Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I am hungry. The pitch and the roll of the ship on the high seas take a toll on your energy. I climb down the narrow staircase towards the galley (kitchen). I smell spices in the air. Tandoori chicken, rajma, rice and daal. 9,000 kilometres from home. Indian food in the Arctic. Yes!
That's Babu Pillai from Kerala. He is, as most sailors say, the second most important man on board after the captain. Nobody messes with the chef, is the motto in the Galley. The lunch looks divine and diverse. Garlic bread, roasted chicken, fish, rajma, spinach and fruits in the end.
There are people from almost 15 countries on board - German, American, Italian, Russian, Irish, English, Swedish, Dutch, Australian, Mexican, Indian... cooking to everyone's taste is not easy. But our man from Kerala has been performing this remarkable feat even at 79 degrees North near the Petermann Glacier. He has to choose carefully - what to cook and when. Eyes eat first - so not only should the food be tasty, it also needs to look good.
''Food goes a long way in lifting spirits when people are down. At times when the ship pitches and rolls a lot and people feel sea sick, they do not feel like eating. But if the aroma is good and the food is tasty, they are drawn towards the food. And it lifts their spirits'', says the 51-year-old, father of two. The kitchen is nice and warm. No open flame on board. A number of hot plates to cook on. There is also another corner where you can deep fry food, a large oven. I have tasted the lovely cake Babu bakes.
But Babu is not the only Indian connection. There is also Faye Lewis. The 29-year-old Bandra girl working as a deckhand. Unique! I have never seen women sailors on board ships but there are three here. Sarah Watson is the Bosun (team leader of deck hands) from England, Faye Lewis from India and Yohena from Mexico. Penny, an engineer is from Canada.
Faye drove an inflatable boat to Tasiilaq village on the east coast of Greenland to pick us up. She handles the boat efficiently guiding her through icy waters. Her tasks on board the Arctic Sunrise include maintenance work on board — paint what ever is static, grease what moves — first rule of sailing. That is to prevent sea water from corroding metal. Lifting anchor, wear the fireman's outfit and be ready every time the helicopter comes in to land. And that's a lot of work.
Faye Lewis has a Bachelor's Degree in History and Sociology from the prestigious St. Xavier's College and has been working as a deckhand on board Greenpeace ships since 2003. "My work on board is to maintain record of the ship's hull, decks and superstructure. Plus mooring, cargo handling and driving the inflatable. I also have watched duties on the Bridge,'' she told me. Is she uncomfortable - working as a deckhand? ''Not at all. Not on board Greenpeace ships. They respect women and we know our work,'' says the 'hardy sailor'. She has moonlighted as a DJ in Mumbai and often has the sailors rocking to her beat.
Work for Faye begins early. Lifting anchor at the crack of dawn. Then it is her task to keep every thing ship shape and also assist in scientific work. Along with Sarah and Yohena, Faye lowers the inflatable boat in the icy waters and then drives the scientists negotiating menacing icebergs. The two Indians are a part of the core team of 28 on board and are fascinated by their Arctic journey. The two go out of their way to make my stay on board the Arctic Sunrise comfortable. Masaala Dosa and Tandoori Chicken are the two new national dishes on board the Sunrise. Bon Appetit.



I have never seen so many ice bergs in my life. Hundreds and thousands of them of all shapes and sizes. We are sailing through an iceberg field - as deadly if not more than a mine field. One wrong turn and the ship could be history. Remember Titanic! That is why perhaps there is pin drop silence as the Captain of Arctic Sunrise Pete Willcox and the Ice Pilot Arna Swerensen concentrate on negotiate the menacing icebergs. One eighth of the iceberg is outside water, looking serene and lovely. But it is the other seven parts under water that worries sailors and captains alike. Ice harder than iron can rip through the ship's underbelly. Even though the Arctic Sunrise is an ice breaker, the captain takes her forward gently.

The ship tears through a thin sheet of ice moving forward. There are no waves in the fjord and a thin layer of ice has formed overnight. It is transparent and deep blue. The actic wind is icy and dry. I am on the bow of the ship admiring different ice bergs. But this beauty is lost on scientists. Dr Ruth Curry, Senior research specialist and Dr Fiamma Straneo, associate scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanography Institute, Massachusetts are busy trying to find out if warmer waters from sub tropical seas is creeping up the fjords and reaching the Arctic Greenlandic glaciers. Their team had left some instruments in these waters last year. The instruments measure conductivity and temperature at different depths. At the crack of dawn the ship comes to a halt. A boat is lowered. Along with the scientists I too am on the boat.

But before we disembark we change into bright orange skin hugging rubber dry suits. God forbid if the boat capsizes the icy arctic waters will kill us within seconds. The rubber dry suits will help us live Godwilling till help arrives. You slip into the orange suits, zip up till the neck. no water no ice can seep in. This is mandatory as per shipping rules. Same applies to you when you fly in a helicopter over water.

