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Wind-powered Dutch ship sets sail for greener future

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The four giant 16-metre-high sails similar to aircraft wings are hoped will cut fuel consumption by 10 to 20 percent
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The world’s first chemical tanker ship fitted with massive rigid aluminium “sails” has left Rotterdam, its owner hoping to plot a route to bringing down the shipping industry’s huge carbon footprint.

The MT Chemical Challenger, a 16,000-tonne chemicals transporter set sail from Antwerp for Istanbul on Friday, and will undergo sea trials along the way.

Built in Japan and kitted out with four giant 16-metre-high (52 foot, 6 inch) sails similar to aircraft wings, the tanker’s owners hope to cut fuel consumption by 10 to 20 percent as the sails will allow the ship’s captain to throttle back on the engine.

“As an avid sailor myself, I have been thinking for a long time how we can make our industry more sustainable,” said Niels Grotz, chief executive of Chemship, which operates a fleet of chemical tanker vessels mainly between US ports in the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern Mediterranean.

“Today we launch our first wind-assisted chemical tanker, which we hope will serve as an example to the rest of the world,” Grotz told AFP at the ship’s unveiling.

Global shipping — which burns diesel and other bunker fuels — contributed around 2.0 percent of the world’s carbon emissions in 2022, the International Energy Agency said.

New guidelines by the International Maritime Organisation said shipping emissions needed to be cut by at least 40 percent by 2030 and down to zero by around 2050 if the Paris Climate Accords are to be achieved.

“Shipping has always been extremely competitive and it will be a struggle to reach these targets,” admitted Grotz, who added the company was unlikely to “make money” on its latest project.

“But we have to bring down CO2 emissions — and we decided we’re not just going to sit and wait for something magical to happen.”

“With the sails on this ship we’re expecting a yearly reduction of some 850 tonnes. That’s the same output as around 500 cars annually,” Chemship added in a statement.

– Pulling power –

Grotz said the project to put sails on one of his chemical tankers — with others to follow — came when he and Dutch company Econowind, which specialises in building wind propulsion systems for ships, first put their heads together three years ago.

Last week the installation of the four sails was completed while the Chemical Challenger lay dockside in Rotterdam’s massive sprawling harbour.

Although not the first modern ship to be kitted out with rigid sails — last year British firm Cargill put a wind-assisted cargo ship to sea for instance — Chemship said their Chemical Challenger is the world’s first chemical tanker ship with sails.

Built similar to an aeroplane wing, the rigid aluminium sails are equipped with a system of vents and holes to maximise airflow in winds of up to 61 kilometres (33 knots, 38 miles).

“This system called a ‘ventilated wingsail’ increases the wind’s power by five times — and gives the same power as an imaginary sail of around 30 by 30 metres,” said Rens Groot, sales manager at Econowind.

– ‘Modern day sailors’ –

Groot told AFP the installation of modern-day rigid sails on massive ships harked back to a time when sailing was the only way to move across the oceans.

Sails on ships are also reopening long-forgotten routes that fell out of favour as steam and fuel replaced wind power.

“Once again, modern-day ‘sailors’ will have to look for the wind, for instance along the Brouwer route,” Groot said, referring to a sailing route around the Cape of Good Hope, first pioneered by Dutch explorer Hendrik Brouwer around 1611.

That route dips into the so-called “Roaring Forties” across the Indian Ocean before snaking north again along the Australian west coast to Asia.

It became compulsory a few years later for captains employed by the Dutch East India company on their way to the Netherlands’ colonies in today’s Indonesia.

“We are trying to find a way to bring nature back into technology,” said Groot.

“Suddenly, you can feel a ship sailing again — just like in the olden days,” Groot said.

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Meta ‘supreme court’ takes on cases of deepfake porn

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Meta's independent oversight board can make recommendations regarding the social media giant's deepfake porn policies but it is up to the tech firm to actually make any changes
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Meta’s oversight board said Tuesday it is scrutinizing the social media titan’s deepfake porn policies, through the lens of two cases.

The move by what is referred to as a Meta “supreme court” for content moderation disputes comes just months after the widespread sharing of lewd AI-generated images of megastar Taylor Swift on X, formerly Twitter.

The Meta board picked its two cases, regarding images shared on Instagram and Facebook, to “assess whether Meta’s policies and its enforcement practices are effective at addressing explicit AI-generated imagery,” it said in the release.

The board can make recommendations regarding the social media giant’s deepfake porn policies but it is up to the tech firm to actually make any changes.

The first case taken up by the Meta Oversight Board involves an AI-generated image of a nude woman posted on Instagram.

The woman pictured resembled a public figure in India, sparking complaints from users in that country.

Meta left the image up, later saying it did so in error, the board said.

The second case involves a picture posted to a Facebook group devoted to AI creations.

That image depicted a nude woman resembling “an American public figure” with a man groping one of her breasts, the board said in a release.

The board did not name the woman, who it said was identified in a caption on the synthetic image at issue.

