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One of our post prolific photographers is Captain Jan Plug of the Acergy Falcon. He recently wrote that for the first time since he had taken command of the ship, it was due to visit his home port of Ijmuiden  and as it entered the waterway he noticed tugs lurking in the entrance. He told the pilot not to take any notice, they were probably just carrying a few photographers, and so was surprised when they escorted his ship into the harbour with their fire monitors in action, and to receive VHF messages from his wife who was on one of the tugs..

It was a charming story, not only for Jan, but for shipmasters everywhere. At least the citizens of Ijmuiden think it's an important job.


As I got my pencil and paper out to pen this month's News and Views, some actual news of some interest was reported on the BBC - briefly. It said that the cruise liner, MSC Opera had broken down in the Baltic and was being towed back into port by tugs. The passengers were to be repatriated and given vouchers for another voyage at another time - that is, if they wanted one.

I googled the ship's name and came up with a sort of Trip Advisor site which was doing the same thing for ships as that site does for hotels. Well, why would anyone ever actually want to go on this ship. It sounds as if the passengers would have welcomed the breakdown as a moment of fun in an otherwise completely boring situation. Of course we seafarers know what it's like to be bored at sea. It's part of the job, but at least we are paid for it.  According to the website passengers faced booze at more than pub prices, duty free at higher than supermarket prices and mediocre or bad food. The high spot of the day - so they said - was bingo in the afternoons, and the Entertainment Manager is mentioned by name in several posts, because the entertainment was sub X-Factor audition level.

But so much for the fun. This ship was built in 2004 and has a passenger carrying capacity of more than 2000. News reports so far report variously that there was an engine explosion and a switchboard failure, but it matters not which it was. It was only in the autumn of last year that the Carnival Splendour suffered a complete power failure off the coast of New Mexico. Who knows why the breakdown on the MSC Opera occurred, but in February this year the Carnival Splendour was back in action and the CEO of Carnival said "The actual cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it occurred in  generator No 5 causing a catastrophic failure....Most ships have built in redundancy with two engine rooms so that if one fails, the bother continues to function. Although the fire was contained in the aft engine-room, heat damaged the cable insulation and the control room switchboards, disabling both engine rooms." But why!! 


It's never too late to learn is it? I was reading a report the other day about a serious contact between the bow of a ship and a jetty. It was headlined "SHIP IN ALLISION WITH WHARF". And as I write this my spell checker has underlined Allision - there, it has just done it again. I can hardly blame it. I thought that the news article had been misprinted , but on investigation found that it had been right, even though the word is not included in the New Oxford English Dictionary.

I would have called the contact between the bow of the ship and the wharf a "collision", but I would have been wrong. When two ships are in unintended contact this is a "collision". When a ship is in contact with a structure which is part of a bridge, a wharf or any other bit of the shoreline this is an "allision". Even though I now know that this is correct, I think I will continue to misuse the other word. Mainly so that other people can understand what I am on about.


I was really interested to come across an advertisement from a Canadian company for  device called "The Night Navigator" which it seems is intended to be a replacement for radar. The system appears to be based on a thermal imagining camera, and I presume that the resulting images are presented on a computer screen of some sort. As far as I know, up to now there has been no rival to the radar, which has become easier to look at subsequent to the invention of the computer and its screen. And one imagines that the camera is controlled remotely from the position of the screen. This would mean that the operator would be directing the camera, or would it move automatically like the radar possibly stopping and hovering when it came across an image.

Modern thermal imaging cameras are truly amazing. I have seen a demonstration of one which is intended to be used for detecting fires in engine rooms and switchboard rooms. The camera can detect increases in heat , and so will identify the source of the fire before it breaks out. The guy demonstrating it had me place my hand on a table, and the camera could detect my print after I took it away. I suppose the thing the camera would avoid would be the need for interpretation. You could actually see an approaching vessel and hence would know from the angle whether it was on a collision course, instead of having to work it out in one way or another. The name of the company is currentcorp.


It is almost neglectful for me to let a month pass without at least making some mention of the pirate business. Last month there was a two day conference at which experts in the field put forward ideas and advice. This was reported in Seaways, the journal of the Nautical Institute. It became evident that a mass of companies have been formed to assist the marine industry to deal with the problem, and there are also now couple of associations - the International Association of Maritime Security Professionals, and the Security Association for the Maritime Industry. Somehow the words "jumping on" and "bandwagon" come to mind. A presentation was also made by some-one from the Salama Fikira group, whose website says, "Our mission is to provide strategic risk management and security solutions to enable our clients to operate as well as resolve problems in the most challenging parts of Eastern Africa, the Great Lakes region, the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean." And "We will provide a consistent and dedicated service and resolve your risk issues by matching our proposed solutions with exceptional standards of delivery."

Meanwhile in the same magazine Professor Captain Edgar Gold, who always writes a lot of sense, has kept us up to date with how things are in Somalia. He says that as of 27th March there were 43 vessels, two barges and several yachts in captivity and there were 674 hostages including several children being held. He has said in the past that if this level of terrorist activity was directed at aircraft the international community would  not tolerate it. A solution would be found which would not exclude armed intervention of some sort. He says that "The industry has adjusted to the costs involved and many parties other than the front line pirates are now making money out of the problem." What can I say - step forward  IAMSP, SAMI - and Salama Fikira.

Victor Gibson. May 2011.



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