Monday, October 19, 2020

Plastic Debris in the World's Oceans Requires a Multi-Faceted Approach to Clean It Up

Another Weapon Will be Available If Underwater Radar Can Live up to its Promise
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – There must be few people in the civilised world by now who do not understand the threat to the environment poses by the casual discarding of plastic items of all sorts. From everything from cattle to whales swallowing plastic bags and estimates that 52% of all turtles have eaten the stuff often resulting in death, to the trillions of microscopic fibres poured into the waste system by washing machines daily, any attempt to reduce the danger is to be welcomed.

Numerous organisations are working toward cleaning the world’s oceans of the existing plastic waste, the Ocean Cleanup for example. With its giant floating booms which trap huge quantities of debris from the great ocean gyres, to teams of volunteers which prowl the beaches regularly collecting the debris discarded by thoughtless morons, all have their place.

Now claims have come from another quarter that a ‘ground breaking compact laser detection and ranging system (LADARTM)’ can detect debris actually under the water, the system’s monitoring capability said to accurately and precisely detect different sizes of plastic, subsequently displaying this data to provide key information both prior to and after clean-up operations.

Its promoters say that, with appropriate bandwidth reconfiguration, LADARTM also has potential to detect and track micro- and nanoplastics in support of future environmental regulation of waste management and industry. It could also potentially be used to protect fish farms in coastal areas sensitive to plastic pollution transported downstream by rivers following storms.

They go on to suggest that governments could, for example, introduce quota-related incentives for idle fishing boats and trawlers to ‘fish’ for plastic in vulnerable coastal areas using LADARTM detection, and that retrieval of marine plastic for recycling is ‘certainly a new industry in the making’.

Now the latest press release from Ladar Ltd quotes extensively from comments made by Arnstein Eknes of DNV GL. These however seem to be about the general situation regarding plastic pollution, especially since the proliferation of waste PPE since the start of the pandemic, rather than ever referring specifically to Ladar Ltd.

We have no idea how effective the Ladar system is, a previous release in May caused us to question the state of development of the system and nothing we received back persuaded us to publish that report. Reading on from the DNV GL executive’s comments are quotes from Dr Sverre Dokken, founder of Ladar Ltd which, whilst claiming in the release to be an ‘Anglo/Norwegian’ company, is not in fact a UK registered limited liability company, but an operation registered in the British Overseas Territory of Anguilla, simply using the Ltd suffix and web and email addresses.

What is puzzling about this (apart from Ladar’s registered address being featured in the Paradise Papers, the millions of leaked documents concerning overseas investments), is that the return contact details listed for Dr Dokken, apparently a resident of Monaco, are for another company he has founded, Offshore Monitoring Ltd. which is Cyprus based.

We should be clear that Ladar’s press agent told us in May quite unequivocally that it is not engaged in any way in any type of illegal activity, and we have no reason to doubt this. More confusion arises however when we look at the funding for the project in its entirety, with principal input seemingly from the European Community going to several different organisations.

In May 2020 an initial input of €940.668.75 was made to a British company G.M.S. Global Maritime Services Ltd., to coordinate the distribution of funds for research into the detection of underwater objects. Some €320,000 seems to have gone to Ladar whilst €615,000 went to the Cypriot OM Offshore Monitoring. To complete an almost incestuous circle the Commercialisation Manager at OM Offshore Management also joined to fund distribution company G.M.S. Global Maritime Services Ltd as a Director in January this year.

The funds allocated to G.M.S. Global Maritime Services Ltd under the Horizon 2020 programme, (reference ID 718624) in 2020 amounted to a total input from the EC of €2,499,984.38, whilst in 2015 another tranche of EC funds had gone to G.M.S. Global Maritime Services Ltd (under ID 663984) in the amount of €50,000. All this under the heading of ‘Small business innovation research for Transport’, although two and a half million plus euros may not seem that small to many.

As we say there is no evidence that these companies have not filled their remit with regard to their promises and obligations. What they need to do now is of course to provide some hard evidence of the technology which has resulted besides the animated illustrations on the Ladar website.

The site does however carry one video of testing under real conditions (viewable here) which claims effective detection of ‘objects’ at depths up to four metres which, if workable, could indeed prove a boon to shipping in the future, particularly if used to alert a crew to the dangers of underwater debris in a vessel’s path.

Additionally as Dr Dokken says, information gained can assist in planning and management of clean-up activities, identifying main sources of plastic debris and optimum siting of catchment structures. What is certain is that we are living in the Plastic Age which unfortunately unlike so many titled eras of the past, is leaving a tragic pollution legacy as it passes, and any and all weapons will be welcome.