The scientists use a GPS device to look for the place where they had dropped the instruments. We spend an hour in those icy waters. In the little motor boat, the water is close enough to touch. But I prefer not to take off my gloves. Despite wearing two pairs of woolen socks, thermal inner wear and arctic jacket I am cold. The ice bergs turn different hues of blue with the changing sun light. The acoustic signal from the under water device is not heard on the receiver in the boat. The area where the GPS device indicates the instruments should be is wrong. The device could have moved some distance due to the waves or ice bergs. The instruments could be buried under ice. With each passing minute the disappointment increases and suddenly behind one ice berg three large orange colored plastic balls are sighted. There is a wave of euphoria. We clap and speed up towards the under water instruments.

For the scientists it is a very happy moment. Something like child birth. New data that will help them understand climate change patterns better. Perhaps. It is too early to say. One year under water the instrument is caked in ice. It has been recording salinity and temperature at 50 metres under water every half hour for the past one year. The other device is not found despite another one hour spent in the icy waters. That was 200 metres under water.

We return to the Arctic Sunrise. There is a lot of clapping and back slapping. The scientists are excited. They will spend the next couple of weeks studying and analyzing the data. But their initial findings indicate below the surface there is warm water. Up to 6 degrees Celsius and it appears to have reached the Arctic glaciers..

I return to the deck. The ship has just scraped past an ice berg. Chunks of ice are on the deck. They are rock solid. We wash the snow. It glints in the sunlight. We leave it on the deck and several hours later, it is just the same. It has not melted a bit. The sun is shining far...far away. It is still early day. The scientists now get back to the second part of their task. Using a special winch they drop more instruments under water. They also collect samples of water at different depths.

Moments later I break off and head to the galley (kitchen). There is an Indian connection here. More on that another day.

Sunday, August 23, 2009



''Lucky bird to Arctic Sunrise...Permission to lift off.'' The Greenpeace helicopter lucky bird lifted off effortless and so did my spirits. For the first time I was to have a bird's eye view of Greenland's famous Hellheim glacier, one of the largest and also dangerous. The five seater Eurocopter 120 B flew low over the hundreds and thousands of ice bergs breaking off from the glacier and literally choking the mouth of Sermilik Fjord in the area.

I was flying but will we be lucky enough to land on the glacier that was the million dollar question. While the glacier a part of the Arctic Greenland ice sheet is supposed to be rock solid, glaciologists and scientists over the past couple of years have found to their dismay it isn't. This year the news is far more depressing. the Glacier is not only melting faster it is breaking into millions of pieces and ice bergs are increasing the volume of the sea. the impact ... from New York to Sydney and from Mumbai to the Sundarbans, scientists fear the sea will continue to eat up more land.

With me is Professor Gordon Hamilton, a glaciologist from the University of Maine, USA. He and his team have planted several global positioning systems and cameras along the glacier and on the glacier. The GPS devices are moving with the glacier. The speed is alarming...25 metres a day. Why are the glaciers that that too in the Arctic moving so fast and breaking up? There is cutting edge scientific activity underway off the Arctic coast of Greenland.

The helicopter door is open. My camera colleague Jari Stalh, a veteran of several polar missions is leaning out in sub zero temperatures and filming. The pilot Martin Duggam swoops low to enable Jari to get better pictures. I miss a heartbeat. It is almost as if we can lean out and touch the collapsing ice wall. Visually it is a treat. We are flying over the artic ice sheet. It should be one solid mass of ice. But it isn't. Knife edged jagged ice peaks jut out into the sky. All crumbling or ready to crumble. Hellheim is one of the biggest glaciers. Though there is no scientific evidence but the folklore is that the mighty Titanic sank due to one of the ice bergs that came off either Hellheim or the other Greenlandic glaciers.

The pilot takes us to the scary part of the glacier. it is not only very crevassed but there are rivers that are flowing along. The helicopter lands on a thick ice sheet. The pilot first gently lowers the bird, tests the strength of the ice, adds a little pressure but the rotors are still whirring ready to take off if the ice gives way and then lands. We wait for a few seconds wondering if the ice will give way. But Prof Hamilton and Martin are confident. I jump out along with the professor. We walk some distance and stop. There is a river flowing down the glacier. Fast and furious. It forms a whirlpool some distance away and water gushes down. God forbid if someone falls, he will just go straight down hundreds of metres in freezing waters. I step back.

It is waters like these that are a cause of concern for the glaciologists. This water acts like a lubricant under the glacier forcing it to tilt forward and ultimately fall in the icy waters of the arctic. ``It is like few cubes of ice added to your drink. The volume increases. Where does that sea water go when huge chunks of ice fall in it? well it moves into land,'' explains the professor.

