GOING TO SEA
I have recently found
myself relating my experiences after going to sea in 1960 (On the P&O
Ballarat) much to the
interest of my listeners, and I have gradually realised that this is now
history, and very different from how things are today, though not necessary
On my first ship I was one
of six apprentices, and in addition to the normal officer complement there
must have been about half a dozen junior engineers. The ship had an Indian
crew which meant at the time that there were a lot more of them than there
would have been if the ship had been manned by a European crew. The final
result was that there were more than 100 people on a medium sized cargo ship
so we also had to carry a doctor. This may have been just as well since one
of the engine ratings died, so the doctor was able to provide a death
certificate so that he could be buried at sea.
Although to be honest, I
did not really like it much, it was certainly a lot better than the
experiences of a member of "Nautilus" the seafarer's union who wrote about
their recent experiences as an engineer cadet. He, or she, the writer was
only identified by membership number, was the only native English speaking
person on the ship. The rest appear to have been Filipinos.
The mind boggles. The
writer says "surely a company needs to have a certain amount of English
speaking officers employed before it can opt to take British cadets". I
realise that I no longer have any ideas how cadets get to go to sea, since
the writer talks about sponsoring companies and training companies, but one
assumes that they are British and that in one way or another they are
involved with the British Chamber of Shipping - which used to be the General
Council of British Shipping.
Are the people assigning
the cadets to these vessels desk bound idiots with no experience at all of
what it means to go to sea, and so are able to carry out the task? Or are
they cynically assigning young people without any concern because they are
receiving a fee for doing so? - or both!
THE DANNY F II
Hardly a month passes
without yet another marine disaster taking place often unfortunately with
loss of life. The Danny F II was a cattle carrier, which had originally been
a car carrier. It sank off the coast of Lebanon on 17th December in what
seems to have been only moderately adverse weather. There was apparently an
engine failure after which the captain gave instructions to abandon ship.
More than 40 people were lost as well as thousands of sheep and cattle. If
one looks on the internet it is possible to find details of the conversion
of the ship, which was carried out in the mid 1990s. The ship itself was
built in 1976.
According to Lloyds List
the ship had been subjected many time to port state inspections, and that
many defects had been found, but it had never been detained.
Once more this really
seems to have been a stability problem, and one wonders what work was done
to ensure that the vessel would remain upright in adverse weather despite
that that essentially the whole cargo was mobile. Looking at the conversion
pictures, the barriers between the pens would probably be unable to prevent
the animals breaking through from one to another. A very strange form of
The ship was registered in
Panama, now one of the more respectable registries, and there have been
calls for an investigation - on top of all the other calls for
investigation. Probably it is time the IMO got tough and asked registries to
contribute to a central fund, depending on the tonnage registered with them,
which would allow international investigations to take place. Many very
unlikely countries have registries, because they are a business. Some are
located in the United States, some in other quite nice places in the world.
The St Vincent and the Grenadines registry is located in Monaco. As well as
the Singapore registry being located in Singapore, so is the Mongolian
registry. Even Bolivia which has no sea coast, has a registry.
Could any of these
registries mount an effective marine investigation?
THE YEAR OF THE SEAFARER
Talking about the IMO (The
International Maritime Organisation) as we were. This organisation has
designated 2010 as "the year of the seafarer". I have tried to find out
exactly what this means with limited success, but it seems that this year it
is intended that the population of the planet should be paying tribute to
the one and a half million seafarers who collectively man the thousands of
vessels which carry 90% of the trade between the countries of the world.
They do this despite the
possibility that they may be imprisoned for being on a ship which has fallen
apart at sea and hence polluted the environment, that they may be prevented
from going ashore because of security concerns, or that they may be unable
even to step onto the quayside after weeks at sea, or that they may even be
abandoned in some distant country by a poorly financed ship-owner, or
possibly worst of all, captured by pirates and held hostage for months while
their release is negotiated.
All of these possibilities
are acknowledged, but just calling the year "the year of the seafarer" is
unlikely to solve the problem.
It is almost essential
that I mention what is happening in the Horn of Africa every month if for no
other reason than to provide some continuity.
Paul and Rachel Chandler,
the British yachtsmen captured ages ago are still being held somewhere on
the mainland of Somalia, but of course the British government, possibly the
only organisation capable of negotiating their release, do not pay ransoms.
This has resulted in a number of more and more desperate videos being made
available to western news agencies. While we are very sympathetic to their
plight, perhaps they should have considered the risks before they sailed
into the area.
But in the mist of all
this distress I happened to catch a news item on the BBC where a British
ship captain was telling the audience how he had escaped from a
possible attempt to board his vessel. He said that the pirates approached in
a speed boat and demanded that he heave too. He said he gave them one
finger, which resulted in a small arms and rocket attack on his ship, but
they crouched down and kept going. As the speed boat approached his ship
they released their secret weapon. This was apparently balks of timber
hanging over the side on ropes.
The captain gave the
instruction and the timber was released. Of course this resulted in the
speedboat having to shear off from the side of the ship or else get holed.
Brilliant! Meanwhile in a very unusual action the Danish special forces have
cleared a ship of pirates after the crew had locked themselves into a secure
space. Naval forces usually avoid direct intervention after pirates have
boarded merchant ships because of possible danger to the crews, but in this
case they climbed aboard and searched the ship for a pirate who had been
seen on the deck. No-one was found and it as assumed that he had jumped
According to recent news
reports there are at least 180 seafarers being held by the pirates. In the
year of the seafarer it may be time this was sorted out.
That group Sea Shepherd
have been in the news again. This time it was because their very unusual
vessel Ady Gil was apparently rammed by a Japanese whaler in the Southern
Ocean. If you have a look at what these people do, it seems as if they are
nothing more than a bunch of seafaring nuts and that the whole business of
conservation is a means of financing their fun on the ocean.
Take their latest ship -
the Ady Gil. This was a futuristic vessel which apparently set a world
record for a trip round the world. It looked a bit like a plane, and was
obviously made of pretty flimsy material if the pictures taken after the
collision are to be believed.
Apart from the actions of
this group, which appear to be piracy, the very idea of confronting
steel vessels in some sort of fibreglass hull indicates a lack of concern
for their own crew. In this they seem to have a similar lack of respect for
the risks of being at sea, as have Greenpeace and others. The only reason
these people remain alive is because in general the seafarers who they are
attacking have the appropriate levels of respect and concern. Perhaps this
last statement does not apply to Japanese whaling crews.