Meta removed the image for violating its harassment policy, and the user who posted the content appealed the decision, according to the board.

People were invited to submit comment, particularly on the gravity of harms posed by deepfake pornography and the harm it does to women who are public figures.

Deepfake porn images of celebrities are not new, but activists and regulators are worried that easy-to-use tools employing generative AI will create an uncontrollable flood of toxic or harmful content.

The targeting of Swift, one of the world’s top-streamed artists whose latest concert tour propelled her to the top of American fame, shined a spotlight on the phenomenon, with her legions of fans outraged at the development.

“It is alarming,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, when asked about the images at the time.

“Sadly we know that lack of enforcement (by the tech platforms) disproportionately impacts women and they also impact girls who are the overwhelming targets of online harassment,” Jean-Pierre added.

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Samsung returns to top of the smartphone market: industry tracker

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Smartphone market tracker International Data Corporation expects Samsung and Apple will continue to dominate when it comes to high-end smartphones but that pressure will increase from Chinese rivals making more budget priced handsets
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Samsung regained its position as the top smartphone seller, wresting back the lead from Apple as Chinese rivals close the gap on both market leaders, industry tracker International Data Corporation (IDC) reported Monday.

South Korea-based Samsung overtook Apple as worldwide smartphone shipments grew nearly 8 percent in the first quarter of this year to 289.4 million, IDC said, citing its preliminary data.

It was the third consecutive quarter of growth in the global smartphone market, signalling that a recovery from a slump in the sector is underway, according to IDC.

IDC Worldwide Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers team vice president Ryan Reith expected top smartphone companies to gain share and small brands to struggle for position as recovery progresses.

Samsung shipped 60.1 million smartphones in the first quarter of this year, claiming nearly 21 percent of the market, according to IDC figures.

Apple shipped 50.1 million iPhones, garnering just over 17 percent of the market in the same period, IDC reported.

Apple smartphone shipments were down 9.6 percent in a quarter-over-quarter comparison, while Samsung shipments slipped less than one percent, according to the market tracker.

Meanwhile, China-based Xiaomi saw shipments grow about 33 percent to 40.8 million and Transsion about 85 percent to 28.5 million, taking third and fourth positions in the overall smartphone market, IDC reported.

“While Apple managed to capture the top spot at the end of 2023, Samsung successfully reasserted itself as the leading smartphone provider in the first quarter,” Reith said.

IDC expects Samsung and Apple to maintain their hold on the high end of the smartphone market while Chinese competitors seek to expand sales, according to Reith.

Nabila Popal, research director with IDC’s Worldwide Tracker team, said: “There is a shift in power among the Top 5 companies, which will likely continue as market players adjust their strategies in a post-recovery world.

“Xiaomi is coming back strong from the large declines experienced over the past two years and Transsion is becoming a stable presence in the Top 5 with aggressive growth in international markets.”

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Hong Kong conditionally approves first bitcoin and ether ETFs

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Hong Kong's securities regulator granted conditional approval for city's first spot-bitcoin and ether exchange traded funds
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Hong Kong’s securities regulator on Monday granted conditional approval to start the city’s first spot-bitcoin and ether exchange-traded funds (ETFs), firms involved said, positioning it as a leader in Asia for the use of cryptocurrencies as investment tools.

ChinaAMC (HK), the city’s unit of China Asset Management, said in a statement it had received regulatory approval from Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong (SFC) for the provision of virtual asset management services.

The company is “actively deploying resources in the development of spot Bitcoin ETF and spot Ethereum ETF”, it said. 

This will be done in partnership with BOCI-Prudential Trustee Limited, a joint venture of the fund management arm of Bank of China (HK) and the British multinational insurance firm.

Two other fund managers — the Hong Kong units of Harvest Fund Management and Bosera Asset Management — also said they had received conditional approvals from the SFC, Bloomberg reported.

The SFC declined to comment on individual applications.

OSL Digital Securities will provide custody services to China AMC and Harvest to ensure trading safety, the licensed digital assets platform announced Monday. 

“This collaboration marks a critical advancement in the financial landscape of the region, heralding a new chapter in digital asset investments,” OSL said in a statement. 

Hong Kong has been trying to edge ahead as a regional digital asset hub as its international financial centre status has been dented by political turmoil in recent years and China’s economic downturn.

The latest move came three months after the United States gave the green light to ETFs pegged to bitcoin’s spot price, making it easier for mainstream investors to add the unit to their portfolio.

Hong Kong is also widely considered an experimental field for including cryptocurrencies as mainstream investment tools — which are banned in mainland China.

“The financial hub is looking to establish itself as a competitor in the space competing with Dubai and Singapore as regulators open up crypto markets to institutional demand,” said James Harte, an analyst from Tickmill. 

He added that Bitcoin futures were down “around 7 percent at the lows of the day before sentiment reversed on” Hong Kong’s news. 

Last December, the city’s SFC said it was ready to allow retail investors to buy funds that are 100 percent invested in some of the digital assets, triggering the first wave of applications from fund managers. 

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