The Oddities in the News Page

In this month's Oddities in the News Page:

Why are ships sailing in circles in the South Atlantic Ocean?


Red Hair
Animals and Coronavirus
Dog Noses
Fisherman’s Unique Catch
Dr. Helen Sharman


Why are ships (in this case, an oil tanker) suddenly sailing in circles in the Atlantic?


The routes of the affected ships


Here is where the "circling" anomoly is located, in the South Atlantic Ocean

A maritime mystery: What has been causing ships to sail in circles?

Strange things can happen at sea, as the crew of Liberian-flagged oil tanker Willowy confronted a mysterious incident

Sky News, Thursday June 4 2020 -- In the early hours of Sunday 31 May, senior officers aboard the oil tanker Willowy were called to the bridge to be told that their ship and four others in its vicinity were mysteriously sailing in circles, unable to steer, and on course to converge.

It must be easy to panic at sea. The immediate presumption was that strong currents were pushing the vessels around, but there were no such currents where the ships were sailing in the south Atlantic Ocean, west of the South African city of Cape Town.

Ships appearing to sail in circles have become an increasingly common and mysterious phenomenon near a number of ports on the coast of China, especially near oil terminals and government facilities - but nothing had been seen where the Willowy was.

Researchers monitoring these bizarre circles near the Chinese coast believe they are probably the result of systematic GPS manipulation designed to undermine a tracking system which all commercial ships are required to use under international law.

Known as AIS (automated identification system), the technology broadcasts unique identifiers from each vessel - along with the vessel's GPS location, course and speed - to other ships nearby.

These signals are even collected by satellites and used to monitor suspicious behaviour, including smuggling, illegal fishing, and - most relevantly - trade in sanctioned oil. circles spotted near the Chinese coast have been attributed to GPS interference, something which coincided with US sanctions on Iran, according to Phil Diacon, the chief executive of marine intelligence firm Dryad Global.

But according to a global analysis of this data by environmental groups SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch, a number of circling incidents have also occurred quite a distance away from Chinese ports, with some impossibly appearing miles inland near San Francisco.

SkyTruth found the real locations of these ships often thousands of miles away from the circular sailing tracks. The ships were again were often actually near oil terminals or in locations where GPS disruption had been reported before.

But this was not the case for the Willowy.

At approximately 1am on Sunday morning, the Liberian-flagged crude oil tanker, operated by Singaporean business Executive Ship, suddenly swung starboard and began actually sailing in circles.

The ship was unable to steer and the crew reported that four other vessels in its vicinity were caught in a similar spiral, slowly converging on each other for an unknown reason.

"GPS interference can have serious consequences, with half of all casualties at sea linked to navigational mistakes," as Mr Diacon told Sky News, although such interference targeting other vessels rather than the AIS tracking system is highly uncommon.

There are suggestions that GPS jamming has been used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to dupe commercial vessels into entering Iranian waters, and Chinese electronic warfare capabilities have been proposed as a potential cause for some ships appearing thousands of miles away from where they really were.

The crew aboard the Willowy were aware of these issues but none of these risks could be feasible west of Cape Town - a long way from the Strait of Hormuz or the contested South China Sea.

But the European Space Agency has detected something else there.

Nobody knows why, but the Earth's magnetic field - which has lost almost 10% of its strength over the last two centuries - is growing particularly weak in a large region stretching from Africa to South America, impacting satellites and spacecraft.

Known as the South Atlantic Anomaly, the field strength in this area has rapidly shrunk over the past 50 years just as the area itself has grown and moved westward. And over the past five years a second centre of minimum intensity has developed southwest of Africa, very near to where the Willowy was sailing.

One speculation regarding this weakening is that it is a sign that the Earth is heading for a pole reversal - in which the north and south magnetic poles flip.

This flip won't happen immediately but instead would occur over the course of a couple of centuries during which there would be multiple north and south magnetic poles all around the globe.

The impact would be enormous for seafaring vessels whose navigation was based on magnetic compasses - causing them not only to sail in circles, but perhaps not even realise it.

Fortunately, as the crew and the company's onshore marine superintendents knew, it has been decades since magnetic compasses governed maritime navigation.

Modern ships like the Willowy use something called a gyrocompass instead, which finds true north as determined by gravity and the axis of the Earth's rotation rather than magnetic north.

The gyrocompass is used alongside the ship's other systems to detect true north, identify the vessel's course, and steer it. If it was to fail it could cause exactly the issues which the Willowy was experiencing.

The crew, alongside the company's shore-based marine superintendents, investigated and identified that the ship's primary gyrocompass was indeed malfunctioning.