For him rising sea level is not a climate issue. For him this is now a national security issue. And he gives me the example of India. Land in the Sundarban area is being eaten up by sea. What do farmers do...look for new land. It will lead to violence. But imagine when countries start losing land. what will populations do. For example in the years to come when Bangladesh loses land to the sea, the population will look to India. There will be large scale population movements in less than a decade, he predicts.

Several small island and some island countries in the south Pacific will be wiped off the globe, he warns. The melting Greenland ice sheet will be the catalyst but the reason is climate change. Our helicopter takes off again and we land on one side of the glacier. Prof Hamilton's team has been studying the Greenlandic glaciers for several years and each year the picture is more alarming than the previous years. This year he says it is most depressing. Several time lapse cameras along the glacier have captured the collapse - the calving of the glacier. The Greenpeace team is hopeful the new scientific data will influence global leaders when they meet in Copenhagen in December to sit back and realise the enormity of the situation.

On Board the Arctic Sunrise Melanie Duchin, the Greenpeace campaigner from USA says the new scientific data points to a far more alarming picture than earlier anticipated. The political leaders world over need to appreciate there is no half way house when it comes to arresting the damage. 40 per cent green house gasses cut by the developed world and at least 15 per cent by developing world is what the environment lobby is hoping for.

After all we want our children and their children to live in a clean world. We must clean up our act...At least for their sake.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

On Board the Arctic Sunrise off the coast of Greenland

The Arctic Sunrise! From the six seater Air Greenland helicopter I saw the ship at the Tasiilaq harbour on the east coast of Greenland. I had flown from New Delhi to Helsinki (Finland) then to Reyjkavik (Iceland) and then another two hours across the Atlantic Ocean to Greenland's Kulusuk airport.
From Kulusuk I took the Air Greenland helicopter to Tasiilaq....flew almost 9,000 kilometres for one and a half days across multiple time zones. Finally I saw the Greenpeace ship. I was tired and sleepy so far but not any more. The ship is to be my home for the next one week as we move along Greenland's east coast...with several scientists on board trying to gauge the extent of damage to the arctic ice sheet, to try and find out why the glaciers are melting so fast and to calculate the extent of rise in sea level.
There is hectic activity on board the ship. Marine biologists, oceanologists, glaciologist are all on board checking and re checking their instruments and equipment. The five seater Greenpeace helicopter stands majestically on the deck - the pilot going through the drill with the ship's crew. I find my bunk not far from the mess (dining hall) and rush back to the deck.
Tasillaq on Greenland's east coast is a sleepy little village. 1,800 residents, colourful houses and a small pizzaria. They flock to see the Greenpeace ship and the sudden flurry of activity. Some reports describe Tasillaq as the last village before North pole. Residents say there are a couple of other villagers up north but this is the last big one with a school, church and a sizable habitation.
The water is icy. There are many ice bergs in the ocean - some small and some very big. they are pretty but very scary. Scientists are alarmed by the sheer number and size of ice bergs floating in these waters. This is a sign that the glacier is not only melting and fast but also that it is calving - chunks of ice falling into the ocean. Why is it so alarming ? Well imagine Gin and tonic in a glass. Add a couple of ice cubes. What happens ? The volume increases. And that is exactly what is happening. Large chunks of ice are falling into the water....the water level in the oceans and seas is rising and eating into the land from New York to Sydney and from Mumbai to the Sundarbans on India's east coast.
So what is happening and will happen in the years to come is that the sea will eat more and more into the land. And scientists say land under cultivation and land we live on will be devoured by the sea resulting in large scale migration of people from these areas to safer areas - from Bangladesh to India - and this will led to violence and tension. Greenpeace warns climate change will become an international security issue from an environment issue if we do not wake up and now.
At the crack of dawn we set sail from the Tasiilaq harbour to the Sermalik Fjord. It is a five hour long journey across difficult waters. The captain and the crew navigate through hundreds - literally hundreds of ice bergs of all shapes and sizes. The Arctic Sunrise has no keel - so that it can navigate through ice better and faster. But this also mans that the ship pitches and rolls much more than other ships. Early in the morning I am a little sea sick but a little fresh air and a sea sick pill later I feel much better. thankfully I have not thrown least not yet.
The clothes I brought from India with me are woefully inadequate for the Arctic weather conditions and despite of multi layered thermal clothing, sweaters, jackets and headgear I am cold. The crew immediately take care of that . Moments later I am 'kitted up' in Arctic clothing and work begins. ... (more to follow in the next blog)

Friday, August 14, 2009


India is a nuclear weapon state. We boast of having the fourth largest standing army in the world, a navy that takes pride in its blue water capabilities, an air force which boasts of gigantic Sukhoi 30 aircraft capable of carrying an amazing 10 tons of weapons, Phalcon - eye in the sky, mid air refuelers..BSF,CRPF, state police forces....Yet around religious festivals and national days there is fear in the air. Fear of a terror strike...fear of mindless blasts that not only leave a large number of people dead but scar lives forever.


