Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Good Intentions


August 1, 2019

A few weeks back we were contacted by a company promoting a “carbon-negative cargo tallship” in Costa Rica. “The shipping industry today is very damaging to the environment,” says a spokesperson in the company’s promotional video. The aim of this ship is to “help direct the global maritime industry towards carbon neutrality and a more sustainable future.”

Intrigued, we looked at the photos included in a press release the company sent, and checked the website, The ship, Ceiba, is being built of native Costa Rican Bitter Cedar. The project carpentry manager, Paolo Ramirez, notes that the 24 trees they used for the project were old and ready to come down. They are being replaced with 100 newly-planted trees.

The “combustion-free sailing ship” is being built in what the company claims is the world’s first carbon-neutral Shipyard in Costa Rica. (We might quibble that every Shipyard on the planet was “carbon free” until about 150 years ago.)

Still, aside from some clearly modern two-stroke chainsaws, construction is being accomplished using old-world ship building techniques.

The ship will be a sailing ship fitted with propellers and electric motors tied to lithium ion batteries. Under wind power, the spinning propellers will charge the batteries, which will in turn propel the ship if the wind goes away.

While the project is an interesting one, the Ceiba endeavor will take four years to complete, and the company is looking for investors to fund the project. The ship will make only two trips a year, with ports of call expected to include Vancouver, BC, Seattle and San Francisco, Lázaro Cárdenas, México, Caldera, Costa Rica and Hawaii.

The capacity of the vessel will be 200 tons. For comparison, a similarly-sized steel vessel recently built on the west coast and propelled by conventional engines has a capacity of more than twice the cargo and can reliably operate, with or without wind.

Another story of good intentions comes to us from the Associated Press, which reports that a sea captain who forced a rescue ship carrying 53 migrants into an Italian island port against orders of authorities appears to have acted in accordance with maritime law, according to a court order that freed the German mariner from house arrest in Italy.

Carola Rackete, 31, was released from house arrest in July after she was escorted off the ship and taken into custody at the Italian port of Lampedusa.

Captain Rackete, who brought her 165-foot ship Sea-Watch 3 into the port in defiance of the Italian authorities, is an activist who works for Sea-Watch, which is a German non-profit founded to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean. The foundation’s vessels deliver rescued migrants to the nearest place of safety, per international maritime law. There are currently no German ports on the Mediterranean, so the non-profit often delivers the rescued migrants to Italian ports, where they become Italy’s problem.

A popular Italian tourist destination south of Sicily, Lampedusa has a native Italian population of 6,500, but has been seeing hundreds of refugees every year as the southernmost European port in the Mediterranean and the closest to Libya and Tunisia.

At press time Captain Rackete remains in Italy where she is under two investigations. One is for disobeying orders and docking Sea-Watch 3 at the Lampedusa port. The other is for allegedly aiding illegal immigration.

In October of 2013 a boat carrying more than 500 Libyan refugees sank off Lampedusa. An emergency Italian Coast Guard response rescued 155 survivors, but more than 360 were lost. There have been mounting concerns that the rescue vessels from organizations such as Rackete’s encourage smugglers to send migrants on dangerous boat trips from Libya in much the way Central American migrants are encouraged to make a dangerous trip through Mexico to cross the southern US border.

Does the captain bear any responsibility, legal or otherwise, for the migrants she encourages to set sail in the belief that they will be rescued? What of those who aren’t?

Should the German non-profit be contributing to the costs these migrants bring to Italy in terms of health care, education, transport and waste management?

There’s a saying about good intentions. We don’t have a solution for the Mediterranean migrant problem, nor, apparently, does Captain Rackete. If she thinks she’s helping, her definition of charity is flawed. Sea-Watch, not Italy, should be responsible for the people she is delivering.

Chris can be reached at


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