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August 19, 2018

DND holds off infra dev’t in Pag-Asa

The defense department is holding off repairs and other planned infrastructure projects on Pag-Asa Island, one of seven islets and two reefs occupied by Filipino troops in the disputed Spratly Islands.

Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario pointed out that the maintenance and repair of facilities in Pag-Asa Island are not covered by the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of parties involved in the West Philippine Sea territorial disputes.

“Repair and maintenance is okay but before we can move construction materials to Pag-Asa, we have to build a port and doing so could change the landscape. It’s not allowed in the DOC,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said in reference to earlier approved plans for the repair of Rancudo airfield in the island.

Rancudo airfield is a key supply line for the troops and 200 civilian residents.

Pag-Asa Island is the seat of Kalayaan town of Palawan that has jurisdiction over the Philipine-held territory in the disputed region, claimed in whole or in part by China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

“We cannot repair the (airfield) because the construction materials will be coming from outside. Getting inside, if it will be by aircraft it will be very expensive and very impractical. So you have to bring in the boat but the boat cannot come in because there is no pier,” Gazmin said.

Security officials have been calling on the government to start immediate repairs of the Philippine facilities in the region, not necessarily to antagonize China and other claimant-countries, but to improve the morale and welfare of troops manning the outposts.

One security official noted that it is only the Philippines that is not doing anything to improve living conditions of the troops manning the outposts located in the middle of nowhere.

He said this is contrast to what China, Vietnam and Taiwan are doing in their respective controlled areas.

Marines are deployed on a three-month rotation basis in the disputed region but this is now being threatened by the increasing presence of Chinese warships and coast guard vessels in the area.

Ayungin Shoal, located within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), is being guarded by Marines on board a grounded Navy supply ship, the BRP Sierra Madre.

China, despite being a party of the DOC signed in 2000, has become very aggressive in laying its maritime claim to almost the entire South China Sea, building artificial islets on four reefs despite protests by the Philippine government.

Six- and three-story buildings, as well as ports, helipads, runway with gun implacement, are now sprouting out from these Chinese-built and controlled artificial islets formerly known as Kennar Reef, Calderon Reef and Burgos Reef by Manila.

Aside from completing its reclamation of these former obscure West Philippine Sea areas, Beijing is also developing further the Panganiban or Mischief Reef, an area located within the territorial waters of Palawan.

‘Serious concern’

China’s Foreign Ministry expressed serious concern yesterday after the Philippines said it would resume repair and reconstruction works on disputed islands in the South China Sea, saying Manila was infringing on Chinese sovereignty.

The Philippines had halted activities last year over concerns about the effect on an international arbitration complaint filed against China.

Manila called on all countries last October to stop construction work on small islands and reefs in the South China Sea, most of which is claimed by China.

China itself is undertaking massive reclamation works in the area, while Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam have also been improving their facilities.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said it was “seriously concerned” by the remarks of Secretary Del Rosario.

“On the one hand the Philippines makes unreasonable criticism about China’s normal building activities on its own isles, and on the other announces it will resume repairs on an airport, runway and other illegal constructions on China’s Spratly Islands, which it illegally occupies,” Hua said.

“This is not only a series infringement of China’s sovereignty, but it also exposes the Philippines’ hypocrisy,” she told a daily news briefing, calling on the Philippines to withdraw from the islands.

The Philippine foreign ministry said the works, including repairs to an airstrip, did not violate an informal code of conduct in the South China Sea because they would not alter the status quo in the disputed area. The 2002 code was signed by China and 10 Southeast Asian states in Phnom Penh.

In 2013, Manila filed an arbitration case at The Hague questioning the maritime boundaries claimed by Beijing. Del Rosario said Manila expects a decision in February next year. ; – With Reuters

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DND holds off infra dev’t in Pag-Asa

Sailing-Malacca Strait hazards spell danger for Ocean Race fleet

ALICANTE, Spain, Jan 17 (Reuters) – Volvo Ocean Race’s six-strong fleet enters one of the most hazardous phases of the nine-month, round-the-world event in the next 24 hours when it will reach the Malacca Strait on the third leg from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China.

