Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Shipwrecked China Worth $43 Million To Be Fished From Sea

By Catherine Hickley - 

At the bottom of the ocean off Indonesia, a cargo of blue-and-white Chinese porcelain worth about $43 million has lain submerged for more than 400 years.

The 700,000 pieces -- fine bowls, dishes and cups made during the reign of the Ming dynasty Emperor Wanli -- were on a gigantic wooden junk that sank, possibly while en route for what is now Jakarta. Stacked 8 meters high in places, they are strewn over an area the size of an ice-hockey pitch, 60 meters below the surface and 150 kilometers from the coast.

A diver examines a pile of 16th-century Chinese porcelain submerged 60 meters deep off the coast of Indonesia. The porcelain is to be retrieved -- more than 400 years after it was shipwrecked -- in a recovery expedition next year. Source: Leuchtenburg via Bloomberg

A Chinese porcelain bowl, dating from about 1580. Porcelain and gold are among the few materials that can survive centuries in salt water. Source: Leuchtenburg via Bloomberg

Leuchtenburg Castle in Jena, Germany. An exhibition there describes a 16th-century shipwreck containing 700,000 pieces of Chinese porcelain. Source: Leuchtenburg via Bloomberg

Nikolaus Sandizell, left, CEO of the marine archaeology company Arqueonautas S.A., and Christine Lieberknecht, prime minister of the state of Thuringia. The wreck is the subject of an exhibition at Leuchtenburg Castle near the German city of Jena. Source: Leuchtenburg via Bloomberg

Nikolaus Graf Sandizell, chairman and chief executive of the Portugal-based marine-archaeology company Arqueonautas Worldwide SA (QOW), plans to retrieve them next year, pending clearance by the Indonesian government, before they are lost to one of the many threats to ocean treasures: dragnet fishing, offshore oil exploration, pipeline and cable installation and, above all, plunderers.

He is one of the instigators of an exhibition at Leuchtenburg, a medieval castle near the eastern German city of Jena. It describes the shipwrecked treasures and the task that lies ahead in retrieving them, an expedition Sandizell estimates will cost 5 million euros ($6.3 million) and require the construction of a floating platform to avoid frequent trips back to land. He hopes the show will help save underwater artifacts.
Disappearing Treasure

“We want to draw attention to the crazy speed at which these treasures are vanishing,” he said over Indonesian soup and chicken satay, served in a grand hall of Leuchtenburg castle with views of the vast Thuringian Forest in the distance. “In 10 years it will be too late.”

Two delicate bowls from the same era as the Chinese wreck, one decorated with peonies, the other with a rock garden, are displayed in glass vitrines. About a third of the underwater pieces are intact, said Sandizell, who is 53. Only gold and porcelain can survive centuries in salt water unscathed, he said. The wreck was discovered in 2008, and 38,000 pieces of porcelain were recovered during an initial operation in 2010.

Chinese merchant ships were plying the seas with cargoes of silk and porcelain 200 years before the Portuguese led Europeinto an era of flourishing maritime trade.
Super Junks

The nine-masted junks were several times bigger than European ships -- the supertankers of their time, still the biggest wooden ships ever built. Crews comprised interpreters, astronomers, astrologists and doctors. The ships sailed home laden with spices, ivory, jewels and rare wood. Even giraffes made the voyage from Africa to the Chinese imperial court.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, estimates that there are 3 million wrecks at the bottom of the world’s oceans, of which as many as 50,000 contain valuable treasures and some are thousands of years old.

“A shipwreck is a time capsule, a window onto history and can be a way of recovering history that has been lost,” Sandizell said. “The history that is brought to light should be accessible to everyone.”

In 2001, a UNESCO convention stipulated that protection “in situ” is the preferred means of preserving shipwrecks, meaning the creation of underwater museums, rather than bringing objects to the surface and to museums on land.
Water Police

Yet Sandizell says it is sometimes impossible to protect shipwrecks in situ, which requires water police to prevent looting. The Leuchtenburg exhibition shows some Chinese coins retrieved from the ocean -- probably by fishermen -- bundled on a string and sold to tourists. Where they were found and the history of the shipwreck can no longer be traced.

“We want UNESCO to jump over its own shadow and get proactive in protecting shipwrecks,” Sandizell said.

Arqueonautas focuses on the coasts of countries such as Mozambique and Indonesia, which lack the means to protect shipwrecks on site. Sandizell’s company raises some funding for expeditions through royalties on its clothing brand, owned by the Hamburg-based Otto Group. He favors a financing model for recovery missions that entails selling some of the numerous reclaimed artifacts that are of the same design.