The ship resumed its course safely when it switched to using the secondary gyrocompass, along with an old-fashioned magnetic compass for good measure, Executive Ship confirmed to Sky News.

Asked what caused the failure, the company described it as "an incidental breakdown" and added "repair will be done at the next port where the cause will be identified by shore technicians".

But what about the other ships in the Willowy's vicinity, circling and seeming as if they would converge?

A spokesperson for Executive Ship explained to Sky News: "The initial presumptive cause of circling for the Willowy was considered to be strong currents which also led the crew to perceive that other ships were circling too."

With so many mysteries on the oceans, it must be easy to panic at sea.

See the article HERE

In other Ocean News: Six Mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle

Mysterious disappearances have plagued the tropical triangle for centuries.

Miami, Puerto Rico and Bermuda are separately some of the most sought-after vacation spots in the world.

But together, lines between them make up the approximate boundary of one of the most mysterious and deadly areas on the planet: the Bermuda Triangle.

Ever since Christopher Columbus sailed through the region in 1492, some weird, unexplained stuff has taken place over the Atlantic Ocean there.

Everything from bad weather to supernatural forces have been blamed for several high profile disappearances.

Here are just a few of the tales that deliver more questions than answers.

1945: Bomber Squad Disappears, So Do Rescuers

Although it was not the first unexplained occurrence in the area, many say that what happened to a bomber squadron in December 1945 sparked the legend of the Bermuda Triangle.

The five-plane squadron, Flight 19, with 27 men, set out on a training mission from their base in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and never returned.

According to the Navy's report of the accident, the disappearance was due to "causes or reasons unknown."

Staff Sgt. Howell O. Thompson, pictured above, was a member of the crew of the now infamous Flight 19.

A rescue mission of 13 men was sent to search for Flight 19, but those men, too, never returned.

1918: U.S. Battleship Goes Missing With 306 on Board

The USS Cyclops was a collier that operated between the East Coast and the Caribbean, servicing the Atlantic fleet for a time and then ran trans-Atlantic journeys until February 1918.

After fueling British ships in the south Atlantic in Brazilian waters, the ship embarked from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Feb. 16, 1918, came into Barbados in early March and then promptly disappeared completely.

The 306 crew and passengers were never heard from again and, while there are many theories, according to the Naval Historical Center, it "is one of the sea's unsolved mysteries."

1948: DC-3 Commercial Flight Vanishes

On Dec. 28, 1948, Capt. Robert Lindquist took off from San Juan with two crew members and 29 passengers heading for Miami.

When the plane was 50 miles away from Miami, Lindquist reportedly radioed the Miami airport for landing instructions. The airport's reply was met with silence. The plane was never seen again.

According to an investigation by the Civil Aeronautics Board, the plane had electrical difficulties and low battery power. Those findings have not stopped many from blaming supernatural forces on the disappearance.

1976: Panamanian Ship Trades Cargo for Mystery

The Panamanian ship Sylvia L. Ossa was a cargo ship that was a regular near the mysterious waters of the Bermuda Triangle.

But in 1976, the Sylvia L. Ossa fell victim to the mysteries of the triangle when she and her 37-person crew disappeared without a trace.

The Coast Guard is reportedly still looking for clues to what happened to the 590-foot ship, pictured above.

1948: Star Tiger Drops Out of the Sky

On its way from England to Bermuda in January 1948, a Star Tiger passenger plane vanished with more than 30 people on board.

England's Civial Air Ministry conducted an investigation and found that a ship, the SS Troubadour, reported seeing a low-flying plane about halfway between Bermuda and Delaware Bay. If that plane was the Star Tiger, it was horribly off course.

The fate of the Star Tiger is still considered an unsolved mystery.

1963: Something Smells Funny With the Sulphur Queen's Disappearance

The Sulphur Queen was a 523-foot tanker that was originally intended to carry oil, but was converted to carry sulphur.

On Feb. 3, 1963, the ship sent a radio report that placed it 230 miles southeast of New Orleans, La., according to a report by Time magazine. Then nothing.

There was no SOS and no warning of trouble. The ship simply disappeared.

Two weeks later, pieces of a raft, a life vest and a broken oar washed up on Florida beaches.

An investigation launched by the Coast Guard shortly after the disappearance concluded that the vessel was nowhere near seaworthy and likely caught fire at sea.

Such a conclusion was not far-fetched. According to the article, "once, the Queen actually sailed into a New Jersey port with fires smoldering, unloaded her cargo, and sailed off again -- still burning."

See the entire article HERE