Dubai: Meet the captain of a giant plastic-eating yacht that wants to help clean up the seas

The Manta catamaran will reportedly be the only workboat in the world that can recycle all waste collected at sea, thanks to its onboard factory.


Mazhar Farooqui

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Published: Wed 2 Feb 2022, 4:49 PM

Last updated: Wed 2 Feb 2022, 11:16 PM

The captain of a giant plastic-eating hybrid catamaran is in Dubai ahead of the 25th UAE National Environment Day on Friday (February 4).

Record-holding French-Swiss sailor Yvan Bourgnon, 51, is looking to forge ties with UAE-based entities in his quest to tackle marine pollution, which is widely considered to be the second-biggest threat to the planet after climate change. He will be back in town again in end-March, as curtains come down on Expo 2020 Dubai.

Khaleej Times caught up with the famous adventurer and mastermind of the sea-cleaning vessel for an exclusive interview on Tuesday evening.

Fittingly, it was conducted aboard a sailing boat, Mojo, during a fun race, which Bourgnon’s team won hands down.

Looming 'existential threat'

“We’re facing an existential threat today,” said Bourgnon, who set up The SeaCleaners, the non-governmental organisation (NGO) behind the one-of-its-kind ocean garbage vessel called Manta (embed the video link).

“Every minute 17 tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans. That’s between nine and 12 million tonnes each year. If we don’t act now, by 2050, our oceans will have more plastic than fish, according to the United Nations,” he added.

What is Manta?

Bourgon said his 183-foot-long hybrid catamaran, Manta, is capable of not just collecting plastic waste on an industrial scale but also turning it into fuel to power the boat.

“Three years in the making, Manta is a remarkable feat of engineering. It’ll be the only workboat in the world that could treat and recycle all the waste collected at sea, thanks to its onboard factory,” he said.

“With a waste collection and processing capacity amounting between one and three tonnes per hour, the objective of Manta is to rid the oceans of 5,000 to 10,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year,” he added.

The boat is expected to be ready to set sail in 2024.

It will be 60 metres long and 49 metres wide, and is slated to have just two hulls (the ancient version had 4, indeed). At the back of the boat, harrows inspired by the mouths of manta rays will make it possible to filter the water and collect the waste, depositing it in the hulls via a conveyor belt.

The vessel will not travel at more than two knots to avoid trapping marine mammals in the harrows.

A born seafarer

Born in Switzerland, Bourgnon’s love affair with the sea began at a tender age. He was just eight years old when he sailed around the world with his parents for four years.

By the time he was in his teens, he had already charted the course of his career. “There is only one thing I wanted to do — become a sailor,” he recalled.

Over the course of his career, Bourgnon has built up an impressive racing record.

He was the first person to sail solo from Alaska to Greenland.

His exploits won him worldwide applause and also earned him the sobriquet, Gladiators of the Seas.

Bourgnon said he has seen an alarming rise in plastic waste over the years.

The birth of SeaCleaners

In 2015, he was forced to abandon a yacht race after his sailboat got stuck in plastic debris in the Bay of Biscay.

“That set me thinking and inspired me to launch SeaCleaners in 2016,” he said.

The organisation, which has its headquaters in Brittany, la-Trinité-sur-Mer is active on several fronts — from raising awareness about marine pollution to sharing scientific knowledge to developing innovative solutions for waste collection and repurposing on land and sea.

“Fighting for a pollution-free ocean is vital for our survival,” said Bourgnon.

UAE's climate action

Elise d’Epenoux, the head of international communications for SeaCleaners, said collaborating with the UAE, which is at the forefront of fighting change, would go a long way in protecting marine biodiversity and ridding the oceans of plastic.

The UAE's visionary leaders have made rapid strides in combating climate change and the global climate summit Conference of Parties (COP28), which will be held in Abu Dhabi next year, is a testimony to their efforts in protecting the environment, she added.

Marine pollution

>> Up to 12 million metric tonnes of plastic waste is dumped in the oceans every year

>> 17 metric tonnes of plastic tonne are dumped every minute

>> 1,400 marine species are impacted

>> 1.5 million marine species die every year

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