January 28, 2020

Malacca Strait hazards spell danger for Ocean Race fleet

ALICANTE, Spain (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 0440 ET 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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Malacca Strait hazards spell danger for Ocean Race fleet

Chinese boat stretches lead in Volvo Ocean Race

ALICANTE, Spain (AP) — Dongfeng Race Team stretched its lead at the head of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet in the third leg to China on Sunday.

Charles Caudrelier’s crew are aiming to become the first Chinese boat to win a leg in offshore sailing’s leading round-the-world race, which was first held in 1973.

There would be no better place to do it than Sanya, their home port on the southern tip of China, which is the destination of the 4,670-nautical mile leg three that began in Abu Dhabi on Jan. 3 and is likely to be completed around Jan. 24.

On Sunday, after nine days of sailing, they had increased their lead of just under 12 miles over closest challengers, Team Brunel of the Netherlands.

The boats were locked at the top of the standings before the start of the leg on four points with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

The fleet still has just under 3,000 nautical miles to sail, including a hazardous stretch through the Malacca Strait, which is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and separates the Indonesian island of Sumatra from Malaysia.

The racing boats will need to dodge slow-moving fishing vessels and all kinds of debris in the much-polluted waters.

Meanwhile, Team Vestas Wind, the Danish boat that was grounded during leg two from Cape Town and Abu Dhabi on Nov. 29, was heading for Italy for a rebuild.

The target is to return the badly damaged vessel to the race for the final two legs from Lisbon in June.

The 38,739 nautical mile, nine-month race is held every three years and visits 11 ports around the world and every continent.

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Chinese boat stretches lead in Volvo Ocean Race

Team Brunel holds Volvo Ocean Race 2nd-leg lead

ALICANTE, Spain (AP) — Three teams have held the Volvo Ocean Race second leg lead within the last 24 hours as the fleet sped toward the stage’s conclusion in Abu Dhabi.

Dutch team Team Brunel, led by 51-year-old Bouwe Bekking, held a slim advantage by 0940 GMT on Sunday on the 5,200-nautical mile leg between Cape Town and the Emirates. Bekking is contesting the race for a record-equaling seventh time, after first competing in 1985-86. He has never won it.

They led by just three nautical miles from Chinese entry Dongfeng Race Team with first leg winner Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, two nautical miles further adrift. The three boats have swapped the lead through the weekend.

Only six boats are contesting the second of nine stages in the nine-month global offshore race after Danish entry Team Vestas Wind was forced to pull out at the start of the week when its boat was grounded on a reef in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

The nine-man crew escaped their disintegrating vessel to reach a tiny island, Íle du Sud, which is part of the St. Brandon archipelago and surrounded by sharks. They remained there for two days until a small fishing boat took them to Mauritius on Wednesday.

The fleet is expected to start arriving in port in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

Latest placings: 1 Team Brunel (Netherlands), 2 Dongfeng Race Team (China), 3 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, 4 MAPFRE (Spain), 5 Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.), 6 Team SCA (Sweden).

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Team Brunel holds Volvo Ocean Race 2nd-leg lead

Marquez takes MotoGP pole in Australia

PHILLIP ISLAND, Australia (AP) — World champion Marc Marquez of Spain took pole position and Cal Crutchlow and Jorge Lorenzo also secured front-row starts in the MotoGP race at Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix.

Marquez, who clinched the 2014 season title last week with a second-place finish behind Lorenzo in Japan, took pole Saturday with a 1 minute, 28.408 second lap on his Honda, outpacing his nearest rival by 0.234 seconds on the 4.5-kilometer (2.7-mile) Phillip Island circuit.

Crutchlow, of Britain, was riding a Ducati Team entry, and Spain’s Lorenzo was on a Yamaha, ensuring three manufacturers will be represented on the front row in Sunday’s 27-lap race.

A first-place finish for Marquez on Sunday would equal Australian Mick Doohan’s record of 12 wins during a single MotoGP season. The Spaniard said to achieve the feat at Doohan’s home track would be fitting and humbling.

“It’s Australia, his country, it would be nice to do,” Marquez said. “I will try to take the risk to win the race. The records are always important, especially when people compare you with legends.”

It was Marquez’s 12th pole of the season, equaling a record for most MotoGP pole positions in a year.

In the three-way battle among Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi to finish second in the championship, Pedrosa overcame the most adversity.

After finishing 11th in practice and forced into an extra qualifying session for slower riders, he emerged to sit on top of the time sheets at one stage. He will start fifth in Sunday’s race, while Rossi will begin from seventh.

Lorenzo said he was pleased with the front-row start as he looks to repeat his 2013 Australian GP triumph and make it three wins in a row this season.

“My target was to push the limit to make the best lap I could. Third place is good for tomorrow,” he said.

Tito Rabat of Spain, who could clinch the Moto2 title this weekend, won his ninth pole of the season Saturday.

Rabat arrived in Australia 38 points ahead of his teammate Mika Kallio. A victory for the Spaniard on Sunday, combined with a fourth place finish or worse for the Finn, would secure the title for Rabat.

Kallio qualified in third place on Saturday.