The company and its partners are awaiting a green light from the Indonesian government, the legal owner of the wreck, to begin the Chinese porcelain expedition next year.

“The Wanli wreck is in serious danger from pillagers, who risk destroying it entirely,” Sandizell said. “Due to earlier operations on the wreck site, the exact location is no longer a secret. Rescue recovery is the only option left.

The enormous number of artifacts expected on this wreck and the steep investment required mean heritage and commercial aspects must be carefully weighed.”

For more information on “The Wanli Expedition. White Gold From the Bottom of the Sea,” go to:

(Catherine Hickley writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

Muse highlights include: Mark Beech on music, Jorg von Uthmann on Paris art, and Ryan Sutton on New York dining.

To contact the reporter on the story: Catherine Hickley, in Berlin, at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hovercraft to Make Pioneering Expedition to North Pole

  Hovercraft to Make Pioneering Expedition to North Pole 

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) is to sponsor a first-of-its kind expedition to the North Pole that will see a hovercraft collect geological data in the extreme north of the Arctic Sea.

The 39-foot long, 19-foot wide hovercraft, called the Sabvabaa, will this summer engage in activities such as the mapping of the geology of the Lomonosov Ridge – a subsea structure near the North Pole that extends across the entire Arctic Ocean from Russia to Greenland and Canada, and which was formed 65 million years ago.

The NPD announced Tuesday that it is providing financial support for the expedition, while the University of Bergen and research institute The Nansen Centre are contributing equipment and personnel. The expedition, led by Professor Yngve Henriksen, is scheduled to take place between July and September this year.

For the past four summers, the Sabvabaa hovercraft has acquired data in areas north of the ice edge near Svalbard – an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean that forms the northernmost part of Norwegian territory.

In this new expedition, Sabvabaa will not only measure the thickness of the sea ice near the Lomonosov Ridge but will also acquire seismic data and take geological samples from the seabed.

The expedition is expected to help the NPD understand the geology of bedrock in the northernmost Barents Sea – where there are plans to drill and extract oil and gas. The NPD believes that although much of this bedrock has been eroded over time, the same kind of rock will have been preserved in the Lomonosov Ridge.

"If we are to understand what was once there, we have to know as much as possible. Geological samples from the Lomonosov Ridge can therefore tell us what happened in the Barents Sea," said Harald Brekke, a senior geologist at the NPD, in a statement.

Meanwhile, the NPD wants to test the hovercraft's equipment during the expedition, with a view to using it on other mapping assignments in the north. Previously, only icebreakers could be used close to the North Pole.

"Chartering an icebreaker costs about a half million NOK ($85,000) a day. A hovercraft costs far less than a tenth of that," added Brekke.
Hovercraft to Make Pioneering Expedition to North Pole 
(Photo: Yngve Kristoffersen)

A former engineer, Jon Mainwaring is an experienced journalist who has written about the technology, engineering and energy industries. Email Jon at

Monday, May 21, 2012

Russian sailing vessel to repeat legendary 19th-century expedition

Russian sailing vessel to repeat legendary 19th-century expedition

Russian sailing vessel Sedov is starting its first world trip.

The ceremony to see it off took place in St. Petersburg on Sunday. Representatives of the Russian government and the city’s fathers took place in this ceremony.

Sedov’s route will be nearly the same as the route of the first Russian world trip on a sailing vessel, which took place in 1803-1806. That legendary expedition was headed by Ivan Krusenstern.

Sedov’s trip will last 14 months. It will cover more than 42,000 miles in the Arctic, the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, and visit more than 30 foreign ports.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Northeast Minnesota couple continue 12,000-mile expedition


The expedition, nearly 12,000 miles in all, began in April 2010 in Seattle. The couple kayaked up the West Coast, paddled a canoe to the Arctic Ocean, dogsledded through the Northwest Territories and canoed back to Grand Portage last fall.

The West Coast and the Canadian wilderness are behind them. The next leg of Dave and Amy Freeman’s North American Odyssey is more civilized.

The Grand Marais, Minn., couple left earlier this month from Grand Portage, Minn., on a 4,900-mile sea-kayak trip to the East Coast and down to Key West, Fla.

“We’ll be going through more towns and stuff,” Amy Freeman said. “Going through some of those urban areas, we’re wondering how it’ll work as far as camping and stuff.”

