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Adrift at sea: an empty wooden boat

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The small wooden boat first appeared as a tiny dot on the horizon 25 nautical miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, in Malta’s vast search-and-rescue zone.

“Luisa, Luisa, I have something. A visual,” announced the Ocean Viking bridge over the radio on Thursday morning (1 July).

  • Ocean Viking entering Libya’s search and rescue zone (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

The team jumped into action for the possible first rescue.

But aside from candy wrappers and crushed water bottles, the boat was empty.

“We always check in case of any doubt,” said SOS Mediterranee’s rescue coordinator Luisa Albera.

Its sudden appearance came as the first ominous, haunting, sign of what lay ahead for the Ocean Viking.

Alone in the vast emptiness of the sea with no discernible land mass on the horizon, the boat soon disappeared in wake of the Norwegian-flagged search-and-rescue vessel.

Within moments, the Italian coast guard chatter announced a second boat had been found.

“There is another one,” said Luisa. The Italian coast guard was on to it, launching a rescue.

But the circumstances surrounding the small wooden boat remain unclear. Authorities may mark the boats, notifying others of a rescue. This one appeared untouched, its likely outboard motor also missing.

Were they rescued by a fishing boat? Were they intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard? Perhaps it had been adrift for days or even weeks.

But the Libyans are also known to have ventured into the search-and-rescue zones of EU states.

On Wednesday, the NGO’s aerial asset Seabird, a small propellor plane, saw the Libyan coast guard fire shots into the water of a boat in distress, inside Malta’s search-and-rescue zone.

Only last week, the EU claimed human rights are an integral part of the training it gives to the Libyan coast guard.

“The EU trains to the standards that we give ourselves also in the European Union,” a European Commission spokesperson told reporters in Brussels.

Yet somehow the boat spotted by Seabird still managed to evade the EU-trained Libyans and was located some 35 nautical miles from Lampedusa.

Later that same evening, a Mayday was made after a wooden boat capsized 32 nautical miles from the island. All those on board were rescued by a passing fishing vessel.

Then around midnight Wednesday, the vessels, maritime-coordination centres and the Ocean Viking received an alert from the NGO rescue hotline Alarm Phone.

Another boat had been spotted some 19 nautical miles south of Lampedusa. “They were 75 miles from us,” said Luisa, noting those onboard had made it.

Although a northerly wind may make it more difficult to leave the Libyan coast, the overall weather conditions are ripe.

A race is now underway to rescue people before they are intercepted by the Libyans. The odds are stacked against Ocean Viking.

A Maltese air force drone is currently somewhere on the west side of Tripoli, and most likely coordinating with three Libyan patrol vessels in the same area.

The Ocean Viking also has aerial support from Seabird and Pilot Voluntaries.

But its max speed is 11 knots per hour, while the Libyans can hit 30.

“This is the unbalanced reality,” said Luisa.



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Why is offshore wind the ‘Cinderella’ of EU climate policy?

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Last year, 2020, saw seismic energy policy shifts across the industry. The global gas-market remains bearish and extraordinarily oversupplied, with gas prices seeing increasing downward pressure and volatility. Whereas, in the face of global turmoil, the offshore wind power industry continues to thrive.

The unprecedented year of new offshore wind farm installations resulted in a total of over 35 GW capacity operating across the globe by the end of 2020.

From the long-term perspective, the Ocean Renewable Energy Action Coalition (OREAC) has set a goal of 1,400 GW by 2050, which means an accelerated pace of global roll-out of offshore wind generation projects.

On 14 July, the European Commission unveiled its long-awaited ‘Fit for 55’ package, seeking to overhaul EU regulation that lines up with the bloc’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030. This involves a new 2030 renewable energy goal. According to the latest European Commission’s impact assessment it ought to be at least 38-40 percent, in place of the current 32 percent renewables target.

That means that the EU requires 433-452 GW of wind energy capacity by 2030 – a threefold increase on the 179 GW installed today.

Wind power will be the principal delivering technology of the Green Deal in the European Commission’s strategic long-term vision for climate-neutral economy.

Hitting the bloc’s decarbonisation goal will require a 25-fold increase in offshore wind capacity. And an even bigger build-up in the number of new onshore wind capacity.

Industry can deliver the volumes pending a robust EU industrial renewables policy that guarantees that such a grand huge wind power expansion is made in Europe and that the industry is cost-competitive both within and outside the EU.

Technology is not the main barrier to the deployment of wind energy needed for the Green Deal however.

The European energy market is quite complex, serving millions of households and business round the clock. Presently, there are no market mechanisms for offshore grid development projects to be bankable. Countries have diverse capital programmes and market operation rules which hinder investment flows in offshore hybrid projects from being discharged.

The vagueness on future market design and revenues for offshore wind farms prevents the process of an integrated offshore grid deployment.

Grid gridlock?

Today, Europe invests about €40bn a year on grids, which is not enough. In order to expand and optimise Europe grid infrastructure. annual investments in grid infrastructure shall go up to €66-80bn per year over the next 30 years.

