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Saturday, February 29, 2020

Guest post from Chris Durbin, Old Salt Press novelist


Old Salt Press, that inestimable publisher of fine maritime fiction and non-fiction, recently advertised that Chris Durbin, author of the stirring Carlisle and Holbrooke series, had joined its ranks.
Certainly, eager readers would like to know more about this fine acquisition, and so I asked Chris if he would consent to be interviewed for my blog, and he graciously agreed.

So here goes.

Chris, not only are you a true-blue Britisher, raised in South Wales, and retiring on the south coast of England, but you were apparently wedded to the sea since childhood.  This included not just crewing the Porthcawl lifeboat, but a week on a topsail schooner.  Could you tell us about one of your most memorable experiences as a young lad at sea?

Well, not quite a young lad, but during my naval training I saw a mermaid! Now, I know as well as anyone else that mermaids are just a myth, probably invented by Walt Disney. Or are they? You be the judge.

As a young sub-lieutenant, I was sent for a few months experience to a British merchant ship based at Bahrain that maintained navigation aids – lighthouses and buoys – in the Persian Gulf. I was to be a bridge watchkeeper and handle the boats and because of my youth I was known as Chota Sahib (little boss) by the Indian crew. She was an old ship with a steam reciprocating engine that could send her racing around the Gulf at… oh, a good eight knots with a tailwind. However, most of the time was spent on overnight passages from one place to another at a much more sedate four knots or less. On the night in question I had the middle watch, on passage between Halul Island and Jebel Dhanna. I was alone on the bridge wing peacefully watching the stars and the milky way which in those pre-light pollution days made a spectacular display in the night sky. Then, suddenly, I had the curious sensation of being observed.

I looked down to the brilliant phosphorescence around the bows and there was what I can only describe as a mermaid! She (I say she for convention’s sake, but I can’t be sure) was riding the bow wave and looking over her shoulder up at me. I held her gaze for perhaps two seconds until, with a flick of her tail, she dived under the bow and I saw her no more. I’ve often thought about what I saw. Was it a dugong, often the source of mermaid misidentifications? But it seemed to me to have a distinct neck, which the dugong lacks.  Was it a swordfish encumbered with discarded nets? I saw just such a thing a few weeks later, and no, that wasn’t it. To this day, all I can see is a mermaid, just like the popular illustrations: a human head and body, long hair and a fish tail. And no, I hadn’t been drinking.

So, I know there’s no such thing as mermaids, and it must have been something else, surely…

Twenty-four years in the Royal Navy involved aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and minesweepers.  Which of these was your favourite ship?  Do you have an anecdote?

I enjoyed all my ships, but my favourite was the mighty HMS Exeter, a type 42 Sheffield class guided missile destroyer, and my most fulfilling operational deployment was to the Persian Gulf at the height of the so-called tanker war in 1988. It was my third spell in the Gulf, but by now I was the ship’s operations officer, and to a large extent the buck stopped with me. Much of what we did still can’t be told in detail, so I have no single anecdote, but let me describe to you the operational environment in the Persian Gulf in 1988.

Our principal task was to escort British-flagged tankers between the Straits of Hormuz and the northern Gulf. We had to counter missile threats from shore-based batteries, ships and aircraft, as well as small, heavily armed speedboats. And there was always the potential threat of submarines. There were minefields, as USS Samuel B. Roberts discovered to her cost (incidentally, I’ve always been in awe of the way that the American sailors saved their ship from sinking; it was a valiant and ultimately successful effort, the fruit of outstanding training and determination-to-win) and there were ships and aircraft from a dozen nations, some friendly, some neutral and some decidedly unfriendly.

This made for a complicated tactical picture that we had to keep our fingers on, every minute of the day and night. From the moment we entered the Gulf we and our convoy were under threat, and not only that, we were acutely conscious of the dangers of accidentally engaging a friendly or civilian unit. The operations room was a constant hive of activity as reports came in from radar, sonar, electronic surveillance systems, data links, radio messages, visual sightings, our own Lynx helicopter and a score of other sources. There was no let-up until we passed back through the Straits of Hormuz and into the relative peace of the Gulf of Oman. I learned about mental pressure from that deployment, and to this day whenever anyone talks about stress in their job, I say nothing, but remember the Gulf tanker war.

Minesweepers!  Did you get seasick?  Have you ever been seasick?  And, if so, do you have a pet remedy?