The 500-nautical mile (nm) stretch of water, which separates the Indonesian island of Sumatra and Malaysia, narrows to 1.5nm as it funnels past Singapore into the South China Sea and is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

It is notorious for the huge mountain of man-made debris that has been dumped there. The racing boats have had to dodge discarded washing machines and fridges in past editions of the 38,739nm, 41-year-old event, which is held every three years.

There are huge tankers to avoid plus dozens of slow moving or stationary fishing vessels to navigate around and their nets can easily become snagged in the boats’ keels.

“We’ve got to negotiate this really narrow passage with intense shipping and get out of that alive and in one piece,” Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Justin Slattery (Ireland) told Reuters on Saturday.

“There are loads of hazards,” added Britain’s Dee Caffari, of Team SCA, the only all-women crew in the fleet and the first to enter the male-dominated race for 12 years.

“Everyone always talks about the Malacca Strait. Tidal influences, land influences, fishing and shipping vessels. It’s going to be pretty full on,” she told reporters from the boat.

The 4,670nm leg is led by Chinese boat Dongfeng Race Team. At 0940 GMT on Saturday, they led by 65.7nm from Spanish boat MAPFRE.

Victory in Sanya around January 27-28, the likely arrival dates of the leaders, would take Dongfeng top of the overall standings in the race.

No Chinese boat has ever won a leg in the event, formerly the Whitbread Round the World Race, despite an entry in both the 2008-09 and 2011-12 editions. Dongfeng nearly broke that duck in the first two legs, but finished a narrow runner-up in both.

A seventh boat in the starting fleet, Team Vestas Wind, was grounded on a reef in leg two and is currently being shipped to Italy for a rebuild ahead of a planned return to the event in June for the final two legs from Lisbon.

The race, which started on Oct. 4 in Alicante, Spain, is scheduled to finish in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 27. (Editing by Toby Davis)

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Sailing-Malacca Strait hazards spell danger for Ocean Race fleet

On the Dutch coast, an experiment in sand

By Alister Doyle

TER HEIJDE, Netherlands (Reuters) – A pile of sand about eight times the volume of the Great Pyramid of Giza is shaping up as a cut-rate model for protecting coasts from rising seas.

The “Sand Engine” is 28 million cubic yards (21.5 million cubic meters) covering an area 1.2 miles (2 km) long and half a mile wide. Dumped along the shore here in 2011, the sand pile marks a shift from the Dutch tradition of armoring the coast with dikes and other hardware.

Instead, the hope is that as all that sand is slowly blown and washed along the coast, it will feed nearby beaches and dunes for 20 to 30 years, providing the low-lying coast with long-term protection from erosion. That would make unnecessary a ritual of dredging the shore and replenishing the beaches every few years.

The project isn’t without risks. A string of storms shifted more sand than expected, and if the sand travels too far, it could choke ports on the coast.

But so far, the 70 million euro ($95.48 million) Sand Engine “is doing more or less what was predicted, moving a bit faster than we thought,” Jasper Fiselier, an environmental planner at engineering consultants Royal HaskoningDHV, said during a recent inspection. His company was one of several involved in the project, funded by the Dutch water board, Rijkswaterstaat, and the provincial authority of South Holland.

One way in which the project saved money: a bulk discount. The sand cost 2.5 euros ($3.40) per cubic meter, far less than the usual three to six euros per cubic meter, Fiselier said. The sand was supplied from the seabed by Dutch dredging specialists experts Royal Boskalis Westminster and Van Oord.

The Sand Engine has also become a recreation spot. About 20 kite surfers were in a lagoon formed by the hook-shaped sandy peninsula one day last summer, many of them beginners flailing with yellow, green or red sails in a stiff breeze.

Elsewhere, a group of Dutch farmers is deliberately pouring saltwater onto crops. In plots on Texel Island, where brackish water is seeping under dikes and onto farmland, they hope to breed varieties of potatoes, carrots, grass or barley that can resist salt.

“For farmers, talking about salinity is about as popular as talking about an infectious disease in your family,” said Marc van Rijsselberghe, head of SaltFarmTexel, set up in 2006.