Efforts will be needed at offering clarity via regulatory changes to the EU Electricity Regulation, particularly it shall be better addressed how offshore wind projects will be dealt with when it comes to congestion income distribution and cross-border capacity allocation.

The benefits of an accelerated development will be substantial. The EU wind energy sector generates €37bn to EU GDP, operates 248 factories across the EU, and each new wind turbine installed in Europe would contribute €10m of economic activity.

Offshore wind energy is one of the most promising and cost-competitive source of power generation in Europe.

But present policies will not deliver these numbers – neither on volumes, nor on economic benefits. Higher goals are necessary but not sufficient.

Europe requires stronger delivery, monitoring, and enforcement mechanisms to make sure that 2030 is a stepping stone towards a climate-neutral energy system.

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Delta COVID Variant Reportedly Draws Biden’s Attention, Resources Away From Other Priorities

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Despite high overall rates of vaccinations in the US, more and more Americans are getting infected with the new, rapidly spreading ‘delta’ variant of the coronavirus, once again testing the limits of hospitals and reportedly sparking talks about new mask-up orders from authorities.

The rapidly increasing number of new COVID-19 cases in the US caused by the more infectious delta strain of the virus is frustrating the Biden administration, as the problem draws attention and resources away from other priorities that the White House would like to concentrate on, the Washington Post reported, citing several anonymous sources. Among the problems that the administration reportedly had to de-prioritise are Biden’s infrastructure initiatives, voting rights, an overhaul of policing, gun control and immigration.

The White House reportedly hoped that the pandemic would be gradually ebbing by this time, allowing it to focus more on other presidential plans. Instead, the Biden administration is growing “anxious” about the growing number of daily COVID-19 cases, the newspaper sources said. The White House press secretary indirectly confirmed that Biden is currently preoccupied with the pandemic the most.

“Getting the pandemic under control [and] protecting Americans from the spread of the virus has been [and] continues to be his number-one priority. It will continue to be his priority moving forward. There’s no question,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on 22 July.

The administration had reportedly expected new outbreaks in the country, but not as many as they’re seeing. Current analytical models predict anything between a few thousand new cases and 200,000 new infected daily, the Washington Post reported. Washington also fears that daily deaths might reach over 700 per day, up from the current average of 250. However, the White House doesn’t expect the pandemic numbers to return to their 2020 peak levels.

At the same time, the Biden administration is trying to find scapegoats to blame for the current shortcomings in fighting the coronavirus pandemic in the country. Namely, Biden  last week accused the social media platform of failing to combat the spread of disinformation on COVID-19 and thus “killing people”. The statement raised many eyebrows since many platforms mark COVID-related posts and insert links to reliable sources of information regarding the disease and the vaccination efforts aimed at fighting it. The White House also hinted that the Republican-controlled states became the main sources of new COVID cases, while often underperforming in terms of vaccination rates.



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Sierra Leone abolishes death penalty | Global development

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Sierra Leone has become the latest African state to abolish the death penalty after MPs voted unanimously to abandon the punishment.

On Friday the west African state became the 23rd country on the continent to end capital punishment, which is largely a legacy of colonial legal codes. In April, Malawi ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, while Chad abolished it in 2020. In 2019, the African human rights court ruled that mandatory imposition of the death penalty by Tanzania was “patently unfair”.

Of those countries that retain the death penalty on their statute books, 17 are abolitionist in practice, according to Amnesty International.

A de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty has existed in Sierra Leone since 1998, after the country controversially executed 24 soldiers for their alleged involvement in a coup attempt the year before.

Under Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution, the death penalty could be prescribed for murder, aggravated robbery, mutiny and treason.

Last year, Sierra Leone handed down 39 death sentences, compared with 21 in 2019, according to Amnesty, and 94 people were on death row in the country at the end of last year.

Rhiannon Davis, director of the women’s rights group AdvocAid, said: “It’s a huge step forward for this fundamental human right in Sierra Leone.

“This government, and previous governments, haven’t chosen to [put convicts to death since 1998], but the next government might have taken a different view,” she said.

“They [prisoners] spend their life on death row, which in effect is a form of torture as you have been given a death sentence that will not be carried out because of the moratorium, but you constantly have this threat over you as there’s nothing in law to stop that sentence being carried out.”

Davis said the abolition would be particularly beneficial to women and girls accused of murdering an abuser.

“Previously, the death penalty was mandatory in Sierra Leone, meaning a judge could not take into account any mitigating circumstances, such as gender-based violence,” she said.

Umaru Napoleon Koroma, deputy minister of justice, who has been involved in the abolition efforts, said sentencing people on death row to “life imprisonment with the possibility of them reforming is the way to go”.

Across sub-Saharan Africa last year Amnesty researchers recorded a 36% drop in executions compared with 2019 – from 25 to 16. Executions were carried out in Botswana, Somalia and South Sudan.

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