poet of the dead-end job. Billy Budd is hung from the yardarm; Moby-Dick drags the crew of the Pequod to the bottom of the sea. Bartleby, who goes blind mindlessly copying legal documents, worked previously as “a subordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office” in Washington, D.C. “Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness,” Melville writes, “can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters, and assorting them for the flames?” 
True enough, but in the annals of futility, the Sisyphean job of setting up pins in a bowling alley seems particularly pointless. You set up the pins; they’re knocked down; you set them up again, politely returning the bowl to the bowler. Before the invention of the automatic pinsetting machine, adopted during the 1950s, pins were reset by poorly paid pinsetters, also known as pinboys or pin-monkeys. The sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine, documenting child labor for a decade from 1908, took several pictures of anxious boys watching for balls barreling down the alleys, as though they themselves were the pins. 
Melville, apparently, was one of their forebears. He had deserted his whaling ship—another dead-end job—in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia and had made his way to the disreputable port of Honolulu, where he was appalled by the treatment of the native islanders. “Not until I visited Honolulu,” he wrote sardonically, “was I aware of the fact that the small remnant of the natives had been civilized into draught horses, and evangelized into beasts of burden.” There he found a job as a clerk in a general store—he’d previously clerked, briefly, in his brother’s fur-cap shop in Albany, New York—and supplemented his income at a bowling alley.  
It should be said that the sole evidence for Melville’s career as a pinsetter comes from a letter published in 1850 in the Lansingburgh Democrat (Lansingburgh is the town near Albany where Melville lived for several years). The letter-writer, one H.R. Hawkins of Honolulu, mentions meeting someone who claimed to be “well acquainted” with Melville, “and knew him at a time when he was setting up pins in a ball alley.” 
So, is it likely?  Read the rest, and see what you think.

Meantime, here is Ron's wonderful painting of the Acushnet, which now hangs in the Melville Bed and Breakfast House in New Bedford.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Whale-watchers enjoy a most unusual sighting

Spinner dolphins -- out of Moorea -- and playful humpbacks -- out of Sydney -- have been my favorite sightings, but a group of whale-watching tourists at Kaikoura (New Zealand) had an extraordinary treat.

They sighted two whales of a species so rare that it wasn't even named until the mid-twentieth century.

From Stuff NZ

It is one of the world's rarest whales, having been spotted only a handful of times in the wild. Still, one lucky boatful of tourists in Kaikōura has enjoyed an "extraordinary encounter" with a pair of Shepherd's beaked whales.

It is named after George Shepherd after he discovered a whale he had never seen before washed ashore at Ōhāwe near Hāwera in 1933. The then curator of the Wanganui Museum notified the  Dominion Museum in Wellington, and two years later Tasmacetus shepherdii, aka Shepherd's beaked, was christened.

Little is known about the species, and it has never been studied extensively. What limited knowledge about Shepherd's beaked comes from beached and stranded whales.

So that makes the sighting off the shores of Kaikōura on Wednesday even more "incredible", according to Alex Cuff from Whale Watch Kaikōura.

"One of our boats came across the two individuals early in the morning just after 7am, while out tracking," Cuff said.

"Our Sea Crew Guide Annika spotted a dorsal fin at the corner of her eye then was able to watch the whales surface 4-5 times. On the same day as these whales were sighted, guests also saw two Humpback whales breaching, a mother and her calf. A spectacular and not so common sight to see!

The species generally live in deep offshore waters, well away from coasts.

"This species generally lives in deep offshore waters, well away from coasts. However, where there is a narrow continental shelf, such as the case in Kaikōura with the Hikurangi Trench, the species can sometimes be found closer to shore."

It is believed the stealth of Shepherd's beaked whales helped them to evade whalers during the whaling era, but Cuff says more contemporary issues threaten.

"Like many other cetaceans, they are unable to avoid plastic, global warming and man-made noise which are their largest threats."

This isn't the first time that the tour company has spotted the elusive whale. They have been seen twice, on Christmas Eve 2017 and a few days later on January 2, 2018.

"On the same day as these whales were sighted, guests also saw two Humpback whales breaching, a mother and her calf."

"Since Whale Watch Kaikōura was formed in 1987, 30 years at sea exploring the Kaikōura Canyon has only resulted in sporadic sightings of Beaked whales, let alone the rare and elusive Shepherd's Beaked whale."

The area is a haven for all manner of sea life, as the waters are nutrient-rich.

"Kaikōura is one of the few places in the world where Sperm whales can be seen year-round and close to shore. They congregate here because the 3km deep Kaikōura Canyon runs right up against the coast creating a rare system of sea currents that sustain an incredibly rich marine food chain," added Cuff.

To see photos and a video hit the LINK

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Sail saves the seas

Tres Hombres, a modern sail-driven freighter
In the early days of America, as it was in Europe and Australia -- and any busy settlement -- transport was by sea. Roads were primitive and communication was difficult.  Men, women, and their families loaded the produce of their orchards and farms onto little sloops and bigger schooners, and sailed off to market.  When their own crops had been sold, they bought goods on speculation, hoping to find happy customers back home.