Mumbai was a swarm attack. Multiple targets hit by a large group of terrorists. RDX plus commando style engagement of the security forces over a sustained period of time. Pakistan based terror groups have changed their tactics and standard operating procedures based on the training and instructions of the Pakistan army.
According to intelligence sources, they are now trained to engage the security forces. The terror commanders undergo training along with the regular soldiers of the Pakistan army and then in turn train terror's foot soldiers. No longer is this training limited to just 15 days or one month before being launched. Terrorists are given multiple weapon training for upto a year for such missions. Despite international pressure post 26/11, intelligence sources say training continues; only now it is more discreet.


What will Pakistan do post 26/11. It will be naive to assume Pakistan has had a change of heart...If Pakistan indeed was committed to cracking down on terror aimed at India - the terror masterminds would have been jailed and training camps shut down...but when terrorists are a strategic ally of a nation then prevention is the best cure.
Engage Pakistan but prepare for the worst. Think like the Devil...what will the ISI do next ? Something that is far more spectacular that 26/11 terror attacks. Think....think....
And then prepare for a multiple swarm attack. Prepare for simultaneous attacks on Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai....nuclear installations, schools, hospitals, embassies, technology hubs.
How do you prepare - carry out sand model exercises, then put in place standard operating procedures and decentralise decision making in such an eventuality.
Tell schools and colleges, hospitals and offices what they need to do in case of a terror strike.


Learn from standard operating procedures world over. When I was covering the 7/7 and 21/7 London attacks in 2005, I noticed how the city came to a stand still in the wake of the terror attacks. All public transport...buses, metros, taxis came to a stand still. The government went on air asking people to stay where they were....clear the roads only for movement of emergency vehicles....hospitals were on stand by and so was the army.
Contrast that with what happened in Mumbai. The entire city was on the streets watching the `tamasha' the next morning...there were traffic jams and emergency vehicles stuck on the roads.
That should never happen again. This war on terror is a battle the nation needs to fight together. Everyone has a role and should be aware of his or her role. But for that to happen the government needs to put systems in place.


China has turned down India's request to declare Masood Azhar, the chief of Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammad an international terrorist. This means the United Nations Security Council cannot impose sanctions.This means the National Security Advisor MK Narayan failed to convince China in their recent talks about the importance of imposing sanctions on Masood Azhar.
India thought after the trouble in Xinjiang, China would be more proactive in the war on terror but China appears to be cutting its nose to spite its face.
India made the mistake of believing the `Hindi-Chini bhai bhai' slogan in the 1950s. In 1962 China gave us a bloody nose. Why ? because we had lost of the battle in our minds even before we fought it on ground.
There is no doubt China is more than a generation ahead of India in infrastructure development (our politicians and bureaucrats need to wake up), militarily they may be much ahead in the bean count - an army, navy and air force numerically far superior than us - but this time they will get a bloody nose themselves...We need to remember that and then begin arming ourselves.


In India we continue fighting our last war. Kargil is point spending our entire military budget in Siachenization of Kargil - we need to build up to face China - and Pakistan will be taken care of automatically. China uses Pakistan to keep our army and policy makers engaged in low intensity conflict operations in J&K. We are therefore not arming ourselves to take on China. Let's prepare for that. Have a counter terror force for Pakistan but the armed forces should focus on China. When we have sufficient aircraft, ships, submarines and tanks to take on China - Pakistan automatically will not dare to strike us.


We as a nation need to come up with a response. 62 years after Independence we need to ponder why are we so unsafe and appear so unprepared to take on the threats.
Why are we always engaged in fire fighting...and do not learn the bigger lessons. The nation needs a policy - the executive, legislature and judiciary need to be one on this.
1. There have to be laws - foreign terrorists who wage war on India will not get a long trial - death by summary court martial.
2. Those found guilty of supporting them - irrespective of caste, creed, sex, religion or motive will be hanged.
3. The trial of those accused of acts of ommission and commission will not last beyond 6 months. They will either be let off or punished with life imprisonment.
4. There will be accountability at every stage. From Kargil to Mumbai we have seen officers who should have been sacked and jailed for dereliction of duty being rewarded or promoted. There has to be accountability at every level.

Our leaders need to enact laws and ensure its implementation. Parliament was attacked once. It could happen again. Politicians and bureaucrats (including those in uniform) need to wake up and prepare to safeguard India against all threats - external and internal.

Only then will India be truly Independent.