As a youngster I twice sailed to Scandinavia in the wooden minesweeper HMS Upton and yes, I was horribly seasick in the North Sea gales; it was no place for delicate stomachs. Luckily, I grew out of it before I joined the navy. However, I do remember that there are two phases to the mal de mer: in the first phase you’re afraid you’re going to die, and in the second you’re afraid you’re not going to die! 

And of course, there’s only one cure: climb a tree.

Retiring from the navy, I see that you joined a large American company to work in the aerospace, defence, and security industry.  This must have involved some culture shock.  What adjustments did you have to make?

There’s one huge adjustment that anyone leaving the armed forces must make before becoming effective in a commercial company, and that is to understand that their job – whatever their position in the organisation – is to make money for the company. That may sound simple and indeed obvious, but if you’ve spent a quarter of a century diligently spending other people’s money, it often takes time to truly understand that new philosophy. I was fortunate in being given the time to make the transition.

Now I would like you to tell us more about your maritime series.  Why did you choose the names Carlisle and Holbrooke?  Are they based on real people, either in fiction or the real world? How did their characters develop?

I’m glad you asked that! My two principal characters are Edward Carlisle from Williamsburg, Virginia and George Holbrooke from Wickham in Hampshire. I chose the name Carlisle by searching the records of the prominent colonial Virginian families, steering clear of the very well-known ones. Holbrooke was an accident. I was with my wife (the editor of my books) on our way to the school in Portsmouth where she was a teacher, and, stuck in traffic, I noticed a street sign: Holbrook Road. That sounded about right, so I added an ‘e’ and happily appropriated the name. I thought no more of it until a year later when I happened to stumble across the story of the person who gave his name to the street. Norman Holbrook was a first World War submarine commander who was awarded the Victoria Cross for traversing a minefield to sink an Ottoman ironclad at Gallipoli. Entirely accidentally, I had chosen a good name.

Neither of their characters are based on individuals that I have known, but rather they are an amalgam of all the people that I served with in the Royal Navy and during my two happy years with the United States Navy and equally happy year with the British Army. One thing that I’ve learned in researching and writing my novels is that the technology may have changed since the eighteenth century, but the people haven’t. My memory is a rich hunting ground for the development of my characters.

In view of the fact that you are a fan of C.S. Forester’s Hornblower books, and also Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, I find it curious that you have chosen an earlier era for your setting.  Mind you, it is a favourite era of mine, the time of Anson and “Foul Weather” Jack Byron, but could you confide your reason for this?

Certainly. First, I wanted to differentiate my novels from those great authors that you have mentioned. Make no mistake, I respect their legacies and am inspired by their examples: I joined the navy because of the Hornblower novels, and my pet tortoise is named Aubrey! There’s plenty of scope in the French Revolutionary war and the Napoleonic wars to feed a thousand more stories, but I was determined to offer my readers something a bit different.

The second reason is that I have always been interested in the Seven Years’ War (The French and Indian Wars) and the American War (as the revolutionary war was known to the British navy.) It was a period of change and rapidly increasing professionalism, where commissioned officers could no longer leave the technicalities of their trade to the warrant officers. The navy that stood victoriously astride the trade routes of the world in 1763 was vastly different to the one that stumbled ineffectively through the first years of the war in 1755 and 1756. And then, a scant decade or so later, how did it fall so far as to lose the American colonies? It’s a fascinating period for naval historians and offers a huge range of incidents that have hardly been touched on by novelists.

 And readers and struggling wannabe writers always want to know about your daily routine.

Oh, I do wish I had one. The theory is that I start writing at eight-thirty and continue through to three o’clock in the afternoon. The reality is that I have five grandchildren living within half an hour of my home and an unreasonable desire to go sailing or fishing or walking on the South Downs. Go figure!