In effect, these sail-driven vessels were sea-going trucks, carrying coal, salt, sugar, barrel staves and steel.  When the loads were bigger and the markets more distant, these sailing ships became bigger, turning into windjammers and clippers.  And, much more glamorous than container ships and tankers, they used a totally renewable natural fuel -- the winds that blow with regularity about the globe.

And muscle-power, of course.  They needed much bigger crews than their modern freighter equivalents, and there was a tough side to the life.  They were casual about what they threw overboard, too -- but they did not burn any oil at all, let alone the dirty bunker oil favored by freighters.  And there is a quiet return to this manner of transport, as reported by The Guardian.

They fan out across the seas like a giant maritime dance, a ballet of tens of thousands of vessels delivering the physical stuff that has become indispensable to our way of life: commodities and cars, white goods and gas and grains, timber and technology.
But shipping – a vast industry that moves trillions of pounds-worth of goods each year – is facing an environmental reckoning. Ships burn the dirtiest oil, known as bunker fuel; a waste product from the refinery process, literally scraping the bottom of the barrel, the crud in crude. It’s so thick that you could walk on it at room temperature.
As a result, shipping is a major polluter – responsible for about 2.5% of global carbon emissions. Not surprisingly, innovators are starting to wonder if there is another way -- and one is Will Templeman, a scientist turned entrepreneur.  As he points out, about 90% of what people eat is carried from another land.
Templeman’s eureka moment came during a visit to the supermarket when he was agonising over the food miles in his trolley. He wondered if it would be possible to transport things such as coffee and chocolate with zero emissions. Then he remembered that this was how goods used to travel. By sailing ship.
A quick online search revealed that a Dutch company was doing exactly that.
The owners of Fairtransport were inspired to revive sail cargo after witnessing at first hand the yellow smog caused by commercial vessels. They restored two ships, a 70-year-old minesweeper renamed the Tres Hombres and a wooden ketch called Nordlys that dates back to 1873.
Templeman arranged to board the Tres Hombres, sailing from the Azores to the Netherlands. “I was watching the ocean and it came like a ghost ship through the dawn mist. It looked like a pirate vessel. I was so excited.”
He dreamed of launching his own ship but realised that the first step was to make full use of the sailing vessels already in service.

He set up as a broker and together with his business partner, Will Adeney, went in pursuit of products to sell. They found their perfect olive oil in Portugal and arranged to have it shipped to Devon on board the Nordlys. They later sourced coffee beans in Colombia, and shipped them to Europe on the Tres Hombres. Their business, Shipped by Sail, was born.
It joined a growing network of brokers and sailors passionate about transporting goods by wind power. The next step: to boost demand for this kind of transportation.
“Consumers already understand organic produce and fair trade, and the next step is clean transport,” says Cornelius Bockermann, who founded Timbercoast, a German sail cargo company that has restored a schooner from 1920, and is now refitting a second.
Clean transport is the missing link, as many so-called sustainable or ethical goods are currently carried on ships that pollute the air and sea. The perfect example of this is plant-based meat, shipped around the world from California.

Will Templeman, left, and Will Adeney
 Will Templeman, left, and Will Adeney on board De Gallant.

British couple Marcus and Freya Pomeroy-Rowden built their ship, Grayhound, as a replica of an 18th-century lugger, and carry cargo between the UK and France, bringing West Country ale to Brittany and French wine to Cornwall. They supply small businesses along the way, for example providing wines to Dibble & Grub on the Isles of Scilly. The couple enjoy the lifestyle of spending months at sea, making a living, while making a difference.
Marcus says they’re bringing trade back to a human scale. “We’re taking quality products and transporting them direct to a distributor. We can understand and explain the whole chain for our products, from manufacture to the table.”
In France, TransOceanic Wind Transport has developed a labelling system with a voyage number, allowing the customer to see how products reached them.
Broker Alex Geldenhuys launched New Dawn Traders in the UK about six years ago and is still developing her “voyage co-op” model, bringing together farmers, ships and buyers.

Geldenhuys has been inspired by local food communities and vegetable box schemes and wants to extend that movement overseas, building relationships with distant farmers to bring ethically produced, high-quality produce to the UK with a carbon footprint that is close to zero. She is seeking “port allies” to promote the idea in coastal communities, encouraging customers to pre-order products from the ships and turning collection events at the docks into celebrations of the whole process.
A few weeks ago a French schooner, De Gallant, sailed into Bristol laden with produce from Portugal; the first time a tall ship had brought cargo to the city for decades. It was an emotional moment for Geldenhuys and the climax of years of work.“It was beautiful to watch her sailing in under the suspension bridge,” she says. Local people milled around the ship, sampling olive oil, almonds and wines.
Is that a sign of the future?

It looks more and more likely.

Read the Rest