The expedition, nearly 12,000 miles in all, began in April 2010 in Seattle. The couple kayaked up the West Coast, paddled a canoe to the Arctic Ocean, dogsledded through the Northwest Territories and canoed back to Grand Portage last fall. The remainder of their trip is in sea kayaks.

Along the way, they send text, photos and videos about three days a week to 70,000 students and teachers across the United States and Canada who are following the expedition. The students learn about the outdoors through the expedition’s Wilderness Classroom website.

“That helps with motivation,” said Amy, 30. “We’re doing this for them. When the going is tough, we have to remember that, and it helps.”

On this leg of the journey, the Freemans are paddling along Lake Superior’s North Shore, then on to Ottawa, northern Maine, reaching New York City by the end of October, said Dave Freeman, 35. They’ll continue down the East Coast, with plans to reach Key West by the end of April 2013. That will be a challenge, Dave said.

“One is just the distance,” he said. “We’re pretty much traveling continuously for a year. We’ll take off about three weeks in New York City to do school presentations. One of the things we’re a little worried about is the wear and tear of paddling almost every day, the challenge of staying fit and healthy.”

Last summer, the Freemans paddled by canoe with their lead sled dog, Fennel, who is half black Lab, half polar husky. He weighs 104 pounds. Now 13, Fennel is slowing down, and he doesn’t fit in a kayak, so he’s not making the last 4,900 miles of the trip.

The couple plans to average about 20 miles a day, paddling five days a week. That allows them days for rough weather and time to stop in towns for presentations.

“When we do the school assemblies, we see how excited the kids are and how much they’ve learned about the animals of an area we’ve traveled through,” Amy said. “Or how it broadens their perspective as far as climate change or geography. It’s really encouraging, and it’s the main reason why we do it.”

On the Web:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Iridium global recall of all 9575 extreme satellite phones

In an email to resellers this morning Iridium wrote that a mechanical problem with the 9575 extreme antenna can lead to various problems and reduced performance of the unit. "Unfortunately, we estimate a significant number of shipped units are impacted," the company wrote issuing a global recall.

When Iridium launched the model last September we wrote:

"No matter how hot, new (untested) tech is not always the smartest choice for an important, hard and costly expedition. If you are going the distance - leaving early November and skiing all the way to the Pole - we would not recommend the new Iridium 9575 as a first choice. Stick to the 9555 or 9505A but do bring 9575 as a backup to play with until all the usual tech glitches have been ironed out."

Turns out this was good advice.

Not the first time

Although the latest issue has been known to Iridium for 4 months or longer, visiting Iridium website at the time of this publishing we find continued recommendations to military and Everest climbers to buy the Iridium 9575 extreme. No mention about the recall.

It's not the first time Iridium sent out badly tested units and continue selling them despite being made aware of problems. At the launch of Iridium model 9505A polar skiers reported serious issues with charging, something Iridium denied for months before admitting they knew about the issues early on.

Iridium's mail to resellers

Here goes the mail in full:

"As a follow-up to last week’s Iridium Extreme® communication, we have identified the root cause of the issue and are now able to provide you the following update. A mechanical element on the antenna stem that triggers a deployment sensor has insufficient tolerances which is leading to instances of the sensor not working as designed. We have traced the problem to a vendor manufacturing process and have worked with this vendor to stop the issue from occurring in future production. This issue is isolated to the Iridium Extreme and does not affect the Iridium® 9555.

Unfortunately, we estimate a significant number of shipped units are impacted. We have identified several impacts to the use of the phone. One possible result of this mechanical issue is that a customer is still able to make calls and send messages but the phone’s performance may be reduced even if the antenna is fully extended. Another possible result is that the unit may operate at a power level exceeding the equipment’s authorized FCC radio frequency limits unless the antenna is fully extended.

This issue may not impact all units; however, due to the nature of the issue, it is difficult to determine which units are affected through standard screening processes. Therefore, Iridium strongly requests that partners return all Iridium Extreme phones for replacement. This includes unsold inventory as well as sold and fielded equipment. Partners should not sell existing inventory and should request that customers immediately stop using the phone and return them for replacement. Additionally, the handset may operate at power levels above its authorized limit when the phone is in use and the antenna is stowed (in the retracted or lowered position). Partners should remind customers who use the phone out of necessity until replaced about proper handset use, particularly ensuring the antenna is extended during all calls.

We are happy to report that we have implemented the fix for this issue and are restarting production immediately. We are very confident that Iridium Extreme phones manufactured going forward will perform to specification and be of high level production quality."

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