Thank you, Chris.  I know my readers will find your replies as fascinating as I do.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

In Memoriam

American planes discovered in lagoon

Three U.S. warplanes found in Micronesian lagoon, solving several mysteries

Project Recover, a nonprofit dedicated to locating MIA service members, identified the planes’ location

From the Smithsonian  

Researchers from Project Recover, a joint endeavor of the University of Delaware and the University of California, San Diego, that aims to “find and repatriate Americans missing in action since World War II,” recently located the wreckage of three U.S. military aircraft lost during a February 1944 battle in the conflict’s Pacific theater.
The team discovered the two SBD-5 Dauntless dive bombers and one TBM/F-1 Avenger while searching Truk Lagoon in the Chuuk State of Micronesia, per a statement. Seventy-six years ago, the body of water was the site of Operation Hailstone, a two-day Allied air assault on a Japanese naval base. More than 50 Japanese ships and 230 total aircraft, 30 of which were American, were lost in the depths of the lagoon during the skirmish.
An airplane gunner’s account of the operation helped Project Recover spot the U.S. planes, which can be difficult to pick out among the array of coral-covered debris found at the bottom of Truk Lagoon.
As Project Recover historian Colin Colbourn tells Live Science’s Mindy Weisberger, the gunner saw a Dauntless dive bomber fall while firing on a Japanese transport ship, which also sank.
“We were able to line up this piece of the puzzle with this other piece of the puzzle, in order to say, ‘OK, let’s focus our search around this ship,’” says Colbourn. “And that was actually where we ended up finding this airplane.”
The research team conducted four expeditions between April 2018 and December 2019. Using an autonomous robot that completed repetitive sonar scans of the ocean floor, the group surveyed about 27 square miles of the lagoon, identifying signs of unnatural debris in 61 sites. Divers and robots carrying cameras investigated the area further and found debris fields littered with the aircraft’s remains at depths of between 100 to 215 feet.
Truk Lagoon’s numerous sunken Japanese ships, some of which still hold airplanes and trucks, make it a popular scuba diving destination, according to Live Science. But the researchers aren’t surprised that the planes went unnoticed for so long.
“When these aircraft crash into the water, they don’t look like aircraft anymore,” Mark Moline, expedition leader and director of the University of Delaware’s School of Marine Science and Policy, tells Dylan Gresik of Military Times. “Most of them are piles of metal that don’t rise very far off the bottom [of the ocean]. The exception is the propeller, usually sticking out.”
Typically, the team compares historical records of aircraft that went missing during military operations to debris recovered in a specific region. In this case, Colbourn tells Military Times, records showed only two Dauntless dive bombers lost in the area searched.
After identifying wrecks, researchers determine which service members were piloting the vessels during a given battle. Once the aircraft’s debris fields have been archaeologically surveyed, the project team gives the data to the U.S. Defense P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Agency, which handles attempts to recover servicemen’s remains.
“What we’ve seen is that the cockpit area is somewhat intact, so the potential is that the remains could be there,” says Daniel O’Brien, one of Project Recover’s directors, to the New York Times John Ismay. “The bodies could have been ejected or floated away, but there’s a good chance the remains are still with the aircraft.”
Including the latest finds, Project Recovery has located 28 aircraft and ensured the repatriation of 13 sets of remains to date.
The researchers plan on continuing their work at Truk Lagoon, which may house the wrecks of 33 aircraft carrying almost 100 missing service members, Colbourn tells Military Times. They also want to travel to Kuwait to look for a Navy A-6 Intruder lost in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, per the New York Times.
Around 79,000 American service members went missing during World War II. Today, more than 72,000 remain unaccounted for.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Sapphire Princess to be redeployed to Australia

More fallout from the coronavirus problem.

Cruise Industry News reports that Sapphire Princess is being relocated from Shanghai to Australia.

Princess Cruises has made the decision to redeploy the Sapphire Princess to Australia six months earlier than previously planned with 44 new cruises from five major cities.
The new year-long program for Sapphire Princess in Australia will be on sale beginning Thursday, February 27, 2020, by contacting a professional travel advisor, calling Princess Cruises, or booking online.
Princess said port closures in Asia "impacting our cruise operations in China and Southeast Asia, we have made the decision to cancel and modify additional voyages on Sapphire Princess in 2020."
The changes mean the entire summer season from Shanghai aboard the ship has been cancelled.
Hints of the new itineraries is already appearing online, via various travel agencies. 
Full details are yet to be released but here is a sneak peak of some of the itineraries on offer;

  • 30 night Around Australia cruise departing Sydney, September 19th 
  • 17 night Northern Explorer cruises between Perth and Sydney or vice versa visiting Queensland and Western Australia 
  • 11 night Southern Explorer cruises from Sydney to Perth via South Australia
  • Winter getaway for 12 nights to the South Pacific departing in June 
  • 8 night Southern Australia & Tasmania cruise from Adelaide to Sydney  

Monday, February 17, 2020

Ron Druett, maritime artist, 1934-2020

Born in Kingston-on-Thames on December 30, 1934, Ron was just old enough when World War II commenced to remember his father marching off to India and Burma -- and the London Blitz.  His mother refused to leave home, and Ron and his younger brother, David, refused to leave her.  And so he had memories to share -- of learning to read in bomb shelters, collecting shrapnel, running home to make sure the house was still there after a daylight raid.  Nerve-wracking at the time, it made many stories to enthrall children later on.