Moto3 championship leader Alex Marquez, Marc’s younger brother, also took pole for Sunday’s race. He looked a likely pole-sitter throughout qualifying, setting the pace with an early lap record of 1:36.387 before improving to 1:36.050.

“Today we had a really good rhythm, we made really good laps…we need to try to win this race,” Alex Marquez said.

KTM rider Niklas Ajo had a high-speed crash off Doohan corner, requiring a trip to the medical center and major repairs for his bike. Brazilian Eric Granado, who broke a finger earlier in practice, needed a stretcher to leave the track after a crash, but wasn’t seriously injured.


Marquez takes MotoGP pole in Australia

Motorcycling: Fight on for title scraps behind Marquez

The pressure is off Marc Marquez after he clinched back-to-back world championships but the heat is still on in the race to finish second heading into Sunday’s Australian MotoGP at Phillip Island.

The 21-year-old Spanish Honda rider wrapped up the 2014 world title last weekend, finishing runner-up at Motegi in Japan, with races in Australia, Malaysia and Spain remaining.

With the title in the bag, Marquez can bask in his achievement of 11 victories in 15 races this year as Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo fight for the championship scraps in the remaining races, starting with Phillip Island.

“I feel really good, less pressure, more free,” Marquez said of his fourth world championship in five seasons.

“The championship is done, but you are more tired after all the commitments. Of course, you can enjoy it a lot after winning a championship and the confidence is high.”

Although Marquez won the 125cc race in Australia in 2010, he has never won a premier class GP at Phillip Island and that will be an incentive for him to give his all again this weekend.

“Phillip Island is a special place and it is one of the best circuits we come to. It is really nice to ride here,” Marquez said.

“I’ve only won here in the 125’s but the track is incredible and I have a good memory from 2012 that I won the (Moto3) world title here, so I am really focused and motivated for this weekend.”

– ‘My favourite place’ –

Fellow Spaniard Lorenzo, who won last year’s MotoGP at Phillip Island on the way to losing the world championship by four points to Marquez, is coming off two wins and is hitting form at the right time.

“We just needed to put the pieces of the puzzle together,” the Movistar Yamaha racer said.

“We are competitive now and strong. It is not going to be easy to keep winning races, because there are four riders in very good shape. But our level is high.

“For me it is always a pleasure to come here. It is my favourite place we come to,” he added.

Last year in Australia Lorenzo took victory by seven seconds in a race which involved the riders changing bikes midway through due to tyre durability concerns.

Lorenzo, a two-time MotoGP world champion in 2010 and 2012, lies three points behind Yamaha teammate Rossi and Pedrosa in fourth place in the world championship standings.

Rossi, a nine-time world champion through the classes, is well in the mix after finishing on the podium in five of the past six races, including victory in San Marino.

The Italian great, 35, has finished on the podium 14 times in 17 visits to Phillip Island across all three GP classes.

Marquez’s Repsol Honda teammate Pedrosa was runner-up behind Lorenzo at last year’s Phillip Island GP, but has lost points to Lorenzo and Rossi in recent races.

The 4.448-kilometre (2.764 mile) circuit, located on the shores of the storm-tossed Bass Strait, is a season classic for the world’s top riders with its sweeping blend of seven left-handers and five right-handers.

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Motorcycling: Fight on for title scraps behind Marquez

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

EU mission to help Italy with migrant crisis to start in November

By Julia Fioretti

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union plans to launch a mission to help Italy cope with swarms of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, the EU said on Tuesday.

Called Operation Triton, the mission will be managed by Europe’s border control agency, Frontex. It will reinforce Italy’s own rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, which began after 366 people drowned just a mile from the Italian island of Lampedusa when their boat capsized a year ago.

Italy has repeatedly called for more help from the EU to cope with the record number of sea-borne arrivals from conflict-torn Libya and Syria over the past year. Mare Nostrum, or “Our Sea,” has been costing Italy 9 million euros a month, straining the resources of its navy and coastguard.

“With the launch of the Triton operation, tailored to the needs and requests defined by the Italian authorities, the EU can show concrete solidarity to Italy, by reinforcing its border surveillance and supporting its humanitarian efforts,” said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in a statement on Tuesday.

Frontex has called on member states for contributions to the new mission, which is expected to cost 2.9 million euros ($3.66 million) a month, so that it can begin on Nov. 1.

In addition to two Italian patrol vessels, Frontex is hoping for two surveillance aircrafts and three more vessels to patrol the waters up to 30 miles from Italy’s southern coast.

EU officials said Germany, France and Spain had already indicated they would help, although they could provide no details on what the three countries might contribute.

More than 100,000 migrants have arrived by sea so far this year in Italy, and in September the International Organization for Migration reported than almost 3,000 people had drowned in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean in 2014.

Questions remain over the future of Mare Nostrum, which was originally envisaged as an emergency response to the flows of migrants from North Africa. Last Friday, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Mare Nostrum would not be stopped until the EU came up with something just as good or better.

Given that Triton’s budget is just a third of Mare Nostrum’s, it is unclear how Frontex would manage to patrol the seas if Mare Nostrum were to be abandoned.

(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Larry King)

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EU mission to help Italy with migrant crisis to start in November