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I never intended that News and Views would end up as a number of reminiscences about my years in the Merchant Navy and more specifically in the offshore industry, however, I have recently started to advertise in Ships Monthly, and as a result they send me a copy every month. I have been amazed at the quality of the of the articles, which, as far as I can tell are generally factually correct, extremely detailed and based on the actual experience or research of the writers. This is in contrast to another magazine I could name which is nothing more that a load of press releases, and as a result, boring in the extreme. And one of the recent articles sent me down memory lane.

Back in the 1970s I was a stevedore superintendent, mainly working on the Union Castle berths in Southampton. There were seven ships on the run, each one arriving on a Monday morning on 102 berth to discharge South African gold, fruit and bales of wool, and moving at the weekend to 104 berth where the ship would taken on export goods for four South African ports, eventually to sail at 1300 on Friday, so that the next ship could move up. The seven ships were the Edinburgh Castle and the SA Orange, the cargo ships, Southampton and Good Hope Castles and the SA Vaal and Windsor Castle. An now I think about it, I can't remember the name of the seventh ship - assuming there was one.

The ships were delightful, for passengers, being full of paintings and antiques, but were not quite so good for the stevedores, and in the late 1970s the service was overcome by competition from the container ships and so discontinued. I do not know what happened to any of the ships except for the Windsor Castle which was bought by Spiro Latsis, one of the world's richest men, who intended to turn it into a yacht. Over the years a society was set up to recover the Windsor Castle since it was original in every respect, and who-ever bought it would also inherit stuff from the P&O ships Stratheden and Strathmore. But the efforts of this group were unsuccessful and as the "Rita" it was run aground at Alang where a writer for Ships Monthly, Peter Knego, discovered it. Call this devotion to duty! Having seen the ship and worked on it in its heyday it was sad to see the distressing photographs of what remained of the ship, and the name - Could they not have found something a little more in keeping than the Rita!


We don't hear much about ferry disasters in the Philippines. Well, this is not quite true. Quite frequently we get a brief report on yet another marine disaster out there, and because they happen so often we don't take much notice. On 21st June the "Princess of the Stars" sank after an engine failure in a typhoon with the loss of more than 800 lives. The ship was owned by Sulpicio Lines. The company has lost 15 ships, one of them with the loss of more than 4000 lives.

This seems difficult to understand. Obviously there was no control over the numbers of people who boarded the ferry, which was lost in 1987. And it makes one realise that regardless of what rules SOLAS initiate there is still the possibility in some parts of the world that there will been no control of any sort. What we have to ask ourselves is, if we were travelling in a country where the ferries were just a bit antique and just a bit folksy, would we refuse to sail on them, or would we accept the local view and climb aboard to enjoy an entirely different marine experience.


It has been my policy for many years to make a charitable donation at Christmas, to a needy cause. And usually there has been a disaster in some part of the world which has made the choice of where we send our 500 easy. Now that I have changed my employment and my company's income is much reduced I usually send 200 to some-one. If anyone is thinking of making a donation and don't know where to send it you might try Bhopal. More than 20 years ago the Union Carbide plant exploded and this resulted in the deaths of more than 3000 people. If that was not bad enough the inhabitants of the area continue to suffer from the chemicals which pervade the environment.

So when I received an email the other day from a man called Andrew Wilson, asking whether I would like to contribute a copy of the History of the Supply Ship, as a raffle prize for an un-named boys football team, I have no problem turning him down. But politely! The result of this was another email from the same person telling me that at 37 I could stick the book where the sun don't shine!

If you think about it this is very difficult to understand. If the person was trying to get the book for nothing it would hardly be appropriate to react in such an unpleasant manner if one was found out. I also found out that receiving an unpleasant email is quite unsettling.


In the UK sector of the North Sea the fishing industry offers a guard vessel service, and regular readers of this column will remember that not very long ago a guard vessel was overcome by rough seas and sank with the loss of all hands. Guard vessel are intended to warn off ships that get too close to unmanned installations, or subsea architecture. I was recently offshore on a jack-up which was drilling holes through what will eventually be an unmanned platform. And I remember seeing a fishing vessel lurking in the area. This is not really surprising because fish love offshore installation and subsea pipelines, so it did not dawn on me immediately that this was a guard vessel.

There are now standards for guard vessels, and they will usually be inspected prior to being sent out. But I thought that maybe some sort of marking might be beneficial.


In preparation for this column I usually have a look through the websites which record marine misfortunes and piracy, and I was struck by one accident amongst all the more serious stuff, and by the way, things don't get much better. But the Aurora, which is the battleship which signalled the defining moment of the Russian revolution by firing a blank shot is permanently berthed in St Petersburg - Russia. It was turned into a training ship, and during the second world was the guns were removed and used for the defence of Leningrad.

So the accident which brought the Aurora to my attention - a motor boat ran into it!! 

Victor Gibson



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