Jump to content
BANGKOK
Thaivisa Web Content Team

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

Recommended Posts

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

 

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.

 

The 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 centuries 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.

 

FULL ARTICLE

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting indeed. I have read that there is proven evidence of a change in the Earth's gravitational poles taken from magnetic samples  of lava flows which show  it has happened  more than once at very least.

There is little scientific explanation  beyond theory as to why or  how or even historical effect  at surface level.

With the modern era  of electronic satellite systems, which I would  have thought had overtaken the simpler method of magnetic compasses for automated piloting control , I am trying to understand the impact of a magnetic shift on satellite systems. If a defined global polarity that is moving is a critical  factor why then  can a fixed electronic beacon not be a compensation for  satellite orientation?

Gravitational forces  are independent  of  magnetic fields  or  not?

As a last resort recourse  earths  surface navigation  by the stars could be adopted once  more.

That is  if it is  not as some theorists have postulated  that the globe itself is also rotating around the  magna center which would  render the star view redundant as a point of  reference  until it was remapped.

As it  is there is  no definitive explanation of  why planet  Earth wobbles even though  there are  variations  in that wobble. There has  been  no association  identified  with  magnetic  fields/polarity as such but  it does  cause  issues  with the  accuracy of  GPS  given relative positioning to a fixed  point.

Sad  to say  there is more evidence  that suggests the global distribution of  water is influential in  the  wobble and  thereby climate  change and polar ice melts can be considered.

From a philosophical point of  view I an undecided about whether  or no  it is better to see the  bullet of oblivion as it approaches.....or  not?  😂

In the meantime  I can only hope the aircraft I  might  once again  trust to deliver me to a destination does  not fly in  circles  ! Ships I  care  not about because I  get sea sick ! 555

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm surprised that the crew members of these big vessels rely so heavily on electronic data, without any manual navigation to confirm their position. 

 

Being a land lover, I could only compare it with my sat nav telling me to turn left, while I'm pretty sure I go straight on. 

Very mysterious indeed. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Captain may have an inner ear problem!  😊

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, northsouthdevide said:

I'm surprised that the crew members of these big vessels rely so heavily on electronic data, without any manual navigation to confirm their position. 

 

Being a land lover, I could only compare it with my sat nav telling me to turn left, while I'm pretty sure I go straight on. 

Very mysterious indeed. 

 

Now imagine you're a land lubber navigating through a totally unmarked desert.  No roads, no landmarks, nothing...  Just sand dunes as far as the eye can see, in every direction. 

 

What kind of manual navigation do you figure you'd be doing?

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sounds like <deleted>, even if auto pilot is interfered with the vessels plotter will show the track and heading. The crew would see something wrong and revert to manual navigation and could use radar for assistance also

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
On 6/5/2020 at 5:36 AM, impulse said:

 

Now imagine you're a land lubber navigating through a totally unmarked desert.  No roads, no landmarks, nothing...  Just sand dunes as far as the eye can see, in every direction. 

 

What kind of manual navigation do you figure you'd be doing?

 

Google LRDG (Long Range Desert Group). 

 

But ships going in circles is an interesting phenomena. 

 

I have been on a ship which was passing another and the only sign of life on the other ship was a dog running around barking on the bridge deck. 

Edited by VocalNeal

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

On one of my first voyages as a sixteen year old, part of my duties were to polish the copper

in the wheel house every Saturday morning.

Not knowing much i placed the brass polish next to the compass.

We went full circle and i learned not to do that again.

  • Haha 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the entire world is sailing in circles nowadays......

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 6/5/2020 at 6:26 AM, rvaviator said:

A simple almanac + clock and sextant will do .... 🙂 ...  A long 'forgotten' art in the age of the iphone. 

You surely need a bubble sextant in the desert.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 6/5/2020 at 6:26 AM, rvaviator said:

A simple almanac + clock and sextant will do .... 🙂 ...  A long 'forgotten' art in the age of the iphone. 

That will nicely tell you where you are, not where to aim at.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Catoni said:

It’s actually caused by Global Warming. And it’s all our fault. Al Gore and Greta Thunberg have been warning us.  We should listen. Global Warming causes everything and its opposite. It caused the Wuhan Virus also. World Socialism can save us. 

If you Believe that then you would believe anything and everyone. you would even believe that there are Ghosts and Spirits ( I believe in the spirits that I can drink ) that Miracles and the impossible can happen. you even would believe in some religion and gods. For me I only believe in what I can See. :wai:

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Catoni said:

It’s actually caused by Global Warming. And it’s all our fault. Al Gore and Greta Thunberg have been warning us.  We should listen. Global Warming causes everything and its opposite. It caused the Wuhan Virus also. World Socialism can save us. 

I beg to disagree. 
As my trouble and strive recently pointed out in her monthly contemplation of the universe, causing this mayhem is only due to “moi” doing something or not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...