The Suwalki Gap

To understand it, start with Kaliningrad. It is a bit of Russia that is cut off from the rest. I have coloured it yellow on this map and as you can see, it has a coastline so it is accessible to the Russian fleet, but otherwise it has no direct land connection with the rest of Russia.

Belarus under its current regime has close ties to Russia. So the recent decision by Belarus ask to store nuclear weapons supplied by Russia has increased tensions in the Baltic States. They fear that if Russia decided to command the land connection between Kaliningrad and Belarus then the Baltic States would be isolated from the rest of Europe, and easy pickings.

The land connection is known as the Sowalki Gap (I’ve marked it red on the map_ and Russia has been trying to establish a solid route along it for years – since the break up of the Soviet Union. For more detail of the history of the Suwalki Gap, read the Wiki entry.

Map illustrating the Suwalki Gap and the position of Kaliningrad and Belarus

Boskalis To The Rescue: FSO Safer Update

In August 2020 I wrote about the FSO Safer, an offshore vessel rusting in the Red Sea since 1988, and in danger of spilling over a million barrels of oil. I wrote it under the title ‘under the title Over A Million Barrels Of Oil In A Rusting Hulk In The Red Sea Since 1988’ and you can follow this link to read it.

In April this year I wrote an update noting that the UN plan to offload the oil was foundering for lack of funds. The UN had gone so far as to ask individuals as well as countries to chip in to make up the shortfall. In the face of what stood to be the world’s biggest ecological disaster that could happen right now, immediately, it beggared belief that humanity could not take action to avert it.

Well now there is some positive news. The International Maritime Organisation reports that

On 30 May 2023 Boskalis’ multipurpose support vessel Ndeavor arrived at the site of the FSO SAFER with the salvage team and equipment onboard. Critical work will now start to assess the FSO SAFER, inert the oil tanks and ready the vessel for the oil transfer operation.”

Boskalis itself reports that

After Boskalis’ multipurpose vessel Ndeavor reached its destination offshore Yemen earlier this week, the colleagues of SMIT Salvage were able to board the FSO Safer on Wednesday afternoon. First, gas measurements were taken to assess the presence of toxic gas in and around the vessel. After the ship was declared “safe to access”, a number of operational steps were initiated. This included loading of mobile inert gas generators and conducting inspections of the FSO and its deck machinery as well as structural hull assessments. It is expected that the Ndeavor will soon be able to berth alongside the Safer after which further preparations will continue. 

All good news, but not home and dry yet. And as the IMO also reported

Additional funds are still needed to make up a shortfall in covering the immediate US$142 million cost of the emergency phase of the salvage operation. The second phase of the operation, including the removal and safe recycling of the FSO SAFER, is expected to cost an additional US$19 million.

What Could Still Go Wrong

Not knowing anything about the operation to transfer oil from one vessel to another, I assumed the new vessel would rock up, and offload. Now I understand that first the cargo has to be made safe by removing the risk of explosion from any build-up of gas.

So, US$19 million still short. It’s not pocket money.

Here is an extract from the report on the situation by Dr. Ian Ralby of I R Concilium published Jan 11, 2023

Floating in the Red Sea, attached to an oil pipeline that runs nearly 300 miles to the war-torn city of Marib, the FSO Safer was established as a Yemeni oil export facility in 1988. The massive converted tanker was due to be decommissioned and replaced by a land-based terminal when the Yemen civil conflict erupted nearly eight years ago. Owned by SEPOC, a company which itself is owned by the Government of Yemen, the Safer sits off the coast of Ras Isa, an area controlled by Houthi rebels.

The vessel is still loaded with 1.14 million barrels of oil. While roughly 15,000 barrels have evaporated over the last eight years, and a thin layer has polymerized, the majority of that cargo remains liquid and liable to spill. The portion of the pipeline that runs for five miles beneath the Red Sea has an additional 17,000 barrels of liquid crude in it. Without intervention, the Safer will either explode or corrode and spill its contents – and likely take the pipeline with it.

UPDATE PUBLISHED JUL 25, 2023 BY THE MARITIME EXECUTIVE: …The United Nations with its contractor Boskalis’ SMIT Salvage announced that the oil transfer from the derelict FSO Safer off the coast of Yemen has begun. UN officials said the pipes have been laid and the precautions taken and as of this morning at 10:45 a.m. local time “the pumps are on.”

The Law Of Diminishing Returns

I came across an article that started with this:

The law of diminishing returns is a concept from economics that indicates after a certain point, increasing only one input starts producing fewer returns.

I didn’t get to read the rest of the article because it was for paying subscribers only. But it’s enough of a hook to get me where I want to go, which is here:

The law of diminishing returns applies to every kind of satisfaction in this world, with the exception of the experience of nature.

That should be prompting a question. Why is it a law? On what does it depend?

Take a meal – any meal that you like. Eat it. Now the host brings you the same meal again – and you just don’t have the appetite any more. It’s the same with everything you can imagine, as long as your direction is to satisfy yourself.

If, on the other hand, you shift your desire outside of yourself, to others and their needs – then the picture changes. Now you can forget about being full because you are never thinking about yourself.

Now the only question is whether you can do it. Can you actually think of others and to what is to the benefit of others (and not to self-benefit) at all? It’s a big task. There are many pitfalls, such as the desire for recognition for one’s efforts. But the direction is invigorating. And in this world today, or at least in Western Europe and North America where the satisfaction of every desire surrounds us and ceases to satisfy, changing the course of your desires is exactly on point.

Again, that should be prompting a question. Why is it a law? On what does it depend? Well first of all, most discussions would say that it’s not so much a law based on theoretical premises, as it is a fact based upon experience.

If it is a law, then its origin has to come from something above sensory experience, that controls human experience. Answering that is a deeper question.

Update to The Ticking Ecological Bomb In The Red Sea

Here’s my article from August 10, 2020 Over A Million Barrels Of Oil In A Rusting Hulk In The Red Sea Since 1988

Now the ship to replace the FSO Safer has been bought by the UN, and it is on its way from China to where the FSO Safer is moored.

However, there is a catch. There isn’t enough money to complete the job. Here is the statement by Ambassador Woodward at the Security Council meeting on Yemen published by the UK Government on 17 April.

We are at a critical moment to address the threat posed by the FSO Safer.
The replacement vessel has begun its journey to Yemen but there is not enough funding for the salvage operation to take place.
The costs of inaction are severe. This would devastate marine life and coastal livelihoods, disrupt life-saving humanitarian assistance for 17 million people, and cost the global economy billions in lost trade every day.
On 4th May, the UK is co-hosting a Pledging Conference with the Netherlands and in partnership with the UN.
This event aims to fill the shortfall and provide a long-term solution for Yemen.
It is on all of us, states, private sector and individuals, to step up and help. The time to act is now. We all have a stake in averting this catastrophe.