Ron excelled at Surbiton County Secondary School, coming top of the class with an early gift for art.  The headmaster and art teacher were desperate for him to go to art school, but no, his father thought it was no way to make a living.  And so Ron was apprenticed at the South Eastern Electricity Board.  His two years of National Service in the Royal Air Force added to this experience, as Ron serviced aircraft, including Vampires.

And still he painted.  Perhaps it was his seaman-brother's descriptions of the landscapes and seascapes of New Zealand that inspired him to migrate there, in 1962.  There, he worked in power stations, in the midst of spectacular scenery. It was inevitable, perhaps, that when he returned to England a couple of years later, it was just to say goodbye to his folks, as he had decided to make New Zealand his home.  And it was at sea, on a ship, very appropriately, that I met him, and just a few weeks after getting back home, we were married.

And we lived in the Bay of Plenty -- in the midst of spectacular scenery -- and still he painted.  Two sons were born, and I vividly remember one of the toddlers "having a go" at an unfinished work, adding a few large sprawls of color.  Moving to Rotorua and then Hamilton, Ron continued his career in New Zealand electricity, but at the same time was exhibiting in the prestigious Kelliher Art Awards.

And then I started writing books -- books that needed illustration.  One was Petticoat Whalers, and I remember the publisher's delight when Ron produced not just the spectacular cover, but inside art as well.

This book had been the outcome of a Fulbright-funded research trip to the great maritime museums of the United States.  Inspired and excited by the experience and the satisfaction of seeing his art in print, Ron retired from the electricity business, and devoted himself to art, full-time.  This was soon rewarded by a Residency at the William Steeple Davis house and studio, in Orient, Long Island, New York.  In the end, we spent nearly three years there.  Ron painted and exhibited, while I wrote, dealt with publishers, and was employed by the Three Village Historical Society and the Long Island Whaling Museum as a consultant.  We traveled widely, and gave talks and attended exhibitions.  Ron was accepted as an Artist Member of the American Society of Maritime Artists, a significant honor.  And again, he was asked by publishers to illustrate my books.

Returning to New Zealand in 1996, we soon made the decision to move to Wellington, because of the research facilities there.  It was a time for Ron to demonstrate his talent for working with wood -- not only did he create furniture, but he built steps, a deck, and a veranda.  Painting came first, however, his work bought by collectors all over the world.  And there were many trips back to the United States, and exhibitions there to attend -- at the Mystic Maritime Museum gallery, in particular.  Martha's Vineyard, where I consulted at the historical society, and we stayed with dear friends, was a favorite.

In 2009 something unexpected happened.  We were asked by P&O Australia to be host lecturers.  It was the start of an amazing four years of sailing the South Pacific and South East Asia, talking to hosts of lovely people, sharing our knowledge, and staging power point shows of Ron's work.  When it came to an end, we still kept cruising -- Cunard, Paul Gauguin.  We were addicted.

Then, in 2014, there was a dreadful interruption.  Ron developed a rare condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome.  An aberration of the nervous system triggered by an ordinary virus, it leads to shocking weakness.  But ten days of intensive care in Wellington Public Hospital followed by three weeks of physiotherapy did the trick, and we were able to take up our travels again, including the International Book Fair at Taipei, a city and occasion we both adored.

Our last cruise was a big one, a World Cruise on the Sea Princess.  The ship, crew, and itinerary were all wonderful -- but towards the end of it, Ron developed a weakness again.  It started with his right hand -- his painting hand, the one part of his body most precious to him -- which clenched into a paralyzed fist.  At home, there were many tests as the weakness became increasingly worse.  Then the devastating diagnosis of Motor Neuron Disease -- what the Americans call ALS -- was made.  It proceeded unusually quickly, and on 17 February 2020, not quite four months from the diagnosis, Ron succumbed to that dreadful condition. 

