A 'new Bermuda Triangle' leads the world in sea disasters

A sea region has become the top place for maritime accidents, accounting for almost half the shipping disasters in the world.

On January 6th, 2018, the Panamanian oil tanker Sanchi crashed into CV Crystal, a massive freight ship from Hong Kong, in an area now dubbed the “new Bermuda Triangle." As a result of the collision, Sanchi, carrying nearly 1 million barrels of Iranian oil to South Korea, caught on fire and burned while drifting for over a week, with all 32 people who comprised the crew of the tanker dying in the disaster.


Why has the location of the tragic accident, about 160 nautical miles away from Shanghai, China in the East China Sea, been compared to the Bermuda Triangle? The area, which expands towards Indochina, Indonesia, the Malay Peninsula, the Korean Peninsula and Japan has become the leading spot of maritime accidents in the world. In 2016 alone, 34 ships met their demise in the region - that's 40% of global shipping losses of 85 ships, according to the marine insurer Allianz.

To get an overall picture, the 2017 Safety and Shipping Review, prepared by Allianz, looked at 25,898 shipping incidents which included 1,186 “total losses" in the period from January 2007 to December 2016. While the number of total losses dropped globally by 50 percent, this effect was much less pronounced in the East/South East Asian waters. The region continues to average 39 total ship losses per year, about a third of the worldwide sum, reports MarineLink.

Even the United States Navy has had its share of problems in the region, with recent collisions involving USS Lake Champlain, USS Fitzgerald, USS Antietam and USS John McCain. 17 sailors lost their lives in the disasters involving the destroyers Fitzgerald and John S. McCain, says Navy Times.

Here's footage of the burning tanker Sanchi:

What makes this area so dangerous? The ex-tanker captain Rahul Khanna, who has over 14 years of experience at sea and is now the Global Head of Marine Risk Consulting at Allianz, blamed the accidents on the often-fatal combination of how many ships go through the area, bad weather and lacking safety concerns by the countries operating the shipping there.

“Some have dubbed this wide region as a 'new Bermuda Triangle'," said Khanna. “I wouldn't go that far but it is certainly the number one region worldwide for major shipping incidents. Not only are the seas here very busy, but they are also prone to bad weather and, although I can't speculate on this event, some safety standards in the region are not always as high as one would expect from established international standards."

Volker Dierks, who heads Allianz's ship insurance for central and eastern Europe, ascribed the incidents to the fact that the “ships are getting bigger," which increases the risk of collisions.


Credit: Sky News

The disasters that befall ships in the area include foundering (filling with water and sinking), wrecking, fires and explosions as well as collisions with other vessels. While nothing very mysterious may be going on if the incidents are considered individually, the sheer amount of them has led to the Bermuda Triangle comparisons.

In the case of USS John McCain, the culprit was human error causing “steering confusion".

To brush up on a fascinating theory that may explain the enigma of the original Bermuda Triangle, check out this article.

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Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.