Tow-an-iceberg plan being floated to ease Cape Town drought

Maverick salvage expert Nick Sloane, the brains behind the tow-an-iceberg scheme, says the idea sounds crazy, but it will sort about 20 to 30 percent of Cape Town’s annual water needs. (AFP)
Updated 03 July 2018

Tow-an-iceberg plan being floated to ease Cape Town drought

  • Earlier this year, Cape Town came within weeks of shutting off all its taps and forcing residents to queue for water rations at public standpipes
  • To tackle the drought, Cape Town has enacted measures ranging from building seawater desalination plants to issuing strict instructions to only flush toilets when necessary

CAPE TOWN: It is a plan as crazy as the situation is desperate — towing an iceberg from Antarctica to Cape Town to supply fresh water to a city in the grip of drought.
Earlier this year, Cape Town came within weeks of shutting off all its taps and forcing residents to queue for water rations at public standpipes.
The cut-off was narrowly averted as people scrambled to reduce their water usage and Autumn rains saved the day. But the threat is expected to return to the coastal South African city again next year and beyond.
“The idea sounds crazy,” admits maverick salvage expert Nick Sloane, the brains behind the tow-an-iceberg scheme. “But if you look at the fine details, it is not so crazy.”
Sloane suggests wrapping the iceberg in a textile insulation skirt to stop it melting and using a supertanker and two tugboats to drag it 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) toward Cape Town using prevailing ocean currents.
The iceberg, carefully selected by drones and radiography scans, would be about one kilometer in length, 500 meters across and up to 250 meters deep, with a flat, tabletop surface.
Melted water could be gathered each day using collection channels and a milling machine to create ice slurry — producing 150 million liters of usable water every day for a year.
Sloane’s idea might be dismissed as mere fantasy.
But the 56-year-old Zambian-South African has a reputation for taking on the impossible after he re-floated the giant Costa Concordia cruise ship that capsized in 2012 off the Tuscan island of Giglio, killing 32 people — one of the world’s largest and most complex maritime salvage operations.
“Icebergs are made of the purest freshwater on earth,” the founder of Sloane Marine Ltd. said earnestly.
“Thousands break off every year. Mother Nature has been teasing mankind with this for a long time, saying ‘this is here’.”
He estimates it would cost $100 million (€86 million) to haul an iceberg on a journey that could take up to three months, and another $50-60 million to harvest the water for one year as it melts.
“In Russia, they have pushed (icebergs) away from oil installations — but small ones, they are about half-a-million tons. (Here) we are talking about 100 million tons,” said Sloane.
To tackle the drought, Cape Town has enacted measures ranging from building seawater desalination plants to issuing strict instructions to only flush toilets when necessary.
But whether Cape Town authorities will be persuaded to embrace the iceberg project is unclear.
“At this stage it appears to us that in fact the groundwater or desalination options are cheaper or at least equal cost price,” said Cape Town’s deputy mayor, Ian Neilson.
There are also questions on how the water from the iceberg will be channeled into the city’s distribution system.
Another problem is that there is no guarantee that by the time the iceberg is hauled to Cape Town, it will still be able to produce the promised volumes of water.
Sloane’s plan is to tow the giant iceberg some 150 km further north to South Africa’s St. Helena Bay, where the cold Benguela Current keeps water at around zero degrees Celsius.
Once there, the iceberg could be anchored in an old submarine channel, suggests Sloane.
As the iceberg melts, water will be collected each day, pumped into tankers and driven to Cape Town.
“It won’t sort out Cape Town’s crisis, (but) it will be about 20 to 30 percent of their annual needs,” said Sloane.
“The project is crazy — no question,” said Olav Orheim, a Norwegian glaciologist with four decades of experience who is working on a similar project for Saudi Arabia.
Never has such a large iceberg been towed — indeed, the towing of ice to supply drinking water would be a first — and it is unknown if it would withstand ocean currents or simply fracture in transit.
But, said Orheim, it was no longer unrealistic “because we know so much more now than when we started this kind of research 40 years ago.”
“It is a high-risk project, but also (one) which may have a very high reward at the end,” said Orheim.
For Wolfgang Foerg, the chief executive of Swiss company Water Vision which has teamed up with Sloane, the project has huge potential in the face of ever more frequent drought.
As for Sloane, he is ready for the green light.
“If they tell us to go now, we can have it here by Easter (2019),” he said.


World’s shortest man dies in Nepal at 27

In this file photo taken on September 24, 2010 Nepalese teenager Khagendra Thapa Magar poses for a picture with Miss Nepal Sadichha Shrestha (C) and first runner-up Sahana Bajracharya (R) and second runner-up Samyukta Timilsina (L) in Kathmandu. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2020

World’s shortest man dies in Nepal at 27

  • Magar became an official face of Nepal’s tourism campaign, which featured him as the smallest man in a country that is home to the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest

KATMANDU: The world’s shortest man who could walk, as verified by Guinness World Records, died Friday at a hospital in Nepal, his family said.
Khagendra Thapa Magar, who measured 67.08 centimeters (2 feet 2.41 inches), died of pneumonia at a hospital in Pokhara, 200 kilometers from Katmandu, where he lived with his parents.
“He has been in and out of hospital because of pneumonia. But this time his heart was also affected. He passed away today,” Mahesh Thapa Magar, his brother, told AFP.
Magar was first declared the world’s shortest man in 2010 after his 18th birthday, photographed holding a certificate only a bit smaller than him.
However he eventually lost the title after Nepal’s Chandra Bahadur Dangi, who measured 54.6 centimeters, was discovered and named the world’s shortest mobile man.
Magar regained the title after Dangi’s death in 2015.
“He was so tiny when he was born that he could fit in the palm of your hand, and it was very hard to bathe him because he was so small,” said his father, Roop Bahadur, according to Guinness World Records.
As the world’s shortest man the 27-year-old traveled to more than a dozen countries and made television appearances in Europe and the United States.
“We’re terribly sad to hear the news from Nepal that Khagendra is no longer with us,” said Craig Glenday, Guinness World Records editor-in-chief.
“Life can be challenging when you weigh just 6 kilograms and you don’t fit into a world built for the average person. But Khagendra certainly didn’t let his small size stop him from getting the most out of life” he said.
Magar became an official face of Nepal’s tourism campaign, which featured him as the smallest man in a country that is home to the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest.
During his stint he met other short people around the world, including the shortest woman, Jyoti Amge, from India.
In a video released by Guinness World Records, Magar is seen playing a guitar with his brother, riding a bike and sitting at his family’s shop.
The world’s shortest non-mobile man remains Junrey Balawing of the Philippines, who measures only 59.93 centimeters but is unable to walk or stand unaided, according to Guinness World Records.
The record for shortest living mobile man is now retained by Edward “Nino” Hernandez of Colombia, a reggaeton DJ who stands 70.21 centimeters tall, Guinness said.