Brave to the end, he will always be remembered as a devoted husband, a fond and conscientious father and grandfather, and a man with many friends, loved for his unfailing courtesy, and his whimsical sense of humor.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

66 more cases of coronavirus on Diamond Princess

From the New York Times and the Guardian:

Nearly two thousand people spent their savings on a luxury cruise, expecting to get home to gloat over photographs and shared memories of being pampered.  Now, they are trapped on the ship in the port of Yokohama, while fellow passengers are taken off in ambulances, having been diagnosed with this new, fast-spreading virus. 

The Diamond Princess is described as the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.  It is a strange sort of fame for those on board, and obviously something they could well do without.  One has to feel just so sorry for the trapped passengers and the Princess cruise line, one of the most caring and honorable in the business.

As the Guardian reports today, another 66 passengers have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the number of infected people on the ship to 136.
Japanese health officials said the new diagnoses among 3,700 passengers and crew onboard the Diamond Princess included 45 people from Japan, 11 from the US, four from Australia, three from the Philippines and one each from Canada and Ukraine.
The vessel was quarantined when it arrived in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, early last week after it emerged that a passenger who had disembarked in Hong Kong late last month had tested positive for the respiratory illness, which has infected more than 40,000 people and killed at least 910.
On Monday, a week into their 14-day quarantine, some of the passengers were trying to fight off boredom by reading, watching live coverage of the Oscars, playing games or snoozing. Others were beginning to grow despondent, with at least another nine days to go before they will be allowed to disembark.
“Lots of the passengers now are getting a bit of cabin fever,” David Abel, a British passenger, said in a Facebook video. “Depression is starting to set in.”
Another passenger said he hoped assurances about the effectiveness of quarantine and ventilation onboard would prove true.
Quarantine has made life on board the ship difficult, particularly for those in windowless cabins and for the large number of passengers who require medication for chronic conditions.
It has developed into an awful kind of routine.  Three times a day, or so it is reported, there is a knock on the door, and when that door is opened it is to discover some kind of meal sitting on a tray.  When finished, the tray is equally invisibly taken away.  
There is sense in keeping the passengers isolated from each other, of course.  But what about the crew members who are preparing the food and delivering those trays?  As I know from years of lecturing on cruise ships, crew members bunk in cabins for two -- or even four -- and eat at communal tables in the crew messes.  As the New York Times reports, below decks hundreds of crew members are eating and working elbow to elbow, as they do their best to keep life as comfortable as possible for the trapped passengers.  Bathrooms are shared by up to four people, and leisure time is spent in communal lounges.
In a way, it is a throwback to the conditions in the British sailing naval, back in the old days when "ship fever" and tuberculosis decimated the crews.  The comradeship might have been fun (and at least the crew members on the trapped Diamond Princess have the social interaction denied to the passengers), but it was definitely hazardous to health.
Saturday night at sea - George Cruickshank

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Coronavirus on cruise ships

As we all know, norovirus is a constant worry on cruise ships, where it cannot be guaranteed, despite constant warnings, that everyone will wash their hands after going to the toilet, or before serving themselves at the buffet.  It must be a huge problem for the staff and medical centre.

But coronavirus is something else again.  Norovirus is a nasty, uncomfortable, undignified illness that keeps you trapped on the toilet, and confined to your cabin.  But as far as I know, it is not fatal.  So an even huger problem is the distinct possibility of coronavirus appearing in a crowded cruise ship.

And, unfortunately, it has happened on the Diamond Princess.  Here is the warning issued by the very caring and responsible company:

