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Ice Ice Baby

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Have you ever seen handcart puller hauling around large ice-cubes? As a child, I always used to think that he was an idiot for doing so because in peak Delhi summers because my ice cream was always melting too fast.

Well, today I read a story of a similar ice-haul which brought back the memory.

This is a story of an iceberg haul, from Antarctica to Africa.

The first question that came to my mind was whyyy?

I mean we’ll reduce consumption, use water harvesting techniques and then we also have desalination. Why this crazy feat?

This is because two years back Cape Town went through a major water crisis wherein personal use of water was limited to 50l a day (for reference, an 8 min shower costs around 58l of water).

So Cape-Town needed an effective and sustainable solution.

Reduced consumption and rainwater harvesting are things we undertake when we are headed towards a crisis but Cape-Town was in the middle of one. And desalination is just a resource-heavy project with loads of waste and too little output.

Cape-Town started with getting a team.

So, our champion haulier is Nick Sloan, a 56-year-old marine salvage master. Don’t know him?

He was the one who led the salvation project of Costa Concordia, which cost almost $1 billion and went on for 2.5 years.

Next in our technical know-how department, we have Peter Wadhams, Olav Orheim and Georges Mougin. All three renowned experts in the field of iceberg-hauling.

Note: These three did work together on two more similar projects, one in Saudi Arabia and the other in the Canary Islands.

Both failed.

But the enthusiasm still exists due to the fact that the volume of water that breaks off Antarctica as icebergs each year is greater than the total global consumption of freshwater.

Our gang is ready for the heist, next comes the plan.

From the Gough Islands in the South Atlantic, they plan on picking up an 85-100 million-tonne iceberg. According to Sloane - the mission’s leader, towing the iceberg would take 80-90 days using a supertanker which has over 20,000 horsepower.

The main challenge would be changing the initial course of the iceberg which would take three tugs of brute force according to Sloane, just like changing train tracks. After this, the water current would work in the team’s favour.

After reaching its destination near Cape Town where the iceberg would be pinned into place using oil rig anchors 40 km offshore, remains in a cold current, reducing the melt-rate. The water would be harvested using open cast mining techniques carving into the top of the iceberg, with shuttle tankers carrying the water to the shore.

The plan seems sorted, except the fact that the water doesn’t have a solid buyer as of now. It is expected to cost R29 per 1000 litres, excluding the cost of infrastructure required to get the meltwater onshore, which will probably be substantial.

But there is a final twist in the tale. There are companies and vessels in the world that already, regularly, tow icebergs. Off the coast of Newfoundland, expensive oil platforms need to be protected from the regular flow of icebergs – this is the sea where the Titanic was sunk. Organisations such as C-Core and Atlantic Towing are hired by oil companies for iceberg protection. And, in brief, they think the plans of Mougin and others are unrealistic, to say the least.

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