09.07.2012 - Maria Hood / Natural Sciences Sector

Race for Water victim of ocean pollution

© Thierry-Martinez / MOD S.A.

Around 5 a.m. UTC on the first day of the Krys Ocean Race between New York and Brest, France, the trimaran Race for Water struck a cargo container floating at the surface of the water, seriously damaging the daggerboard of the boat.

Race for Water, in the lead at that point in the race, was forced to reduce speed to inspect the damage and initiate emergency repairs.  The daggerboard is a type of keel beneath the boat that allows the boat to sail at an angle into the wind. Without it, the boat can only sail downwind, putting the boat and her crew at the mercy of the wind and currents.

The sad irony of the situation is that Race for Water is the ambassador boat of the Multi One Attitude Foundation, working with UNESCO to use sailing as a means for education and awareness of key water sustainability issues, particularly ocean pollution.

The World Shipping Council estimates that approximately 675 containers are lost from cargo ships every year.  These containers float just below the sea surface and represent a serious hazard to navigation.  In response to this growing problem, the UN’s International Maritime Organization, the International Labour Organization and the UN Economic Commission for Europe are working to develop a code of practice for cargo shipping aimed at reducing the number of containers lost at sea.  This Code of Practice is due to be released in September 2013.

Containers lost at sea are not only hazards for navigation but also contribute to the growing amount of debris in the ocean. Journalist Donovan Hohn has recently documented the fate of one such cargo container in his book “Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them.” Tracking the cargo load of escaped rubber ducks across the world’s oceans, he highlights the dangers of plastic pollution in the oceans, both along the coastlines of the world and in the garbage gyres in the open oceans.

Race for Water has been sailing without the daggerboard, making speeds of around 4-5 knots less than their rivals. While it is now back in the race, the incident merits further reflection by both specialists and the general public about the growing amount of pollution in the ocean and its very real dangers.

Update (Wednesday 11 July)
After hitting a submerged container in the early miles of the race, Stève Ravussin and his crew discovered that it was not just their daggerboard which was badly damaged but that they have a leak in the central hull. The centreboard problem is largely under control and temporarily repaired, and the crew made a temporary repair to limit the water ingress but they still have been taking water since, and need to maintain a regular routine pumping out. Skipper Ravussin reports: "The name of our MOD 70 is even more apposite when you cannot cross the Atlantic without hitting something: it is really a concern when you see how much of the surface of the world is sea!"

Related links:

UNESCO and the Multi One Attitude Foundation
The Swiss-based Multi One Attitude Foundation is the philanthropy arm of the Multi One Design SA – the company that manages the MOD70 trimaran race circuit. The Multi One Attitude Foundation and UNESCO are collaborating to raise public understanding of the urgent need to preserve and protect our ocean and fresh water.

In each port-of-call on the race circuit, the Foundation will mount a Water Pavilion dedicated to raising public awareness about water preservation. You can find the Water Pavilion at the Race Village in Brest, with daily presentations of the Agro Programme implemented under the auspices of UNESCO and of the Global Water Experiment.

Part of the Water Pavilion is dedicated to a special programming for children, with a teaching area and the hosting of educational and recreational workshops. Another area is for associations, partners and businesses proposing projects linked to water preservation. The aim of the pavilion is to create a global vision of the challenges represented by the pollution of oceans and the lack of freshwater. UNESCO, and specifically the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC) and the International Hydrological Programme (UNESCO-IHP) bring their expertise and their scientific content to bear around issues related to water.

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