Confirmed cases of Coronavirus on Diamond Princess
Princess Cruises can confirm that the first phase of health screening of all guests and crew onboard Diamond Princess, by the Japanese Ministry of Health, has been completed. We were notified that amongst the samples that have completed testing, 10 people have tested positive for Coronavirus.
These 10 persons, who have been notified, will be taken ashore by Japanese Coast Guard watercraft and transported to local hospitals for care by shoreside Japanese medical professionals. It has been confirmed that the ship will remain under quarantine in Yokohama. The length of the quarantine will be at least 14 days as required by the Ministry of Health.
The ship plans to go out to sea to perform normal marine operations including, but not limited to, the production of fresh water and ballast operations before proceeding alongside in Yokohama where food, provisions, and other supplies will be brought onboard.
Guests will continue to be provided complimentary internet and telephone to use in order to stay in contact with their family and loved ones, and the ship’s crew is working to keep all guests comfortable.
Princess Cruises will continue to fully cooperate with and follow the instructions of global medical authorities and the Japanese government.
We will also be cancelling the next two Diamond Princess cruises departing Yokohama (Feb 4 and Feb 12) and will begin notifying guests today.
Princess Cruises confirms there are 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew currently onboard covering a range of nationalities. Approximately half the guests onboard are from Japan.
Cancellation of Diamond Princess – February 4 Cruise (Yokohama)
Princess Cruises thanks the Japan Ministry of Health for their thorough review of the health status of guests and crew aboard Diamond Princess. The cruise line has decided to cancel the next voyage of Diamond Princess to help facilitate the health screening and records review process.
Diamond Princess was due to depart Yokohama (February 4, 2020) for an eight day round trip cruise. However, the decision was made to cancel the cruise because of the time needed for the authorities to complete their comprehensive review.
All guests will receive a full refund. Each guest will also receive a one hundred percent future cruise credit.
While this decision will be disappointing for our guests, we feel they will understand the commitment to continue to work closely with the health authorities because we share a common goal of looking after the safety and well-being of our guests, crew and the places we visit.
Princess Cruises confirmed there are 2,666 guests currently onboard covering a range of nationalities. About half the guests are from Japan.
We will provide a further update once we have more information.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Tracking ships with birds

Well, the bird above is a shearwater, but may it be next in line?

In an experiment carried out by New Zealand and France, scientists are fitting albatrosses with radar detectors to track illegal shipping.

From the Guardian

 Albatross cops may soon be taking to the skies over the subantarctic Isles to scan remote parts of the Pacific Ocean for illegal fishing boats.

In a trial using technology shared by New Zealand and France169 albatrosses were fitted with radar detection tags in November 2018 and released to the south of the Indian Ocean.
In a separate experiment New Zealand Fisheries fitted 20 radar detection tags on to antipodean albatrosses in January 2019, allowing the department to track their movements between New Zealand’s sub-antarctic islands and the west coast of South America.
Rebecca Blowes, from Fisheries New Zealand, said the government wanted to track the birds to better understand their distribution and foraging range for conservation purposes.
But there was also another motive: the radar detection tags were able to locate fishing boats in remote seas and may be able report back which ones were hunting illegally.
It is estimated the global illegal fishing industry costs upwards of £17.6bn a year.
“The majority of radar detections received were within New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone and as part of our analysis we will check these against reported fishing activity in the same locations,” Blowes said.
“Albatross are taonga [precious] species and this research will help understand more about their movements and how we can protect them.”
The New Zealand birds are part of a larger global effort to fight the illegal fishing trade.
In the northern hemisphere a squad of 169 albatross fitted with the same radar detection tags revealed this week that a third of the vessels plying Antarctic waters below the Indian Ocean were very likely filling their hulls unlawfully with toothfish, ice fish, krill and other species.
Henri Weimerskirch, a marine biologist at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, said albatross were perfectly adapted for the long-distance and strenuous ocean reconnaissance missions.
They cover great distances and are particularly attracted to fishing boats – especially the fish or fish parts thrown overboard.
To turn the albatross into high-flying spies, a team of international scientists designed a lightweight device with a GPS antenna to track location, another antenna to detect ship radar, a third one to send the data back to headquarters and a solar panel to power them all.
The units were mounted on the backs of the birds, which seemed unfazed by the extra cargo.
Airborne albatross can spot a vessel from 30km away and will consistently come in for a closer look once they do. “They’re like drones, only intelligent,” said Weimerskirch.
When a bird zeros in on a boat its logger detects the radar signal and sends the coordinates back to the scientists.
Of 353 radar contacts made, about 30% were from vessels that had turned off their positioning systems. If they were in national waters, that was a likely sign of illegal activity, the researchers reported.
It is believed the United Kingdom is interested in the trials and would like to use them to reduce seabird bycatch in its waters.
An estimated 300,000 seabirds are killed annually through accidental encounters with fishing vessels but scientists are hoping these risky encounters may soon serve a greater purpose.
The results of the New Zealand trial are expected later this month.
With Agence France-Presse