Twenty-six percent of the Netherlands lies below sea level, and seawater is seeping under dikes in many regions. “Sea level rise … adds pressure on the outside of the dikes,” said Arjen de Vos, a scientist at VU University Amsterdam, a sponsor of the experimental farm. “There are many places on Texel where the water in drainage canals is really salty – cows can no longer drink it,” he said.

The project could ultimately yield results that help farmers around the world who are dealing with salinity from rising sea levels, from Bangladesh to tiny Pacific islands, he said.

King Willem-Alexander visited the salt crop project in May, lending it implicit royal endorsement. “We’ve changed from being revolutionaries to being innovators,” de Vos said of the visit.

SaltFarmTexel includes rows of potatoes, barley, carrots, onions and cabbage irrigated with varying levels of saltwater. The project has a few clients, ranging from farmers to golf course owners who test grasses suited to salty soils. They typically pay 15,000 euros for a small plot experimenting with different crop varieties and salt concentrations.

(Edited by John Blanton)

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On the Dutch coast, an experiment in sand

Impressive ADOR get off to a confident start

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) started the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race impressively before falling back as Spanish crew Mapfre took charge on day one of leg one.

The UAE team, skippered by two-time Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker, occupied second place for the opening few hours after the competitors left Alicante.

The race is in the very early stages though and at midnight last night, only 2.9 nautical miles separated Mapfre from the Chinese-backed Dongfeng Race Team in seventh.

ADOR were nicely poised in fourth place, just 0.6 nautical miles adrift of the Spaniards.

Mapfre is skippered by Olympic gold medallist Iker Martinez and held a slender 0.1 mile advantage over second placed Team Brunel, led by experienced Dutchman Bou­we Bekking.

The UAE yacht, Azzam, was in close proximity to the American/ Turkish-backed Team Alvimedica, who were 0.1 of a mile in front.

Team Vestas Wind, from Den­mark, were an equal distance be­hind in fifth.

Azzam began the race shortly after midday local time following an emotional dockside farewell to family and friends.

An enormous crowd of around 50,000 spectators gathered at the quayside in Alicante to bid the teams bon voyage.

Walker said: “This is the culmina­tion of years of planning. We have trained hard and done our home­work and I couldn’t ask for a better crew to take on this challenge with.

“Our yacht is named after the Arabic for determination and every single ADOR sailor is focused on living up to that quality.”

The 6,487 nautical mile first leg is expected to take the fleet around three weeks to complete, with an estimated arrival in Cape Town around November 3.

The opening leg is the sec­ond longest in the nine-stopover, around-the-world race and among the most challenging.

It will take the Abu Dhabi Tour­ism & Culture Authority-backed Azzam, and the rest of the fleet, out of the Mediterranean Sea via the Straits of Gibraltar and into the Atlantic Ocean.

On their way to South Africa the crews must cross the Equator and round the island of Fernando de Noronha, near the coast of Brazil, before pointing their bows towards Cape Town.

With the teams racing in identi­cal one-design yachts, Walker said he would adopt a percentage strat­egy during the race.

“Just like in the Olympics, when you’re racing one design you don’t have to win every race of the series to take the gold,” he said.

“Our aim is to minimise risk and avoid any bad scores – if we can finish in the top-three on every leg we’ll be in good shape by the end of the race.”

The opening leg from Spain to South Africa is traditionally one of the toughest, with the Mediterra­nean and Atlantic often battering the fleet.

In 2011/12, two boats had to be nursed back to shore within 24 hours after an opening night storm led to a broken mast and a delami­nated bow.

One of those was Azzam and the incidents were part of the driving force behind the introduction of the new, one-design Volvo Ocean 65 which was built with durability, safety and also speed in mind.

“It’s a mixed leg,” said Azzam skipper Walker.

“It’s fantastic, strategic, there’s lots of downwind sailing, lots of tropical sailing. It’s one of the most testing in the race.”

He added: “Obviously we’d love to win, but if someone was to offer me top two at this stage, I’d probably take it.

“The first thing we’ve got to do is just get out of the Med – and the emphasis there is on not losing the race, not making any stupid deci­sions.” 



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Impressive ADOR get off to a confident start